DNA pioneer stripped of honours over racist views

Dr James Watson says he stands by his view that people of African descent tend to have lower intelligence.
Dr James Watson says he stands by his view that people of African descent tend to have lower intelligence.

WASHINGTON • Nobel laureate James Watson, who helped to discover the DNA helix and has been called the father of the Human Genome Project, was stripped of honours by his laboratory after his "reprehensible" remarks on race and ethnicity.

The Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory (CSHL) - the New York facility where Dr Watson worked for nearly four decades and where a school has been named after him - said it was acting in response to his remarks in a TV documentary that aired earlier this month.

The 90-year-old geneticist came under fire from his lab in 2007 and resigned after a British newspaper reported him saying that people of African descent tend to have lower intelligence.

In the new PBS documentary called American Masters: Decoding Watson, when asked about his views on race in the decade since his departure from the lab, Dr Watson said he stood by his earlier remarks, and cited the difference in IQ test results to suggest black inferiority.

While the DNA pioneer also expressed his hope for everyone to be equal, he added that "people who have to deal with black employees found this is not true".

The lab, in a statement last Friday, said: "Dr Watson's statements are reprehensible, unsupported by science, and in no way represent the views of CSHL, its trustees, faculty, staff, or students. The laboratory condemns the misuse of science to justify prejudice." Soon after, it revoked Dr Watson's three titles - chancellor emeritus, Oliver R. Grace Professor Emeritus, and honorary trustee.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2019, with the headline 'DNA pioneer stripped of honours over racist views'. Print Edition | Subscribe