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DNA Scientist Stripped of Honors After Doubling Down on ‘Reprehensible’ Comments About Black People’s Intelligence

A famed scientist who co-discovered the “double helix” structure of DNA in 1953 has had his honorary titles revoked and some of his past awards yanked following repeated racist remarks on race and intelligence.

In a statement, New York’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory announced it was cutting ties with Dr. James Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning geneticist who spent much of his career with the lab and, over the past decade, has expressed bigoted views that Black people are not as intelligent as other groups.

Dr. James Watson

American Dr. James Watson, 90, shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in medicine with British scientist Francis Crick for their 1953 discovery that DNA has a double-helix structure. (AP Photo / Ivan Sekretarev)

In a 2007 interview with Britain’s “Sunday Times,” 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 — whereas all the testing says not really.” He then insisted that while he would like to hope that everyone is equal, those “who have to deal with Black employees find this is not true.”

Many in the scientific community hoped Watson, 90, would renounce his past statements in the PBS documentary, “American Masters: Decoding Watson,” which aired on Jan. 2. He did the exact opposite, however.

“Dr. Watson’s statements are reprehensible, unsupported by science, and in no way represent the views of CSHL, its trustees, faculty, staff, or students,” the Cold Spring Lab said on Friday. “The Laboratory condemns the misuse of science to justify prejudice.”

After his 2007 remarks, the laboratory fired Watson as chancellor and relieved him of all his administrative duties. The scientist later penned an apology and was allowed to retain his countless honors.

Watson doubled down on his bigoted views in the recent PBS documentary, however, and admitted to lying in his 2007 apology — an action that prompted the laboratory to finally strip him of his honorary titles of Chancellor Emeritus, Oliver R. Grace Professor Emeritus, and Honorary Trustee.

“Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory acknowledges and appreciates Dr. Watson’s substantial scientific legacy, including his role as founding director of the Human Genome Project and his critical leadership in the development of research and education at the Laboratory during his prior tenure as Director and President,” the statement read. “Nonetheless, the statements he made in the documentary are completely and utterly incompatible with our mission, values, and policies, and require the severing of any remaining vestiges of his involvement.”

In the documentary, Watson admitted his views on race and intelligence haven’t changed “at all,” telling the interviewer, “I would like for them to have changed. “There would [have to be] new knowledge, which says that your nurture is much more important than nature. But I haven’t seen any knowledge. And there’s a difference on the average between blacks and whites on IQ tests. I would say the difference is … it’s genetic.”

Despite the comments, Watson’s son insists his father is not a racist.

Rufus Watson told the Associated Press this week that his father’s statements simply reflect his “rather narrow interpretation of genetic destiny.” Watson went on to criticize the lab for cutting ties with his father.

“My dad had made the lab his life, and yet now the lab considers him a liability,” he said.

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