4 famous academics who made racist, sexist remarks

Tim Hunt is just one recent example of an accomplished scientist with controversial views about race and gender. Here’s a look at some notable academics who have made similar comments.

Despite awards for intelligence, some academics have made less-than-smart remarks

U.S. scientist and DNA discoverer James Watson, seen here in 2004, won the Nobel Prize for co-discovering the molecular structure of DNA. He caused an uproar by reportedly saying tests have indicated that Africans are not as intelligent as whites. (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)

British Nobel laureate Tim Hunt is under fire for saying women shouldn't work in laboratories because their presence leads to romantic entanglements and thus harms science.

Hunt said: "You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry."

Hunt is just one of many accomplished academics with controversial views about race and gender. Here's a look at some notable scientists who have made similar comments.

1. James Watson, half of the famous Watson and Crick pair who discovered the double helix structure of DNA in 1953:

In 2007, American scientist Watson said he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa … because all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really." He added that people have a tendency to assume all people are equal, but "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true."

Watson sold his Nobel Prize in 2014, citing his comments have made him an "unperson" and that he has been ostracized for his comments on race.

2. Lawrence Summers, World Bank economist, former Harvard University president, and former economic adviser for Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama:

In 2005, while the American economist was the president of Harvard University, he had a simple answer for the question of why women are less represented in high-end science and engineering positions: They're worse at math and science because of genetics.

He apologized, saying his remarks were well-intentioned and meant to provoke.

3. Charles Murray, conservative American political scientist:

The writer co-authored the controversial 1990 book The Bell Curve. Republican Congressman Paul Ryan has cited his work in 2014, as has former Texas gubernatorial candidate, Greg Abbott.

He was accused of scientific racism for stating in his book that intelligence and class differences are genetic, and that these factors are a better predictor of income, crime, and job performance than a person's socio-economic status.

Tim Hunt, British winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, in a laboratory in London, has apologized for saying the 'trouble with girls' working in science labs is that it leads to romantic entanglements and harms science. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

Murray didn't limit his views to race. In response to Summers's comments about women in science, Murray published a paper in 2005 titled "Where are the female Einsteins?" The name is migraine-inducing enough, but if you read on, he writes, "No woman has been a significant original thinker in any of the world's great philosophical traditions." He added that there have been only two great female mathematicians, and even fewer female visual artists and composers. In an attempt to temper his words, he adds, "the pattern of [female] accomplishment that did break through is strikingly consistent with what we know about the respective strengths of male and female cognitive repertoires."

When given the opportunity to clarify his comments in 2014, he said he stood by what he said.

4. Francis Galton, Charles Darwin's cousin, and well-decorated and knighted pioneer in human genetic research, who coined the phrase 'nature versus nurture':

The British researcher sought to use eugenics to prove British dominance over its colonies. His 1883 book Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development encouraged marriage between people with "high rank."

Despite these accomplishments, these men would be well-served to enrol in the next available Feminism 101 course.


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