The other night I got a call from my dad, informing me of the recent backlash toward DNA co-discoverer, James Watson, for comments made in a recent Sunday Times (UK) article. The comments, inferring that blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites, lead to his suspension from Long Island’s Cold Springs Harbor Laboratoy, where he has worked for 35 years.
The October 14th profile, titled, “The Elementary DNA of Dr. Watson,” is essentially the tale of an energetic 79-year-old who has dedicated his life to science. Watson had just written a book, and thanks to Cold Spring Harbor’s new $100 million building, he was looking forward to being able to “diagnose the problem of schizophrenia by looking at a patient’s DNA,” something he was convinced would happen within 10 years. Unfortunately, Watson had no idea that within a few days, he would be relieved of his position as the lab’s chancellor and director, for comments made in that same article. So, what exactly did he say?
The “hot potato” as Watson called it, was essentially dropped on his foot when he said 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.”
Whooooooah! Ok. Maybe he meant, literally, testing shows Africans are not as intelligent, because they don’t have schools over there like we do. Maybe? If he stopped there, his post-backlash attempts to refute what he said may have worked, but he went on to say that although he hoped everyone is equal, ‘people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.'”
Watson is no stranger to controversy. Prior comments on innate differences between the sexes, a link between skin color and sex drive, and the right for women to abort gay babies (which he said was “hypothetical”), have stirred things up in the past, but nothing has matched the current backlash.
Now Watson is left eating his words, but the question has been begged: Are there still questions that are too dangerous for science to ask?