Wednesday, September 06, 2017 by Jayson Veley
The University of Illinois has recently made the decision to rescind a speaking invitation made to Nobel Laureate James Watson because of controversial comments he has made in the past about race.
Watson is best known for the co-discovery of the double-helix structure in strands of DNA, but even so, Watson pledged to give a “narrowly focused scientific talk” at the University of Illinois. Gene Robinson of the school’s Institute for Genomic Biology told The News-Gazette of Champaign-Urbana that Watson had considered the offer very “carefully” before accepting.
Robinson said that he had expected there to be objections to Watson’s speech, and attempted to make it clear in an emails sent out to students that the invitation was by no means an endorsement of the comments Watson has made in the past.
“We tried to consider this very carefully in going forward, and different perspectives on the possibilities of him giving a science-based lecture,” Robinson said. “With respect to his past, the email that I sent out stated very clearly that we didn’t condone any of his past comments, racist comments and sexist comments. And we noted that he had apologized and thought about all those very carefully.”
“We support Dr. Watson for his discovery and work, and believe that his remorse and subsequent apology to these groups he spoke against are genuine,” the email explained, “but the IGP’s stance is unchanged – we do not condone discrimination of any form, and the respect that we give to each individual in our community is paramount.”
But even though the school made it abundantly clear that the invitation was not an endorsement of Watson’s past comments, that doesn’t change the fact that they were still said in the first place. In a 2007 interview, for example, Watson said that people living in Africa are generally less intelligent than those living in the United States. He has also said that bosses who have black employees find it hard to believe that everyone is equal. There have been other isolated comments made over the years as well, most of which were sexist or extremely controversial in one way or another.
For biological anthropology professor Kate Clancy, these comments aren’t just words that can be swept under the rug. Professor Clancy launched a series of tweets proposing a protest against Watson’s speech, and less than one hour later, the Institute officially announced that the lecture was cancelled.
A recent article published by the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board came to Watson’s defense, arguing that Watson’s past comments do not detract from his scientific expertise. The Chicago Tribune reminded readers that the speech would have been purely scientific, and would have stayed clear of anything that could have been considered even remotely controversial.
This seems to be a pattern on college campuses across the country. More and more often, schools are denying the right of certain speakers to give presentations, even if the content of the lectures are entirely factual and accurate. To stomp out opposing viewpoints on campus, all students and faculty have to do is claim that the invited speaker is racist, sexist or bigoted in some way, and then nine times out of ten the school will cancel (Related: Read about a high school that has confiscated a year book due to a politically incorrect quote from a student.)
We saw this most recently at UC Berkeley, when students threatened to organize a protest against Ann Coulter after the conservative firebrand had been invited to speak by the school’s college republicans group in partnership with Young America’s Foundation. Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos have experienced similar pushback from students at CSULA and UC Berkeley, respectively. It is quite literally a war against science, and a battle against the truth.