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← E.O. Wilson & James Watson on Charles Darwin

E.O. Wilson & James Watson on Charles Darwin - Comments

bluebird's Avatar Comment 1 by bluebird

Speaking of EO Wilson, saw this in today's news:

Remarkable; how many of Earth's species are yet to be discovered?!?
I haven't visited the EOL recently...

Tue, 16 Sep 2008 09:27:00 UTC | #235473

ericcolumba's Avatar Comment 2 by ericcolumba

Just sitting down to listen to the discussion. Thought I'd just post to see what my new photo looks like.

Tue, 16 Sep 2008 13:21:00 UTC | #235585

Vinelectric's Avatar Comment 3 by Vinelectric

Watson's (et al) hard work and ingenuity enabled him to decipher the exact structure of the very thing that defines us. He sees no evidence for a designer and publicly admits so.

Francis Collins, at a time where you just push a button to analyse DNA sequences, takes the liberty to attribute the origin of the structure of DNA to a figment of his own imagination.

He is abusing his authority as an eminent scientist to peddle his pity personal beliefs. Effectively he is betraying all the hard work of the bright men and women who have spent most of their short lives to help humans understand the world they live in. Disgusting.

Tue, 16 Sep 2008 15:29:00 UTC | #235669

Gamma ut's Avatar Comment 4 by Gamma ut

Wow.... just, wow!

Tue, 16 Sep 2008 20:11:00 UTC | #235733

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 5 by mordacious1


Nice avatar. *points and then falls over laughing*

Tue, 16 Sep 2008 20:40:00 UTC | #235734

Lisa Bauer's Avatar Comment 6 by Lisa Bauer

Sadly, looking at the date, this was only a couple of months before Watson was forced out of his position at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory because of the controversy stirred up by some remarks he made.

Good conversation, though.

Tue, 16 Sep 2008 22:20:00 UTC | #235741

Fanusi Khiyal's Avatar Comment 7 by Fanusi Khiyal

Layla, that incident you refer to makes me more angry than I have capacity to express. The Derb get's close:

An outrageous month: a month of outrages, I mean. To pick a handful at random:

Outrage of the Month (1). The crucifixion of James Watson. Nobody knows - nor will know, not for a century or so, anyway - what the human race owes to this brilliant scientist, one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA. He got the Nobel Prize for his work (sharing the prize with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins). Now the mangled corpse of his reputation is being dragged round the walls of the city behind a chariot, to the howling glee of people who aren't worthy to squeeze the paste onto Watson's toothbrush for him.

Cold Spring Harbor lab, which owes all its present prominence, not to mention most of its endowment, to Watson's efforts, has led the hyena pack, forcing Watson to resign from his position as Director. The Federation of American Invertebrates Scientists has pronounced anathema on him. He's had to cancel all his speaking engagements for fear the gibbering Morlocks of Political Correctness would show up and throw things at him. It is a horrible, shameful story, one of the ugliest to come out of the world of science for many years.

It get's even worse than that. Cold Spring Harbour was founded for which purposes? Why to advance Eugenics of course! They were involved in alot of the gassing and sterilization stuff that was going on.

Now, finally, they have the courage to face that record and expel one of the greatest scientists who has ever lived. And that's a scandal.

Tue, 16 Sep 2008 22:32:00 UTC | #235743

Sargeist's Avatar Comment 8 by Sargeist

I thought Jim Watson was quite interesting on last night's Horizon programme (for which there is a separate thread, I know, sorry), but I was a little bemused by the programme's voiceover that "he has no recollections of saying the things attributed to him" (I paraphrase). The trouble with that is that Jim Watson was, to me, clearly looking rather old and frail and to have an old person say "I cannot remember saying it" is not very convincing to anyone who already thinks he is a racist.

Personally, the expression on his face when he was saying that he doesn't think he is racist, clearly remembering all the comments that had been made about him, said to me that he was quite horrified and upset about what some people had been thinking.

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 00:39:00 UTC | #235760

Yorker's Avatar Comment 9 by Yorker

I watched this when it appeared a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I was saddened by the media attack made upon Jim Watson last year and the cowardliness of those who cancelled his engagements. Then I wondered how they'd react if the data showed that in general, black people were slightly less intelligent than whites? Would we ignore scientific findings because it might justify the views of racists? I hope not. Would Watson's detractors apologise to him? Probably not.

Every time I think of Jim I'm reminded of his great reply to an interviewer who accused him of playing God.

"If I don't play God, who will?", said Jim!

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 00:58:00 UTC | #235764

Fanusi Khiyal's Avatar Comment 10 by Fanusi Khiyal

What the heck happened to Laurie's comment?

The howling lynch-mob behavior of the chattering classes is simply evidence of their utter uselessness.

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 01:06:00 UTC | #235767

Laurie Fraser's Avatar Comment 11 by Laurie Fraser

I withdrew my comment in order to add some addendums, which I'll post back up in a little while, Fanusi.

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 01:07:00 UTC | #235768

Laurie Fraser's Avatar Comment 12 by Laurie Fraser

I regard E. O. Wilson and James Watson as two of the most important scientists in history. What Cold Spring Harbor did to Wilson was an outrage. I don't think Watson is a racist; he was responding to general questions about race and intelligence, and in my opinion his comments were just wrong, but not maliciously so. He should have been given the benefit of explaining himself, or at least admitting he had made a mistake - an unscientific assumption.

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 01:13:00 UTC | #235770

Sargeist's Avatar Comment 13 by Sargeist


People would most likely just say that the data were flawed. Given that (I think) we accept that it is not surprising that Ethiopians tend to be so much better at long distance running than white people (even tall lanky whites like me) I don't see why there can't be any genetic component to intelligence. The trouble might just be that it is much harder to demonstrate than other things like increased lung capacities of people who live up mountains, for example. And so hard to work out whether Asian students are better at maths olympiads than other students because of racial genetics or cultural inputs.

EDIT: and this is why I can't see immediately that eugenics is a flawed idea. We may not eradicate things that we don't want - like sickle cell, cystic fibrosis, various trisomies - because of unstoppable mutation, but a general increase in allele frequency? Well, isn't that what evolution is all about? If we can spot certain things that we like, then surely they can be bred for? Why else would peacocks have great big tails, and human females such large breasts (in some cases, I hasten to add)...

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 01:28:00 UTC | #235775

the great teapot's Avatar Comment 14 by the great teapot

An eskimo writing great poetry, what an hilarious notion. Why an eskimo could live in Ireland for a thousand years and he'd still be building igloos and trying to fish on dry land.

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 04:12:00 UTC | #235838

coretemprising's Avatar Comment 15 by coretemprising

I have felt compelled to reproduce this segment of the interview:

Watson: "In my mind Darwin was the most important person who ever lived on earth."
Rose: (continuing, as he had been throughout, IMO, to be such a dope) "Wait. Darwin was the most important person who ever lived on earth?"
Watson: "Yes."
Rose: "Moreso than Einstein?"
Watson: "Yes."
Rose: "Moreso than--anybody?"
Watson: "Yeah! Mohammed."

[whoa! Great, but he might even have said "Jesus."]

Rose: "Mohammed?!"
Watson: "Mohammed, yeah. Because for the first time he actually saw what was happening."
Rose: (sputtering) "Forgive me for this…" (for what? His being utterly stupefied?)
Watson: "No, but if you say that truth comes from observation and experience, not from revelation, which is the way I was raised, then Darwin was the first person using observation and experience to really put man in his place in the world…. So I think he just was colossally important."

Rose: (to Wilson) "Do you agree with that? 'The most important person ever to live'? That's what he said."
Wilson: (seeming slightly uncomfortable) "Umm, eee, yes. If you go through the founders of great religions, [here it comes!] then you have to understand that they have just affected part of the world and they are in contingent [did he mean 'contention'?] with one another, and it's important, but it's not all important. Because they really were basically wrong about where man came from and how we fit into the universe."

[All righty then!]

Watson: "That's not to say anything against them! There was no science then, they couldn't have been right."


Wilson: "And the vision they gave us really came from the late iron age and some desert kingdoms there which were there, which were rather specific, the Abrahamic religions. But it is true, Darwin really cracked it, and finally showed us how to figure out pretty precisely where we came from and how we fit into the universe."
Watson: "So he's the big hero in our lives, you know? …If you really think of it, he was really the first person who got it right."

Okay, I want to see this broadcast on major tv networks now. And I certainly agree with those who have been outraged at the treatment of Watson. Does anyone know what he's donig now?

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 05:03:00 UTC | #235859

coretemprising's Avatar Comment 16 by coretemprising

Nevermind about my question. I've read much about it on the web now. Seems many opinions run against him.

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 05:46:00 UTC | #235877

Lisa Bauer's Avatar Comment 17 by Lisa Bauer

Dawkins had this to say about the incident at the time:

'What is ethically wrong is the hounding, by what can only be described as an illiberal and intolerant "thought police", of one of the most distinguished scientists of our time, out of the Science Museum, and maybe out of the laboratory that he has devoted much of his life to, building up a world-class reputation.'

coretemprising wrote:
Rose: "Moreso than--anybody?"
Watson: "Yeah! Mohammed."

[whoa! Great, but he might even have said "Jesus."]

I'm reminded of that "The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History" list, in which Muhammad topped the list (followed by Isaac Newton and then Jesus).

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 06:08:00 UTC | #235884

coretemprising's Avatar Comment 18 by coretemprising

One must assume, of course, that Watson meant "important" (/influential) in a positive regard. It's just that it floored me that Watson pulled out Mo at that moment. Floored Rose too, apparently.

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 06:24:00 UTC | #235889

Quine's Avatar Comment 19 by Quine

<!-- Be sure tags are closed -->The question of how to have a just society when genetics is intrinsically unjust, is deeply important and branches into many other issues. For example, to what extent should some people be restricted from changing the cards they are dealt, when most others cannot? Or, when is it justifiable to modify the genetic line that will be expressed in future generations? Throughout history we have been defined by our physical limitations. Technology has largely been developed to break out of those limitations. When this is applied to the limitations from the genes, who will be we?

One of the causes I see for the way some folks hug tightly to religion is that facing the thought involved to make the weighty decisions of the new future is felt to be both too difficult and too frightening. It is easier to just leave it to unjust genetics under the cover of a mythical divine plan.

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 12:17:00 UTC | #235998

Fanusi Khiyal's Avatar Comment 20 by Fanusi Khiyal

Given that Muhammad was the Hitler who succeeded, it's unsurprising he was 'influential'.

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 12:20:00 UTC | #236000

the great teapot's Avatar Comment 21 by the great teapot

I couldn't help but notice they avoided the question of men being intellectually superior to women.
Political correctness gone mad I tell ya.

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 13:21:00 UTC | #236044

CJ22's Avatar Comment 22 by CJ22

Did Mohamed definitely exist, in the way that Jesus did not definitely exist? If you see what I mean. Was Mohamed a verifiable bona fide historical person?

Thu, 18 Sep 2008 04:20:00 UTC | #236363

Lisa Bauer's Avatar Comment 23 by Lisa Bauer

CJ22 wrote:

Did Mohamed definitely exist, in the way that Jesus did not definitely exist? If you see what I mean. Was Mohamed a verifiable bona fide historical person?

In a word, no. The historical evidence for his existence is approximately on a par with that of Jesus, although then one would need to come up with an alternate explanation as to how and why the Arabs managed to conquer most of the Middle East and North Africa within a century if you don't have Muhammad and the new religion of Islam to kick things off. I suppose you could go to the Prophet's Mosque in Medina where Muhammad is (allegedly) buried and dig him up? Or do DNA analysis on the hundred million sayyids, supposed descendants of the Prophet? (I do wonder about the latter.)

Thu, 18 Sep 2008 05:57:00 UTC | #236414

retrospy's Avatar Comment 24 by retrospy

Great interview.

My favorite part was how they talked about the recent progress in science and speculated on psychology and neurology as the next big scientific ventures - inspiring.

It was also interesting how they ended the discussion with an unanswered question. If the sucess of humans (survival of the fittest) is their ability to avoid their agressive & hostile natures, how was this accomplished in a relatively short history of human evolution? It seems logical to draw the conclusion that religions may have been helpful in this process by helping leaders to control larger populations, through fear. This would explain why religion exists, it served a purpose of control. Maybe by better understanding our own human history and the role religion played in that history, it will be easier for those of a religous persuasion to adopt or identify with a more modern brand of thought that doesn't rely on an ancient concept involving a supernatural deity. Unless of course the religous minded enjoy being manipulated by authority. A kind of outsourceing of their thoughts. It's no wonder the sheep metephor is common in religous language.

I look forward to more research on these topics.

Thu, 18 Sep 2008 07:05:00 UTC | #236455

Eli's Avatar Comment 25 by Eli

It is apotheotic for a biologist to see these two men together...

Thu, 18 Sep 2008 16:17:00 UTC | #236864

Rational_G's Avatar Comment 26 by Rational_G

EO Wilson is fantastic. A treasure. Every American should know who he is but sadly few do.

And the hounding of Watson is excessive. The man made one of the most important scientific discoveries ever.

Sat, 20 Sep 2008 10:51:00 UTC | #237718

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 27 by Stafford Gordon

Very strange how few comments have been posted about this interview, given the nature of this website

Mon, 12 Jan 2009 13:22:00 UTC | #302831