Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cover Blown - Watson Disavowed

Official cover is a term used in espionage to refer to operatives who assume positions in organizations with diplomatic ties to the government for which they work.

Official cover operatives are granted a set of governmental protections, and if caught in the act of espionage, they can request diplomatic protection from their government. In other words, official cover operatives are agents officially recognized by their country. In contrast, non-official cover (NOC) refers to operatives who assume positions with no ties to their government, and whose actions are officially disavowed by that government.

Update: Lab suspends DNA pioneer Watson

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory had already distanced itself from the scientist's comments but its trustee board has also now suspended him.

A statement from the Long Island, New York, institution said the action was being taken "pending further deliberation by the board".

FAS condemns comments made by Dr. James Watson:

The Federation of American Scientists condemns the comments of Dr. James Watson that appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine on October 14th.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is outraged by the noxious comments of Dr. James Watson that appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine on October 14th. At a time when the scientific community is feeling threatened by political forces seeking to undermine its credibility it is tragic that one of the icons of modern science has cast such dishonor on the profession.

The scientific enterprise is based on the promotion and proof of new ideas through evidence, however controversial, but Dr. Watson chose to use his unique stature to promote personal prejudices that are racist, vicious and unsupported by science.

While we honor the extraordinary contributions that Dr. Watson has made to science in the past, his comments show that he has lost his way. He has failed us in the worst possible way. It is a sad and revolting way to end a remarkable career.

Others, including Watson are in deep denial:
"I am mortified about what has happened," Watson said. "More importantly, I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said.

Several longtime friends of Watson insisted he's not a racist.

"It's hard for me to buy the label `racist' for him," said Victor McElheny, the author of a 2003 biography of Watson, whom he's known for 45 years. "This is someone who has encouraged so many people from so many backgrounds."

So why does he say things that can sound racist? "I really don't know the answer to that," McElheny said.

Biologist and Nobel laureate Phil Sharp at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who's known Watson since 1971, said, "I've never considered Jim a racist. However, Jim likes to use statistics and observations to provoke people, and it is possible that he is provoking people by these comments."

Calling Watson "one of the great historical scientific figures of our time," Sharp said, "I don't understand why he takes it upon himself to make these statements."

Mike Botchan, co-chair of the molecular and cell biology department at the University of California, Berkeley, who's known Watson since 1970, said the Nobelist's personal beliefs are less important than the impact of what he says.

"Is he someone who's going to prejudge a person in front of him on the basis of his skin color? I would have to say, no. Is he someone, though, that has these beliefs? I don't know any more. And the important thing is I don't really care," Botchan said.

"I think Jim Watson is now essentially a disgrace to his own legacy. And it's very sad for me to say this, because he's one of the great figures of 20th century biology."