‘Father of DNA’ James Watson Stripped of Awards for Remarks on Race

Nobel Prize winner James Watson, the "Father of DNA"
Bryan Bedder/Getty

Nobel Prize-winning scientist James Watson, often referred to as the “Father of DNA,” has been stripped of several awards and dumped by the lab he led throughout his career after he made remarks on the connections between race and IQ in a recent PBS documentary.

90-year-old James Watson was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1962 for his breakthrough research on the DNA molecule. Now, Watson is having some of the accolades and awards he has garnered rescinded. Watson sparked criticism in the science community when he appeared to defend ties between race and IQ in a recent PBS documentary on his life work.

“There’s a difference on the average between blacks and whites on IQ tests. I would say the difference is, it’s genetic,” Watson says in the new documentary. This isn’t the first time that Watson has made controversial remarks on the topic.  In 2007, he said that while he hoped all races could be considered equal, “people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true.”

In the same 2007 interview, Watson said that 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 — where all the testing says not really.”

The laboratory that Watson led throughout his career, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, cut ties with Watson and his legacy in response to the controversy. Specifically, Watson will no longer serve in his administrative role and in his position as chancellor.

In a statement, the lab condemned his remarks, calling him an old man “who has lost cognitive inhibition.”It is not news when a ninety-year-old man who has lost cognitive inhibition, and has drifted that way for decades as he aged, speaks from his present mind,” Michael Wigler said in a comment to the The New York Times.

“It is not a moment for reflection. It is merely a peek into a corner of this nation’s subconscious, and a strong whiff of its not-well-shrouded past secrets,” Wigler continued.

In a column for The Guardian, Adam Rutherford said that scientists should only be celebrated when they are great. “And when they turn out to be awful bigots, let’s be honest about that too,” Rutherford added. “It turns out that just like DNA, people are messy, complex and sometimes full of hideous errors.”

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