Pioneering DNA scientist loses titles after claims over race

Rodiano Bonacci
Gennaio 14, 2019

A scientist whose DNA discovery won him a Nobel prize has been stripped of the last of his honorary titles after he repeated a belief that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the United States said the 90-year-old scientist's remarks were "unsubstantiated and reckless" and removed his emeritus titles.

The 90-year-old geneticist - one of three who discovered the DNA double helix - had lost his job at the NY laboratory in 2007 for expressing racist views.

In the 2007 article Watson went on to avow that, while he wanted everyone to be equal in terms of intelligence, "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true".

"Dr. Watson's statements are reprehensible, unsupported by science, and in no way represent the views of (the laboratory), its trustees, faculty, staff or students".

"The Laboratory condemns the misuse of science to justify prejudice", it added.

"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 told the Times newspaper at the time.

Michael Wigler, a veteran molecular biologist at the laboratory, said that Watson's views on race were not newsworthy in the first place. He said the scientist's awareness of his surroundings were "very minimal" and rejected the notion he was a "bigot".

Watson, who, along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins in the 1950s, discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their ground-breaking research.

At the time, he was forced to retire from his job as chancellor at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island, but he has retained his office there, as well as the titles of chancellor emeritus, Oliver R. Grace professor emeritus and honorary trustee.

He is now in a nursing home recovering from a vehicle accident and is said to have "very minimal" awareness of his surroundings.

Watson had always been associated with the lab, becoming its director in 1968, its president in 1994 and its chancellor 10 years later.

The latest comments "effectively reverse the written apology and retraction Dr Watson made in 2007", the lab said, adding it appreciates his legacy of scientific discoveries and leadership of the institution but can no longer be associated with him.

In an interview with the news agency, his son Rufus said Dr Watson's statements "might make him out to be a bigot and discriminatory" but that was not true.

The breakthrough was key to determining how genetic material works, and the double helix became a widely recognised symbol of science.

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