Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The wages of PC ...

... Disgrace: How a giant of science was brought low. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Much I have heard suggests that James Watson is an arrogant SOB. But I seriously doubt that he is racist. And this sort thing does no one any credit.


  1. Anonymous6:18 AM


    I'm not sure whether he is racist, in the sense of having a persistent irrational hostile animus, or not is the point. The problem is the wages of scientism. I suspect (and have been told) that there are many brilliant scientists, particularly biologists and neuroscientists, who see themselves as utterly modern and completely without old style prejudices, but whose Darwinist materialism and rejections of objective morality simply lead them to these kinds of conclusions. Most of them, like E.O. Wilson, are shrewd enough to keep it under wraps and out of public view, but heck, the experiments are the ultimate Truth, are they not, so what is a poor liberal supposed to do?

    I suspect what may be happening here is that Watson broke the code about how to talk about these things in public and the scientific community, even that part which has no trouble with his science, senses what could happen to their authority, image and funding, and is throwing him to the wolves loudly to save their skins. They tend to use a dogmatic PC to fudge what they are doing for the public and probably for themselves in most cases. It's not unlike Brian Appleyard's wonderful skewering line in another context--modern parents cool with their children's open sexuality who want to summarily lynch anyone even suspected of paedophilia-- "Caliban seeing his face in the mirror".

    These two comments from critical scientists in the article are telling:

    'In any case, it would be as unethical to organise society around some numerical indicator of difference as it would to do so on the basis of skin colour.', and

    'There is no basis in scientific fact or in the human gene code for the notion that skin colour will be predictive of intelligence.'

    With the first, what does he mean "unethical"? Organizing on the basis of numerical indicators of differences is what science does, isn't it? Where do the ethical groundings spring from suddenly? Wherever they come from, I doubt very much the author thinks they should fetter scientific inquiry in any way. With the second, that is certainly not a unanimous view, nor by definition is it eternal--who knows what some clever boffin will discover tomorrow?

    Anyway, I think we in the modern, increasingly anti-religious West have to understand that evil doesn't just come from visceral passions that remind us of our uneducated grandparents, but also from the cold, dispassionate insistance that we are to be ruled by the implications of lab results and thus by the people uniquely qualified to understand and pronounce on them. In the end, the question is whether racism is wrong because Watson did his sums wrong or because we are all children of God.

  2. Very many well-made points, Peter. And you are probably right. I guess what I object to is the mob-justice aspect of it. Watson ought to be allowed to correct himself or apologize - and what he said hardly erases the value of what he has otherwise done. I can't help feeling that the same people who went after Watson in this instance would "try to understand" if an Ahmadinejad said something similar. As for racism, I am of course - as I presume you are - in the school that maintains we are all children of God.

  3. Anonymous8:26 AM

    Oh yes, he should certainly be allowed a defence, and it would be very interesting if he were robust and courageous enough to actually defend himself, rather than just do the modern schtick of apologizing to everyone he meets, assuring us he is getting counselling, etc. It would be a great debate, although probably inacessible to us scientific illiterates, who would have to restrain ourselves from skipping over the hard and complicated analyses and just siding with the side whose conclusions we rather liked. :-)

    Still, this does remind me of those to-the-death fights between the Stalinists and Trotskyites. To paraphrase Kissinger on the Iran-Iraq war: "Too bad they can't both lose."

  4. Anonymous5:01 PM

    Too bad Henry Kissinger & the gang were arming both of them.