James D. Watson on science and genetics

James D. Watson is a molecular biologist and one of the co-discoverers of DNA’s structure.

James D. Watson

James D. Watson

  • One of the greatest gifts science has brought to the world is continuing elimination of the supernatural, and it was a lesson that my father passed on to me, that knowledge liberates mankind from superstition. We can live our lives without the constant fear that we have offended this or that deity who must be placated by incantation or sacrifice, or that we are at the mercy of devils or the Fates. With increasing knowledge, the intellectual darkness that surrounds us is illuminated and we learn more of the beauty and wonder of the natural world.
  • No one may have the guts to say this, but if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we?
  • If we don’t play God, who will?

About probabilityZero

I'm a rather boring, geeky college student. Most of my time is spent at a computer, reading a book, or sitting in (mostly uninteresting) classes. My hobbies include reading, blogging, creating and running websites, creating amateur video games, arguing incessantly on discussion forums, and buying books on amazon.com because I'm too lazy to go to the library.
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13 Responses to James D. Watson on science and genetics

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  2. Nick Taylor says:

    I was in hospital recently – a killer case of exploded appendix etc – very very bad and lucky to get out alive…

    … but the guy next to me was so much worse… cancer in his stomach. He survived, he got better but… anyone who thinks we shouldn’t do absolutely anying under heaven or earth to get rid of this sort of suffering needs to spend some time in a surgery ward. Right now in a hospital near you, there’s someone going through unbelievable agony. We’ve got to do anything we can to stop this.

    Whether we should extend this to growing extra sets of arms is another issue… but I don’t really see why it should be anyone else’s business what I do, and it would certainly make soldering easier.

  3. sven monk says:

    We should, in theory! The problems are manifold, though. Test subjects? We know a lot about some genes, but not everything about many. A lot of genes that promote desirable qualities can have undesirable effects too (eg intelligence plus CJD), and who’s going to use their progeny as a lab rat?

    More to the point, how on earth do you see this sort of technology doing anything other than furthering the horrendous divide between haves and have-nots? Gene manipulation, like present-day sex-selection, will be available first to the stinking rich, who are already seriously advantaged. Stick to science James, gene manipulation has strong sociological & ethical aspects that you have clearly failed to grasp.

  4. Paul Timberline says:


  5. Sam Petyan says:

    We’ve been evolving for thousands of years, so perhaps this is the next step, where we control our own evolution?

  6. Croft says:

    The answer to that is simply: hubris.

    In theory, it’s a great idea and I’m all for it. The problem is our understanding of consequences when we tamper with genetics. God-like acts should require God-like comprehension of what is being done, which for mere humans is a stretch in almost every respect.

    Just look at gene modified crops. You have Monsanto making modified corn, said corn gets planted in the same area as unmodified and normally evolved corn and when they then crosspollinate you get nasty visually and internally mutated corn. End result will be that there is only the gene modified corn and mutant corn we don’t even know how it will behave. Monsanto doesn’t mind, with their patent they make money hand over fist, but meanwhile we have put paid to one of the major staple crops in the world as an independently evolving and growing plant.

    If indeed we had a total understanding of the consequences, selecting for the proper evolution would be an amazing boon for all mankind. The problem is both aquiring such complete understanding (right now, science is still just barely beyond the kids-playing-with-matches stage when it comes to this stuff, in my opinion) and then there is the absolute certainty that it would have massive social consequences.

    See the movie Gattaca if you haven’t. It’s both entertaining and highly thought provoking on this topic.

  7. E Wilson says:

    “No one may have the guts to say this, but if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we?”

    The problem with this is who defines what is a better human being? Better for our current circumstances and goals may not work in our favor if those circumstances and goals change. Nearly everyone wants to be “better” but I seriously doubt anyone has the foresight to truly realize what is better in the long term survival of the species sense.

    “If we don’t play God, who will?”

    It’s called natural selection and genetic diversity increases the long term survival potential for the species. If we could all tailor ourselves to a genetic ideal wouldn’t we lose much of that genetic diversity?

    Take fruit orchards for example, market forces dictated that better was a longer shelf life once the fruit was picked. Now we have white peaches that taste like cardboard but have the shelf life to be shipped anywhere and still look good on the store shelf. Seems like every year fewer farmers grow the old tasty peaches anymore because it is more profitable to think about the global market. How long till the tasty peaches are eliminated entirely.

  8. Guillermo says:

    Ignorance isn´t desirable, better it´s a bad competitive evolution.
    For sure to increase our knowledge it is a way of playing as god. By the other hand, we must be very patient and cautios, and commercial and utility purposes spoils all the good intentions. How we can armonize knowledge with evolution?

  9. Grant says:

    The problem with natural selection as we’ve known it to this point, is that we’ve begun breeding practices that laugh in the face of Darwinian principles. Society has decimated our ability to naturally evolve. What we’re heading toward is more cancer, more genetic diseases. Take Diabetes for example. In the wild, a creature with this handicap would most likely not breed. In our society, it happens on a regular basis. The natural consequence is more cases. Couple that with the likely genetic damage that our modern diet of industrialized foods inflicts, and you’ve got a species that is destined to be riddled with disease. Genetic modification is our only hope aside from returning to a pre-industrial lifestyle. Move along Homo Erectus. Homo Evolutis is coming.

  10. Groovy J says:

    All of the arguments against genetic engineering given here look a lot more like arguments against capitalism to me. Maybe I’m missing something, but the fact that market forces frequently dictate obviously idiotic applications of genetic technologies seems far better tackled by eliminating market forces as a consideration than by ceasing advancement in a highly promising field.

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  12. Michael says:

    James D. Watson is a true pioneer, brilliant man. I’m very proud of my signed edition of Avoid Boring People.

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