Nobel winner makes controversial remarks

Mónica Ivelisse Feliú-Mójer's picture

Forums: These 2 articles are on James Watson's recent comments that black people are not as intelligent as white people. It is truly a shame that such an influential person -Watson is probably the most important scientist of the 20th century- gives such little thought to the effect and power of his remarks. However, Watson is known for being controversial. In 1997, Britain's Sunday Telegraph quoted Watson as saying that if a gene for homosexuality were isolated, women who find that their unborn child has the gene should be allowed to have an abortion. During a lecture tour in 2000, he suggested there might be links between skin color and sexual prowess and between a person's weight and their level of ambition. And in a British TV documentary that aired in 2003, Watson suggested that stupidity was a genetic disease that should be treated. All of these should be a lesson -for the new generation of scientists- on the importance of doing and communicating science in a sensitive and non-stereotyped way.


Daniel Alfonso Colón-Ramos's picture

Se le acabó el pan de piquito a Watson. Los jóvenes cientificos, queden avisados: porque una persona tenga talento en elucidar estructuras moleculares no quiere decir que tenga sabiduría. Del NY Times: James Watson Retires After Racial Remarks "James D. Watson, the eminent biologist who ignited an uproar last week with remarks about the intelligence of people of African descent, retired today as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island and from its board. In a statement, he noted that, at 79, he is “overdue” to surrender leadership positions at the lab, which he joined as director in 1968 and served as president until 2003. But he said the circumstances of his resignation “are not those which I could ever have anticipated or desired.” Dr. Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for describing the double-helix structure of DNA, and later headed the American government’s part in the international Human Genome Project, was quoted in The Times of London last week as suggesting that, overall, people of African descent are not as intelligent as people of European descent. In the ensuing uproar, he issued a statement apologizing “unreservedly” for the comments, adding “there is no scientific basis for such a belief.” But Dr. Watson, who has a reputation for making sometimes incendiary off-the-cuff remarks, did not say he had been misquoted. Within days, the Cold Spring board had relieved him of the administrative responsibilities of the chancellor’s job. In that position, a spokesman for the laboratory said, he was most involved with educational efforts and fund-raising. Rockefeller University has cancelled a lecture Dr. Watson was to have given Wednesday at a ceremony honoring him and “The Double Helix,” the book he wrote about the elucidation of DNA. “There were some members of the university community who had expressed reservations about Dr. Watson coming here to speak after the controversy over his remarks in the U.K.,” Joseph Bonner, Rockefeller’s director of communications, said today. He said that just as its president, Paul Nurse, had decided to cancel the event, Dr. Watson called to suggest the same thing. Dr. Watson will receive the prize, the Lewis Thomas Award, at another time not yet set. The university gives the prize annually to scientists whose books bridge the gap between the laboratory and the wider world. In the years after he left Harvard to direct the laboratory, Dr. Watson transformed it from a small facility into a world-class institution prominent in research on cancer, plant biology, neuroscience and computational biology, the board said in announcing his retirement. Bruce Stillman, who succeeded him as president, said today that he had created an “unparalleled” research environment at the laboratory. In his statement, Dr. Watson said the work of the Human Genome Project, an international effort which deciphered the chemical contents of human genes, had opened the door to work on many diseases, particularly illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, ailments he said have afflicted members of his family. He also referred to his Scots and Irish forebears, saying their lives were guided by faith in reason and social justice, “especially the need for those on top to help care for the less fortunate.”