Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science

by James D. Watson
Knopf Publishing
Paperback, $26.95
368 pages
ISBN: 978-0-375-41284-4

Book Review by Kam Williams

“The 79-year-old geneticist said he was ‘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.’ He said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that ‘people who have to deal with black employees find this not true’.” -- James Watson in an interview with the Sunday Times
In 1962, James D. Watson won the Nobel Prize for discovering the double helix structure of DNA. His Award, however, has remained the subject of an enduring controversy due to the existence of substantial evidence that he had only arrived at his groundbreaking findings after plagiarizing the research of a colleague, namely, the late Rosalind Franklin.
What is ironic about Watson’s having stolen his only significant scientific contribution from a female colleague is that he is a bigot who has made a career of dismissing the contributions of women and blacks while suggesting that both groups are genetically inferior to white males. Nonetheless, in 1988, he was appointed head of the human Genome Project, a position which gave him a powerful platform from which to continue spouting his unsubstantiated, prejudiced remarks.
He has since hypothesized that darker-skinned people have stronger sex drives connecting melanin to libido. A big proponent of genetic engineering, Watson once weighed in on intelligence with, “If you are really stupid, I would call that a disease. What's the cause of it? A lot of people would like to say, 'Well, poverty, things like that.' It probably isn't. So I'd like to get rid of that… the lower 10 per cent."
As for gays, he seems to advocate aborting them in utero when he states, "If you could find the gene which determines sexuality and a woman decides she doesn't want a homosexual child, well, let her." As for the overweight, he says “Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you're not going to hire them." And if it were up to Watson, we’d only allow attractive females to be born. "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty,“ he laments. “I think it would be great.” I wonder exactly who would fit his definition of pretty and therefore earn the right to reproduce.
All of the above wouldn’t be so scary, if it could be easily dismissed as merely the ramblings of a mental patient or an avowed white supremacist. The problem is that this Nobel Prize-winner is a highly-respected member of the
academic community as a tenured Harvard professor who’s been invited to spread hate speech clothed as genetics at countless other ivory-towered institutions over the years.
Now, Watson has published “Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science” a combination memoir and advice book. In it, we see that he’s up to his old tricks, for instance, defending disgraced Harvard University President Larry Summers’ sexist statement that genetic differences between the male and female brain might explain why the school had hired fewer women professors.
Watson says “To my regret, Summers, instead of standing firm, within a week apologized publicly three times for being candid about what well might be a fact of evolution.” Enough said about this dangerous, inveterate sexist and racist. I just wish Watson had been more honest and titled his book “Avoid Black People.”

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