DNA Pioneer Apologises Over Race Row
By James Randerson and Claire Truscott (Thursday, October 18, 2007)
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. - Dr. James Watson
The DNA pioneer James Watson today apologised "unreservedly" for his apparent claim that black people are less intelligent than whites. "I am mortified about what has happened," he told a group of scientists and journalists at the launch of his new book, /Avoid Boring People/, at the Royal Society in London.
"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.
"That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief."
Prof Watson attracted a deluge of criticism for his comments in a Sunday Times interview, reportedly 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".
He was quoted as saying he hoped everyone was equal, but that "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true".
Britain's most senior black MP, the skills minister, David Lammy, said the 79-year-old scientist's comments were "deeply offensive" and would "succeed only in providing oxygen for the BNP".
"It is a shame that a man with a record of scientific distinction should see his work overshadowed by his own irrational prejudices," Mr Lammy said.
"It is no surprise to me that the scientific community has condemned this outburst, and I think people will recognise these comments for what they are."
The London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, also condemned the comments, calling them "racist propaganda masquerading as scientific fact".
"His offensive and grossly inaccurate comments will no doubt be seized upon by extreme right groups to fuel their campaigns of hatred," he said. "Such views are not welcome in a city like London."
In his statement today, Prof Watson said science should not be afraid of tackling controversial issues.
"Science is no stranger to controversy and I am not one to shy away from tackling issues, however, difficult they might prove to be. I have had my share of controversy, as many of you know," he added.
"I have always fiercely defended the position that we should base our view of the world on the state of our knowledge, on fact, and not on what we think it should be.
"This is why I believe passionately in genetics - for it will lead us to answers to many of the big and difficult questions that have troubled people for hundreds, if not thousands, of years."
The eminent geneticist made his name as one half of science's most famous double act when he and Francis Crick worked out the now famous double helix structure for DNA - a discovery for which they won the Nobel prize in 1962.
Prof Watson's statement did not clarify what his views on the issue of race and intelligence are, but he hinted that he had been misquoted.
"I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said," the statement said.
The professor had been due to speak at the Science museum in London tomorrow, but its directors called off the event last night after his comments were made public.
A spokesman said Prof Watson had "gone beyond the point of acceptable debate".
Some scientists have voiced anger at the museum's decision. "It's outrageous to ban someone based on newspaper reports of their views," Colin Blakemore, a professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, said.
"Jim Watson is well known for being provocative and politically incorrect. But it would be a sad world if such a distinguished scientist was silenced because of his more unpalatable views."
Prof Watson has regularly courted controversy, reportedly saying that a woman should have the right to abort her child if tests were able to determine that it would be homosexual.
He has also suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, proposing that black people have higher libidos, and claimed beauty could be genetically manufactured.
"People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty," he said. "I think it would be great."
Born in Chicago, he studied in the US and Denmark before moving to Cambridge University, where he met Crick while a student in 1951.
Originally appeared in the Guardian.