Joel Shurkin is the author of Broken Genius: A Biography
of William B. Shockley, which will be published soon. While
working on Shockley's biography he discovered that there was more material
to use than he knew what to do withShockley had saved practically
every piece of paper that ever crossed his desk.
Shurkin is currently bureau chief for Medcast, an Internet
news service for physicians at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, and
for five years was a free lance journalist in Santa Cruz, California.
From 1980 to 1993, he worked as a science writer at Stanford, where
Shockley taught at the end of his life. Joel has been writing about
science since 1961, and shared a Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his coverage
of Three Mile Island with the team from The Philadelphia Inquirer.
That same year, he also won the national Association of Science Teachers
Best Children's Science Book Award for his book Jupiter, The Star
Joel Shurkin talks about Shockley's missed chance at riches:
"If Shockley had been a better manager, he'd be
one of the richest people in the world today. He would have been the
match for Bill Gates. He is the father of Silicon Valley; he knew more
than anybody in the world the importance of these machines, these transistors;
he knew that he was revolutionizing the world; he knew that if his company
could control the direction that the transistor should go toward, that
he would be very rich. Unfortunately, he was a terrible manager and
he never had the chance."
Joel Shurkin talks about Shockley's shocking theories
on race and intelligence:
"Bill Shockley became a professor at Stanford,
full time. He became involved in what he called human quality problemsthe
problems of genetics, the problems of intelligence; he got involved
in an old theory called eugenics. Shockley believed: a) that intelligence
is largely genetic, that your genes determine how bright you are and
how far you can go in life. He was convinced that blacks lacked the
same intelligence that whites didas a whole, not individually.
And what he apparently, what he obviously did was start a fight with
the scientific establishment on a theory that the scientific establishment
did not want to hear about. He became probably the most hated scientist
in America, and absolutely destroyed his career and his reputation.
Bill Shockley's life was right out of Sophocles and a Greek tragedy.
In Greek tragedy, you have pride, you have pride before the fall, then
you have the fall. The only difference between Shockley and a hero in
Sophocles was redemptionShockley was never redeemed. He died,
I think, a bitter, certainly a lonely man, with his reputation destroyed.
If you were to ask anybody about Shockley, they remember the racial
aspectsthey do not remember the transistor. It's a very sad story."
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