Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How to Dynamite Your Career...or, Nobel Laureates Say the Darndest Things!

Turns out there is such a thing as bad publicity after all. Your career may not suffer because you:
  • had videotaped sex with a minor (R Kelly)
  • parked in a NYC no-standing zone with a carful of firearms (50 Cent)
  • flashed your stubbly crotch at the paparazzi (Britney Spears)
  • had your sexual escapades played all over the Internet (Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, et al.)
  • said that Jews need to be perfected by converting to Christianity (Ann Coulter)
  • belatedly disclosed that you fought for the Nazis (G√ľnter Grass)
But making racist remarks is beyond the pale, as comedian Michael Richards and politician George Allen recently learned.

And now we have James Watson, the pioneering American geneticist who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for medicine, for discovering the structure of DNA. He was in the UK to promote his book, AVOID BORING PEOPLE: Lessons From a Life in Science (Oxford Univ. Press), and said in an interview with the London Sunday Times 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."
  • he hopes everyone is equal, but "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true."
  • "there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level." [Wait...what about the Dilbert Principle?]
In his book Watson states:
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.
Watson apologized--shakily and poorly--but the damage was done. Per the International Herald Tribune:
London's Science Museum canceled a sold-out lecture, and the University of Edinburgh, where the scientist was to speak Monday, issued a statement saying it had withdrawn the invitation. Besides London and Edinburgh, Watson had been scheduled to speak in Cambridge, Newcastle, Bristol and Oxford.
Meanwhile, back home on Long Island, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Watson's employer since 1968, had an emergency teleconference of its 34-member board of trustees. That resulted in the suspension of his "administrative responsibilities" as chancellor of the Watson School of Biological Sciences.

So now Watson's out of a job too, and has more boring people to avoid than ever. Maybe he's wishing he'd kept his mouth shut and instead flashed a teenager in the lobby of Claridge's. (I so hope his chambermaid was of African descent and short-sheeted his bed.)

For in-depth coverage, including a timeline of Watson's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week, see Disgrace: How a giant of science was brought low.

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