Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory suspended its Nobel laureate, James Watson, on Thursday over comments he made suggesting that Africans were less intelligent than white populations. Watson—who shared a Nobel in 1962 for discovering the structure of DNA—apologized “unreservedly,” and said he was “mortified” at his comments in an interview with a British newspaper. “I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said," Watson, 79, said in a statement to The Associated Press.
What the commentators said
Watson meant exactly what he said, said Newsday in an editorial. He was in London to promote his new book, in which he says there is “no firm reason” to expect races that evolve “geographically separated” should have equal intelligence. “His comments are a sad echo of eugenics,” and he should be kicked out of the New York lab he made famous, for good.
Watson is only the latest victim to “Nobel syndrome,” said Roger Highfield in the London Telegraph. “Other laureates have communed with talking raccoons, denied that HIV causes Aids, championed vitamin C as a cure for cancer and espoused eugenics.” Maybe it’s because so many laureates are “old coots,” or maybe it’s because “one great ingredient of a great scientist is to think the unthinkable.” Either way, the “cure lies” in ignoring “laureates who stray beyond their tiny patch of expertise.”
Shouting down Watson is an act of “intellectual cowardice,” said Anjana Ahuja in the London Times. The Science Museum in London went so far as to cancel a talk by Watson, saying his remarks went “beyond the point of acceptable debate.” But this is a man who has said that parents should have a right to abort a fetus determined to be predisposed toward homosexuality—the museum knew Watson was a “controversial old dinosaur.” Instead of muzzling him, the smart thing to do is put him on the spot, and make him defend his nutty views.