James Watson "mortified" over the furor he caused

An article by Helen Nugent in the Times Online,October 19, 2007, suggests to me that James Watson may be showing some signs of aging that many experience. My husband used to say that people, as they age, stay like themselves--only more so. Watson has long been known, in science circles at least, for speaking his mind. Now he's done it in a more public arena and has been soundly condemned, both for his lack of scientific evidence and for his insensitivity to people of African heritage. Following the interview in The Sunday Times (see the previous blog entry), he found his string of speaking engagements in Britain cancelled and his position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, NY, suspended. He's now on his way back to the United States to "sort out" his job.

According to the most recent article in the Times,

The scientist, who won the Nobel prize for his part in discovering the structure of DNA, was quoted in an interview in The Sunday Times saying he was “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 not really.”

The newspaper also quoted Dr Watson, 79, claiming that people should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level.”

Dr. Watson tried to quench the furor he had caused earlier by telling the Royal Society in London (states the Times article):

“To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly.

“That is not what I meant. More importantly, there is no scientific basis for such a belief.”

He went on: “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.”

Further, the article states: " Dr Watson has said before that there is a genetic basis for intelligence – something undisputed by other scientists. But experts deny there is any such thing as race on a genetic level."

How unfortunate that this simple interview has caused such repercussions. I understand how Watson may have said what he did--since much of his statements reflected personal bias and not science. But, we hold prominent people to a higher standard of public expression, so he has caused an international furor. Luckily, I will never be as prominent as he, so when I start spouting from my inner prejudices, ony those around me will notice.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

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