He basks in white-hot TV lights, poses for People and Time, holds forth for the networks. White-haired and combative at 74, his cheeks tickled pink, William B. Shockley is having fun after another day in court.
"I'm enjoying myself. I'm human like everyone else," says the California scientist, perhaps better known for his controversial views that blacks are genetically inferior to whites than for winning the 1956 Nobel Prize in physics. "I like the attention."
Indeed, flanked by lawyers and armed with reprints of his views, he's getting plenty of it in a $1.25 million libel suit against Cox Enterprises Inc.
Shockley sees his day in court against the city's leading newspaper, the Atlanta Constitution, as a forum for his incendiary views on race and intelligence, human quality control and his Voluntary Sterilization Bonus Plan (VSBP): to pay anyone with a low IQ or with some genetically transmitted diseases to be sterilized.
"It would be worth everything, even if I don't get one cent," should the media maelstrom around the trial spark research into his ideas, he says. "My complaint is that people have not taken me seriously, you see?"
Shockley, a retired Stanford University professor of electrical engineering, has come here to argue his claim in federal court that he was libeled by a 1980 article in the Atlanta Constitution that "falsely and maliciously" likened his ideas to the Nazis' genetic experiments in World War II.
"The Shockley program was tried out in Germany during World War II, when scientists under the direction of the government experimented on Jews and defectives in an effort to study genetic development," wrote Roger Witherspoon, 35, a black reporter who left the paper in 1982. He's a target of the suit.
"To be falsely labeled a 'Nazi' or of approving the Nazi genocide during World War II is comparable to being falsely labeled a mass murderer or approving mass murder," Shockley said in his suit.
Beneath the headline "Designer Genes by Shockley," the article described the professor's racial theories and his VSBP, which he advocates as a way to stop "dysgenics," or backward evolution caused by excessive reproduction among the "genetically disadvantaged."
Shockley says blacks fall into that category. "One factor that did influence me in getting into this is that the question of race differences is swept under the rug as repugnant," he told one reporter.
While contending he is no racist and punctuating his theories with the phrase "many blacks are superior to many whites," he zeroes in on racial differences. Armed with IQ statistics showing blacks scoring lower than whites, he discounts geneticists who shun his forays into their field. For Shockley, blacks are intellectually inferior and reproducing toward further "misery."
Shockley is proposing varying bonuses to anyone with an IQ under 100 who agrees to be sterilized upon reaching child-bearing age. He would pay volunteers $1,000 for every IQ point below 100, with "$30,000 put into a trust fund for a 70-IQ moron, potentially capable of producing 20 children."
According to his calculations, 85 percent of America's blacks would qualify for the voluntary sterilization program he describes as a "thinking exercise."
Any damages recovered from the lawsuit might go into launching the program, he says.
Under the plan, bonuses would also go to potential parents based on the "best scientific estimates" of their having such "genetically carried disabilities as hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, epilepsy, Huntington's chorea and so on," with taxpayers getting no money to participate.
Witherspoon called Shockley "a man with an idea that there are too many black people around, and he is asking them to eliminate themselves. The logic is absurd. Compliance is hardly likely."
Shockley also contends he was defamed by Witherspoon's branding him an "amateur geneticist," and implying that he was far out for his idea that blood tests can show the white ancestry in blacks.
Witherspoon's notes suggest that Shockley first referred to the Nazi eugenics experiments when they talked by phone. Shockley called collect and insisted on taping the conversations, as he does with all reporters. The tapes were played for the jury's five whites and one black.
Witherspoon told the jury Tuesday he was using a "rhetorical device" when he compared the Shockley plan for the genetically disadvantaged to Nazi experiments in World War II. "It seemed to me that as a rhetorical device there was nothing wrong with saying the Shockley plan was tried out in World War II," he testified.
Asked by defense attorney Terry Adamson if it was fair to compare the two plans, Witherspoon said, "Yes, the premise was the same. Somebody from a dominant group decided his group is better and the country would be better off if the bulk of a minority group isn't there."
He said the article was an opinion piece, reflecting his beliefs, and didn't intend to suggest the two plans were literally identical. He cited interviews with other geneticists as well as Shockley as sources.
In his deposition, Shockley said he suffered no damages, but he maintained on the stand here that he had "suffered" greatly from the Witherspoon article. He said it had made him, in effect, media-shy, and that he had turned down a TV interview out of fearing he would be blind-sided.
"I fear the same kind of distortion that appeared here will happen again," he testified, showing fleeting symptoms of delayed stress media whiplash.
What many regard as the Shockley circus began to garner attention in the mid-'60s, when the sincere, if testy, physicist took an interest in the state of the world and began speaking out on gene pool pollution. He was largely inspired to get into the subject after reading an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that described a delicatessen owner who was blinded with acid by a teen-ager with a 70 IQ -- one of 17 children born to a mother with an IQ of 55.
Shockley seized upon the story as fuel for further thought and plunged ahead. While his critics lashed out, telling the famed physicist to stay in his field, he didn't give up. He began reading everything he could get his hands on about heredity and race and, finding the cupboard bare, asked the National Academy of Sciences to fund a study. He was turned down.
But that didn't stop Shockley. He kept speaking out, debating geneticists and sparking furor at Stanford, where he was hanged in effigy before retiring in 1975. At 70, four years ago, he announced that he had volunteered as a donor for the Graham Sperm Bank, which sought Nobel Prize-winners as donors, and high-IQ women as recipients. He gave twice.
He says he wasn't aware at the time that sperm of older men has greater risks for genetic damage.
Since both sides agree that Shockley is a public figure, Supreme Court rulings require his lawyers to prove that Witherspoon wrote the articles with the knowledge that the statements were false or with a reckless disregard of whether or not they were false. Only then could he collect damages.
Among their experts, Shockley's lawyers summoned Clark Mollenhoff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, former aide to President Nixon and professor of journalism at Washington and Lee University. "Is the article fair?" asked attorney Murray Silver, who shouts like a Baptist preacher for effect.
"It's not accurate, it's unbalanced and it's unfair," testified Mollenhoff, who also told the court that he makes $200 an hour testifying for plaintiffs in libel suits, which accounts for a third of his annual income. Witherspoon, Mollenhoff said, "entered into the pursuit of this story with preconceived notions that Dr. Shockley was indeed racist and Hitlerian."
The newspaper's lawyers counter that the article was opinion, which is a protected form of speech. They also argued the article was substantially accurate and, in any event, was not recklessly written.
Observers strain for jury reaction. The lone black juror, a woman, winced when Shockley balked at saying whether or not he believed in God on tapes played in court.
Shockley fans abound, including a Macon lawyer who drove 90 miles to Atlanta just to admire his "courage." A gray-haired lady patted him on the back after he testified. "You were great," she said.
There were no "Sterilize Shockley" signs, which were evident in the early '70s on the Stanford University campus when the inventor of the transistor lobbied to teach a genetics course and was turned down. His only critics were on the stand.
Some testimony has sparked smiles, but Judge Robert L. Vining Jr. has been quick to gavel the packed courtroom to order when titters erupt as they did yesterday after Princeton professor Ashley Montagu, the Alistair Cooke of anthropology, skewered Shockley for touting that heredity alone determines intelligence.
"Had Mozart been born to a blacksmith, there would never have been a Mozart, just a blacksmith named Mozart," he said.