James Watson, the
79-year-old scientific icon made famous by his work on
DNA, has set off an international furor with comments to a
London newspaper about intelligence levels among
The renowned Cold
Spring Harbor Laboratory, where Watson served as
chancellor, suspended his administrative responsibilities
Thursday following the outcry, the laboratory said in
a news release.
Watson has a
history of provocative statements about social implications
of science. But several friends said Thursday he is no
And Watson, who
won a Nobel Prize in 1962 for codiscovering the structure
of DNA, apologized and says he is ''mortified.''
A profile of
Watson in the Sunday Times Magazine of London
quoted him as saying that he's ''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
While he hopes
everyone is equal, ''people who have to deal with black
employees find this is not true,'' Watson is quoted as
saying. He also said people should not be
discriminated against on the basis of color, because
''there are many people of color who are very talented.''
reprinted Wednesday in a front-page article in another
British newspaper, The Independent, provoked a
Museum canceled a sold-out lecture he was to give there
Friday. The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said his
comments ''represent racist propaganda masquerading as
scientific fact.... That a man of such academic
distinction could make such ignorant comments, which
are utterly offensive and incorrect and give succor to the
most backward in our society, demonstrates why racism
still has to be fought.''
In the United
States the Federation of American Scientists said it was
outraged that Watson ''chose to use his unique stature to
promote personal prejudices that are racist, vicious
and unsupported by science.''
employer said he was not speaking for the Cold Spring Harbor
research facility on Long Island, where the board and
administration ''vehemently disagree with these
statements and are bewildered and saddened if he
indeed made such comments.''
Watson is in the
United Kingdom to promote his new book, Avoid
Boring People, and a publicist for his British
publisher provided this statement Thursday to the
''I am mortified
about what has happened,'' Watson said. ''More
importantly, I cannot understand how I could have said what
I am quoted as having said.
''I can certainly
understand why people, reading those words, have
reacted in the ways they have. To all those who have drawn
the inference from my words that Africa, as a
continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only
apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More
importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific
basis for such a belief.''
publicist, Kate Farquhar-Thomson, would not address whether
Watson was suggesting he was misquoted. ''You have the
statement. That's it, I'm afraid,'' she said.
A spokesman for
The Sunday Times said that the interview with
Watson was recorded and that the newspaper stood by the
Watson's new book
also touches on possible racial differences in IQ,
though it doesn't go as far as the newspaper interview.
In the book
Watson raises the prospect of discovering genes that
significantly affect a person's intelligence.
''There is no
firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities
of peoples geographically separated in their evolution
should prove to have evolved identically,'' Watson
wrote. ''Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason
as some universal heritage of humanity will not be
enough to make it so.''
Watson is no
stranger to making waves with his scientific views. In 2000,
in a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, he
suggested that sex drive is related to skin color.
''That's why you have Latin lovers,'' he said,
according to people who attended. ''You've never heard of an
English lover. Only an English patient.''
earlier he was quoted in a newspaper as saying, ''If you
could find the gene which determines sexuality and a
woman decides she doesn't want a homosexual child,
well, let her.''
''Jim has a
penchant for making outrageous comments that are basically
poking society in the eye,'' Francis Collins, director of
the National Human Genome Research Institute, said
Collins, who has
known Watson for a long time, said his latest comments
''really...carried it this time to a much more hurtful
In a brief
telephone interview Collins told AP that Watson's statements
are ''the wildest form of speculation in a field where such
speculation ought not to be engaged in.'' Genetic
factors for intelligence show no difference from one
part of the world to another, he said.
friends of Watson insisted he is not a racist.
''It's hard for
me to buy the label 'racist' for him,'' said Victor
McElheny, the author of a 2003 biography of Watson, whom
he's known for 45 years. ''This is someone who has
encouraged so many people from so many backgrounds.''
So why does he
say things that can sound racist? ''I really don't know
the answer to that,'' McElheny said.
Nobel laureate Phil Sharp at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, who has known Watson since 1971, said, ''I've
never considered Jim a racist. However, Jim likes to
use statistics and observations to provoke people, and
it is possible that he is provoking people by these
comments.'' (Malcolm Ritter, AP)