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Science museum bans DNA genius at centre of race row

Dai­ly Mail [1]

Nobel Prize win­ner Dr James Wat­son was this week banned today from speak­ing at Lon­don’s Sci­ence Muse­um after report­ed­ly say­ing black peo­ple were less intel­li­gent than whites.

In an extra­or­di­nary out­burst, the vet­er­an aca­d­e­m­ic, 79, claimed 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”.

But his remarks prompt­ed out­rage with crit­ics brand­ing his remarks “racist” and “offen­sive”.

In the wake of the storm, the Sci­ence Muse­um decid­ed to can­cel one of Dr Wat­son’s speak­ing dates.

The geneti­cist, who won the Nobel for his part in dis­cov­er­ing the struc­ture of DNA, was due to give a talk on Fri­day, but out­raged direc­tors took the deci­sion ear­li­er this week.

Dr Wat­son, who now runs one of Amer­i­ca’s lead­ing sci­en­tif­ic research insti­tu­tions, made the con­tro­ver­sial remarks in an inter­view in The Sun­day Times.

The 79-year-old geneti­cist said 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”.

He said he hoped that every­one was equal, but coun­tered that “peo­ple who have to deal with black employ­ees find this not true”.

The views are also includ­ed in a new book, pub­lished this week, in which he writes that “there is no firm rea­son to antic­i­pate that the intel­lec­tu­al capac­i­ties of peo­ples geo­graph­i­cal­ly sep­a­rat­ed in their evo­lu­tion should prove to have evolved iden­ti­cal­ly”.

“Our want­i­ng to reserve equal pow­ers of rea­son as some uni­ver­sal her­itage of human­i­ty will not be enough to make it so,” he says.

The Equal­i­ty and Human Rights Com­mis­sion is now study­ing Dr Wat­son’s remarks “in full”.

A spokesman for the Sci­ence Muse­um said it was can­celling the Amer­i­can’s speech.

He said: “We know that emi­nent sci­en­tists can some­times say things that cause con­tro­ver­sy and the Sci­ence Muse­um does not shy away from debat­ing con­tro­ver­sial top­ics.

“How­ev­er, the Sci­ence Muse­um feels that Nobel Prize win­ner James Wat­son’s recent com­ments have gone beyond the point of accept­able debate and we are as a result can­celling his talk at the muse­um this Fri­day.

“If peo­ple want to know about the sci­ence behind genet­ics and race, they can book onto oth­er events look­ing at this at the Muse­um’s Dana Cen­tre over the next year.”

Dr Wat­son was due to arrive in Britain this week to pro­mote his lat­est book, Avoid Bor­ing Peo­ple: Lessons from a Life in Sci­ence, pub­lished this week.

Kei­th Vaz, the Labour chair­man of the Home Affairs Select Com­mit­tee, told the Inde­pen­dent: “It is sad to see a sci­en­tist of such achieve­ment mak­ing such base­less, unsci­en­tif­ic and extreme­ly offen­sive com­ments.

“I am sure the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty will round­ly reject what appear to be Dr Wat­son’s per­son­al prej­u­dices. These com­ments serve as a reminder of the atti­tudes which can still exist at the high­est pro­fes­sion­al lev­els.”

Dr Wat­son was hailed as achiev­ing one of the great­est sin­gle sci­en­tif­ic break­throughs of the 20th cen­tu­ry when he worked at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge in the 1950s and 1960s, form­ing part of the team which dis­cov­ered the struc­ture of DNA.

He has served for 50 years as a direc­tor of the Cold Spring Har­bour Lab­o­ra­to­ry on Long Island, con­sid­ered a world leader in research into can­cer and genet­ics.

And he is no stranger to con­tro­ver­sy, report­ed­ly say­ing that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could deter­mine it would be homo­sex­u­al.

He has also sug­gest­ed a link between skin colour and sex dri­ve, propos­ing a the­o­ry that black peo­ple have high­er libidos.

In addi­tion, he also stat­ed that beau­ty could be genet­i­cal­ly man­u­fac­tured, say­ing: “Peo­ple say it would be ter­ri­ble if we made all girls pret­ty. I think it would be great.”

Steven Rose, a pro­fes­sor of bio­log­i­cal sci­ences at the Open Uni­ver­si­ty, told the Inde­pen­dent: “This is Wat­son at his most scan­dalous. He has said sim­i­lar things about women before but I have nev­er heard him get into this racist ter­rain.

“If he knew the lit­er­a­ture in the sub­ject he would know he was out of his depth sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly, quite apart from social­ly and polit­i­cal­ly.”

DNA genius Dr James Wat­son stands to lose his rep­u­ta­tion and career with his com­ments on race. How, RICHARD PENDLEBURY asks, can such an excep­tion­al man real­ly believe black peo­ple are less intel­li­gent than white?

The Nobel Prize-win­ning sci­en­tist James Dewey Wat­son is liv­ing proof that genius is no guar­an­tee against hold­ing incen­di­ary beliefs.

In his lat­est pro­nounce­ment, the 79-year-old Amer­i­can geneti­cist has claimed that black peo­ple are inher­ent­ly less intel­li­gent than whites.

On the eve of his arrival in Britain today to pub­li­cise a new book, Wat­son, who at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty in the 1950s helped iden­ti­fy DNA, declared him­self to be ‘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’.

Wat­son said he hoped every­one was equal, but added: “Peo­ple who have to deal with black employ­ees find this not true.”

Human rights groups and fel­low sci­en­tists imme­di­ate­ly expressed their anger and dis­may that a respect­ed sci­en­tist could pub­licly state such dan­ger­ous, divi­sive and unsup­port­ed opin­ions.

Wat­son, how­ev­er, argues that it is an uncom­fort­able sci­en­tif­ic truth, even if it will be proved only when the genes which deter­mine intel­li­gence are iden­ti­fied some­time in the next decade.

Steven Rose, a brain spe­cial­ist and pro­fes­sor of bio­log­i­cal sci­ences at the Open Uni­ver­si­ty, said that Wat­son was ‘out of his depth sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly, quite apart from social­ly and polit­i­cal­ly’.

He added: “This is Wat­son at his most scan­dalous. I have heard him say sim­i­lar things about women, but I have nev­er heard him get into this racist ter­rain.”

Dr Wat­son was hailed as achiev­ing one of the great­est sin­gle sci­en­tif­ic break­throughs of the 20th cen­tu­ry when he worked at Cam­bridge in the 1950s and 1960s, form­ing part of the team which dis­cov­ered the struc­ture of DNA.

He shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Phys­i­ol­o­gy or Med­i­cine with col­leagues Fran­cis Crick and Mau­rice Wilkins.

He has been direc­tor of the Cold Spring Har­bour Lab­o­ra­to­ry on Long Island in Amer­i­ca — a world leader in research into can­cer and genet­ics — for 50 years.

In that time, he has nev­er been shy of con­tro­ver­sy, his pub­lic utter­ances lead­ing to him being accused of sex­ism, racism, homo­pho­bia, sizeism and, occa­sion­al­ly, of being sim­ply mad.

He once advo­cat­ed the bomb­ing of Japan when it refused to sup­port a gene pro­gramme.

Even his fans have described him as ‘insen­si­tive’.

On one occa­sion, he was report­ed as say­ing that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could deter­mine it would be homo­sex­u­al.

But he sur­passed him­self dur­ing an extra­or­di­nary lec­ture he gave at Berke­ley uni­ver­si­ty sev­en years ago, which caused a num­ber of mem­bers of the flab­ber­gast­ed audi­ence to walk out.

Dur­ing his talk, Wat­son sug­gest­ed that there was a bio­chem­i­cal link between expo­sure to sun­light and sex­u­al urges.

Black peo­ple had more pow­er­ful libidos, he said. This was sup­port­ed by the fact that when the skin of a num­ber of white men had turned black as a side-effect of a sci­en­tif­ic test, they had imme­di­ate­ly become sex­u­al­ly aroused.

“That’s why you have Latin lovers,” he explained. “You
‘ve nev­er heard of an Eng­lish lover. Only an Eng­lish patient.”

He went on to show a slide of a melan­choly Kate Moss, say­ing that thin peo­ple were unhap­py and there­fore more ambi­tious.

“When­ev­er you inter­view fat peo­ple, you feel bad because you know you’re not going to hire them,” Wat­son said.

After­wards, Berke­ley genet­ics pro­fes­sor Thomas Cline said Wat­son’s lec­ture had ‘crossed over the line’ from being provoca­tive to being irre­spon­si­ble because the senior sci­en­tist had failed to sep­a­rate fact from con­jec­ture.

“If he wants to give a talk like this in his liv­ing room, that’s his busi­ness, but to give it in a set­ting where it’s sup­posed to be sci­en­tif­ic is wrong,” Cline said.

Lis­ten­ing to Wat­son at the podi­um was ‘more embar­rass­ing than hav­ing a cre­ation­ist sci­en­tist up there’, he added.

Wat­son’s lat­est pro­nounce­ments, in an inter­view in a British Sun­day news­pa­per ahead of his vis­it, will only add to his rep­u­ta­tion as a con­tro­ver­sial­ist.

Sci­en­tists have been con­sid­er­ing the rela­tion­ship, if any, between a per­son­’s racial ori­gin and their intel­li­gence for the past 200 years.

But their motives for doing so have often been high­ly dubi­ous.

Often what they have ‘found’ has been dri­ven by the desire to prove the supe­ri­or­i­ty of one race over anoth­er.

Or, as in the case of slav­ery, to jus­ti­fy ill-treat­ment.

There are echoes of Wat­son’s con­tem­po­rary thoughts in those of the noto­ri­ous 19th-cen­tu­ry anti-abo­li­tion­ist U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John C. Cal­houn.

In 1844 he declared that a sci­en­tif­ic study of freed black Amer­i­can slaves proved that ‘the African is inca­pable of self-care and sinks into luna­cy under the bur­den of free­dom.

‘It is a mer­cy to give him the guardian­ship and pro­tec­tion from men­tal death.’

A direct line can be drawn between the views of peo­ple such as Cal­houn and the Nazis of the 20th cen­tu­ry and their con­cept of the unter­men­sch: that any­one born into non-Aryan races is infe­ri­or or ‘sub­hu­man’.

The next step is to be treat­ed as such. The Holo­caust and World War II result­ed.

Since the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, IQ tests have pro­vid­ed a way in which a per­son­’s intel­li­gence can be mea­sured against anoth­er’s.

And, pre­dictably, those from poor, social­ly dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds tend­ed to come off worse. In west­ern soci­ety, as in Africa, this includ­ed most blacks.

And so the bat­tle of nature ver­sus nur­ture con­tin­ued.

Was intel­li­gence due large­ly to how you were brought up?

Or could it be genet­i­cal­ly based and influ­enced by your racial ori­gin?

In the past 40 years a num­ber of sci­en­tists have argued that there is a genet­ic dif­fer­ence among races which dic­tates intel­li­gence.

In 1969, Amer­i­can aca­d­e­m­ic Arthur Jensen deliv­ered a research paper in which he claimed to have found that whites were innate­ly more intel­li­gent than blacks.

Treat­ing them as equals was wrong, and they should be edu­cat­ed dif­fer­ent­ly.

He declared: “A not unrea­son­able-hypoth­e­sis is that genet­ic fac­tors are strong­ly impli­cat­ed in the aver­age Negro-white intel­li­gence dif­fer­ence.”

Col­leagues lam­bast­ed his research and its con­clu­sions.

But some of Jensen’s cen­tral find­ings were echoed in the huge­ly con­tro­ver­sial and suc­cess­ful 1994 book The Bell Curve, by Richard Her­rn­stein and Charles Mur­ray, which sup­port­ed the the­o­ry of genet­ic caus­es for racial intel­li­gence dif­fer­ences.

The result­ing Bell Curve Wars were fought between its sup­port­ers and crit­ics, who said — among oth­er things — that it ‘was a chilly syn­the­sis of the work of dis­rep­utable race the­o­rists and eccen­tric eugeni­cists’.

The more extreme said it pro­mot­ed geno­cide.

Such was the alarm caused that the Amer­i­can Anthro­po­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion released a state­ment in which it declared itself to be ‘deeply con­cerned by recent pub­lic dis­cus­sions which imply that intel­li­gence is bio­log­i­cal­ly deter­mined by race’.

It went on: “Repeat­ed­ly chal­lenged by sci­en­tists, nev­er­the­less these ideas con­tin­ue to be advanced.

“Such dis­cus­sions dis­tract pub­lic and schol­ar­ly atten­tion from, and dimin­ish sup­port for, the col­lec­tive chal­lenge to ensure equal oppor­tu­ni­ties for all peo­ple, regard­less of eth­nic­i­ty.”

Wat­son is only one, if the most famous, of those sci­en­tists who con­tin­ue to plough the racial intel­li­gence fur­row.

He argues that he has a very per­son­al exam­ple of why nature tri­umphs over nur­ture.

At the age of 39, he mar­ried a stu­dent, Eliz­a­beth, who was 20 years his junior.

They had two sons, the younger of whom, Rufus, was diag­nosed as schiz­o­phrenic and still lives with them today at the age of 37.

Rufus is anoth­er argu­ment, he says, for nature over nur­ture: “I’ve seen the fail­ure of the envi­ron­men­tal approach in a very per­son­al way.

“My wife and I have a schiz­o­phrenic son. We did­n’t want to accept this for 30 years, so we put him under great pres­sure when we should­n’t have.

“He just want­ed to be looked after, and we did­n’t respect that. We tried to make him inde­pen­dent.”

Last night, a spokes­woman for Wat­son’s pub­lish­er, the Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, said: “There is no racism in the book. We stand by our book.”

How­ev­er, in one chap­ter Wat­son writes: “There is no firm rea­son to antic­i­pate that the intel­lec­tu­al capac­i­ties of peo­ples geo­graph­i­cal­ly sep­a­rat­ed in their evo­lu­tion should prove to have evolved iden­ti­cal­ly.

“Our want­i­ng to reserve equal pow­ers of rea­son as some uni­ver­sal her­itage of human­i­ty will not be enough to make it so.”

His first speak­ing date was meant to be in Lon­don tomor­row evening, before a 400-strong sell-out audi­ence at the Imax cin­e­ma in the Sci­ence Muse­um.

Doubt­less, the book would have been promi­nent­ly dis­played.

It is called Avoid Bor­ing Peo­ple — a delib­er­ate irony per­haps, giv­en that being bor­ing is about the only thing of which Wat­son has nev­er been accused.