People are still unaware of Jim Watson’s reputation?

The Illinois News-Gazette has an interesting twist in an editorial. Read it and let’s see if you can detect a bit of bias here.

One recent blot on the UI’s reputation, one that received statewide attention, was the disgracefully successful effort by a faculty ideologue to block a planned speech on cancer research by a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. Alas, the faculty members who were so agitated by the Salaita episode were conspicuously silent about the cancellation of a talk by Dr. James Watson, an esteemed 89-year-old molecular biologist, geneticist and zoologist.

Kate Clancy, a faculty member at the University of Illinois, is a faculty ideologue.

James Watson is an esteemed 89-year-old molecular biologist, geneticist and zoologist.

Clancy is a well-regarded anthropologist with a commendable record of public outreach. Watson, on the other hand, as every biologist knows, has a reputation as a raving loose cannon with deplorable ideas about women and black people. You wouldn’t go to a talk by him to hear about new developments in cancer research, you’d go anticipating the moment when it would go off the rails and produce a spectacular crash, and you’d be disappointed if he managed to stay focused (which he wouldn’t). It would be very exciting in the way that a NASCAR race is — cars going around and around in circles, livened up with the occasional disaster.

That editorial is grossly misinformed about the actual situation, and the author is relying on superficial information with an authoritarian twist — Watson has a Nobel prize! He would never deliver a talk about oversexed African men, spiced up with slides of women in bikinis! Except that he did. I’ve had my own encounter with Jim Watson, and really…he’s not a good choice for a speaker anywhere.

Unfortunately, that misleading editorial has now led to online harassment, and for Clancy to fear for her safety. This looks trivial, but it’s actually rather chilling.

Why would you email someone, and then drive to their home and leave a note to tell them to check their mail? One reason: to let them know that you know where they live.

Clancy has a recommendation. Let this newspaper know how dishonest and dangerous they were by publishing such nonsense.


  1. says

    Ah, a proper occasion to remind ourselves of the dread Nobel Disease. Other victims include, perhaps most famously, Kary Mullis, but go back all the way to Pierre Curie and include Schrodinger, Linus Pauling, William Shockley, and even Einstein.

    The RationalWiki entry on Mullis has this: Kary Mullis (Chemistry, 1993) — Generally barking mad. AIDS denial, alien abduction, Aliensdidit, astrology, astral projection, conspiracy theories, cosmic raccoons, global warming denial, ozone denial. Possibly related to his heavy use of LSD.[33][34]

  2. busterggi says

    The man made one appearance on Quiz Kids in the late ’40’s and lost – Nobel Prize, my Aunt Fanny!

  3. logicalcat says

    “cosmic raccoons”

    Yea but those are real. Guardians of the Galaxy is based on true events. I thought that was common knowledge.

  4. says

    Keep in mind that the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette is the apotheosis of Godwin’s Law: Every conversation about it eventually involves comparing its editorial policies to Naziism. Accurately.* It is violently anti-academic-integrity and -freedom, and violently pro-athletics-as-the-only-reason-for-the-university (well, maybe they’ll accept the money that flows in around a Big Ten university, but only grudgingly… because along with that money there are Those People). I don’t use “violently” lightly, either, after the reporter-and-editorial-led incitements in 1993 and 1994 against Native Americans protesting the university’s demeaning mascot.

    I was stuck with it as the “local paper” for two decades. Thank you ever so much for reminding me of a time that the Chicago Tribune was too far left…

    * Specific example: In the 1990s, one columnist kept criticizing the women’s basketball coaches and programs as insufficiently feminine in that stereotypical 1950ish sort of way, especially compared to the much-higher-ranked volleyball program. (He would have been happier if they had worn poodle skirts to class.) Needless to say, he had his facts sort of wrong… and that was among his lesser blind spots. Even by the time I left the area in 2012, it was not really any different — they had just changed brands of dog whistles.