Thursday, October 25, 2007
Allegedly Stupid, Too
Here's the lede from today's LA Times article on the fallout from James Watson's remarks on race and intelligence:
Nobel laureate James D. Watson, the renowned co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, resigned today as chancellor of the prestigious Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the aftermath of an uproar over allegedly racist comments he made last week. (Emphasis added.)
Here's the offending passage from the Sunday Times profile/interview:
He says that he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”... His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. (Emphasis added.)
Now, I understand that the first remark is supported by enough research data to make it defendable, even if it is both highly contested and extremely provocative. Indeed, the context of the quotation as well as the profile in general demonstrate that Watson is no stranger to provocative, even inappropriate, declarations.
But I just don't see how that second remark can be considered anything but flat out racist. There's no "allegedly" about it; it's the real McCoy. Even if Watson himself isn't necessarily a virulent racist, as evidenced by this passage which closely follows the above citation:
In his mission to make children more DNA-literate, the geneticist explains that he has opened a DNA learning centre on the borders of Harlem in New York. He is also recruiting minorities at the lab and, he tells me, has just accepted a black girl “but,” he comments, “there’s no one to recruit.”
I don't know enough about the medical research community to know if there really is a shortage of qualified black candidates or not. But Watson strikes me as an Al Campanis-type, albeit a more articulate version. Here's a man who obviously does have a conscience, seems to have gone out of his way to advance the careers of individual black and female proteges, but in a moment of candor lets slip some wildly outlandish views on race, and elsewhere in the profile some veiled misogyny.
As Watson himself said, the change in leadership at the lab is overdue. But imagine he weren't a 79 year old man at the tail end of his career, but someone with years ahead of him. Does the punishment fit the crime? Again, his actions seem to have been beyond reproach, and there's every reason to believe he'd engage in even more outreach and recruitment now that he's under the microscope. He also immediately took responsibility for his comments, expressing his dismay and regret at the sight of his own words in print. Is it possible the guy can get a pass on something like this?
Update: Based on this comment from one of Josh Marshall's readers, I take it back. Screw Watson. The guy deserved it.