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Science Museum Cancels Watson Visit

From the BBC News:

The Science Museum has cancelled a talk by American DNA pioneer Dr James Watson after he claimed black people were less intelligent than white people…saying his views went “beyond the point of acceptable debate”.
Skills Minister David Lammy said Dr Watson’s views “were deeply offensive”. He added: “They will succeed only in providing oxygen for the BNP.
“It is a shame that a man with a record of scientific distinction should see his work overshadowed by his own irrational prejudices.”
…A spokesman for the Science Museum said: “We know that eminent scientists can sometimes say things that cause controversy and the Science Museum does not shy away from debating controversial topics. However, we feel Dr Watson has gone beyond the point of acceptable debate and we are, as a result, cancelling his talk.”

Well, it is gratifying to see some part of the scientific establishment finally puke on Watson’s shoes a little.

  1. lee
    October 18, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    Yet another example of the lack of freedom of speech in England. If you’re not capable of winning the argument…yell ‘racist’ and close down all discussion of the subject.

  2. October 18, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Congratulations to Lee for being the first knee-jerk response, and for trotting out the ol’ “lack of freedom of speech” trope! Watson is free to say whatever the hell he wants. He is not, however, free from the consequences of his speech. He is perfectly free to express his virulent racist, sexist, homophobic views, to broadcast them as far and wide as he can get anybody to listen to them. The Science Museum, on the other hand, is also free to decide whether or not it wants to be a vehicle for promoting these views and helping Watson disseminate them. It chose not too. Watson is still free to yap away; the Science Museum just declined to provide him an audience.

  3. October 18, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Congratulations to Lee for being the first knee-jerk response, and for trotting out the ol’ “lack of freedom of speech” trope! Watson is free to say whatever the hell he wants. He is not, however, free from the consequences of his speech. He is perfectly free to express his virulent racist, sexist, homophobic views, to broadcast them as far and wide as he can get anybody to listen to them. The Science Museum, on the other hand, is also free to decide whether or not it wants to be a vehicle for promoting these views and helping Watson disseminate them. It chose not too. Watson is still free to yap away; the Science Museum just declined to provide him an audience.

  4. lee
    October 19, 2007 at 2:08 am

    Technically you’re correct when you say that the Science Museum doesn’t have to allow Dr. Watson to speak. However, since the museum is funded by taxpayers, I think that the views of ALL taxpayers should be represented.
    It’s an acknowledged fact that black people excel in certain areas of athletic endeavour, so why should it not be investigated if Europeans are superior in others? It’s a valid question to ask, and by closing down debate on the subject the Science Museum and its supporters are doing themselves no favours.

  5. October 19, 2007 at 5:59 am

    Dr Watson took US citizenship quite a while back and is not a UK taxpayer. I am! Obviously, the Science Museum has the solemn duty to give me the use of its biggest lecture hall for an evening. I’ll call them today and arrange it.

  6. October 19, 2007 at 6:03 am

    Correction: Dr Watson was always a US citizen. Duh. But my point stands.

  7. Luna_the_cat
    October 19, 2007 at 11:39 am

    lee:
    Watson is free to say anything he wants here. But no organisation is obligated to give him a platform and a venue. Or are you suggesting that it is absolutely unfair and bad for the Science Museum to also refuse to let Answers In Genesis give lectures there on creationism and the greatness of God? Are they absolutely wrong to refuse to let Holocaust deniers use their venue to lecture on history? Is it because we are such a dreadfully repressed and censored society that I think it is probably a good thing that they don’t let the anti-vaccination crowd in to give medical lectures?
    Science organisations are actually under an obligation — by their own professional integrity, and an external obligation to us, their taxpayers — not to support the promulgation of false and nonscientific information, either explicitly or implicitly. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    The problem is not that Watson is “tackling a controversial subject” — many scientists actually tackle that particular controversial subject, and not necessarily in a “pc” way, either. The problem is that he is repeating myths and lies, in an incredibly unscientific manner, and lending ammunition to an irrational and damaging segment of society. I am not paying taxes to support THAT, dammit.

  8. Luna_the_cat
    October 19, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    This just in: The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory board of trustees has suspended Watson, “pending further deliberation by the board”.

  9. Luna_the_cat
    October 19, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    This just in: The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory board of trustees has suspended Watson, “pending further deliberation by the board”.

  10. Patricia
    October 19, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    Interesting that Cold Spring Harbor will suspend him for his racist views but not his sexist views!!!

  11. October 19, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    Luna_the_cat, you are quite right but I would be willing to bet you a small sum that David Lammy, who incidentally is black, would not be able to tell you why Watson’s views are unacceptable from a scientific point of view. This is the problem I have with a great deal of the (mainstream) criticism of Watson. He is being criticised not because his ideas are unscientific, but because they are racist. I think this is maybe what lee was getting at, of course s/he is quite wrong about a lack of freedom of speech as Zuska has explained but it is often easier to tarnish individuals with accusations of racism than it is to discredit their ideas.

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