Home > Apologists for the Oppressors, Burns My Shorts, Gratuitous Sexism, Outrage of the Week, Race Matters > Jim Watson, Seed Adviser: A Slap In The Face To Those Who Care About Science And Equity

Jim Watson, Seed Adviser: A Slap In The Face To Those Who Care About Science And Equity

I’ve written in the recent past about why Jim Watson is bad for science, especially the perception non-scientists get of science as a result of his pseudo-scientific racist natterings. I analyzed the reactions within the scientific community to the recent Watson imbroglio.
It’s far past time for me to speak up about how Watson’s mess hits closer to home. I am talking about his role on the board of directors of Seed Media Group as a scientific adviser. Seed Media Group, as you may know, is the organization that sponsors Scienceblogs. I have to tell you, it is extremely disgusting to be associated with Jim Watson in this way, no matter how distant that relationship may be. Seed doesn’t tell us what we should or can’t blog about, but the fact remains that I am blogging for an organization that thinks hanging out with Watson is just dandy – even in the face of the recent blow-up that came after he dissed all of Africa. I have to ask myself seriously if it is a good idea to continue that association.
Here are some questions I’d love to have answered:

  1. Why did the powers-that-be at Seed (and here I’m asking you, Adam Bly), why did they think that associating with a known racist misogynist ass was a good idea in the first place? It’s not like there aren’t any other prominent scientists who could fill the advisory post.
  2. How does having a racist misogynist ass – who uses pseudo-science to promote and support his prejudice – as an adviser help promote Seed’s “Science Is Culture” message and, more importantly, its espoused advocacy for scientific literacy?
  3. In what manner is having Watson on board consistent with supporting blogs/bloggers like Thus Spake Zuska, Sciencewoman and Alice Pawley at On Being A Scientist And A Woman, Karen Ventii at Science to Life, Maria Brumm at Green Gabbro, and Janet Stemwedel at Adventures in Ethics and Science?
  4. Asking Jim Watson to support your efforts makes you a de facto Apologist For The Oppressor. How do you manage to feel comfortable with that role?

Seed’s choice of Jim Watson as a scientific adviser is a slap in the face to everyone who cares about scientific integrity and equity in science. Make no mistake Adam Bly, you send a message to the world through this continuing association that is louder than any explicit platitudes you might mouth about your passion for science and your advocacy of scientific literacy, or any expressed concern for underrepresented minorities in science. But hey, if you’re comfortable with all that, then just stick with Jim.
In the face of that, I have to seriously ask myself if I should stick with Scienceblogs.
UPDATE: From the Harvard Crimson article about Watson’s ties with Seed Media:

Howard C. Berg, the Smith professor of physics and a friend and colleague of Watson for over 40 years, said he had no personal knowledge of Seed Media Group.
But he said that Watson would not associate himself with an organization on a superficial level.
“If he didn’t participate directly in the work in a significant way, he wouldn’t attach his name to it,” Berg said of Watson. “In that regard, he’s very ethical.”

Having him on board as a figurehead is bad enough; if he is really working closely with Seed, that’s even worse.
From the Scientific American article on Watson’s “retirement” from CSH:

However Andrew Berry, who wrote a book on DNA in 2003 with Watson, said “It seems to me a no-brainer” for Seed Media to remove Watson as an adviser.

Apparently thinking about continuing association with Watson is more difficult than one would imagine for the folks at Seed. One does wonder why.
(thanks to Janet Stemwedel for reminding me of those links.)

  1. February 12, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    I agree: Seed should remove Watson immediately.

  2. Son of Priam
    February 12, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    “In the face of that, I have to seriously ask myself if I should stick with Scienceblogs…
    Apparently thinking about continuing association with Watson is more difficult than one would imagine for the folks at Seed. One does wonder why.”

    Obviously you must put something on the line here, like the your contribution to this blog nexus, if you are serious and want SEED to take notice. If people like you start leaving for other blog hosts, that’s when SEED will take notice. Until then, it is like complaining about a restaurant but continuing to eat there all the time — no motivation to change. Without you guys, no one will come here anymore, and that hurts SEED’s bottom line.

  3. February 13, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Look guys, he didn’t join the board yesterday, and the ruckus was months ago. If you want the moral high ground here, you should have left scienceblogs then.
    Beyond all that, though, he’s not 100% bad. You probably have friends or family that oppose stem cell research who you haven’t excommunicated, don’t you? Does one belief, however bad, make that person a rotten, worthless person through and through?
    I’ll bet he’s not the only scientist to have outrageous beliefs, he’s just the only one foolish enough to be quoted so. The time to do something was months ago, if then, but what would that really solve, anyways?
    I think y’all should lay of the poor old asshole.

  4. February 13, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Mr. Gunn, I’ve had this same conversation with others, and I’ll tell you what I told them: the “some of my favorite relatives are racist asshats and so we should be kind to dear old Watson” is tiresome bullshit. It’s a nice tactic for denying that there’s any problem at all (see the denialist’s deck of cards for just how that works.) I don’t care if Watson is kind to animals, or gives to charity, or whatever supposedly redeeming qualities you think he has. He’s bad for science and promotes injustice. People have been wiling, for too long, to “look past” his hateful views, thus allowing him to go blithely along spouting his nonsense from influential positions.

  5. bsci
    February 13, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Mr. Gunn,
    Try this interpretation. You own a company. One of your most senior managers holds opinions and regularly vocalizes them that characteristics of certain employees (i.e. women, fat women, black people) generally make them inferior to other employees. These opinions make the existing employees uncomfortable. In addition, these opinions attract negative opinions to the company as a whole. Based on the literal job description, the manager is doing is job, but his opinions undermine and alienate other members of the company and their customers.
    Would you keep this manager on staff?

  6. tguy
    February 13, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Seed magazine gets its own Dr. House, look for ratings to go up.

  7. February 14, 2008 at 11:26 am

    “At this new company, he creates an environment that is unpleasant for a small number of people creating the product.” who didn’t pay him any attention for quite some time, then all of the sudden decide it’s a HUGE problem, when it wasn’t before.
    Look, in a battle of attention whore vs. attention whore, nobody wins.

  8. February 14, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    And if you read the comments on the other 3 blogs that are rehashing this issue, you get a pretty clear impression that this is a case of a couple attention-starved bloggers telling the only people who have to listen to them to “RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAH”.

  9. February 14, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    this is a case of a couple attention-starved bloggers telling the only people who have to listen to them to “RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAH”.
    Cool! I didn’t know there were people who HAVE to listen to me! Can you tell me who they are? I’m guessing you’re one of them, Mr. Gunn, since you can’t seem to tear yourself away from this blog you despise so much. Is my mom paying you to read this???? I’ll tell her to stop if you want.

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