American DNA pioneer James Watson who was recently stripped of his honorary titles at a leading research institution in New York for repeating racist views he expressed in 2007, will keep the 1962 Nobel Prize he won with two others for his part in discovering the DNA double helix.
In 2007, the now 90-year-old Watson told Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper that “there are many people of color who are very talented” but he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa.”
“All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really,” the geneticist said at the time, adding that he hoped everyone was equal but “people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true.”
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After a heavy backlash, he apologized in a statement saying: “I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said. There is no scientific basis for such a belief.”
The apology only led to his suspension from the research institution until he resurfaced in 2018 in a new PBS film, American Masters: Decoding Watson, in which he said his views had since not changed.
In the documentary which aired earlier this month, Watson said that genes cause a difference in intelligence between white and black people in IQ tests. A comment described by Long Island’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) as “reprehensible”, “reckless” and “unsupported by science”.
Dr Watson was stripped of three titles – chancellor emeritus, Oliver R. Grace Professor Emeritus, and honorary trustee – from CSHL where he has a school named after him following his service as its director in 1968, president in 1994 and chancellor a decade later.
He will keep his Nobel Prize because the Norwegian Nobel Institute saysits rules did not provide for the possibility of withdrawing the honour from laureates.
“It is not possible to strip a Nobel laureate of his or her award once bestowed… None of the prize awarding committees in Stockholm and Oslo has ever considered revoking a prize after it has been awarded,” says Olav Njolstad, the head of the institute, in an email to The Associated Press in response to a petition to revoke the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Myanmar’s Aung Sang Suu Kyi.
The same applies to James Watson who is not the first laureate to make such racist claims. William B. Shockley, a Nobel laureate for his work with transistors, in later life developed ideas of eugenics based on the supposed intellectual inferiority of blacks, cites the New York Times.
Dr Watson’s son came to his aid claiming his father’s awareness of his surroundings were “very minimal” since he is in a nursing home as a result of a car crash in October.
“My dad’s statements might make him out to be a bigot and discriminatory… [but] they just represent his rather narrow interpretation of genetic destiny… My dad had made the lab his life, and yet now the lab considers him a liability,” he was quoted by British media Sky News.
However, in 1997, he was quoted by Britain’s Sunday Telegraph as saying that if a gene for homosexuality were found in the fetus or for any reason, women should be allowed to abort a child.
He also said during a lecture tour in 2000 that there might be links between a person’s weight and their level of ambition and between skin colour and sexual prowess, reports the Associated Press.
Also in 2003, he said in a British TV documentary that stupidity was a genetic disease that should be treated.
For centuries, black people have been subjects of research on intelligence and there is no scientific proof that suggests black people were inferior to white people.