Jim Watson

aloisia schmid a-schmi at uiuc.edu
Tue Sep 30 22:28:19 EST 1997


In article <624875679B at guesswork.oncology.wisc.edu>,
mertz at ONCOLOGY.WISC.EDU ("Janet Mertz") wrote:

> "I find it a little insulting that dressing badly is put in the same
> category as telling women that they can't/shoudln't do science and that
> our basic worth is predicated not on our intellectual acheivements, but
> our physical appearance and whether or not we wear adequate amounts of
> makeup, which, from what I have read here and in his writings is Watson's
> basic outlook on the whole matter. That is not just basic "political
> incorrectness" (a term with which I personally have some problems with
> anyhow, it is out and out damaging sexism. "
> 
>         In reality, Jim Watson's "bark" is quite different from his "bite". 
> His sexist statements seems quite inappropriate to 1990s-era feminist 
> ears. However, he did much more than most biochemists in the 1960s 
> and 1970s to help women become trained and established in the
> field. In the 1960s, the top-ranked biochemistry departments in the 
> U.S. had zero tenure-track women on their faculties and very few 
> female graduate students. (In the 1940s, female graduate 
> students majored in "home economics" since they were barred from 
> most biochemistry departments!) When I applied to top-ranked 
> biochemistry departments in 1970, Watson was one of the few 
> biochemistry professors with female graduate students in his lab. He 
> claimed he liked to have "pretty faces" around the lab. In 1970 I 
> became the first female graduate student admitted to Stanford 
> University's biochemistry department in 8 years! However, Watson not 
> only accepted women into his lab as graduate students at a time when 
> most others did not, he also helped them to do outstanding work, 
> obtain top fellowships and jobs,  and become leaders in their field 
> (e.g., Joan Steitz). Thanks in significant part to Watson, I was 
> offered tenure-track faculty positions at top-ranked universities, 
> including his department at Harvard, in 1974 while still a graduate 
> student! And I don't even own a dress or makeup! Despite his sexist 
> comments, Watson was one of the leaders in opening up the field of 
> biochemistry and molecular biology to women. Although we still have 
> some way to go to reach true equality, women have come a long way in 
> the past 30 years from the days when there were essentially no women 
> professors at places such as Harvard, M.I.T., and Caltech, and few 
> even as graduate students.
>         Janet Mertz
>         Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

I am not going to attack or praise James Watson---tho' I have to admit
these stories about him do not endear him to me.  However, while I am
ready to acknowledge that he apparently treated you well in helping you
get established, the question I have to ask is, why is that such a great
thing?  I mean, I assume you were pretty hot shit, even before getting
your degree or you would not have been the first student Stanford's
biochem dept. admitted in 8 years.  I think he did what he was supposed to
do, and that's all he did.  

I wonder how many times he has helped less qualified male students because
it was the thing to do, or more to the point, because he really liked
them. This is not to detract from the fact that he did the right thing for
you when alot of others were doing the exact opposite---still, if we are
being reminded to not treat Nobel Prize winning women with too much
reverence, I would have to say let's not get crazy about James Watson
being a friend to the Woman in Science merely because he did well in this
case.  Especially when he often doesn't.  

I do not want to detract from James Watson----but in my mind, the thing
that he has done that is great is establishing Cold Spring Harbor as a
center for scientific exchange.  I think it is a great place and his
stewardship there is remarkable.  There he has done way more than merely
what he was supposed to do.  

                              Alice

P.S. Also, for another day and another discussion---i am amazed that only
23 years ago, it was still possible to get tenure-track jobs at top-notch
universities without even having done a post-doc.  Times have certianly
changed.....



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