One of the world’s most respected scientists is embroiled in an extraordinary row after claiming that black people are less intelligent than white people.
James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his part in discovering the structure of DNA, has provoked outrage with his comments, made ahead of his arrival in Britain today.
More fierce criticism of the eminent scientist is expected as he embarks on a number of engagements to promote a new book ‘Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science’. Among his first commitments is a speech to a London audience at the Science Museum on Friday. The event is sold out. Dr Watson, who runs one of America’s leading scientific research institutions, made the controversial remarks in an interview in The Sunday Times.
The 79-year-old geneticist said 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 he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.
He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level”. He writes that “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”.
He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade. The newly formed Equality and Human Rights Commission is studying Dr Watson’s remarks “in full”.
Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said today: “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 exist at the highest professional levels.”
Dr Watson was hailed as achieving one of the greatest single scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century when he worked at the University of Cambridge in the 1950s and 1960s, forming 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.
He has served for 50 years as a director of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory on Long Island, considered a world leader in research into cancer and genetics.
Dr Watson is no stranger to controversy. He has been reported in the past saying that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual.
In addition, he has suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, proposing a theory that black people have higher libidos.He also claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured, saying: “People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great.”
Commenting on Dr Watson’s current views about race, Steven Rose, a professor of biological sciences at the Open University, 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.
He added: “If he knew the literature in the subject he would know he was out of his depth scientifically, quite apart from socially and politically.”
A spokeswoman for the Science Museum said it was looking into “things” concerning the security of the event on Friday.
She said: “This kind of thing always generates debate.”