Dr. James D. Watson, famous for DNA research but widely condemned for recent comments about intelligence levels among Africans, retired Thursday from his post at a prestigious research institution.
Watson, 79, and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York announced his departure a week after the lab suspended him. He was chancellor of the institution, and his retirement took effect immediately.
Watson shared a Nobel Prize with Drs. Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins in 1962 for co-discovering the structure of the DNA molecule. He is one of America’s most prominent scientists.
In his statement Thursday, Watson said that because of his age, his retirement was “more than overdue. The circumstances in which this transfer is occurring, however, are not those which I could ever have anticipated or desired.”
Watson, who has a long history of making provocative statements, ran into trouble last week for remarks he made in the Sunday Times magazine of London. A profile quoted him as saying that he’s “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.”
He said that while he hopes everyone is equal, “people who have to deal with Black employees find this is not true.” He also said people should not be discriminated against on the basis of color, because “there are many people of color who are very talented.”
Watson later apologized. But by then, London’s Science Museum had canceled a sold-out lecture Watson was to give there, and London’s mayor had branded the comments “racist propaganda.”
In the United States, the Federation of American Scientists said Watson was promoting “personal prejudices that are racist, vicious and unsupported by science.” And the Cold Spring Harbor lab said its board and administration “vehemently disagree with these statements and are bewildered and saddened if he indeed made such comments.”
The lab suspended Watson’s administrative duties last Thursday.
Watson had served at the lab for nearly 40 years, having been named director in 1968. He was its president from 1994 to 2003.
— Associated Press
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