Dr. Watson Bombs at Berkeley

This article discusses a recent speech by Dr. James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA, at the University of California at Berkeley.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

For many people, science is a sacred cow, and the scientist can speak no wrong. His word is law, and the masses are intimidated by his aura of academia.

But scientists have “feet of clay.” They often have been prone to pontificate in areas where they have no data, and, therefore, no right to speak. Consider the recent case of Dr. James Watson.

Dr. Watson, along with his colleague Dr. Francis Crick, were the co-discoverers of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid—the super molecule that carries the genetic information necessary for the replication of biological life). Watson and Crick shared the Nobel Prize for this accomplishment in 1953. Dr. Watson also initiated the Human Genome Project in 1990, and is currently the head of the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

According to an article by journalist Michelle Lock, the seventy-two-year-old Watson spoke at the Berkeley campus of the University of California in October. His speech was titled, “The Pursuit of Happiness: Lessons from pom-C.” Pom-C is a protein that helps create different hormones (e.g., melanin, the substance that determines skin color, beta endorphins that affect mood, and leptin, which plays a role in the metabolism of fat). But in that presentation, the celebrated Dr. Watson created somewhat of a stir.

One after the other, the noted scientist begin to advance theories which seemed—to the academics assembled—wholly bereft of any scientific evidence.

For example, he contended that there is a correlation between sex drive and skin color. He alleged that the English are more frigid than warm-blooded Latin lovers. The professor went on to assert that fat people are happier than thin ones, but slender people are more ambitious than heavier folks. He contended that sunlight enhances the sex drive, and that bald men are more sexually gratified than the more hairy variety.

According to reports, the audience initially laughed at Watson’s slide-illustrated (featuring scantily clad girls) quips. Presently, though, the laughter “turned nervous,” and scholars in attendance began to look at one another in disbelief.

Susan Marqusee, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, abruptly walked out. Marqusee said that she began to realize that Watson’s assertions were inappropriate. “There wasn’t any science. These aren’t issues that one can state as fact.”

One doctoral candidate, Sarah Tegen, complained that Watson “didn’t present the science to back up his startling presentation.” She continued:

I think there’s a really important place in science for controversy. That’s how you overturn dogmas. But it’s got [sic] to be within a context of testable hypotheses (Lock 2000, B6).

We comment upon this episode for the following reason: it is a classic example of a scientist who “skates” on his past reputation—out to where the ice is too thin to bear him. Christians especially need to take what “scientists” say with more than that proverbial grain of salt.

When these men and women postulate about the origin of the universe, the spontaneous generation of life, the so-called mechanisms of biological evolution, the qualitative value of a developing fetus, the ethics of invitro-fertilization, genetic manipulation, etc., they are rotten-ripe with unfounded and frequently amoral speculation. They are out of their field of expertise. Yet the history of science is checked with this sort of irresponsibility, and gullible folks continue to fall for it.

(For a further consideration of such matters, see Jackson 2000).

  • Jackson, Wayne. 2000. The Bible and Science. Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications.
  • Lock, Michelle. 2000. Nobelist’s speech links sex and sun. The Stockton Record, Nov. 25.