Human Exceptionalism

James Watson: Eugenicist and Potential Anti-Semite

I have noticed a weird trend: When somebody has been a great scientist, for some reason we assume their ideas on morality should be given as much respect as their scientific acumen. But science and morality lie in two different human spheres. Indeed, science can’t tell us right from wrong, which may be why some of the most notable scientist-philosophers espouse crassly destructive moral philosophies. Case in point: Nobel Laureate James Watson, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix. Almost every time the curmudgeon opens his mouth–as in this January 07 Esquire interview–he reveals a stunted moral center. Indeed, based on the interview, Watson reveals himself to be a eugenicist and, it would seem, something of an anti-Semite:

“Francis Crick said we should pay poor people not to have children. I think now we’re in a terrible situation where we pay the rich people to have children. If there is any correlation between success and genes, IQ will fall if the successful don’t have children. These are self-obvious facts.” This is right out of Francis Galton’s old eugenics play book, with a strong whiff of social Darwinism thrown in. It is also wrong. Some of our greatest or most successful people were born into poor families. Abraham Lincoln’s father was a subsistence farmer. Bill Clinton’s mother was so poor that the future president had to stay with relatives while she sought an education. The list could go on and on. Meanwhile, being born into a rich and successful family often doesn’t translate into exhibiting successful characteristics–as many of John Adams’ progeny demonstrated.

“The cost of DNA sequencing is going to change the world much faster than I would have thought. We can resequence someone now for $150,000. Can you reach the $1,000 genome? I’m skeptical of that. But just $15,000 would change the world. You’d do a thousand Greeks and a thousand Swedes and find out what’s different about them. Anytime a child has problems school or something where you worry something is wrong, you’ll do a DNA diagnosis.” This sounds terribly threatening and points toward the potentiality of the powerful using genetic engineering or therapy to impose a stultifying human uniformity and behavioral control on society.

“Should you be allowed to make an anti-Semitic remark? Yes, because some anti-Semitism is justified.” Remarks should not be outlawed, but anti-Semitism is never justified. Can you imagine the outcry in the media if someone who is not one of their darlings had said something like that?

“For all my life, America was the place to be. And we somehow continue to be the place where there are real opportunities change the world for the better.” That’s because America rejects the kind of ideas espoused by James Watson.

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