I’m sorry to inflict this on you, and it’s OK if you decide not to torture your brain watching it. This is Kary Mullis, Nobel prize winner for the discovery of PCR, giving a talk. It’s long and rambling, and at various points he endorses global warming denialism and HIV denialism, but somehow thinks maybe there is something to astrology. It’s a terrible, awful, embarrassingly bad talk from a prestigious kook. Mullis has one point of pride with me: when anyone asks me to name a book by a legitimate, successful scientist that demonstrates that even smart people can be awesomely stupid, Mullis’s Dancing in the Mind Field beats out even Collins’ Language of God.
There are funny moments in the video, but they’re mostly funny because they expose the inanity and hypocrisy of Mullis. For instance, he says that he will not take statins to control cholesterol because they might damage his brain…but anyone who knows Mullis’s history knows he’s been extraordinarily indulgent in mind-altering recreational pharmaceuticals.
Really, though, the only reason to listen to this mess is at the end, somewhere past the one hour mark, where he’s dealing with the Q&A, and two people, a student and a faculty member, actually have the guts to question him critically. Mullis can’t answer them; he basically makes an argument from authority, claiming that he’s been studying diseases since before the student was born, and even stooping to calling him a “little boy”. It got ugly there. Mullis not only is incapable of assembling a coherent thought, but turns surly when anyone does not fawn over him.
The student and the professor who are willing to argue with the credentialed buffoon are the only shining lights in this depressing spectacle. I’d ask for someone to tell me their names, except I’m a little concerned that calling out an idiotic Nobelist in public may have some repercussions. It ought to enhance their reputations, but you never know…especially among a faculty that thought it was a good idea to invite Mullis (he does have a reputation, and it’s not a good one) in the first place.