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James Watson--yes, that Watson--to discuss...how to train scientists better?

I got an invitation today to a film screening of Naturally Obsessed, The Making of a Scientist. The documentary, by Richard and Carole Rifkind, asks the question, "What does it take to produce the scientists we need to keep America competitive?"

That seems like an important question, and one to which Scientific American readers would no doubt like to have the answer. So I took a look at the invitation, and found out that the screening, on February 25, would also feature a panel discussion on the "state of scientific training in the U.S." Also worthwhile.

Then I noticed a name on the panel.

James D. Watson.

Yes, that James Watson, the Watson-Crick Nobel Prize-winning James Watson, the one who retired from his post at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories at the end of 2007 for comments he made about the intelligence of Africans. He told the Times of London's Sunday Magazine that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" as "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing [IQ and Standardized testing] says not really."

Yes, the James Watson whom, as I wrote in The Boston Globe just after the incident, "[savaged] Rosalind Franklin— from whom many say Watson stole ideas that led to the Nobel he shared with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for figuring out the structure of DNA." Watson has said that we should use genetic engineering to "make all girls pretty," and that more melanin—dark skin—gives people greater sexual libido.

So Watson is now evidently a good source of information on how to encourage young scientists to stick with careers in science. The panel, moderated by journalist Garrick Utley, also includes a State University of New York Downstate postdoctoral fellow named Andrey Pisarev and Toni Hoover, senior vice president of global research & development, and director of the Groton/New London Laboratories, for Pfizer.

Hoover is an African-American woman scientist who is evidently involved with promoting diversity in science, at least according to this press release about a $300,000 Pfizer grant to Xavier University, a traditionally black Catholic university in New Orleans. I called Pfizer to ask to interview Hoover about what she thought of being on the panel and will update this post if I hear back.

I also asked a New York Academy of Sciences contact about the choice of Watson. "Word is that he's very committed to this subject and really focused when it comes to discussing it," he wrote in an e-mail.

Find out on February 25, at Academy headquarters in downtown Manhattan.

Photo of a young James Watson courtesy the National Library of Medicine

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