Now they want to demonize Francis Crick

The Statue-Removing Squad has finally jumped the shark. I can sympathize—and even agree—with people’s desire to remove statues honoring the Confederacy, though I quail a bit at taking down statues of Robert E. Lee, who did fight for the Union before secession. But now, it seems, everyone from the past who uttered an offensive remark, or evinced any sign of racial or sexual bigotry (and that includes Mahatma Gandhi), must have their statues taken down.

The problem with wholesale statue removal and effacing of people’s memorials is that before the 20th century, nearly every white person evinced some bigotry, and nearly every male evinced some sexism. As Steve Pinker has pointed out in The Better Angels of Our Nature, the world has undergone a moral improvement in the last few centuries, and what was once acceptable speech or thought is no longer acceptable. Yes, some people keep bigotry to themselves, but you’d be foolish to argue that there’s been no improvement in the recognition and dispensation of human rights.

So what do we do about those statues and memorials? Perhaps some statues of truly odious characters can be moved (rather than destroyed), or accompanied with plaques or counter-statues to emphasize that things have changed. But if we just sanitize history by taking down statues of Gandhi, Woodrow Wilson, or anyone else who every said anything offensive, we’ll have an empty history—or rather, a history populated by statues of oppressed minorities who, it’s often said, cannot be racist—or by women who, by the same token, cannot be sexist. (Remember that racism and sexism = power PLUS prejudice).  I’m truly undecided about the statue issue, about which so many people seem to have moral certainty. No country has a history that’s is totally admirable, and I think we need to find ways to remember it without extolling the bad parts.

But, by God, things have gone too far when some whippersnapper starts suggesting that we start taking down statues and renaming institutions honoring people like Francis Crick. Yet that’s what Yarden Katz (identified as “a fellow in the department of systems biology at Harvard Medical School and an affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University”) wants to do with Francis Crick. This opinion appears in Katz’s Guardian piece called “It’s time to take the ‘great’ white men of science off their pedestals.” (Note that he doesn’t say some great white men, nor mention any women or people of color, despite the fact that such people, too, were sometimes bigots. No, he’s referring to “great white men” in general, for of course that’s a universally denigrated group.)

Katz begins by calling out, properly, a hamhanded Nature editorial defending the statue of J. Marion Sims who, it turned out, advanced gynecological surgery, but only by experimenting on black slave women and infants—clearly an odious thing to do. That seems, to me, to tip the balance of his contribution toward the bad side, for such advances would eventually have been made without doing Nazi-style experiments. If there’s any criterion for whether we honor or efface a person, it must somehow involve whether, in the net, their contributions to humanity have been good or bad.

But Katz, on his high horse, goes further. He denigrates a Nature editorial partly extolling H. G. Wells because Wells saw white people as superior to Jews and people of color.

And then he starts on Francis Crick:


  1. Stephan Brun
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Seems those Confederates were the thin end of the wedge. Some slopes are indeed slippery.

    • jay
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      My great grandfather created the statue of George Washington in Perth Amboy NJ.

      I need to take my grand daughter there to see it while it still stands.

  2. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    But what about Rosaland Franklin?

    If you feel she is worthy of honor, perhaps you could start by spelling her name correctly.

    • Posted September 21, 2017 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      That was clearly a typo (see our previous posts where it’s spelled correctly), and your snarky comment is not appreciated. You know, you could have made the same correction (and it’s been corrected) without looking like a sanctimonious git.

      • Posted September 29, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        On the other hand, whyevolutiuonistrue, you wouldn’t have had the perfect opportunity to use the lovely word “git”, and deservedly, too.

        I also recommend “oaf”. “Git” unfortunately doesn’t seem to carry the collateral adjective “gittish”, but “oafish” has been around since Shakespeare.

    • Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      If typing errors were forbidden by law, some people would have time for making helpful comments…

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        However, self-interest makes me see the bright side: Monsieur Selkirk’s captious remark engendered PCC(E)’s rightfully terse response, and I learned a new term of opprobrium, “git”. Now I can say “Git gone, you git!”

  3. Hunt
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    It’s also a little suspicious that icons of the left appear to be immune. The Smithsonian Institute issued a flat “no” when requested to remove a bust of Panned Parenthood founder and eugenics sympathizer Margaret Sanger. I guess the shoe doesn’t feel so good on the other foot.

    • Julian
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      Sympathy for sterilization or at least birth control as a means to control poverty was not uncommon. I think the William Beveridge, founder of the welfare state in the UK, was sympathetic to this view. And they’re not wrong. Birth control and family planning does reduce poverty. The issue is coercion.

    • Les Faby
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      Sanger was for the involuntary sterilization laws such as the one in Supreme Court’s infamous Buck v Bell case.

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    just in case anyone missed it – I think “great white men” is a cute rhetorical way of likening them to great white sharks in some way -probably suggesting, by being huge A-holes, they savaged, berated and cowered their non-white non-XY-chromosome-holding competitors into the corners, while they strolled forth to claim their Nobel Prizes.

    but hey, I ain’t no systems biologist.

  5. notsecurelyanchored
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I learned who Traveler was from the picture above the stove in my grandma’s kitchen, where Robert E. Lee was honored for doing his part to reunite the country after the Civil War. When friends advocate destroying Lee’s images I concede their moral superiority and at the same time maintain he was an honorable man. And really, at what point do we stop history? Or biology?

  6. Mobius
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    …though I quail a bit at taking down statues of Robert E. Lee, who did fight for the Union before secession.

    Sorry Jerry, but you could say that about practically every Confederate leader, including Jefferson Davis.

    There was much that was admirable about Robert E. Lee, but it still comes down to the fact the man decided to fight against his country and for the side that supported slavery.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Jefferson Davis was not Robert E Lee so if you do not know the difference, that would be your problem. Lee had run West Point and fought in the Mexican war among other things. Davis was a politician primarily.

      • Filippo
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

        I wonder if Lee ever contemplated, or reflected in writing for posterity, whether Mr. Polk’s war was just.

    • Historian
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      You are quite correct about Lee and Davis. Almost all the senior generals on both sides served in the U.S. Army before the war. Many fought in the Mexican War. If Jefferson Davis had not defected to the Confederacy, he would today be viewed as a war hero for his service in Mexico. As Wikipedia puts it:

      “In 1846 the Mexican–American War began. Davis resigned his House seat in early June and raised a volunteer regiment, the 155th Infantry Regiment, becoming its colonel under the command of his former father-in-law, General Zachary Taylor.[51] On July 21 the regiment sailed from New Orleans for Texas. Colonel Davis sought to arm his regiment with the M1841 Mississippi rifle. At this time, smoothbore muskets were still the primary infantry weapon, and any unit with rifles was considered special and designated as such. President James K. Polk had promised Davis the weapons if he would remain in Congress long enough for an important vote on the Walker tariff. General Winfield Scott objected on the basis that the weapons were insufficiently tested. Davis insisted and called in his promise from Polk, and his regiment was armed with the rifles, making it particularly effective in combat.[52] The regiment became known as the Mississippi Rifles because it was the first to be fully armed with these new weapons.[53] The incident was the start of a lifelong feud between Davis and Scott.[54]”

      “In September, Davis participated in the Battle of Monterrey, during which he led a successful charge on the La Teneria fort.[55] On February 22, 1847, Davis fought bravely at the Battle of Buena Vista and was shot in the foot, being carried to safety by Robert H. Chilton. In recognition of Davis’s bravery and initiative, Taylor is reputed to have said, “My daughter, sir, was a better judge of men than I was.”[15] On May 17, President Polk offered Davis a federal commission as a brigadier general and command of a brigade of militia. Davis declined the appointment, arguing that the Constitution gives the power of appointing militia officers to the states, not the federal government.[56]”

      What is interesting about Davis is that he gave up a seat in Congress to fight and was wounded in battle. His personal bravery cannot be denied. Still, he turned traitor and should not be honored.

      • TJR
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        Very similar to George Washington, who fought bravely in the 7 Years War (aka French and Indian War) but then turned traitor and joined the Secessionists allied to France.

        However the King of France failed to intervene to support his allies so that the (pro-slavery) secessionists were eventually defeated.

        (insert “this is ironic” emoji here in case its not obvious)

        • Historian
          Posted September 21, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

          From the point of view of the British Crown the American revolutionaries were traitors and were rightfully so characterized. If the Revolution had failed, Washington and the others would only be remembered with scorn. History is usually remembered from the point of view of the victors. Curiously, the Civil War is an exception. Due to the remarkably successful propaganda campaign, called the “Lost Cause,” many people, even today, view the traitors with greater respect than the winners, who ended slavery.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted September 21, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          Treason or traitor to one, revolutionary or freedom fighter to another. Always depends upon your view. The winners always enjoy the spoils as that is the result of war. The refusal of many in the south to admit defeat in our civil war is their burden. Most cannot even agree as to the true cause of the war in the first place. That is their problem to work out. Distortions of history are all around us such as comparing Washington to Lee or Lee to Davis. Each person’s history should be reviewed in total and not simply looked at from a couple of paragraphs in Wikipedia.

          • Historian
            Posted September 21, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

            You always fall back on generalities when the facts prove you wrong. You can’t concede that as Lee and Grant, Davis was a war hero in Mexico. As Grant did, Davis left the army after the Mexican War. The evidence is that both Lee and Davis served the Confederacy during the war and ardently believed in the cause and, of course, both were slaveholders. Mobius’ point is correct. I presented what Wikipedia said, but any biography of Davis would say the same thing. When talking about facts, try presenting your own evidence, rather than unresearched opinion. So, why don’t you tell us how Lee and Davis were so different.

            • Randy schenck
              Posted September 21, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

              As I already stated, the total history will explain it for you…you do not need me. Lee was a 32 year military career officer prior to the civil war. I will not run through the whole business but comparing Davis and his military service with Lee, leaves Davis just a bit thin. It is a bit like comparing Davis’s period as Commander in Chief with that of Lincoln’s. You can do that if you like but it’s a bit like comparing a Mercedes and a Chevy.

            • Craw
              Posted September 21, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              I think Randy’s point is that Davis was a mover and an instigator in secession. Lee, faced with the fact of secession, picked a side.

              • Randy schenck
                Posted September 21, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

                I would agree with what you are saying, however that is not apparently what this is specifically about. As I was simply trying to say in the beginning – Mobius was making a comparison of Davis and Lee, and basically saying they should be judged equally. I did not agree and the idea that both were in the Mexican war does not make the two equal.

  7. Randy schenck
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I would call these folks the squeaky clean police. If we allow the Katz’s of the world to review and sanitize every individual before we take a picture or make a statue there would be none. It is garbage history practiced by people who know nothing or have nothing worthwhile to do. The petty people. As I have said before, Charles Lindbergh was a bigoted and strange individual who few people would like today but that does not remove his accomplishment of flying across the ocean and being the first to do so.

  8. eric
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Nothing much more than attention-grabbing here, IMO. He wants his voice heard above the screaming mob, so he has to say something even they think is unusual.

    Substantively, he seems to miss the point that civil war generals are infamous for their jobs, not their side-hobbies. People are most often honored or vilified for the work they choose to focus their life on. Likewise Crick is honored for his job, not his side-hobbies. Similarly, most scientists have no problem at all respecting Newton despite his alchemy and occult interests, Feynman even though he liked strip clubs, or Coyne despite his aberrant love of cowboy boots.

    Just ribbing you. 😉

    • mrclaw69
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      In addition to his various pseudo-sceintific and religious oddities Newton was a notoriously vile man.

      The Great Decider (PZ Myers), btw, has already taken against Feynman over his approach to women.

      Fine, he was a womaniser and – I’ve always thought – came across as somewhat arrogant and haughty, but he was a colossal intellect, had a very interesting philosophical approach to the world and achieved the kinds of things few people ever will.

      Feynman is important for his work on QED, superfluidity, the parton/quark model, etc, NOT because he had regressive, 1950s-guy attitudes to women.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        Newton was very egotistical and got snooty over the issue whether he or Leibnitz invented calculus. IN said “Second inventors count for nothing”.
        Newton never gave credit to the fellow who coined the term “gravity”, Robert Hooke, and even had the last portrait of Hooke destroyed.
        (This may be difficult to regard with levity 🙂 )

      • Filippo
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        ” . . . he was a womanizer . . . .”

        Is there such an entity as a “manizer”?

    • Posted September 21, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      The fact that Feynman liked strip clubs (and played bongos, and broke into safes) simply increases my respect for him. I saying this, I’m not endorsing any sexism he may have been guilty of.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

        That goes for me too. 😉

        Seriously though, a person’s personal character doesn’t alter their scientific accomplishments.


        • eric
          Posted September 21, 2017 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

          I’m perfectly willing to accept that there may be some cases where a person’s bad private personal conduct overshadows their more public professional accomplishments to such an extent that we should not publicly honor those accomplishments. If Crick chopped up children and kept their body parts in his freezer to eat, then sure, I’d say let’s not name buildings after him. But on the scale of ‘unacceptable personal conduct,” a guy born in 1916 expressing racism only in private letters doesn’t, at least for me, rise to this level.

  9. Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Louis Althusser murdered his wife so how is it that his Marxist theories are still promoted by Marxists and feminists alike?

    • biz
      Posted September 22, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Mrderer Assaata Shakur is currently a hero on the intersectional left. Also many radfems still idolize Andrea Dworkin in spite of her being a convicted murderer.

  10. TJR
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    They started work this morning down at city square
    They’re pulling down the statues of our great grandfather’s hero
    The new books said he wasn’t such a great man after all
    And anyway remember that the times they are a-changing

    Pull it down, drag it down
    Till there’s nothing to look up to
    But the brand names on the posters all around

    “Drag It Down” New Model Army (1985)

  11. Liz
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins opened my eyes to how women started paving the way for future generations like my own. The woman who gave me the book is now almost 80 and she was one of the women of that generation who basically plowed through any restrictive expectations set upon her. From talking to her and one more woman from that generation, it seems like these women were “naturally” feminists although I’m not sure they would call themselves that. The book made me appreciate everything already there for me because of the women that came before me. It was like I had been taking it for granted. On the statues and any issues of attitudes regarding women during those times, it seems like certain views were held by a lot of men because it was part of the culture. While it may not have been right, views about women were almost deeply ingrained in so many people (as it still is to a different degree today). It makes sense to keep statues of people based on their important accomplishments rather than judge their personal opinions decades after the fact and out of cultural context.

  12. Randy schenck
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    It is the same kind of police and judgments we experienced after the Vietnam War. Suddenly every 19 year old kid who went there and managed to survive was pronounced evil and criticized when he returned. It was as if the whole war was the fault of these kids.

  13. Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Among the many, many wrong things about this trend is the assertion that those wronged are to be infantilized. Forever. They are declared incapable of speaking for themselves and moving on. Forever.

  14. GM
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    As I have commented multiple times here, science is extremely vulnerable to destruction by SJWs from within, because there is no strong commitment of any sort to resisting their activities, even when they are actively working towards the destruction of it, and there is very little awareness of the problem to begin with. So what is happening, and what will be happening even more in the future, is that individual people within science who have fully swallowed the SJW kool aid will take over the discussion and steer things in a negative direction.

    Unfortunately, there is also the problem with people being trained to do technical work, but not in the more general philosophical foundations of science, or its history. Case is point here: that person has done some quite solid scientific work:

    But also appears to have been brainwashed into what is essentially anti-scientific ideology to the extent that he felt the need to write this diatribe and publish it on a very public platform…

    • biz
      Posted September 22, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Actually, upon close inspection, I don’t think Katz’s publication record is that good. He is a contributing author on a number of many-author papers. He’s a first author on only three since 2010, but one of them is clearly not a serious research paper, being titled “Against storytelling of scientific results.”

      He probably sees the writing on the wall and is trying to make the transition from research to paid activist.

      Your overall point is taken though.

  15. Posted September 21, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Look at it another way, on its head. What about ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ people who had positive virtues, who loved animals & children? perhaps we should put up statues to them!

    • Posted September 21, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      They will erect their own statues, no doubt.

    • Posted September 21, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      … or not so famous but deliciously evil we have a statue of Riff Raff in Hamilton NZ.
      A cult figure from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      Starting with Hitler…



      • eric
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

        I have to admit, the idea of the Stalin World sculpture park brings more smiles than horror to my face. Though I think it would be far more difficult to pull off a successful, non-distateful trick like that with Hitler. And who are we kidding – even if by some miracle somebody was able to pull that off, white supremacists would come along and ruin it by injecting the hate right back in.

  16. Pablo
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Marion Sims was not Josef Mengele. He was a gynecologist in Alabama in the 1840’s. The slave women he “experimented on” were brought to him for treatment for fistula that were complications of child birth. He saved those women from a lifetime of incontinence and passing feces through their vaginas.

    • Posted September 21, 2017 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      Yes, and if you read his own accounts of his work, he was deeply sympathetic to these women and complimented the stoicism with which they endured pain.

      Some of his detractors have been claiming, with no factual basis as far as I know, that he asserted “black women don’t feel pain.”

      I agree the fact that those women were slaves makes the situation disturbing, but there is nothing to indicate that he saw them as less than human.

  17. Posted September 21, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Can anyone point me to the full text of the letter by Crick?

    (I’m always dubious about judging someone on the basis of partial-sentence quotes by someone unsympathetic to them.)

    To be fair to Crick, it would also be good to know what evidence he was making his assessments on.

    • Posted September 21, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      WRT to the letter, you might try looking here;

    • Posted September 21, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      It’s here, and it does indeed show some bigotry (Crick wanted the letter private) in that he has a belief without evidence (black IQ genetically lower), and says that that gap cannot be overcome by cultural change, which is a dumb thing for anyone to say.

      • Posted September 21, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        Hi Jerry, he doesn’t so much say that the gap cannot be overcome by cultural change, but that the genetic component of it could not. Which would be true, wouldn’t it?

        (If there were a genetic component of any gap, which is, I think, not established.)

        • Posted September 21, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          Yes, you’re right, I think; it’s a bit ambiguous but I see what you mean. And it could be eliminated only by deliberate selection.

      • jay
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        The definition of bigotry is (or was) a hostile belief held to an irrational, hateful degree. (Dictionaries, alas are being rewritten on this).

        The fact that the letter was so tentative in nature suggests that it was NOT motivated by bigotry. Suggesting that a particular item may be true, with concern that some might misuse the information is not bigotry.

        There are probably a number of aspects that are unevenly distributed among human populations. It’s unrealistic from an evolutionary perspective to assume that’s not the case. Ashkenazi Jews, and some East Asian populations are over represented in fields demanding high IQ. Is that bigotry?

        This results in uncomfortable feelings, but those feelings are based on unreasonable expectations.

        • Filippo
          Posted September 21, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

          ” . . . some East Asian populations are over represented in fields demanding high IQ.”

          Whatever the IQ of East Asian populations, isn’t there also a cultural high regard for education, and the recognition that a disciplined work ethic/studying is required? (Seems I’ve seen in the U.S. press during the last several years at least one article pooh-poohing this work ethic, and attempting to portray Amuricun students as more “creative,” that that creativity is more important than a study work ethic. Part and parcel of that “Amuricun Exceptionalism.”)

          • eric
            Posted September 21, 2017 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

            I think in such cases we have to go with the null hypothesis; barring good evidence for some connection between two factors (like race and IQ), we provisionally conclude there isn’t one.

            Its also worth remembering that strong determinants tend to be more obvious than weak determinants (though even strong ones can sometimes be missed). For example, the risk increase from smoking isn’t +50%, or +100%, or even +500%. Male smokers are about twenty-three times more likely to get lung cancer than male nonsmokers. That’s the sort of impact a strong connection has; increasing the likelihood of some result by orders of magnitude.

            What this means is that if the question of whether there is a linkage between IQ and race is difficult to answer, even with good statistical studies, then we can provisionally conclude before we even know the answer that any linkage we might confirm in the future is very likely to be very, very weak.

      • Julian
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        Crick’s belief was informed by Jensen’s 1969 paper which looked at the impact of Head Start and commented on possible causes. The question is unresolved, but Katz seems to think that Crick’s view is clearly incorrect. In fact, very few researchers surveyed by Snyderman & Rothman thought group differences were purely environmental.

    • Gareth Price
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Try the January 1977 letter from Crick to Peter Medawar.

    • Posted September 21, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Thanks mikey, found it, the letter is this one.

      The most pertinent bit is quoted below. The main thing the quotes miss is that it is a tentative conclusion that really asks for more research (added bold):

      “Unlike you and your colleagues 1 have formed the opinion that there is much substance to Jensen’s arguments. In brief I think it likely that more than half the difference between the average IQ. of American whites and, Negroes is due to genetic reasons, and will not be eliminated by any forseeable change in the environment, Moreover I think the social consequences of this are likely to be rather serious unless steps are taken to recognize the situation.

      While any present conclusions are tentative, it seems likely that the matter could be largely resolved if further research were carried out, I should thus like to know two things, Would you and your colleagues please state in detail why they think the arguments put forward by Jensen are either incorrect or misleading. …”

      • Posted September 21, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Edsall responded to Crick here;

        To which Crick, in turn, responded;

      • Craw
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        “The main thing the quotes miss is that it is a tentative conclusion”

        I don’t think so. The main thing is that it’s a conclusion based on the state of the evidence available to him. This is a vital point. Had the evidence been stronger Crick’s conclusion would have been less tentative. Had the evidence been conclusive Crick would have drawn his conclusion conclusively.

        And that is the right way to be, regardless of what the issue is, and regardless of how uncomfortable or unpopular the conclusion.

        The main thing the complaints miss, is that Crick’s commitment to evidence is in his favor, and does not need apology.

  18. Posted September 21, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    One thing to do is to document what the accomplishments of the individual honoured were, and see if we still honour *that*. For example, when the current Canadian government renamed the so-called “Langevin Block” of the Parliament related buildings because the honoured person was influential in the residential school thing, I think this might be right if there aren’t really other accomplishments of note. (Simply having been a politician is probably insufficient as there will be way too many of those.)

    So Crick did something of profound scientific importance and value, so he should be remembered for that. The Confederate generals did *not* do something of value, or at least not all of them. (Like with the politicians, yes, some of them may have served in the US Army beforehand, but that’s just too many to do.)

  19. meetoo
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Slippery slope is not a fallacy when it comes to (dumb) human behavior. This isn’t even terminal velocity. Wait until they go after Darwin.

    • GM
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      They certainly will. And then they will go after evolution itself because in case nobody has noticed, the theory of evolution looks very ugly from an SJW perspective

      The only reason they haven’t done so so far is that what they perceive as their chief political enemies have been on the warpath against evolution for many decades.

      • biz
        Posted September 22, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink


        If Christian conservatives weren’t so vocal against evolution, it would already be targeted for suppression by SJWs. I predict that in a decade or two SJWs will be picking up right where Christian conservatives leave off (“But where are the transitional fossils?)

    • Gary
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Right. I always get annoyed when people say slippery slope is a fallacy.
      It’s not a fallacy at all because it’s not a logical argument. It’s a descriptive state of how human beings tend to operate.
      If you give an interest group an inch, they’ll nearly always take a foot.

      • Harrison
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        This is because for political activist groups the work can never be done. If it’s done, then the group no longer has a purpose and everyone has to go home. So there’s always something else to fight.

      • Posted September 22, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        There’s a good discussion of slippery slope arguments in _Argumentation Schemes_, which is a good correction against too-facile attributions of fallacy. For example, if one can show (as a subargument) that the slope is likely to be taken (relative to appropriate standards of risk, mind, which is hard), then the argument isn’t as bad.

  20. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Watson seems to have had derogatory views of fat people and many of his faculty colleagues, and seems to be somewhat of an all-round misanthrope.

    Darwin’s views on race were complicated and oscillated. A really good summary in the UK paper “Independent” may be found here.

  21. rickflick
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Maybe all statues of famous people from now on should be made of a good quality inflatable material. Then, as their stock inevitably begins to slip, we’ll let a little air out and then see which may the wind is blowing.
    The good thing to keep in mind is that, although we may stress at seeing our hero removed from the town square, the person him or herself is gone now and no longer suffers fools one bit.

    • denise
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Do we still build statues of famous people?

      • Filippo
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        I wonder if there will be one in honor of the omniscient Kanye West.

  22. J.Baldwin
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    The thing that surprises me (and shouldn’t) is the lack of awareness of the “woke.” These people don’t realize that had they been alive at the time, it is almost certain that they would have held views that they today find reprehensible.

    • Craw
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. It amuses me, in a dour way, to see a bunch of conformists who seem incapable of even imagining any viewpoint but theirs — which is the conventional one of their time, class, and upbringing — pretending that had they lived in any other era they wouldn’t similarly be creatures of that era.

      • Filippo
        Posted September 21, 2017 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        How do you view U.S. civil war-era abolitionists, vis-à-vis “creatures of that era”?

        • Craw
          Posted September 22, 2017 at 7:39 am | Permalink

          I imagine that few of them, at least in the south, were conformists who shout down and refuse to even listen to opposing ideas.

          Your question is quite silly really, but I’ll expand on this a bit. Most of the “woke” SJWs we see do not exhibit intellectual curiosity, or the kind of of self-doubt that would be required for them to reject the outlook of any era they were brought up in and into whose values they were inculcated. They exhibit group-think and herd behavior; censors always do. And people like that, living as whites in 1830s Georgia, would be overwhelmingly supporters of the conventional views of the time and place.

          • Craw
            Posted September 22, 2017 at 7:40 am | Permalink

            oops I mean few of them were NON-conformists.

            • Craw
              Posted September 22, 2017 at 7:41 am | Permalink

              No, I don’t got confused 🙂

          • Filippo
            Posted September 23, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

            “Your question is quite silly really . . . .”

            You’re right, I am silly, silly for wasting my time and troubling myself to ask you a question.

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 24, 2017 at 2:39 am | Permalink

              Yes, quite the gratuitous insult–totally unnecessary.

    • Posted September 21, 2017 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      Many of them still hold the same reprehensible views, just thinly disguised (by being aimed at different targets).

  23. Posted September 21, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I suppose in a deterministic universe there is really no call for statuary. These people just did, for good or evil, what they had to do, given the circumstances. Still, when I stand before the statue of Lincoln at the Memorial, I tremble.

  24. Travis
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I think you mean “before the 20th century, people of all races and sexes evinced bigotry”

    • Craw
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink


  25. Posted September 21, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    IMHO, there is a big difference between honoring imperfect humans for their valid scientific achievements and putting traitors to the United States in a place of honor on public land, specifically honoring their acts of treason.

    • Harrison
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      I really can’t buy into this argument. Opposing Confederate statuary because they did something really morally terrible makes a lot more sense than playing the patriotism card, especially when I see it coming from liberals who chastise conservatives for doing much the same.

      The US is a country founded by secessionists and traitors. There’s something distasteful about the argument that it was Okay When They Did It, but never again. Least of all when many people really don’t believe that. We do, after all, have many statues of Native Americans who openly fought against the US government.

      Clearly it’s the reasons for doing so that matter more than the act.

      • Posted September 21, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        I do not expect to find monument to the US “Founding Fathers” in the UK.

        • Dave
          Posted September 21, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

          You’d be wrong. In fact, there’s a statue of George Washington in Trafalgar Square, just outside the National Gallery.

          Britain reconciled itself to the loss of the American colonies very quickly. On the whole, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and the other leaders of the Revolution are recognised as founders of a great democracy, whatever their personal failings, and despite the fact that they were technically “traitors”.

    • Historian
      Posted September 21, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Quite true. There can be legitimate debate as to whether imperfect human beings should be honored for the “good’ they did. Sometimes the decision is difficult and must be made on a case-by-case basis. Suppose Dr. Mengele found a cure for cancer by experimenting and killing hundreds of Jews in the concentration camps. Should he honored for the good he did by the erection of public monuments? I think not, but others may disagree based on how they weigh the good and bad. But, you are certainly correct that traitors should not be honored on public property, nor should military bases be named for them. This is a strange country because it actually does such things.

      • Posted September 21, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I was being simplistic. Thanks for your example.

  26. Curtis
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    At Oregon State University, the SJWs started the renaming process. At first they wanted to get rid of Linus Pauling (their only famous alumni).

    They have settled for renaming buildings named for Arnold, Benton, Gill and Avery because Oregon was a racist state and these totally unknown dead white males were men of their time.

  27. Julian
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    What Yarden Katz overlooks is that people are interested in why there are group differences. Policy makers ask why is there group inequality. That means people are going to look at causation.

    Now Crick was commenting in light of Arthur Jensen’s 1969 paper which suggested group differences were due to the same factors that make up individual differences – genetic and environmental variation.

    If you look at the Snyderman & Rothman survey, or more recent Becker & Rindermann survey, very few researchers surveyed said differences were purely environmental. Crick and Jensen’s view of mixed causation is quite mainstream.

    Also, I don’t understand why Katz is suggesting that Crick is closed minded for his comments. It seems that the closed-minded one is Katz. These are unresolved issues, but Yarden Katz is saying that looking at genes as a causal factor is off-limits.

    Katz should read Peter Singer or Pinker on how you can be progressive and be open to biological explanations for behaviour. Katz is committing the moralistic fallacy.

  28. f
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I was disturbed by the comments for this article. I get the Crick statue position. It does not make sense to take any statues of him down. The bulk of statues “honoring” the Confederacy, on the other hand, were erected for the purpose of intimidating and marginalizing American citizens. These statues were modeled as memorials but were actually reminders to African Americans of their “place.” If modification to those statues does not take place or they are not taken down, then we continue the message of intimidation and marginalization.

  29. drorharari
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    In Judaism there is a tradition not to demonize a person after his death. This is a worthy tradition on many fronts, one of which is that the dead cannot defend themselves.

    The latest vogue pushed by the self-appointed-moralists is to find people, dead or alive, and bash their public image, emphasize their faults and minimize their virtues. This is a manifestation of a sick society, not an evidence of a moral one.

    I can understand the taking down of statues of tyrants as they are toppled (such as that of Saddam Hussein, Nicolae Ceaușescu and others) as those statues embodied the oppression people felt and toppling them was part of the liberation process.

    What we see these days is different. It is a posthumous witch-hunt. It is an attack targeted at the foundation of our cultures and the people that made it what it is today. It is an attack that widens to cover historical figures (leaders, soldiers, scientists, artists) as well as living people who had significant contributions and somehow in older age got a bit “strange” or “controversial” (as in the case of James Watson) but lately also on people whose opinion are not liked because they do not fit the party line.

    In this time when free speech is under attack, we better resist the pressure to silence the past just as we fight against silencing the present.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 22, 2017 at 2:49 am | Permalink

      Well said. “A posthumous witch-hunt” indeed.

  30. John Aylwin
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    If one really accepts, on a deep level, the fact of a deterministic universe (possibly with a bit of randomness), then the idolisation of genius seems odd. Even without such understanding, I’ve always found the personalisation of science, or of any other fascinating, beautiful, or otherwise inspiring creation, at best a distraction from the real interest. We humans seem to be drawn to the personal story, rather than content of the creation. But the creator, though perhaps fascinating, doesn’t really deserve the adulation, in the same way that a criminal doesn’t deserve retribution. Oftentimes such creators lived wondrous lives, and heaping praise on them seems perverse. That wondrous life is fortuitous. Fortuitous of circumstance, and fortuitous of the genes and experience that have given them the character and abilities that led them to that life. By all means commemorate those making sacrifices and fighting on behalf of others; Crick will be remembered in history whether or not an institution is named after him. What should be highlighted is the wonder of evolution and of the collective understanding of it.

    Statues are (usually) just dull. Imagine the world populated not with statues of the individuals, but with something artistic, beautiful and thought provoking, representing something about their work or the knowledge they left. Similarly, institutions, buildings, organisations etc don’t have to be named after individuals. London is close to completing a tremendous feat of engineering with its Crossrail project. What is the new line going to be called? Elizabeth. After the queen. Again. How much of Britain will be named after accidental participants in an anachronistic, garish, semi-real-life soap opera?

    As a solution for existing statues, I recommend something like the (sadly temporary) French cock placed on the empty, fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar square. The square is named after the battle of Trafalgar in which the British navy defeated the French and Spanish navies, led by Lord Nelson who is celebrated with a statue on the huge, central column. The French cock is a proud symbol of the French republic (though I prefer the much more feminine Marianne), and was a wonderful contrast and nose-thumb to the stuffy, dour, and downright dull empire garb worn by that soulless hole that tourists are forced to pretend they like.

  31. Barney
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Franklin and Crick were also friends; after the treatment for her terminal cancer started, she convalesced at Crick’s house:

    It seems stupid to blame Crick for the way an author attributed the achievement between Franklin and Crick and Watson.

  32. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait for someone to erect a statue to Rosie Franklin, so we can start trawling through everything she ever did for dirt…

    (Yes I’m being sarcastic…)

  33. WSpackman
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    I believe the current focus on tearing down statutes arises from frustration that insufficient progress is occurring around the issues these symbols represent. If the social evils that motivate these attacks against statutes were being effectively dealt with I don’t think people would so concerned about statutes, particularly those honoring people whose legacy is both good and bad.

    Not only have we failed to make reasonable progress, particularly against institutional racism, we’ve started to go backward and many of the programs that were working to improve the situation have been shut down. Fighting the symbolism of these social ills is the only recourse that many feel they have available.

    • biz
      Posted September 22, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      What is an example of institutional racism currently being practiced in the United States?

      • Tim Harris
        Posted September 23, 2017 at 4:17 am | Permalink

        Read the newspapers.

  34. nicky
    Posted September 21, 2017 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    ” …whith the sanctimonious purity of a Red Guard during China’s Cultural Revolution”,
    wording worthy of repetition.

  35. Posted September 22, 2017 at 3:44 am | Permalink

    Now that the genius is out of the bottle would be very hard to pull it back.
    Decent and clearly-thinking people must stop apologizing and conceding even even an inch to these PC radicals.
    Clearly, people that are so much focused on their alleged victimhood are not only deluded, but on the verge of schizophrenia. As Jerry pointed out, we have never been so anti-racist and anti-sexist and tolerant as today.

  36. Posted September 22, 2017 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    I would argue that there are three criteria relevant to whether or not a statue should be taken down:

    a) Historical significance
    b) Aesthetic merit
    c) Space available for new statues

    I can’t see how the misdeeds of the figure are relevant in the slightest. Shall we take down all the statues Winston Churchill (who might offend Indians), Henry VIII (who might offend Catholics), and Oliver Cromwell (who might offend Irish)?

  37. Posted September 22, 2017 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    The internet, and especially social media has thrusted everybody into the public light. Like a dog eating its vomit, it tries to return most of it back into darkness, pushed in by an urgent desire to clean up the mess, and to bring about order and clarity.

    To me, that’s the grand theme: deeply disoriented authoritarians who long for orientation and order, and who act out their psychological conditions. They yank up the contrast, making it all black and white, then mute, erase, silence everything disliked.

    The chilling effect works: Social Media is Broken. It’s not just about Crick, but it concerns everybody. You can really feel it that there are absolutely no benefits, none at all, to argue authentically with your name and all. It is only advisable for a few who plan to make a career out of name recognition and who have the resources (or time) to build their platforms and do their PR. This is, by some remarkable coincidence, exactly what a self-serving “writers guild” would want.

    Combine that with the power-obsessed authoritarians two paragraphs earlier, and you’ll have the type of postmodern-tinged writer out of Lit Crit or some “studies” whose career ideally begins on Tumblr and ends at the Guardian or Salon; The type of people who want to be the experts and moral guidance, the Good Shephard — admired, shared and liked — but whose clerical authoritry doesn’t permit disagreement.

    It’s as I argued before not even virtue signalling, but overcoming cheap signals. Thus, people who are liked are torn down in a seemingly wasteful, seemingly courageous way, the chilling effects are increased on everybody, and both together alter the public space beneficial for the Clergy of Critical Race Theory and “Intersectional” social justice (those “good people” who have declared their views as to be Woke, and superior to everybody else’s).

  38. EliHershkovitz
    Posted September 22, 2017 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant analysis and the embodiment of common sense.

  39. Will Bethere
    Posted September 22, 2017 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    That thin line between genius and lunatic just got thinner

  40. peepuk
    Posted September 23, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Scientist’s have no super-powers, super-heroes exist only in our imagination.

    Probably everybody, I hope, has had political incorrect thoughts. If not, one is probably not alive, fooling himself or not capable of critical thinking.

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  1. […] purity of a Red Guard during China’s Cultural Revolution”, as the biologist Jerry Coyne puts it, a Harvard academic has written in The Guardian that Crick’s name should be removed from the […]

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