Dr. James Watson

Nobel Prize-winning DNA scientist, the man who (along with with Francis Crick and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins) won the prize in 1962 for his description of the double helix structure of DNA, and chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Dr. James Watson, said recently in an interview with the London Times that, while “there are many people of color who are very talented,” he is “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.” Watson wants to deny he meant what he said, and he apologized for saying it, but he has long been a believer in the hereditary theory of intelligence and tests purported to detect such intelligence find that people of African decent are as a group less intelligent than those of European decent.

Dr. Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement: “The comments, which were attributed to Dr. James Watson earlier this week in the London Times, are wrong, from every point of view – not the least of which is that they are completely inconsistent with the body of research literature in this area.” This is true. There is no scientific basis for there being races of human beings. Moreover – and I’m not sure Serhouni meant this but – there is no scientific basis for claiming that mental testing measures hereditary intelligence (see Stephen J. Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man). Noting what appears as the underlying agenda, Elias said, “Scientific prestige is never a substitute for knowledge. As scientists, we are outraged and saddened when science is used to perpetuate prejudice.”

The Science Museum of London canceled a speech Dr. Watson was to have given there today, saying that Dr. Watson’s assertions on race and intelligence are “beyond the point of acceptable debate.” Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists, said it was “tragic that one of the icons of modern science has cast such dishonor on the profession.” Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory suspended Watson from the laboratory, where he was president for 35 years and remained (until yesterday) chancellor. They rebuked him and said that they do not do research there that has any bearing on what Watson argued. However, there appears to be a political motive for the laboratory moving so quickly on this matter: the eugenics archive

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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