Washington, Oct. 19 (Reuters): A prominent New York scientific laboratory has suspended Nobel Prize winning DNA authority James Watson over racially insensitive comments he was quoted as making in an interview earlier in the week.
Watson made an appearance in London to promote his new book and apologised for his remarks, saying he did not mean to characterise Africans as genetically inferior, British media reported.
Watson, who won a Nobel Prize in 1962 for his description of the double helix structure of DNA, was suspended as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York yesterday.
Watson has been associated with the lab since 1948 but it joined a throng of other institutions and prominent researchers that said Watson’s comments were offensive and scientifically incorrect.
“This action follows the board’s public statement yesterday disagreeing with the comments attributed to Watson in the October 14, 2007, edition of The Sunday Times, UK,” the lab said in a statement.
In the interview, Watson was quoted as 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 Sunday Times did not publish the full interview with Watson, 79, who is known for his outspoken comments.
The newspaper also quoted Watson as saying 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”.
Watson said he was sorry for the comments he made in an appearance at the Royal Society in London.
“I am mortified about what has happened,” he told a group of scientists and journalists.
“I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the ways they have. 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”, he said.
“That is not what I meant. More importantly, from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief,” he added.
Watson, who shared his Nobel Prize with Francis Crick and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins, has long been on record as saying 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.