09 December 2007

Hmm...


James Watson, DNA pioneer and Nobel laureate, is most definitely a distinguished scientist. However, he has courted controversy throughout his life, mainly from a tendency to shoot from the lip when expressing opinions. His final remarks which suggested that black people were genetically less intelligent that whites generated a backlash which forced him to retire as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory on Long Island NY.


It was ironic to see an article in today’s Sunday Times which states that an analysis of his genome shows that 16% of his genes are likely to have come from a black ancestor of African descent. (This compares with 1% in most people of European descent. “This level is what you would expect in someone who had a great-grandparent who was African,” said Kari Stefansson of deCODE Genetics, whose company carried out the analysis. “It was very surprising to get this result for Jim.” The analysis also shows a further 9% of Watson’s genes are likely to have come from an ancestor of Asian descent


Sir John Sulston, the Nobel laureate who helped lead the consortium that decoded the human genome, said the discovery was ironic in view of Watson’s opinions on race. “I never did agree with Watson’s remarks,” he said. “We do not understand enough about intelligence to generalise about race.”


The great work done by Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and of course Rosalind Franklin (who died in 1958 and was thus ineligible for a Nobel prize nomination) laid the foundations for all subsequent DNA research. If it wasn’t for their work it would not be possible to decode his genome and find that he has more African genes than usual for a person of European descent. To be honest there is so much we don’t know about our genome, or how it may determine intelligence. That said, the 16 % of African genes did not put a crimp on Watson’s abilities and that says a lot to me.

11 comments:

James Higham said...

16% of my genes are from the Ice Warriors.

jams o donnell said...

It would amuse me to find out that I am in fact part bicycle. That would please any Flann O'Brien fan

Sean Jeating said...

Being part of Omnium, you have good reason to be amused, dear Jams.

jams o donnell said...

Haha indeed Sean!

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Amusing indeed. But no one has proved conclusively that a scientific genius cannot be a moron at the same time...

elasticwaistbandlady said...

So that must indicate that Watson was self-hating?

elasticwaistbandlady said...

And then I looked down at my hairy, hairy arms and realized that I must be at least 16% werewolf.

jams o donnell said...

THat's true. One can be a genius in one field and an utter arse. Me I'm just an arse!

I'm not sure what he actually made of the discovery Ewbl. I would be interested to know. As for the arms at least you should be impervious to all but a silver bullet

A Free Man said...

Good post. I am of the opinion that Watson misspoke - because he is a dozy old man on the verge of senility (here's a post I did in November: http://www.chrisdellavedova.com/2007/11/12/inconvenient-truths/)

I think its unfortunate that he's become a whipping boy for a certain portion of the left. Scientists have never been known for their social skills - that includes public speaking. That's why we don't do it very often! What Watson said was moronic and scientifically dodgy at best, but he's not a villain - just dumb.

By the way, every week for WW I find something thought provoking to read here - I'm going to add a link to you from my site.

SandyCarlson said...

Bigotry as self-loathing pretending to be science! Oh my!

jams o donnell said...

Watson was a great scientist but he had a habit of talking rot on other issues. This was not the first time he has courted controversy. THanks for the link Chris. I will return the compliment

I would rather to have seen none of this Sandy!