Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Ebony, Meet Irony

tags: , , , , ,

James Watson, 1962 Nobel Prize winner
for co-discovering the structure of DNA along with
Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins.

This is one of the funnier things I’ve read recently. It turns out that 1962 Nobel laureate, James Watson, who recently made some disparaging comments about the intelligence of Africans, probably is of African descent himself.

Watson, whose genome was completely sequenced, is the second person whose entire genome was published on the internet. As a result, it is freely accessible to the public. So, because scientists will be scientists, an Icelandic company, deCODE Genetics, carried out an analysis of Watson’s genome and found that 16 percent of his genome is likely to have come from an ancestor of African descent. In contrast, the genome of the average person of European descent has only one percent that is consistent with African ancestry.

“This level is what you would expect in someone who had a great-grandparent who was African,” observed Kari Stefansson of deCODE Genetics. “It was very surprising to get this result for Jim.”

Earlier this year, Watson claimed that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospects for Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really”.

The ensuing controversy forced Watson to resign as chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York state, after overseeing the place for 39 years. Incidentally, Watson also is a board member of Seed Media Group, publisher of Seed magazine and ScienceBlogs, which is where this blog is located.

Additionally, the analysis revealed that nine percent of Watson’s genome likely came from an ancestor of Asian descent.

On the other hand, considering that all humans came from Africa (some more recently than others, of course), I would suppose that all gene alleles are ultimately “African”. /irony alert/ Of course, I am most interested to know Watson’s results in a slam-dunk contest for 79-year old white men — would he have a 16% higher score than average? /irony alert/

Sources

Australian News (quotes).

Independent (quotes).

NYTimes (background).

Comments

  1. #1 PENIX
    December 10, 2007

    It’s obvious what happened here. The superior asian genes neutralize the effects of the inferior african genes.

  2. #2 Tsebitai
    December 10, 2007

    So, Watson knows whereof he speaks.

  3. #3 sam
    December 10, 2007

    so if he is part black then i guess that gives him the right to say what he said he very well could be right.

  4. #4 Quarrel
    December 10, 2007

    Re: all gene alleles are ultimately “African”

    Rubbish. Of course genes have mutated since the first people started walking out of Africa.

    That says nothing about the relative fitness of those genes of course, other than the standard Darwinian supposition – they were better for survival in the climate they survived in.

    The same also goes for people still in Africa – they’ve got “new” genes that have emerged since other early humans left Africa, and presumably they’re “better” because of it.

    –Q

  5. #5 Radster
    December 11, 2007

    Writing “/irony alert/” really is an insult to the reader’s intelligence. Not all of us are American.

  6. #6 xavo
    December 11, 2007

    this makes perfect sense, only africans would say something this stupid :p

  7. #7 nebiz
    December 11, 2007

    i can’t believe the commentary thus far on a science blog can be so shortsighted and biting. please think before you respond.

  8. #8 HP
    December 11, 2007

    Radster, you might want to check out comments 4 and 7. Perhaps red, blinking text and a shower of winking emoticons are called for.

    Re. Watson: I’m reminded of a story told about Duke Ellington. Ellington was walking out of a nightclub where his orchestra was performing, when he was accosted by a drunk, white businessman: “Mr. Ellington, y’know, if you’d’ve been white, you’d be a great composer.” Ellington looked at the man, regarded him coolly, and said, “If I would have been white, things would certainly be different.”

  9. #9 Ormond Otvos
    December 18, 2007

    Stupid post, stupid comments.

    Saletan and Watson are correct, and misinterpreted by the PC cops here and elsewhere.

    Scientists aren’t necessarily scientific.

  10. #10 Bill
    December 18, 2007

    Incidentally, Watson also is a board member of Seed Media Group, publisher of Seed magazine and ScienceBlogs, which is where this blog is located.

    That’s an interesting fact. Was there any official reaction from Seed or SB to Watson’s latest inanity?

  11. #11 bug_girl
    December 18, 2007

    Am I the only one who sees a remarkable resemblance to Mr. Burns in this photo?

    Also, very nice post title :)

  12. #12 Renata
    January 12, 2008

    Great news! you article was accepted for our Natural Science Carnival! Visit the Carnival here and don’t forget to comment, link back, spread the word!

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