James Watson has fled back home after shooting his mouth off just a bit too much. He was hardly a paragon of decency before he made his frankly racist, sexist and disablist statements to the press last week. It's sort of surprising to realise how the Science Museum and other organisations decided not to give him a platform, as if they were unaware of his reputation for thoughtless and inflammatory views. I first read about his warped opinions on Michelle Dawson's QuickTopic list. Someone (Philip, I think) had reviewed a book in which Watson had said several unsavoury things.
This is the Times quote that caused the most fuss;
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”, and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.
Watson also seems to hold autism up for particular opprobrium. In the Times article, he talks of the “horror and destruction” of life that can arise from having a severely autistic child, and hopes that by diagnosing autism early, “we might prevent some [autism-prone] families having subsequent children”.
So he thinks Thomas shouldn't have been born then? Obviously he thinks I should have been able to prevent Duncan's existence. What a foolish idea!
There is a telling quote from Watson on the Autism Speaks page,
'Said Watson, “Autism is the worst thing that can happen to a family.” '
Yep, that's right, autism is worse than murder or child abduction or fatal illness or terrorist attack or drug addition or anything really.
It's a horrible thing to say.
He's made other dumb statements before;
For instance, he believes abortions are acceptable where a foetus is found to be genetically inclined to homosexuality.
"If they want to, let them," he said. "My wife really wants a grandchild."
Someone should tell him about all the gay parents out there! Would he advise abortion on fetuses found to have a genetic inclination to have fertility problems, or to be heterosexual and child free by choice?
I don't understand this idea that parents should be able to decide what kind of child has the right to exist.
I was most surprised by the sheer number of people who came out in support of him. Most of these quoted his 'right to free speech' claiming that by denying him a platform, the Science Museum, and others, were trying to gag academic freedoms to ask difficult questions. That doesn't make sense. He's free to say what he wants, but that doesn't mean he gets to say it in any particular institution. I also think that the maxim, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, must hold true here. In spite of oh so many commenters on various liberal-leaning sites, crawling out to harp on about IQ tests showing that Watson was right, others have pointed out the numerous flaws and biases in such tests.
There's a summary of the events in the Guardian here, which includes the reaction of Craig Venter;
As Craig Venter, who pioneered much of America's work in decoding the human genome, put it: 'There is no basis in scientific fact or in the human gene code for the notion that skin colour will be predictive of intelligence.'
Some good posts on these events are;
A Twisted Life and Twisted Logic by Club 166.
This and this by Evolution blog.
This at Pure Pedantry.