The not so shocking world of Watson
The Double Helix is a fascinating little read – lots of scandal and insider information – how delightful, right? Like everything I read I googled the thing and was interested to see the book initiated a lot of intrigue and shock. There’s the blatant sexism, the brash humor, and just the overall surprise of learning so many specific details. Yet there’s also this whole other side where much of the astonishment came from the notion that scientists, these incredibly intelligent people supposedly so grounded in fact and logic, are acting like crazy college kids.
Honestly, I don’t know why this is and/or was a cause for any sort of epiphany about the world of science. How were we ever naive enough to think that scientists were anything different than intellectual with huge egos? Wait, I take that back. There are certainly men and women of science and mathematics chilling in research labs quietly pounding away at solid work. But the stuff that makes headlines, and has visible impact? That’s always going to be, and always has been, churned out by people with an innate desire for fame and fortune. Think back to Ben Franklin, inventor of the lightning rod, bifocals, creator of the almanac. Total ladies’ man (ew, why?) and celebrity who took advantage of his acclaim in both the colonies and Europe. Einstein? He was dying to get out of the patent office in Bern that he slaving away at. Undoubtedly, these men and all other people of science are both incredibly gifted and actually interested in their craft. If they weren’t, they would never be able to achieve such fascinating results. But it has to be acknowledged that competition and academic discovery are intrinsically linked. We see this not just in science, but in all other aspects of work. Athletes play to be famous, writers publish to be well known, politicians run to gain power. It’s always going to be a combination of loving what you’re doing, being just darn good at, but above all, wanting justification and applause as well.
This is all perfectly logical of course, and we can reasonably recognize that this is human nature and we all possess this. We want to do well, and no one is going to turn away money and a good reputation. So why, specifically, did Watson shock so many? I personally believe it has many implications for an ideology of our culture when it comes not just to scientific academia, but the world of fact and fiction as well. First, when we see immense knowledge, we immediately have an instinct to establish a separation. And it’s not just a class issue, or something. We actually unconsciously register their intellect as them not being simply human. Thus we are taken aback by Watson’s account of kidding around and excessive partying. Secondly, we have difficulty comprehending the contrasting poles of Watson’s logic and fact with the reputation of tell-all styled reads. He’s obviously biased, and this is a one-sided account. Yet this is a man of science! We feel comfortable placing fiction and fact at separate ends, when in reality they exist on a spectrum of endless variations.
– Erin A.