November 26, 2007

When Good Scientists Go Bad:
I will close with a word on Watson. He is not really a racial scientist to any significant degree, he just expressed a point of view that I think is false and destructive. No one deserves to be punished for expressing a point of view, but there is another consideration here. Watson is a legitimately respected and famous person on the basis of his great scientific accomplishments and the awards they have won for him, but those accomplishments don’t have very much to do with racial differences in intelligence, except that both domains involve the concept of “genes” in a very general way. It is safe to say that he does not know anything more about the subject than anyone writing here. He is, of course, still entitled to his opinion, but famous scientists and intellectuals have some responsibility not to use their fame in the service of dangerous ideas that are ultimately outside their real expertise. Watson got in trouble for casually stating poorly informed opinions about a deeply serious subject. He is still the great scientist he always was, and I admired the apparent sincerity of his apology, but he deserved most of the criticism he got.
"Watson," of course, is James Watson, the Nobel Laureate and the funnier half of the comedy team of Watson & Crick. It's an important point to understand, that many important scientific breakthroughs come from people who hold ridiculous views on other subjects, and/or have drawn reckless conclusions about the ramifications of their legitimate findings, and that said opinions can in no way discredit their other discoveries. [link via TPM]

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