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Friday, October 19, 2007

James Watson apologizes ... sort of

According to the Guardian, following the row that erupted over his characterization of people of African origin as less intelligent (whatever that means, given that no one has ever defined “intelligence” in an empirically meaningful way), DNA pioneer Watson has backed off:
Prof Watson's statement did not clarify what his views on the issue of race and intelligence are, but he hinted that he had been misquoted.

I somehow doubt that. More later.

Update!: The “more later”: According to the Independent, Watson’s own institute has apparently disowned his comments:
"Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory does not engage in any research that could even form the basis of the statements attributed to Dr Watson," the institute's president, Bruce Stillman, said. Dr Watson's comments were entirely his own and "in no way reflect the mission, goals, or principles of [the laboratory's] board, administration or faculty".

Similar condemnation followed from other parts of the US scientific establishment, where the incendiary issue of race and science is intimately bound up in the history of slavery and segregation. "We have enough problems in this country without Nobel laureate American scientists pontificating in error about fields of science outside their own expertise," said the editor of ScienceWeek, Dan Agin, "especially when the issues are vital to public policy and when what they say rips the American social fabric into pieces."

His institute would not have reacted so rapidly if there was much chance he had been misquoted.

In my view, his capitulation illustrates the power of political correctness in our society. Whether PC happens to be fronting something true, false, or nonsensical, it is the new Inquisition. (Yes, of course, PC might happen to be fronting something true - remember, a stopped clock, even one that stopped back in the 1970s, is right twice a day.)

Here are some comments from friends:

One friend suggests that Watson is behaving like a true Darwinian fundamentalist in that he assumes that if some situation is believed to be true today, it MUST HAVE come about because of natural selection. Thus, anecdote becomes fact, and the newly created “fact” becomes “evidence” for evolution, and ... well then whatever he believes, on whatever basis, is now incontrovertible.

Another friend note that, while Darwinism does not necessarily imply racism, the alleged inequality of races was offered as EVIDENCE for Darwinian evolution in the nineteenth century.

A third notes that if a collection of Watson’s goofy remarks were published, it would be a long book. And perhaps it will find a publisher, too.

Check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?.

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