Field of Science

Jim Watson, 'seed'y guy

So it seems that some people are visibly outraged at Jim Watson's appointment on the SEED group board of directors, which among other things runs the well-respected Scienceblogs, featuring many well-known blogs like Pharyngula. According to these people, Watson should be fired and not allowed to sit on any such committee because of his racist remarks.

With all due respect to the sentiments of these folks, I have to say I disagree.

I completely agree with what a ditzy old fool Watson was, and I have disparaged his actions in a previous post. But no matter how much you may hate the man, there are two things; firstly, that should still not take anything away from his past achievements and his capabilities (something that some have unnecessarily tried to do), and secondly, it also does not preempt him from offering his services in some valuable way to other organizations. Relatively few science administrators have the kind of experience that Watson has.

In fact, I now think that removing him from his age-old post at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory itself was uncalled for. This was not because he does not deserve to be marginalised, but we have to agree that his direction of CSHL has nothing to do with his racist remarks. I completely agree how difficult it must be to have such a man running your institution, but to be honest, I believe that keeping him in his position and subjecting him to daily scorn might have been a better punishment for him than just removing him from front of everyone's eyes.

And no matter what he has said, I think it sounds a little totalitarian to say that Jim Watson should not be allowed to sit on any committee or on any board at any time in his life, ever. He is going to get his due ridicule and punishment from the way people will be treating him from now on. But how about this- we can give him that due punishment and also take advantage of his knowledge of science.

Two birds with one stone I say.


  1. A Zen question for you:

    When is Zuska not outraged at something?

  2. This is exactly why matters scientific are so appealing. The double helix is correct regardless of Watson's subsequent utterances. Not so in matters philosophic -- consider Heidegger, Wittgenstein where ad hominem considerations about everything they say are quite relevant.


  3. Excimer: I was not aware of the fact that Zuska is apparently outraged at anything. "I guess we have our own brands of Sean Hannity"...speaketh the master.

    Retread: That's indeed the enduring beauty of science. I can also imagine how in contrast, philosophy remains contentious...perhaps that ensures that philosophy will always have timeless potential for advancement (not to mention academic positions...)

  4. If you want to see just how nutty Wittgenstein was read "Wittgenstein's Poker". Some of the stories are so bizarre they must be true. Also in the book, and worth reading for any scientist is a lot of information about Karl Popper, whose philosophy of science was quite influential (and still is).

    From "everything in Chemistry turns blue or explodes" to my nephew, a recent Rhodes in philosophy, I've been exposed to the philosophical mindset and find it interesting. There should be a post in the future on The Skeptical Chymist about a quite meaningful chemical experiment but one impossible to perform on this planet.


  5. Retread, "Wittgenstein's Poker" is one of the most entertaining and informative books I have ever read. Thanks for reminding me about it. It was pure joy, accompanied by an evening cup of coffee. It weaves philosophy and history together so skillfully. As you say, Wittgenstein indeed was a remarkable person, and the debate between him and Popper is fascinating and to me also sounds interminable. Glad I took up chemistry.
    I look forward to your post.
    Just FYI, here's an Amazon review of it that I wrote:

  6. excimer-

    Zuska always brings to mind the old adage that if you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention. The problem becomes that if you are always outraged, other people stop paying attention.


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