The Aryan Race is unhappy that James Watson has been exposed

Oh, look. The “race realist/scientific racist/just plain racist” gang is very upset that James Watson’s reputation has been besmirched. Errm, further besmirched. Um, OK, blackened to scorched ashes.

Let’s take this apart for the fun of it, shall we?

Brilliant DNA pioneer

True. It’s a good idea to use a bit of reality as a jumping off point for your swan dive into fantasy. But yes, Watson is an incredibly smart guy who accomplished a significant piece of work in the 1950s. That is not, however, incompatible with the fact that he’s also a delusional egomaniac bristling with lots of other bad ideas.

to be wiped from history books

False. We don’t throw away significant data or past scientific contributions. Watson and Crick will still be mentioned. Their famous Nature paper will still be cited. You know, one of the most famous developmental biologists of the last century was Hans Spemann, who was a literal Nazi supporter, and we still discuss his science. Watson will remain in the history books, it’s just that after “co-discoverer of DNA structure”, we’ll also add “and notorious racist”. See? More words, not fewer!

bcuz he said IQ differences exist between races

True. He said that. But he went further to make the unfounded claim that the causes were genetic. It’s that overreach (and also his unapologetic misogyny and racist contempt for non-white people) that led to the loss of honors conferred on him.

& he was very sad about that fact.

No, not particularly. He was pretty gleeful about the superiority of his race when I talked to him. He said stuff about how he was regretful that other races were inferior, but that’s about as sincere and persuasive as me saying that I am so sad that Lana Lokteff has her head stuck up her ass. We all know I’m not sad at all.

Cultural Marxist quacks hijacked his work,

When I see someone talking about “Cultural Marxist”, they have just confirmed that they do, indeed, have their head stuck up their ass. “Cultural Marxism” is a fiction.

But no, that’s false, no one has “hijacked” his work. The worthwhile stuff was all published and made freely available to the world. Everyone gets to use the information about DNA. And further, there has been so much work done to further illuminate the structure and function of DNA by others that it’s not really about him anymore.

stab him in the back.

We’ve known about Watson’s distorted and self-serving view of his history since the 1960s, when he laid bare his selfish little soul in The Double Helix. Everyone just said, “That’s Jim”, and let him babble on. Honor after honor was piled on, in spite of the fact that virtually everyone who worked with him knew he was a petty little shit on the subject of race and gender. He got old, rich, and famous. He only finally got slapped down when he made a lecture tour where he rambled about how melanin made black men into horny rape-monsters, which he illustrated with slides of women in bikinis, and declared that Africa was hopeless because everyone there had an IQ below 80. Finally Cold Spring Harbor stepped in because he was embarrassing the institution. The latest motion to strip of him of even his honorary titles was made because he reneged on his promises to stop dragging CSH’s name through the mud (they have a lot to make up for as a center of the eugenics movement in the first half of the last century, so they’re sensitive on this subject).

Rather than being stabbed in the back, I see a recalcitrant old man who was treated with kid gloves for over half a century, by an institution that only reluctantly rescinded his welcome when his petulant, nasty act became too much to bear.

It’s only correct ‘science’ if it is anti-White

Modern science sans Watson is not anti-White, except in the sense that “White” is not a valid scientific construct to be taken seriously. The study of human genetics is not well served by pandering to the hateful notion that some humans aren’t human at all.

What are the responsibilities of geneticists?

Still works. Just replace “philosophy” with “genetics”

Janet Stemwedel has published an essay in Scientific American. It’s good. You should go read it. It’s also on a subject that I, someone who teaches genetics to college students, worry about. All you have to do is look at racists on the internet, or any of those gomers of the “Intellectual Dark Web”, and you’ll find them chattering away about their version of genetics, citing genetics papers they’ve read or glanced at, but barely understand, and drawing sweeping, and unlikely, conclusions from, for instance, GWAS studies. We’re all so interested in what we can do that we aren’t cautious enough about saying what we can’t do, and what are the invalid interpretations that can trap people searching for genetic certainty in their genomes.

She has some strong suggestions.

For one thing, they [scientists] must be frank and vocal about the weakness of studies that purport to find correlations between race and differences in traits like intelligence or propensity violence. This includes methodological weaknesses like treating IQ as a good proxy for intelligence, or treating “race” as something with clear genetic grounding. A finding that particular genes or sets of genes are associated with a complex behavior does not demonstrate a causal relation or rule out the importance of environmental factors—and indeed, the assumption that genes and environment vary independently is usually false. An average difference in a trait associated with a set of genes between two populations does not rule out that the individual variations within those populations may be greater than the average difference between populations. All of which is to say it’s hard to draw conclusions that are strong, clear and well-supported from much of this work. To the extent that race science is just bad science, scientists have a duty to call it out, rather than letting it stand unchallenged.

I’ve been thinking that I ought to incorporate one of Richard Lewontin’s books into my genetics class — something like It Ain’t Necessarily So : The Dream of the Human Genome and Other Illusions, maybe. The catch is that in a traditional genetics course, we have an obligation to teach the core concepts, and taking time to teach about how genetics is misused is sometimes premature.

For another thing, scientists must do some soul-searching about why they are so motivated to look for evidence that traits like intelligence or propensity to violence are written in our genes, or that they would be different for people in different racial groups. Of all the bits of truth they could discover about our complex world, why this focus? Could it be that scientists are following their preexisting hunches, biases that come from being humans living in a culture built around those biases—or that funders are seeking scientific validation for their biases? Any scientist who dismisses this possibility has forgotten that objectivity requires the communal project of scrutinizing scientific conclusions to find how they might be mistaken.

I’ve got a few awful books on my bookshelf, often written by evolutionary psychologists, that make me wonder about the mental state of the authors. They have some grand theory about human behavior that I know can’t possibly be backed up by significant genetics research, but apparently the public wants that nice pat answer to explain why everything is the way it is.

Also, a lot of those kinds of books seem to be written by professors of marketing. Seriously, if you see a book that purports to be about biology, and the author is employed in a business school, don’t waste your time. Which leads into Stemwedel’s next point…

There’s a further question scientists ought to ask themselves when reflecting on why they study the scientific questions they do: What will the knowledge I’m building be good for? How could it be put to use? Do scientists imagine that a finding of genetic differences in intelligence among racial groups would be used to drive more school funding to Black and brown communities, or as a justification to focus school funding on white communities? Or that a finding of genetic differences in propensity for violence among racial groups would be used to do anything but double down on current overpolicing of communities of color?

In the case of James Watson, for example, I think he’s made a career of trying to buttress evidence that he is an intrinsically superior person. They didn’t call him Lucky Jim for nothing — he stumbled into a major discovery, and I wonder if he wonders what might have made him so fortunate. It can’t possibly be that anyone with the right training could have done it, so he finds a refuge in the fact that he’s Scots-Irish. Others know that the status quo has treated them well, so they want to perpetuate what is currently a racist society for the benefit of themselves and their children. Others, I think, are so steeped in a culture of racial bias that they don’t even think about it — black people must be inferior, so let’s search for a rationalization for holding what is an odious belief.

It’s probably a messy mix of all of those things, and more. I’m pretty sure that if genetics has broad fuzzy edges that psychology is probably even worse.

The Discovery Institute just keeps plugging along, pointlessly

Ahh, the Discovery Institute. A patent pseudoscientific think-tank funded by right-wing millionaires. Doesn’t that make you want to trust them?

They are now cheerfully leaping onto the anti-vax quack bandwagon — it’s where the money is, nowadays. They’ve come out with a new book, The Price of Panic, that tries to claim that the problem isn’t the pandemic, it’s the government’s response to the pandemic.

The human cost of the emergency response to COVID-19 has far outweighed the benefits. That’s the sobering verdict of a trio of scholars—a biologist, a statistician, and a philosopher— in this comprehensive assessment of the worst panic-induced disaster in history.

I think there are about 673,000 Americans who might argue with that. Oops, they can’t — they’re dead. You can always trust those bozos to get everything wrong.

The book is published by Regnery. Enough said.

Stephen Meyer is also out there pushing his new book, Return of the God Hypothesis. It is, of course, boring garbage. I’ve read a couple of Meyer’s books, but I’m not going to bother with this one — it’s all tedious, tendentious, repetitive nonsense, and all of his books sound the same. He might as well call the next one Bride of the God Hypothesis, then Son of the God Hypothesis, and maybe I’ll express some interest when Abbott and Costello Meet the God Hypothesis comes out.

Anyway, Meyer wrote an advertisement masquerading as a press release pretending to announce a serious idea, and the New York Post snapped it up. It does give you a taste of his bad argument.

As crazy as it all sounds, scientists have long posited the possibility of aliens on our planet. In fact, Francis Crick (who along with James Watson won the Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of the DNA molecule) once theorized that life on Earth was “deliberately transmitted” by intelligent extra terrestrials. Far from being scorned, Crick’s “Directed panspermia” theory was presented at a conference organized by Carl Sagan in 1971 and later published as a scientific paper.

One of the hallmarks of a Meyer book is the constant name-dropping. Oooh, Francis Crick! Famous prestigious scientist indulged in some fantastical speculation, and it got presented at a meeting (this is less impressive than you might think) and published! <swoon> It must be good stuff! No, it’s not. It’s a wild-ass idea that went nowhere. Crick is not famous as a panspermist.

I have theorized that life arose when a Space Winnebago flushed their toilet tanks while visiting Hadean Earth. It doesn’t mean anything. It is not evidence for anything. Unfortunately, I haven’t won a Nobel Prize so I haven’t been invited to fumigate a conference hall with my brain farts.

Oooh, Bill Gates next!

Watson and Crick discovered that chemical subunits in DNA function like letters in a written language or digital symbols in computer code. As Bill Gates explains, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.”

Bill Gates is a college dropout who knows nothing about biology, and who got rich on predatory business practices. He is not an authority on this subject. DNA is not like a computer program. It’s a misleading metaphor, applied by a guy who made computers his business. If he’d gotten rich off model railroad gear, he’d be claiming that DNA was just like a track, with switches.

How about Richard Dawkins? He’s got a little more credibility on this subject (but not much, and diminishing every time he opens his mouth).

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins echoes this assessment, noting the “machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like.” In a recent tweet, he confessed to being knocked “sideways with wonder at the miniaturized intricacy of the data-processing machinery in the living cell.”

No, it’s not. He’s wrong. What does it even mean to speak of “machine code” of genes? Back in the ancient times of the 1970s, I sometimes wrote short bits of machine code, and I fail to see the appropriateness of the comparison. The cell and its genes are not computer-like at all, and it does not contain “data-processing machinery”, except in the vaguest sense of the phrase. This is word salad, written by someone who got a bit too excited about a metaphor. It serves Meyer’s purpose, though, so he goes ahead and uses it.

His purpose is to twist science, even Richard Dawkins’ philosophical atheism, into support for his favored assertion.

Believers in this kind of intelligence greatly outnumber believers in alien astronauts. They have long called this intelligence behind life and the universe by a different name.

They call it God.

It’s totally dishonest, of course. That’s written in the “machine code” of the Discovery Institute.

Meyer isn’t even a very good philosopher. He’s got one note that he bangs on, off-key, while desperately waving at out-of-context quotes from people who actually would strongly disagree with him.

Skip it. Ignore everything from that think-tank of lies.

Who’s afraid of the big bad Woke Mob? Not me.

For my entire career, I’ve just casually taught the work of Ronald Fisher — his ideas on genetics and evolution are fundamental to population genetics and statistics, and he was one of the biggest names to shape the melding of Darwinian evolution with Mendelian genetics. You can’t teach the subjects I do without relying on Fisher! Unfortunately, that’s got to change, because he has been “canceled”. Woke Mobs have dug up his corpse and thrown it in the Thames, great bonfires have roared up around the land to consume copies of The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, the New Puritans have threatened me with excommunication if I even mention chi-square or statistical genetics, and the students are collecting kindling to pile around the stakes on the mall for any modern professor who mentions his name…

Oh, wait, none of that is true? What does it even mean to be “canceled”, then? And what outrageous acts are the Woke Mobs committing to inspire dread?

It seems that “cancellation” means that people are talking about the whole of his career, including some very ugly bits, and the “Woke Mobs” were politely circulating petitions to have a stained glass window honoring Ronald Fisher removed from his Cambridge college. They’re also removing his name from a few awards.

That’s it. Seems reasonable and appropriate to me, because Fisher held some truly awful views. Eric Michael Johnson has written a balanced assessment of his ideas, which sounds like the kind of thing a savage Woke Barbarian would do, and he agrees that his terrible, terrible ideas ought to be balanced with his very good ideas, which seems to be what people are calling “cancellation”.

I admit, I started this article with some hyperbole, but hyperbole seems to be the order of the day. Johnson writes,

While Black Lives Matter protests raged and confederate statues were toppled across the United States following the killing of George Floyd, the quiet removal of a stained-glass window at Cambridge University closed one chapter in the history of scientific racism. On June 26, 2020, a commemorative window in honor of the statistician, geneticist, and evolutionary biologist Ronald Aylmer Fisher was targeted for removal from Gonville and Caius College where he had lived during his time at Cambridge. A student petition that had received more than 1,400 signatures objected to Fisher’s “endorsements of colonialism, white supremacy and eugenics.” Following a review, the College Council decided to support the students with a statement acknowledging Fisher’s fundamental contributions to statistics and genetics but concluded that honoring him would not constitute a welcoming environment given that he was “a prominent proponent of eugenics, both in his scientific work and his public pronouncements throughout his career.” Other organizations, such as the Society for the Study of Evolution and the American Statistical Association, have removed Fisher’s name from prestigious awards. Fisher would now join the dubious company of men such as James Watson, Francis Galton, or J. Marion Sims, scientists who contributed substantially to their fields but whose views on race resulted in their honors being removed by the very institutions that had previously celebrated them.

This decision was soon condemned as part of the latest trend in “cancel culture” that followed in the wake of the #MeToo movement toppling other powerful men. According to Fisher’s former student, and current Cambridge Professor of Biometry, A.W.F. Edwards, “a panicking Cambridge institution obliterated the memory of one of its most famous sons” and “joined the cacophony of the echo chamber ‘eugenics and race, eugenics and race.’” University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne blamed the decision on “the spread of wokeness” and argued that you can still honor the good a historical figure accomplished if it outweighed the bad. “Contrary to the statements of those who have canceled Fisher, though, he wasn’t a racist eugenist, although he did think that there were behavioral and intelligence differences between human groups.” Finally, economist and former Reagan Administration official, Paul Craig Roberts, condemned Cambridge University for caving to “ignorant BLM thugs” and declared that we are now “witnessing the surrender of Western Civilization to barbarians.”

My first thought was to wonder how far gone Coyne has become — I haven’t been interested in reading his blog in ages because he was already incredibly regressive, and his active commentariat mainly seems to be rat-droppings from the slymepit. He couldn’t be that ridiculous, could he? And yes, he is. That quote was an understatement. He’s one of those weird conservative wackaloons who rages about “cancel culture” and “wokeness”. I had to look up that article where the quote came from, and hoo boy, he is swimming in the right-wing Kool-Aid. It’s like he almost gets it, though.

The authors make no attempt to gloss over Fisher’s distasteful and odious eugenics views, but do clarify what he favored. These included a form of positive eugenics, promoting the intermarriage of accomplished (high IQ) people, as well as negative eugenics: sterilization of the “feeble minded.” The latter was, however, always seen by Fisher as a voluntary measure, never forced. While one may ask how someone who is mentally deficient can give informed consent, Fisher favored “consent” of a parent or guardian (and concurrence of two physicians) before sterilization—if the patients themselves weren’t competent. But is that really “consent”? Negative eugenics on the population kind (not the selective abortion of fetuses carrying fatal disease, which people do every day) is something that’s seen today as immoral.

You know, I have no patience for people who excuse positive eugenics. We’ve been practicing positive eugenics in this country for a long, long time. Make sure all the white counties and suburbs have plenty of voting machines; how can you complain about that? Provide plenty of money for schools in white districts, no problem. Make it easier for good white folk to take out home loans and build equity. Isn’t that a positive thing we can do? Favor legacy admissions to universities — they’re not against minorities, they just have to reward tradition. Policies in this country are easy to phrase as positives for one group of people, and act as if they aren’t intentionally negative against others. Coyne rightly points out that any kind of negative eugenics can’t hide behind a claim of consent, but positive eugenics has similar problems.

I also agree that Fisher’s views about eugenics were distasteful and odious, but why are we willing to gloss over them? Does anyone want to work at a university that honors a distasteful and odious person with prominent displays, or receive an award named after a distasteful and odious person? I would think it a good idea to actually recognize the harm that a person did in their life! And maybe not inflict it further on those he harmed.

But now the arguments get peculiar.

Contrary to the statements of those who have canceled Fisher, though, he wasn’t a racist eugenist, although he did think that there were behavioral and intelligence differences between human groups, which is likely to be true on average but is a taboo topic—and irrelevant for reforming society. Fisher’s eugenics was largely based on intelligence and class, not race. Fisher was also clueless about the Nazis, though there is no evidence that he or his work contributed to the Nazi eugenics program.

In fact, none of Fisher’s recommendations or views were ever adopted by his own government, which repeatedly rejected his recommendations for positive and negative eugenics. Nor were they taken up in America, where they did practice negative eugenics, sterilizing people without their consent. But American eugenics was largely promoted by American scientists.

Oh, he wasn’t a racist, thank god, he just thought there were intelligence differences between unspecified groups, and he wanted to oppress poor people instead. That makes him better?

Between 1929 and 1934 the Eugenics Education Society of London began campaigning for a law that would permit sterilization of “mental defectives.” Fisher was an active board member of the Society and contributed scientific advice as well as providing them with a four-page pamphlet for use by the Committee for Legalizing Sterilization entitled “The Elimination of Mental Defect” in 1930. In it, Fisher argued that mating was primarily controlled by social class “and defectives undoubtedly gravitate to the lowest social stratum.” He concluded by recommending that, “the segregation or sterilization of the feeble-minded would lead to substantial immediate progress in the elimination of the defect.”

On the other hand, as is typical, Fisher could be a bit loose with his definitions and slip easily into racist talk.

It is this context that provides the backdrop for what followed during and after World War II. For example, on May 11, 1943, with the British First Army still bogged down in Tunisia and the Americans focused on island hopping in the South Pacific, there did not seem to be any end to the war in sight. In his pessimism, Fisher wrote to his Cambridge classmate, C.S. Stock, that eugenics may explain Germany’s wartime stamina. “I imagine their racial programme and their eugenic measures on the Home Front have been eminently successful in a way that is most difficult to deal with, namely that they have been successful with the best type of German.” This could pose a serious problem if England did not rise to meet their eugenic challenge, something that Fisher had learned he could not count on his countrymen to take seriously.

“[I]f we could put our own house in order racially, we should have little to fear from any attempt to imitate our success, but that if we don’t, we shall have a succession of alien demagogues following in the footsteps of Mussolini and Hitler, and building on the important and exciting truth that the English-speaking peoples are far advanced in decadence. Why should we expect anything better?”

He doesn’t sound particularly clueless about the Nazis, either.

Even after the war, once the atrocities of the concentration camps and systematic murder of “defectives” had been exposed in the Nuremberg trials, Fisher wrote a testimonial in favor of the Nazi eugenicist Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer (who supervised Josef Mengele at Auschwitz). Fisher explained that von Verschuer’s reputation “stood exceedingly high among human geneticists” prior to the rise of Adolf Hitler and that it was merely “his misfortune rather than his fault that racial theory was a part of Nazi ideology.”

“In spite of their prejudices I have no doubt also that the Party sincerely wished to benefit the German racial stock, especially by the elimination of manifest defectives, such as those deficient mentally, and I do not doubt that von Verschuer gave, as I would have done, his support to such a movement.”

But wait! You knew this had to be coming: Coyne makes the “he was a man of his time” argument.

On both counts, then, I don’t think it’s fair for scientific societies or Cambridge University to demote Fisher, cancel prizes named after him, and so on. He held views that were common in his time (and were adhered to by liberal geneticists like A. H. Sturtevant and H. J. Muller), and his views, now seen properly as bigoted and odious, were never translated into action.

Curious. Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, and Ashley Montagu also lived at this time, and didn’t seem to take it for granted that eugenics was a reasonable proposal. Frederick Douglass was before his time, doesn’t he count? Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin were younger contemporaries, shall we ignore the oppressed and only listen to the opinions of the privileged, liberal geneticists? It’s remarkable how somehow, the voices of those we agree with and that share our biases are the ones we listen to and treat as if they are the only ones speaking.

As for the claim that Fisher’s views were never translated into action, jesus. Fisher wasn’t alone, but was part of a deplorable generation of eugenicists in the pre-WWII era. They laid the foundation for the scientific justification for the Holocaust; he wasn’t loading people into cattle cars, but the Nazis who did could find solace in the idea that “men of his time” were writing scientific papers advocating their general policy. That Francis Galton, Charles Davenport, and Henry Fairfield Osborn were also promoting this hateful nonsense does not mean we can look the other way when RA Fisher did it.

Coyne seems to think that argument is so strong, he repeated it twice. Other people in America pushed eugenics, so we can’t hold an Englishmen accountable, and besides, he was such a crackpot on this issue that no government followed through on his claim. Except, well, Nazi Germany, and there he just wrote excuses for Mengele’s supervisor and said he’d have done the same thing, but we’ll just sweep that one under the rug. Oh, and Winston Churchill in England, who thought eugenics was a splendid idea.

I’m still not entirely clear on what this “canceling” thing that has him all worked up is about. Sure, I’ll go ahead and “cancel” Ronald Fisher without a qualm. I’ll still mention his name in class, I’ll still cite his work, I’ve still got the fundamental concepts he pioneered embedded in my brain, where they will stay, but I’ll also consider it inappropriate to give out a ‘Ronald Fisher Award’ to the kinds of diverse students who Fisher himself would have wanted to deny acknowledgment, and I don’t think we should have academic memorials to him that don’t also discuss his deep flaws. So yeah, I’ve canceled him, I guess, in the same way “Cancel Culture” and vicious “Wokeists” have been doing all along, by providing accurate, unfiltered information about the person.

While I’m at it, I might as well cancel Jerry Coyne, too. I’m still keeping a copy of his Speciation book on my shelf, though, even if it does mean that someday a raging mob of woke Leftists dig up my corpse and throw it in the Pomme de Terre river.

I’m not the only person with reservations about Eric Lander

500 women scientists feel the same way.

…we can’t help but notice that the recently announced nomination of presidential science adviser Eric Lander fails to meet the moment. His nomination does not fill us with hope that he will shepherd the kind of transformation in science we need if we are to ensure science delivers equity and justice for all. We had high hopes that the Biden administration would continue its pattern of bold nominations when envisioning a newly elevated cabinet position of science adviser. There was certainly no shortage of options, with a deep bench of qualified women and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) whose expertise and experience can transform the place of science as a tool for justice.

Lander, an MIT geneticist and former co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)—exemplifies the status quo. With this nomination, the opportunity to finally break the long lineage of white male science advisers has been missed. This was a chance to substantively address historical inequalities and transform harmful stereotypes by appointing someone with new perspectives into the top science adviser role. Despite a long list of supremely qualified people that could have held this position and inspired a whole new generation of scientists, the glass ceiling in American science remains intact.

While we can celebrate the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to science, we must recognize that Lander has a reputation among some scientists for being controversial, and colleagues have criticized him for his “ego without end.” We cannot forget that in 2016, Lander wrote a widely criticized history of the revolutionary technology CRISPR, dubbed the “Heroes of CRISPR,” that erased the contributions of two women colleagues. This conspicuous exclusion is emblematic of the forces in science that hold back women and scientists of color from attaining the level of prominence he enjoys.

They also reminded me of that time Lander toasted James Watson.


The article also has suggestions for how Lander could improve his role as a science advisor.

Tacky slime all over the place

The list of awardees of the Presidential Medal of Freedom is kind of a mixed bag already — for every Anthony Fauci there’s an Antonin Scalia, for every Toni Morrison an Irving Kristol, for every Jesse Jackson a James Watson. It’s political, it’s by whim and by credible honor, it’s a mess. It’s nice to see someone you favor get the recognition, but it’s never been anything but a too-freely given token that a president liked you.

Now it’s that much more meaningless. Donald Trump is handing one out to Jim Jordan, the cowardly hack who looked the other way as student athletes were sexually molested, the political leech who is one of the far right hard cases who still insists that Trump won the last election, who even now refuses to admit that there was no “steal”, and whose ambition far exceeds his ability. He’s the perfect Trump apparatchik, in other words.

Boy, Trump is determined to leave a thick layer of slime over everything as he exits, isn’t he?

A litany of bad science

Trumpism is nothing new. Fevered racism has been simmering in the US for a long, long time. What’s embarrassing is how Daniel Okrent explains how much well educated scientists at famous institutions contributed to the toxic stew. It’s not southern rednecks who necessarily are full of ignorance and hate; genteel northern scholars with bad ideas had more power and influence.

Also note how the social sciences have been scorned all along.

Together, they [a gang of prestigious scientists] popularized “racial eugenics,” a junk science that made ethnically based racism respectable. “The day of the sociologist is passing,” said the Harvard professor Robert DeCourcy Ward, “and the day of the biologist has come.” The biologists and their publicists achieved what their political allies had failed to accomplish for 30 years: enactment of a law stemming the influx of Jews, Italians, Greeks and other eastern and southern Europeans. “The need of restriction is manifest,” The New York Times declared in an editorial, for “American institutions are menaced” by “swarms of aliens.”

People with no knowledge of sociology are always eager to shut down sociology departments because they keep on digging up hard data to show that racists are wrong. But wait — when a sociologist says bigoted things, then we can listen to them. Also, I guess people of Slavic descent weren’t considered white enough?

Writing about Slavic immigrants, the sociologist Edward A. Ross of the University of Wisconsin — later the national chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union — declared, they “are immune to certain kinds of dirt. They can stand what would kill a white man.” The president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology said newcomers from eastern and southern Europe were “vast masses of filth” who were “living like swine.”

Racial classifications were so confusing. Italians were Asiatic?

The Washington Post editorialized that 90 percent of Italians coming to the United States were “the degenerate spawn” of “Asiatic hordes.” A Boston philanthropist, Joseph Lee, his city’s leading supporter of progressive causes, explained to friends why he became the single largest financial backer of the anti-immigrant campaign: His concern, he wrote, was that without a restriction law, Europe would be “drained of Jews — to its benefit no doubt but not to ours.”

Cold Spring Harbor has a deep history of aiding and abetting racism — removing that stain was one of the reasons James Watson got the boot there, although that doesn’t explain why they hired him in the first place.

The “biological” justifications for this nativism were first developed in Cold Spring Harbor, on Long Island, in laboratories financed by the widow of the railroad baron E.H. Harriman. (One of her goals, Mary Harriman said, was preventing “the decay of the American race.”) The laboratory’s head, the zoologist Charles B. Davenport, took the ideas of the British gentleman scientist Francis Galton — who had coined the word “eugenics” in 1883 — welded them to a gross misunderstanding of the genetic discoveries of Gregor Mendel, and concluded that the makeup of the nation’s population could be improved by the careful control of human breeding. One of the first steps, he believed, was to impose new controls on open immigration.

I read “The Passing of the Great Race” a few decades ago, and recall it as awful pseudoscience of the sort that might fit in at the Daily Stormer nowadays. I should re-read it, I suppose, but the memory is painful and infuriating.

At first, Davenport wished to bar the immigration only of people afflicted by specific disorders — epileptics, the “feebleminded” and others of similarly troublesome (to Davenport) disability. But soon he was caught up in a racialist whirlwind initiated by “The Passing of the Great Race,” a book by Madison Grant, the founder of the Bronx Zoo and the era’s most prominent conservationist. A bilious stew of dubious history, bogus anthropology and completely unfounded genetic theory, Grant’s work persuaded Davenport and others that the American bloodstream was threatened not by suspect individuals, but by entire ethnic groups.

Never forget how entrenched anti-semitism was and is.

Grant was not an actual scientist. But Henry Fairfield Osborn, a world-famous paleontologist and his closest friend, definitely was. Osborn, who once expressed his opposition to the extension of the Westchester Parkway near his country estate because it would bring thousands of “East Side Jews” to the area, presided over the American Museum of Natural History for 25 years, and made that institution the beating heart of the combined eugenics and anti-immigration movement. “I am convinced,” said Osborn, that the “spiritual, physical, moral and intellectual structure” of individuals is “based on racial characteristics.” It wasn’t a matter of ethnic bias, he said — it was “cold-blooded” science.

Good news for me — I’m one of those Nordics. That means I get to sneer at everyone with ancestry from a more southern country. That’s what this is all about, right, ranking people in arbitrary hierarchies so you always have someone lesser to spit on?

“Whether we like to admit it or not,” Grant wrote, “the result of the mixture of two races, in the long run, gives us a race reverting” to the “lower type.” Lower than Nordics were the questionable “Alpines.” Lower than the “Alpines” were the woeful “Mediterraneans.” And, he concluded, “the cross between any of the three European races and a Jew is a Jew.”

We’ve still got people today babbling about IQ tests. Thanks, scientists!

Other scholars rallied to the cause. Robert M. Yerkes — his name immortalized today at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta — conducted a severely flawed series of tests of American servicemen purporting to establish the intellectual inferiority of eastern and southern Europeans. Charles W. Gould, a lawyer in New York, sponsored “A Study of American Intelligence,” by Carl C. Brigham, a young Princeton psychologist (and later the inventor of the SAT). Brigham’s conclusion: “There can be no doubt that recent history has shown a movement of inferior peoples or inferior representatives of peoples to this country.”

It’s good to be reminded now and then that all the pseudo-scientific respectability given racist science today was granted by bigoted assholes with science degrees yesterday.

Vanderbilt is working hard to destroy its reputation

I think I like this person, although I don’t think we’ve ever met.

BethAnn McLaughlin has no time for James Watson, especially not when the 90-year-old geneticist is peering out from a photo on the wall of her guest room at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Banbury Center.

“I don’t need him staring at me when I’m trying to go to sleep,” McLaughlin told a December 2018 gathering at the storied New York meeting center as she projected a photo of her redecorating job: She had hung a washcloth over the image of Watson, who co-discovered DNA’s structure, directed the lab for decades—and is well-known for racist and sexist statements.

The washcloth image was part of McLaughlin’s unconventional presentation—by turns sobering, hilarious, passionate, and profane—to two dozen experts who had gathered to wrestle with how to end gender discrimination in the biosciences. McLaughlin, a 51-year-old neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in Nashville, displayed the names of current members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) who have been sanctioned for sexual harassment. She urged other NAS members—several of whom sat in the room—to resign in protest, “as one does.” She chided institutions for passing along “harassholes” to other universities. “The only other places that do this are the Catholic Church and the military,” she said.

In the past 9 months, McLaughlin has exploded into view as the public face of the #MeToo movement in science, wielding her irreverent, sometimes wickedly funny Twitter presence, @McLNeuro, as part cudgel, part cheerleader’s megaphone. In June 2018, she created a website,, where scores of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) have posted mostly anonymous, often harrowing tales of their own harassment. In just 2 days that month, she convinced the widely used website to remove its “red hot chili pepper” rating for “hotness.” And after launching an online petition, she succeeded last fall in spurring AAAS, which publishes Science, to adopt a policy allowing proven sexual harassers to be stripped of AAAS honors.

It turns out, though, that being a vigorous voice for equality has a cost. You make enemies.

Indeed, McLaughlin has made bitter enemies: Last fall, she says, she was anonymously FedExed a box of feces. And her scientific career is now on the line. Her tenure process was frozen for 17 months starting in 2015 while VUMC investigated allegations that she had posted anonymous, derogatory tweets about colleagues. The probe was spurred by complaints from a professor whom she had testified against in a sexual harassment investigation. VUMC closed the probe without disciplining McLaughlin, but in 2017 a faculty committee, having previously approved her tenure, unanimously reversed itself, according to university documents. Absent a last-minute reprieve, she will lose her job on 28 February, when her National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant expires.

She had the support of her peers, which ought to be the final say in a tenure decision, but that was overruled by the administration, and I can guess what happened: an influential and moneyed person in the department got the ear of someone higher up, and poisoned the process. That’s not supposed to happen, but it does happen. Here’s the event that seems to have imperiled her career:

But the university halted her tenure process in December 2015, in the wake of allegations that arose during the investigation of a colleague. In early July 2014, former graduate student Erin Watt sued her former Ph.D. supervisor, neuroscientist Aurelio Galli, who was then at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine. Watt alleged in the lawsuit that Galli had sexually harassed and belittled her, leading her to quit the Ph.D. program.

In late July of that year, McLaughlin, her then-husband (a Vanderbilt neuroscientist at the time, who collaborated with Galli), and a visiting McLaughlin friend and collaborator, Dana Miller of the University of Washington in Seattle, were invited to dinner at Galli’s home. Miller and McLaughlin later recalled that while preparing dinner, Galli threatened to “destroy” Watt. Miller recalled him calling Watt “a crazy bitch” and vowing to “spend every last dime” to ruin her. The women say Galli showed them a handgun and noted that he had a permit to carry it. Miller, a lesbian, also told investigators that Galli made inappropriate comments about her sexuality.

Galli, now at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, declined to comment on the dinner party. But he told Science: “I have never done anything to any student or any faculty in terms of harassment or retaliation.” He provided an email that McLaughlin sent him the day after the party: “Dinner was fantastic. … Thank you,” she wrote with a smiley face.

In December 2014, a judge dismissed Watt’s lawsuit against Galli and he was immediately promoted. (Watt settled with Vanderbilt University, which she had also sued.) Miller says she was alarmed by Galli’s promotion, and in January 2015 reported the alleged events of the July 2014 dinner to a Vanderbilt administrator. McLaughlin testified in the ensuing investigation, backing up Miller’s account. In August 2015, investigators determined that the evidence they had obtained could not support a finding of harassment, according to a letter to Miller from Vanderbilt’s Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services Department (EAD).

Whoa. So much awful in that one story. A student, Erin Watt, abandons a career in science because her advisor was a jerk. Nothing happens to the jerk advisor except that he gets promoted, and uses his advancement to make a lateral move to another university. We have two eyewitness testimonials to horrible behavior by said jerk. The jerk then illogically tries to dismiss the accounts by waving around a thank-you note, as if it is impossible for an asshole to serve a good meal. And now various poisonous persons are using the fact that she reported the jerk’s ugly behavior to get her fired.

This does not speak well of the environment at Vanderbilt, which is a shame — I gave a job talk there decades ago and was impressed with the program, and it was high on my list of desirable positions.

I’ve also seen these tenure battles from a couple of perspectives now, and I can say that they’re always ugly and they never end well — even if you win, you lose. McLaughlin deserves to win, but she’s probably better off finding a new home, one that hasn’t been trampled over by the “harassholes”, where her talents will be appreciated. On the other hand, there is virtue in crushing your enemies. What a difficult situation!

The exception proves the rule, right?

A black scientist writes about James Watson, and it’s insightful. C. Brandon Ogbunu is a computational biologist, so he understands both DNA and statistics, and is in a good position to recognize abuses of both.

Black exceptionalism is a popular and complicated idea. It asserts that a monolithic “average” black identity exists, and that by transcending this average, one is exceptional. While the idea isn’t welded to black achievement, it is related. Successful members of the black community who somehow avoided the regression to the (black) mean are presented as paragons, exceptional ones of their kind. There are backhanded compliments, and then there is black exceptionalism—a racist idea lightly dressed in a pat-on-the-back.

Some of us, in a naïve or perfunctory manner, wear black exceptionalism as a badge of honor, even under the guise of progress: “I will show them what we are capable of.” Good intentions be damned, because to adopt this stance is to walk directly into a pernicious trap. The most effective racist ideas rarely deny the existence of exceptional members of the out-group to which undesirable features are attributed.

On the contrary, the most destructive ideas embrace high-performing members for statistical cover. In order to argue that the mean performance of an out-group is lower for a desirable trait, there should be some high performers. High-performing black people are essential for racism like James Watson’s, and even he might predict a statistical and genetic exceptional negro, because they can’t all be incompetent.

The problem with this argument isn’t only that it avoids critical discussions about the possible sources of group differences, but also that it uses the notion of the exceptional individual to justify racist ideas towards others in the out-group. In general, armchair appeals to statistics often conceal negative feelings that people already have, attitudes forged in the fires of fear and bias, not science.

I’ve seen that routine so often. “I know a Negro with a Ph.D. — in science — therefore I’m not racist.” “I admit that Jews are often academically gifted, therefore I don’t have a bias against them, I just know they’re evil.” “If my statistics don’t convince you that black people are less intelligent, how come they also show that Asians are better at math than white people?” It’s the contrast that is supposed to convince us that they are objectively evaluating real data.

“Intelligence” is an undefinable and complex parameter that changes depending on how you measure it. The only reasonable response to claims that one has characterized the “intelligence” of a large group of people and has some sweeping interpretations is to realize that they are simply expressing their unfounded biases in a pseudoscientific tone, and dismiss them.