"If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."
- Charles Darwin

Oct 25, 2007

Controversial and Sad

James Watson retires after promoting racist science

James Watson and Francis Crick after their discovery of DNA in 1953.

Image: A. Barrington Brown/Photo Researchers Inc.

The final chapter (one hopes) in a shameful history of scientific racism has just departed in a cloud of embarrassment. As I detailed earlier, DNA co-discoverer James Watson made the unambiguous statement that he thought Africans were less intelligent than other people, a claim he has just as unambiguously rejected.

"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."

Watson has now announced his retirement as chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he was director from 1968 - 2003.

As New Scientist reports:

Eduardo Mestre, chairman of the board of CSHL, says Watson's contribution to the understanding of DNA "will continue to influence biomedical research for decades to come", and added that, the board "respects his decision to retire at this point in his career".

There is no doubt that Watson's past scientific work has been exemplary, however his numerous public statements have revealed him to be not only racist but also sexist and homophobic. While Watson is welcome to hold whatever opinions he likes, he does a great disservice to the public trust by representing the scientific viewpoint in such a shameless manner. I wish him well, but am glad not to have him on the public stage any longer.

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