The Recantation of Dr. Watson
The month began with Watson headed
to London to promote his new book, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science,
and to lecture to a sold-out audience at the
prestigious Science Museum. An author`s dream tour.
Last week, his
lecture was canceled, his tour terminated, his
40-year tenure as chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory on Long Island came to an end. Across
Britain, he was being denounced as a racist.
What had the wicked Dr. Watson
Did he defend the chattel slavery
in which five of our first seven presidents engaged? No.
Did he agree with
Abraham Lincoln that blacks did not deserve equal
social and political rights and should be
sent back to the continent whence their ancestors
came? No. Did he argue for the segregation that was the
law in the nation`s capital in which this writer
grew up? No. Did he utter the "N-word"
Harry Truman, who
armed forces, and Lyndon Johnson, who enacted the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 and
Voting Rights Act of 1965? No.
Watson neither endorsed segregation
nor expressed any animus toward people of color. He had
simply told The Sunday Times 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."
While there is a natural desire to
believe all people are equal, Watson said, "people
who have to deal with
black employees find this not true."
In his new book, Watson adds,
"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."
What Watson was saying was: From a
long life and his own reading of IQ test scores, he
believes that intelligence is not
distributed equally among the races. That conclusion
was also reached by social scientists
Richard Herrnstein and
Charles Murray in the 1990s best-seller
The Bell Curve. The SAT scores seem to
bear them out.
When Watson`s remarks hit print,
however, a new London blitz began.
The Labor Party
chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee
charged Watson with "baseless, unscientific and
extremely offensive comments" and urged his
colleagues to "reject what appear to be Dr. Watson`s
"Anti-racism campaigners called
for Dr. Watson`s remarks to be looked at in the context
of racial hatred laws," said The Independent.
Steven Rose, a founder of the Society for Social
Responsibility in Science, "This is Watson at his
The Telegraph quoted Koku
of the black pressure group
The 1990 Trust, as calling Watson a "complete
dinosaur" and demanding he apologize to "Africa
and all people of African origin."
Added Adomdza: "Dr. Watson is
really a relic of the oldest stock and
deserves to be made to account for his extremely
offensive and ignorant remarks. … His very poisonously
racist opinions put students and the unsuspecting public
at serious risk."
Of these thought police, almost
all, it may be fairly said, are academic mediocrities or
political hacks who could not carry Watson`s microscope.
Yet as the scrub stock piled on, the Nobel Prize winner
appeared to buckle.
I am "mortified," Watson
said, burbling this recantation.
those who have drawn the inference from my words that
Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior,
I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I
meant. More importantly, from my point of view, there is
no scientific basis for such a belief." [To
question genetic intelligence is not racism,
Independent, October 19, 2007 ]
Sad. Why, with all his honors,
prestige and security, did Dr. Watson feel the necessity
to apologize for what he wrote, said and believes? Why
did he not play the man by flipping off the censors? If
they were going to take away his chancellorship, why not
go down fighting?
In the England of Henry VIII,
heretics were beheaded and their heads put on spikes.
Many men, like
Thomas More, did not recant.
From the time of
Tiberius to the 17th century, men gave up their
lives rather than
renounce a belief in God. Others gave up their lives
renounce a disbelief in the Church. Why could Watson
not stand up for his disbelief in the ideological myth
of the inherent equality of all men, cultures, creeds
In 1990, the respected journal
Science wrote, "To many in the scientific
community, Watson has long been something of a wild man.
… Colleagues tend to hold their collective breath when
he speaks out."
Too bad the wild man was denatured
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