Saturday, October 20, 2007 at 8:14 a.m.
Racial b.s. preserved in Watson's Cold Spring Harbor Lab. The lab's brilliant Eugenics Archive shows past gaffes by other respected scientists.
Why does Dr. Watson bumble? Maybe he spends too much time — or not enough — in the incredible archive of eugenics history at his own Long Island lab. No matter the reason, DNA pioneer James Watson has a long history of expressing crackpot ideas like his latest one about black people's supposedly inherent inferiority.
More on that later, but let's just say that Watson is likely to get less than a warm reception if he dares to visit the DNA learning center he has set up on the outskirts of Harlem.
He wouldn't be the first brilliant, rightly admired person to also be somewhat of a crackpot. Look at Ezra Pound, a poet even when he wasn't writing poetry, an inspiration to writers everywhere, and also a raving anti-Semite 24/7.
For further evidence of how brilliant members of our species can also be dolts, take a gander at "Never Again," my February 23, 2000 story about the Eugenics Archive at Watson's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. As I noted back then:
In 1910, the Eugenics Record Office was set up at Cold Spring Harbor, making the lab the center of what became an international movement. In the United States, the results ranged from "Fitter Families" contests, aimed at encouraging people of "good stock" to breed, to laws restricting immigration of non-WASPs and ordering sterilization of the "feebleminded."
Arguing for limiting immigration from southern and eastern Europe, Harry Laughlin, head of the ERO, told Congress in 1920, "We in this country have been so imbued with the idea of democracy or the equality of all men that we have left out of consideration the matter of blood or natural inborn hereditary mental and moral differences." Adolf Hitler, of course, took the same logic to pathological conclusions, using eugenics as a rationale for genocide.
[David] Micklos, the site's editor, doesn't mince words about the American involvement in eugenics. In one essay, he describes the ERO's journal Eugenical News as the "dominant mouthpiece for the racist and anti-immigration agenda of eugenics research."
The digital archive serves as a reminder that crackpot science isn't just the domain of Nazis and ignorant racists. Among the leaders of the American eugenics movement were Stanford president David Starr Jordan, Luther Burbank, and Alexander Graham Bell. Charles Darwin's son headed the Eugenics Society in England. The ERO itself was endowed by a grant from the widow of railroad magnate E.H. Harriman, and such population-control progressives as Margaret Sanger also believed in the cause.
If I'd been smarter, I would have interviewed Watson back then about the archive; he probably would have spouted lots of cracked stuff and I would have written a better story. But what do you want from me? I'm Jewish-Oklahoman. My father was born in Poland and grew up on the Lower East Side and in Brooklyn; I was born and raised in Oklahoma. Speaking of faulty breeding, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory was the melting pot of all sorts of wack theories and experiments concerning race, and many of them had nothing to do with black people but rather focused on the supposed inferiority of southern and eastern Europeans. In fact, it was the Nordic-superiority bullshit that so inspired Hitler and his crew.
Just because crackpots use your ideas doesn't make you yourself a crackpot, of course. There were plenty of influential, widely praised people who endorsed eugenics and embraced ideas of racial inferiority and its inevitable corollary: racial superiority. No doubt that current anti-Mexican cretins will use Watson's latest comments to fan the flames of the anti-immigration cause.
By the way, don't believe Watson when he now claims that what he said was aberrant.
Forget the journalistically inferior press in the U.S. Read the continuing coverage of this controversy in the Times (U.K.), which sparked this brouhaha with its October 14 piece by Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe.
First, here are Watson's comments in context, from her piece:
Back in 1990, the journal Science
commented: "To many in the scientific community, Watson has long been something of a wild man, and his colleagues tend to hold their collective breath whenever he veers from the script." When, in 2000, he left an audience reeling by suggesting a link between skin colour and sex drive — hypothesising that dark-skinned people have stronger libidos — some journalists suggested he had "opened a transatlantic rift". American scientists accused him of "trading on past successes to promote opinions that have little scientific basis". British academics countered that subjects should not be off limits because they are politically incorrect. Susan Greenfield
, director of the Royal Institution, said that "nothing should stop you ascertaining the scientific truth; science must be free of concerns about gender and race".
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". He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because "there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don't promote them when they haven't succeeded at the lower level". He writes that "there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so".
When asked how long it might take for the key genes in affecting differences in human intelligence to be found, his "back-of-the-envelope answer" is 15 years. However, he wonders if even 10 years will pass. 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."
As the obviously racially inferior Rajeev Syal of the Times wrote on October 19 about the controversy stirred by Watson's comments:
He has courted controversy in the past, reportedly saying that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine that it would be homosexual.
He has also suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, proposing a theory that black people have higher libidos, and claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured.
David Lammy, the Skills Minister, whose family moved to Britain from the Caribbean, said yesterday that the views expressed by Dr Watson would be seized upon by far-right organisations such as the British National Party. "It is a shame that a man with a record of scientific distinction should see his work overshadowed by his own irrational prejudices," he said.
Look for those irrational prejudices to be seized upon by the anti-immigration cretins on this side of the Atlantic.