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February 05, 2003

James Watson

Some interesting insights into the mind of James Watson from this profile in the Independent:

In Britain and elsewhere germ-line gene therapy and "designer babies" are a taboo subject, much to Watson's annoyance. "Throughout civilisation people have tried to make things better and we're suddenly saying this is a way we won't try and make things better, and that seems almost against human nature," he says.

An unholy alliance of left-wing ideologues and religious fundamentalists was blocking any serious discussion of how modern genetics might be used to improve humans rather than just eliminate disease.

Watson sees no problem with the idea of changing children's DNA to make them resistant to HIV or even to improve their intellectual performance by boosting the memory circuits of the brain if ever this becomes possible.

"You know, the only people who say that stupid people don't exist are people who are not stupid. We know that if we go to homeless people there is an underclass with a very strong mental disease component. Those people can't pull themselves together, the brain just won't allow it. So it is not that they are weak in character, they are seriously unequal," Watson says ...

Watson hates both social and scientific taboos. "It's almost impossible to study the genetics of intelligence either in the US or the UK because it is socially contentious. You can say that the net effect is that it helps to perpetuate a system where people are dumb."

Part of the problem was that, before the double helix, genetics was inextricably linked with the eugenics movement of the 1920s and 1930s.

"Should Hitler harm us for the next 200 years by saying that we cannot do genetics? People say to me that 'you are acting like Hitler'. People have accused me of being a Nazi just because I won't accept raw evolution, because I wanted to filter it a little and try to improve the quality of human life," he says. "We can say that we want to improve human beings genetically but we don't want to do it by the ways that were attempted in the past."

Posted by razib at 03:10 AM

I wish there were more scientists like Watson. I guess having a Nobel Prize under your belt as well as a successful biotech company enables you to say what you want without fear of repercussions in academia.

Posted by: the alpha male at February 6, 2003 01:42 PM

Sounds like Hitler or Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood foundress, or a southern plantation owner in the early 19th century. Anything to promote utilitarian spirit of dehumanization.

Posted by: at February 7, 2003 05:18 AM