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James Watson Retires After Racial Remarks

by Cornelia DeanNew York Times
October 25th, 2007

"Spirals Time — Time Spirals" by Charles Jencks (2000) at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

James D. Watson, the eminent biologist who ignited an uproar last week with remarks about the intelligence of people of African descent, retired today as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island and from its board.

In a statement, he noted that, at 79, he is "overdue" to surrender leadership positions at the lab, which he joined as director in 1968 and served as president until 2003. But he said the circumstances of his resignation "are not those which I could ever have anticipated or desired."

Dr. Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for describing the double-helix structure of DNA, and later headed the American government's part in the international Human Genome Project, was quoted in The Times of London last week as suggesting that, overall, people of African descent are not as intelligent as people of European descent. In the ensuing uproar, he issued a statement apologizing "unreservedly" for the comments, adding "there is no scientific basis for such a belief."

But Dr. Watson, who has a reputation for making sometimes incendiary off-the-cuff remarks, did not say he had been misquoted.

Within days, the Cold Spring board had relieved him of the administrative responsibilities of the chancellor's job. In that position, a spokesman for the laboratory said, he was most involved with educational efforts and fund-raising.

In the years after he left Harvard to direct the laboratory, Dr. Watson transformed it from a small facility into a world-class institution prominent in research on cancer, plant biology, neuroscience and computational biology, the board said in announcing his retirement. Bruce Stillman, who succeeded him as president, said today that he had created an "unparalleled" research environment at the laboratory.

In his statement, Dr. Watson said the work of the Human Genome Project, an international effort which deciphered the chemical contents of human genes, had opened the door to work on many diseases, particularly illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, ailments he said have afflicted members of his family.

He also referred to his Scots and Irish forebears, saying their lives were guided by faith in reason and social justice, "especially the need for those on top to help care for the less fortunate."



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