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Colin Jordan


Fury at DNA pioneer's theory: Africans are less intelligent than Westerners

Celebrated scientist attacked for race comments: "All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really"

One of the world's most eminent scientists was embroiled in an extraordinary row last night after he claimed that black people were less intelligent than white people and the idea that "equal powers of reason" were shared across racial groups was a delusion.

James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his part in the unravelling of DNA who now runs one of America's leading scientific research institutions, drew widespread condemnation for comments he made ahead of his arrival in Britain today for a speaking tour at venues including the Science Museum in London.
The 79-year-old geneticist reopened the explosive debate about race and science in a newspaper interview in which he said Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when "testing" suggested the contrary. He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade.
The newly formed Equality and Human Rights Commission, successor to the Commission for Racial Equality, said it was studying Dr Watson's remarks "in full". Dr Watson told The Sunday Times 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 said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".
His views are also reflected in a book published next week, in which he writes: "There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so."
The furore echoes the controversy created in the 1990s by The Bell Curve, a book co-authored by the American political scientist Charles Murray, which suggested differences in IQ were genetic and discussed the implications of a racial divide in intelligence. The work was heavily criticised across the world, in particular by leading scientists who described it as a work of "scientific racism".
Dr Watson arrives in Britain today for a speaking tour to publicise his latest book, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science. Among his first engagements is a speech to an audience at the Science Museum organised by the Dana Centre, which held a discussion last night on the history of scientific racism.
Critics of Dr Watson said there should be a robust response to his views across the spheres of politics and science. Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "It is sad to see a scientist of such achievement making such baseless, unscientific and extremely offensive comments. I am sure the scientific community will roundly reject what appear to be Dr Watson's personal prejudices.
"These comments serve as a reminder of the attitudes which can still exists at the highest professional levels."
The American scientist earned a place in the history of great scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century when he worked at the University of Cambridge in the 1950s and 1960s and formed part of the team which discovered the structure of DNA. He shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for medicine with his British colleague Francis Crick and New Zealand-born Maurice Wilkins.
But despite serving for 50 years as a director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, considered a world leader in research into cancer and genetics, Dr Watson has frequently courted controversy with some of his views on politics, sexuality and race. The respected journal Science wrote in 1990: "To many in the scientific community, Watson has long been something of a wild man, and his colleagues tend to hold their collective breath whenever he veers from the script."
In 1997, he told a British newspaper that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual. He later insisted he was talking about a "hypothetical" choice which could never be applied. He has also suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, positing the theory that black people have higher libidos, and argued in favour of genetic screening and engineering on the basis that "stupidity" could one day be cured. He has claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured, saying: "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would great."
The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory said yesterday that Dr Watson could not be contacted to comment on his remarks.
Steven Rose, a professor of biological sciences at the Open University and a founder member of the Society for Social Responsibility in Science, said: "This is Watson at his most scandalous. He has said similar things about women before but I have never heard him get into this racist terrain. If he knew the literature in the subject he would know he was out of his depth scientifically, quite apart from socially and politically."
Anti-racism campaigners called for Dr Watson's remarks to be looked at in the context of racial hatred laws. A spokesman for the 1990 Trust, a black human rights group, said: "It is astonishing that a man of such distinction should make comments that seem to perpetuate racism in this way. It amounts to fuelling bigotry and we would like it to be looked at for grounds of legal complaint."

Source: The Independent

Profile: Dr James Watson
Dr James Watson
Dr Watson won a Nobel prize in 1962
More than half a century ago, US scientist Dr James Watson unlocked the secrets of DNA.

The discovery, for which he won a Nobel prize in 1962, is at the root of some of today's most controversial scientific and ethical issues.

But Dr Watson too is no stranger to controversy.

Within scientific circles, the 79-year-old is known as someone who loves debate and discussion.

His latest claim that black people are less intelligent than white people has prompted London's Science Museum to cancel a talk by him, saying his views went "beyond the point of acceptable debate".

Conquering cancer

In the past, he has said a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual.

Dr Francis Crick, left, and Dr James Watson in Cambridge. Picture is undated.
Dr Watson, right, and Dr Crick studied DNA structure at Cambridge

He has also suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, proposing a theory that black people have higher libidos.

In a BBC interview in 2003 to mark 50 years since the discovery of DNA, he spoke about how his findings could have influenced his own life.

On the subject of discovering genetic irregularities in unborn children, Dr Watson reflected on what it could have meant for his own son who suffers from a serious mental illness.

"I think I would be a monster to want someone to suffer the way he has... so, yes, I would have aborted him," he said.

He also spoke of how he believed cancer could be conquered in the next 10 years and future children could be born resistant to HIV.

'Secret of life'

The scientist was born in Chicago and studied at the universities of Chicago, Indiana and Copenhagen.

He then moved to Cambridge University where he met Francis Crick at the Medical Research Council Unit and they started studying the structure of DNA.

In 1953 came the "Eureka moment" and together they walked into a pub in Cambridge and declared they had just discovered "the secret of life".

The two scientists had worked out the DNA molecule was shaped like a gently twisted ladder - known as a double helix.

Their findings were published in a medical journal and created a storm in scientific communities across the world.

The discovery forms the basis of some of the most controversial scientific and ethical issues today including genetic engineering, designer babies, human cloning and so-called Frankenstein foods.

From 1988 to 1992, Dr Watson directed the Human Genome Project at the American National Institutes of Health.

He was instrumental in obtaining funding for the project and in encouraging co-operation between governments and leading scientists.

Dr Watson, now director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, is in Britain to promote his latest book, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science.

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