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“James Watson in his own words”

Here are some thoughts from the noted biologist and writer, collected by Lior Pachter.

I’d seen a few of these Watson quotes before, but it’s kinda stunning to see them all in one place. Apparently he recommends never adopting an Irish kid. All right, then.


  1. Shravan Vasishth says:

    I completely agree with this (I mean, look at me):

    “Indians in [my] experience [are] servile.. because of selection under the caste system”

    • Andrew says:


      Just don’t hire a fat person, adopt an Irish kid, or wear clothes that are out of fashion, and Watson will respect you just fine.

    • Shravan Vasishth says:

      I think I know why he thought Indians are servile. There is a cultural tendency to be respectful to the teacher or anyone who can be seen as a teacher. For westerners this can seem servile; to Indians the westerner can seem insolent and arrogant. But Indians would also be appalled if one put one’s feet on a book or even threw it onto the floor. It’s not just people they are respectful towards.

      When I first arrived in the US for graduate study, I flew in directly from Japan after having lived there for a total of five years, so I was even more biased than usual towards being deferential towards teachers. It took me a while to start calling my professors by their first names. It’s not a caste thing. I’m a “high” caste Hindu anyway, so I should be used to being treated with respect, and I should not be used to being deferential or servile.

  2. Sean Mackinnon says:

    Reading the train wreck of a comments section on that post makes me appreciate the (typically) unusually good comment section on this blog.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      Thanks for the link. It gives a broader view than the tales my mother told me, of forebears in Southern Ontario fending off the Fenians with pitchforks, and wearing Orange and booing at St. Patrick Day parades.

  3. Paul Alper says:

    Watson is a Johnny come lately to eugenics. The early statisticians beat him by almost a century. Galton, Fisher and Pearson were obsessed by the concept and indeed, the original prime mover for the discipline was eugenics. After the mid 1930s, statistics moved on to other applications but Watson, like many elderly scientists, can’t resist the pontification spotlight.

    • Curious says:

      As it was for Watson, so too for statistics — “what’s past is prologue.”

      • Martha (Smith) says:

        Thanks for the link.

      • Alex Gamma says:

        Pretty crappy article.

        First some obligatory Trump-bashing as if the actual racists didn’t mostly come from the SJW left.

        Then the supposed “consensus” in the biological and social sciences that “race is a social construct, not a biological attribute” (of which this biologist has never heard). Then the author goes on to say that “the classification of people into different races is typically based on observable physical features, with skin color being the most prominently used characteristic”, so directly contradicting the “consensus”.

        Then some gene-worshipping:

        “Though these physical differences may appear, on a superficial level, to be very dramatic, they are determined by only a minute portion of the genome: we as a species have been estimated to share 99.9% of our DNA with each other.”

        Why is the level of observable characteristics (traits) superficial? It may be literally on the surface of the body, but that’s hardly the intended meaning. Why should it matter that these differences are determined by “only a minute fraction of the genome”? So it’s DNA that makes up human nature? Are we perhaps a little essentialist and reductionist here?

        “…the long history of racism is a somber reminder that throughout human history, a mere 0.1% of variation has been sufficient justification for committing all manner of discriminations and atrocities.”

        Does the author think that racist people in the past have conceptualized these differences as “yes, we know it’s only a 0.1% difference of genes, and we know that genes are the be-all and end-all of human nature, but since we are evil racists we’re just gonna ignore this and continue to harp on superficialities?”

        The “advances in human genetics and the evidence of negligible differences between races might be expected to halt racist arguments.”

        Does the author really believe racism is about facts and evidence and will evaporate once the sorry perpetrators have been made aware of the (mostly genetic) facts? The problem with this idea is that if it turned out that the genetic racial differences are in fact very large after all, would that mean racism is vindicated?

        “The genome contains powerful insights about our biology that could unite us as a species, but which could also be dangerous and divisive if used without understanding. As we look forward to 2017 and onwards, it becomes ever more important to understand what our DNA says about what it means to be human.”

        This same old pompous hyperbole has been en vogue since at least the heyday of the Human Genome Project, but it hasn’t become any truer. No, knowing the telephone book of our DNA has not brought us closer to understanding what it means to be human. And if you think that the “genome contains powerful insights about our biology that could unite us as a species”, you’re still just a gene-worshipper.

  4. xysname says:

    Many of those are perfectly fine. The guy created the list tried too hard.

    “Women are supposedly bad at three dimensions” <- Is this even controversial?

    “[Rosalind Franklin] couldn’t think in three dimensions very well” <- This can be 100% true.

    etc. etc.

    • oncodoc says:

      I wish I could comment on Rosalind Franklin’s ability to think in 3D, but since I am a Jew and can’t think in 3D myself I am not qualified to do so. However, it does seem to me that the person who derived the structure of DNA from X-ray crystallography which required turning 2D data into 3D information might have had a bit of geometric imagination.
      BTW, the creator of the list was James Watson; someone else was the aggregator.

      • Andrew says:


        On one hand, sure, Franklin was a world-class crystallographer. On the other hand, James Watson thought she didn’t dress fashionably enough. So I guess it’s a tossup.

        • Yea, women’s looks always seem to come into it. So annoying. On the other hand, it’s not as if ONLY the glamorous were or are today scientific & academic vocations.

          In terms of these kooky characterizations, I have to guess that Watson had issues. But that can be said of all of us. Over the years, I’ve heard some of the most idiotic stuff come from highly educated persons. Some parts of our dispositions are laudable and others not so laudable.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      xysname said, ““Women are supposedly bad at three dimensions” <- Is this even controversial?"

      Are you saying that you believe there is strong evidence that women are bad at three dimensions, or are you expressing surprise that a lot of people still believe that women are bad at three dimensions, or what?

    • mikhail says:

      Well, _some_ of these can may be fine if taken alone. But aggregated like this the present a very consistent ideology. Quite disturbing one.

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