In the News: Dr. Watson Apologizes; Birth Control

Dr. James Watson apologized for a statement he reportedly made about Africa to a London newspaper. In other news, Maine school trustees voted to allow middle school students to receive birth control pills without a parent's knowledge.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

A couple of other stories from the week's news.

Dr. James Watson, who won the Nobel Prize in 1962 for co-discovering DNA, apologized for telling the Sunday Times of London he is discouraged about the future of Africa because, quote, "All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says not really."

The outrage, especially among scientists, was immediate. Dr. Watson said he was mortified himself and issued a statement: I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said. There is no scientific basis for such belief.

Dr. Watson has a small history of lending scientific clause to observations about ethnicity. He once suggested that skin color determines sex drive, saying, that's why you have Latin lovers. You've never heard of an English lover, only an English patient - which doesn't explain Hugh Grant.

Dr. Watson was in Britain, and with that comment I'm surprised they'd let him in to promote his new book, "Avoid Boring People." Does Dr. Watson know that people who say provocative things to show that they're interesting quickly become boring? The eminent Dr. Watson may remind us that Nobel Prize winners can also be fools.

This week, the Portland, Maine, school board voted to allow middle-school students - that's grade six to eight - 11 to 13 years old to receive birth-control products without a parent's knowledge. The principal of King Middle School says about five of the school's 500 students have said they are sexually active. There've been a few pregnancies in the school district.

The vote was overwhelming, 12 to 2, but debate was intense. We are dealing with children, said Diane Miller, a school nurse. I am just horrified. But a father, Rich Veilleux, told the school committee not every child is getting the guidance needed to keep them safe. This is about giving kids who are sexually active the tools that they need.

Please permit an outsider to ask. Is offering birth control to a sixth grader giving them tools they need or a powerful instrument like a car that they're not grown up enough to safely use? Just scolding adolescents not to have sex doesn't work, but giving them birth control and telling them that they can have sex without consequences also doesn't seem wise.

Disease or pregnancy are not the only dangers for an 11-year-old who has sex. I wonder if some of the parents who accept giving birth control to middle schoolers wouldn't get really outraged if the school nurse started passing out Twinkies to any student who asked - or would they shout, sugar, keep that away from my child.

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