PZ Myers is a really nice person and I love Pharyngula – I just spent a nice half hour reading it, and among other good stuff I encountered there was a link in this post to Robert Hooke’s notebooks online. Very cool indeed, and totally geekalicious.
But I’m also aware of this recent distasteful post wherein PZ offers up an apologia for Jim Watson. You know, he just has these repellent personal opinions; he’s an asshole; but we all have to learn to tolerate this because he’s such a fucking hero.
A healthy dose of puke for your shoes, PZ. If Watson suddenly announces that design theory is his new favorite thing and evolution is evil, will you say aw, gosh, that’s just his personal opinion and it’s repellent but he’s a hero! Let the poor lad keep his job! He can be an excellent spokesperson for CSHL!
Yeah. I didn’t think so. ID proponents are too distasteful and offensive to tolerate, but promoting pseudo-scientific racism and sexism – hey, that just makes you an asshole, and we all have to overlook these little foibles.
Last November, Dr. Free-Ride posited a ship whose sailors must make repairs on the open sea as a metaphor for the scientific enterprise. She concluded:
It’s a frustrating situation. Those who are in the community have a lot to lose by challenging the status quo. Those who are no longer in the community can speak out without the same risk of losing their standing — but, having no standing, they are also in a position where the community can safely ignore them. The status quo lumbers on, but that doesn’t mean the ship isn’t taking on water. Putting off real repairs for too long endangers the whole community.
And maybe that means that members of the community who are not accustomed to stepping up to identify these problems or make the repairs need to take a turn facing the sharks.
Finally, for once, members of the community with real power – decision-makers at CSHL – stepped up to make some badly needed repairs. And PZ, who is generally a very vocal supporter of underrepresented groups in science, finds fault.
The contribution we need from leaders in the community like PZ at this point is to support the CSHL action as the very necessary step it is, not whine about poor mistreated Watson. Calling him a hero is just ludicrous. It takes more than being involved in a very, very important scientific discovery to be a hero. You can do good science, and still be a piece of shit person. It happens every day in labs all over the place. And I would submit that even if Watson were merely an asshole, that alone would disqualify him. Heroes may be a lot of things, but assholes they ain’t.
UPDATE: PZ has replied in the comments section and I encourage you to read what he said (comment #1).