October 21, 2007

From Ossian Foley:

Re: Nobel scientist suspended from job over race comments (Oct. 18): At first, Watson’s invocation of paternalistic condescension makes me feel icky and discouraged. But on thinking a little more, his comments make me hopeful. Not that he is right, but that such controversy shows that science proceeds not by one’s personality, but on the strength of one’s evidence and conclusions. Watson gets noted now for saying anything at all because the work he did then as Co-discoverer of DNA’s structure has proven invaluable.

With all the concern today about different but equal “ways of knowing” and the not-necessarily-popular-but-certainly-present notion that science is an indoctrinating conspiracy (maybe I’m overstating some of the things I’ve heard) this sort of flagrance can maybe show folks how scientific activity is remarkably different from other “ways” in that it is better at isolating the personality from the work, and that the work matters, not the personal opinion of it.

Another, perhaps less celebratory, example is Einstein both making atomic weapons possible and strongly arguing against developing them. Again, the findings mattered, not the opinion of it.


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