Culture 2 min read

DNA Study Pioneer James Watson Stripped of Honors Over Racist Views

Former CSHL Chancellor Emeritus, Oliver R. Grace Professor Emeritus, and Honorary Trustee, Dr. James Watson | Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Former CSHL Chancellor Emeritus, Oliver R. Grace Professor Emeritus, and Honorary Trustee, Dr. James Watson | Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

On Friday, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory announced its stripping of DNA study pioneer and Nobel Prize-winning scientist, James Watson, of all his honorary titles. The lab made the decision after the PBS documentary “American Masters: Decoding Watson” aired. Among other things, the documentary exposed Watson’s personal opinions on the subject of ethnicity and genetics.

“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,” CSHL said.

Read More: Woman Wins The 2018 Nobel Prize In Physics After 5 Decades

Watson’s Unpopular Views and Early Retirement

DNA study pioneer, James Watson
Novel Prize recipient and DNA study pioneer, James Watson | Science History Institute

This is not the first time that Watson expressed his questionable views to the media. Back in 1997, the scientists made headlines for his unreserved support of abortion rights.

Under normal circumstances, Watson’s views might not have been uncontroversial. However, his mention of aborting fetuses with hypothetical genes leading to homosexuality and other apparent disorders raised questions of his social views.

However, of all his unpopular views, Watson’s racist comments gained the most scorn. In an interview with The Times UK, Watson discussed the gloomy prospect of Africa, citing racial gaps in intelligence as the reason.

Watson later apologized for his comments, but it didn’t stop the CSHL’s Board of Trustees from terminating his status as Chancellor of the laboratory.

“In response to his most recent statements, which effectively reverse the written apology and retraction Dr. Watson made in 2007, the Laboratory has taken additional steps, including revoking his honorary titles of Chancellor Emeritus, Oliver R. Grace Professor Emeritus, and Honorary Trustee,” CSHL’s statement read.

“The statements he made in the documentary are completely and utterly incompatible with our mission, values, and policies, and require the severing of any remaining vestiges of his involvement.”

Accomplishments and Contribution to Science

Watson, together with Francis Crick, discovered the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. In 1962, Watson, Crick, and Maurice Wilkins received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their contribution to science.

In 2014, Watson auctioned his Nobel Prize medal to raise money for scientific research. This made him the first Nobel laureate to sell his award. The purchaser, Russian business magnate and billionaire, Alisher Usmanov, later returned the medal to him.

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Comments (3)
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    Lewis Mc Cahill January 14 at 7:23 pm GMT

    How did he manage to get away with these views for so long within his workplace? I wonder how many other famous scientists have similarly strange views…

    • Profile Image
      Rechelle Ann Fuertes Author January 15 at 12:06 am GMT

      Last year, CERN suspended one of its senior scientists, Alessandro Strumia, due to a presentation where he claimed that men were being discrimated against because of ideology. Sexism, racism, discrimination, unconscious bias are social problems which are unfortunately present in every institution of our society.

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