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Nobel Laureate Humiliated Following Racist Comments, Book Tour Aborted

by Medindia Content Team on October 20, 2007 at 12:02 PM
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Nobel Laureate Humiliated Following Racist Comments, Book Tour Aborted

Nobel laureate and a noted DNA expert Dr.James Watson has been forced to cut short his book promotion tour of the UK and return to the US as he came in for fierce criticism over his remarks implying that somehow blacks were genetically inferior.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, where Watson has worked since 1968, suspended the scientist's "administrative responsibilities" as chancellor of the Watson School of Biological Sciences after an emergency teleconference of its 34-member board of trustees.


The board warned it could take further action.

The 79-year-old geneticist had said in an interview to Sunday Times that 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 said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".

He said that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because "there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don't promote them when they haven't succeeded at the lower level."

He was categorical that there was "no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so."

He was further quoted as saying that his hope was that everyone was equal but that "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true."

He had also claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade.

Dr Watson has indeed been hailed as achieving one of the greatest single scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century when he worked at the University of Cambridge in the 1950s and 1960s, forming part of the team which discovered the structure of DNA.

He shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for medicine with his British colleague Francis Crick and New Zealand-born Maurice Wilkins.

And the newspaper had interviewed him on the eve of his tour of the UK to promote his book Avoid Boring People.

But the insensitive comments provoked a furious backlash. British experts in intelligence and neurology condemned Dr Watson's quoted views as discredited.

Baroness Greenfield, the neuroscientist and director of the Royal Institution, said: "There was a great uproar quite some time ago with a book called The Bell Curve which suggested that there were racial differences in intelligence. If Watson is citing this work, further work has found the findings not to be as simple as they implied and that there was a strong cultural factor involved.

"In any event, IQ tests can only ever be an evaluation of how good people are at IQ tests. It is a great shame that someone as distinguished as James Watson should make such comments."

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, attacked Dr Watson, saying that the comments were racist propaganda masquerading as scientific fact. "Such discredited racist theories seek to establish a genetically based racial hierarchy of the human race and have been condemned by leading scientists throughout the world," Livingstone said

. "Such views are not welcome in a city like London, a diverse city whose very success demonstrates the racist and nonsensical nature of Dr Watson's comments," he said.

Subsequently an embarrassed Watson retried to retrieve the lost ground with some vague apology.

In an article for The Independent, Dr Watson apologised for any offence he may have caused. He also said at the Royal Society that he was "bewildered" by the quotes attributed to him and that he had "no memory" of ever having made them - although he did not deny that he could have said them.

"I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the ways they have," he said.

He was further quoted as saying that his hope was that everyone was equal but that "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true."

"To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly.

He was further quoted as saying that his hope was that everyone was equal but that "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true."

"That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief."

He had hosted a reception Thursday night at the Royal Society to celebrate the publication of his new book and was expected to follow it with a book-signing yesterday in London and public engagements next week in Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

However, after a decision by the Science Museum in London to cancel a public talk planned for Friday evening, Bristol and Edinburgh followed suit. It was after Cold Spring Harbor issued its statement in the early hours of Friday morning that Dr Watson decided to return home rather than continue with what was left of his book tour.

The Bristol Festival of Ideas has also cancelled an appearance by Dr Watson.

Dr Watson is no stranger to controversy. He has been reported in the past saying that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual.

In addition, he has suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, proposing a theory that black people have higher libidos.

He also claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured, saying: "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great."

Even the Nobel-prize-winning discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA is mired in controversy.

While Watson and his British colleague Crick were quick to claim credit for the double helix, they have been accused of belittling the work of Rosalind Franklin, of King's College London, whose X-ray photographs of the DNA molecule were crucial.

Watson was shown Franklin's work, without her knowledge, by her superior, Maurice Wilkins, with whom the pair eventually shared the Nobel Prize, but he has never accepted that she played an equal role. In his 1968 book The Double Helix, published ten years after Franklin's death from ovarian cancer, he described her as a frigid, badly dressed and charmless bluestocking who did not deserve any more credit.

Many believe she was treated badly by Watson, Crick and Wilkins because of her gender, though she was not considered for the Nobel because the prize is awarded only to living scientists.

Commenting on Dr Watson's current views about race, Steven Rose, a professor of biological sciences at the Open University, said: "This is Watson at his most scandalous. He has said similar things about women before but I have never heard him get into this racist terrain.

He added: "If he knew the literature in the subject he would know he was out of his depth scientifically, quite apart from socially and politically."

Source: Medindia


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