Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Nobel Natterer

James Watson, who shared a Nobel Prize for discovery of the structure of DNA has written a new book to be published next week, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science. In that book, Watson writes:
There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.
This has caused a furor in the United Kingdom, where Watson is scheduled to give a series of lectures. As a result, his first lecture, at the Science Museum in London has been cancelled by the organizers. According to the Independent, "A spokesman for the 1990 Trust, a black human rights group, said: "It is astonishing that a man of such distinction should make comments that seem to perpetuate racism in this way. It amounts to fuelling bigotry and we would like it to be looked at for grounds of legal complaint."

While I find Dr. Watson's comments objectionable, I do not find them actionable and am once again forcefully reminded just how lucky I am to live in a country where free speech is still tolerated no matter how objectionable it may be. For how long we Americans continue to enjoy that right is an open question. I imagine that it is only a matter of time before we too will be subject to prosecution if we do not conform to norms established in our name by those who wield political and judicial power on our behalf.

No comments: