James Watson, the 90-year-old Nobel Prize winning geneticist who helped to discover the double helix structure of DNA in the 1950s and a founder of the Human Genome Project, has been stripped of his honors at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
In a statement issued on Friday, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory announced that they have revoked the honorary titles that Watson has held at the lab, following racist comments he made in a new PBS documentary. “Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) unequivocally rejects the unsubstantiated and reckless personal opinions Dr. James D. Watson, the President/CEO and Chair of the Board of Trustees wrote in a joint statement. “The Laboratory condemns the misuse of science to justify prejudice.” The institution is a well-regarded non-profit center that conducts research critical to cancer and neuroscience, among other fields of study.
For context on Watson’s comments, let’s go back to 2007 when he was forced to retire following his unsubstantiated insistence that there is a genetic component to why Black people are less intelligent than Whites. He even went so far to suggest that social policies will fail if adjustments aren’t made to account for this difference. He reinforced the racism inherent in his statement by adding, “[People who have to deal with Black employees find this is not true.” (Yes, he described “working” alongside Black employees as “having to deal” with them, though it sounds like he had never been in that position himself.)
No Change of Heart or Mind
In the 2019 James Watson documentary American Masters: Decoding Watson, when pressed about whether he’d changed his views in the past decade, he expressed that he had not, though he wished that new research could prove him wrong. “I haven’t seen any knowledge. And there’s a difference on the average between blacks and whites on I.Q. tests. I would say the difference is, it’s genetic.’’
In an interview with the New York Times, the director of the National Institutes of Health expressly disputed the fact that I.Q. test results prove that there is a difference of intelligence between races. The director instead attributed any differences to environment rather than genes, adding that any research proving otherwise is simply not credible.
Without question, Watson’s scientific conclusions are entrenched in racist ideas and follow a centuries-long tradition in which oppressors attempt to justify racism through science. For further reading on the subject of scientific racism, in his book “Stamped From the Beginning,” author Ibram X. Kendi extensively covers the omnipresence of racist, biological hypotheses that have been used to justify racism and white supremacy.