Friday, February 27, 2009

James Watson is a clueless idiot

Some one made the mistake of letting Watson out in public again (*), and true to form the old reactionary started spouting nonsense (quotes taken from the SciAm article):

He noted that a lack of money in the sciences meant that people had to be nice to each other, because they need to grovel for the limited research dollars. And, according to Watson, there's nothing worse than forcing young, ambitious scientists to be nice. "Christian values don't make any sense," he said, explaining that young people should be selfish and aim for success.
I presume Watson is advocating scientists would be better served engaging in character assassination and stealing other peoples results before publication and passing them off as their own. After all, that's exactly what Watson's fame is based on [1, 2, 3].

What is doubly absurd about Watson's statements is the idea that scientists are too nice to each other at the moment. That in the competition for increasingly scarce funding, scarce tenure-track jobs, scarce everything, that we've all became nicer to each other!

The reality is, of course, that a wide range of behaviour exists in the large and diverse science community. A small fraction of the population will always seek to game or exploit the system. I doubt any scientist would have trouble recounting at least one story of distinctly unethical behaviour that affected someone they know caused by some other scientists, be it real or perceived.

Back in crazy land Watson was not finished making a fool of himself:
Indeed, Watson's prescription for maintaining U.S. dominance in science includes postponing tenure for young scientists and allowing only one in five PhDs to stay in academics – and forcing the remaining grads to spread out and take up other occupations.
Because tenure is too easy to get! I laughed so much it hurt. I seriously doubt that as many as one in five US PhDs in the sciences ever get tenure. Forcing them to take up other occupations is unlikely to result in those people continuing to do scientific research, although they may indeed take their skills to technology based companies. Forcing people to change careers against their will is also hardly a method likely to result in high quality output of any kind.

Of course it wouldn't be Watson if he didn't make an unfair and dishonest attack on someone who wasn't there to defend themselves.
But Watson said he believes there is a larger hole in the U.S. educational system that is sapping our lead in science. "Part of the problem is too many of our teachers are dumb," he said, balking that "Teachers' unions are corrupt." He said that the relatively low pay educators receive has prompted smart people to flee teaching for other careers— although he made a point of noting that he does not support giving them raises. Teachers like the "bright woman that taught me Latin are nowhere near our schools [now]," he crowed.
So it is not the absurd and ham-strung funding system for US public schools, nor the lack of a national curriculum, nor the fundamentalist and partisan political attacks on science and science education, that are the cause of the US's less than stellar world educational rankings? Nope, according to Watson it is "dumb" teachers and evil Unions. For heaven's sake don't pay the teachers more! After reciting these bits of classic modern Republican party policy Watson then has the unmitigated cheek to criticize John McCain as "nuts" and "dumb". Wow! What a piece of work this man is.

(*) Whose bright idea was it to invite Watson onto a panel given what happened the last time Watson spoke?

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