Nobel geneticist delivers apology

October 19, 2007|By Michael Amon | Michael Amon,NEWSDAY

NEW YORK -- James Watson, the Nobel-winning geneticist, apologized yesterday for his comments on the intelligence of black people as outrage poured in from across the globe and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory officials gathered to decide its future with the embattled scientist.

"I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said," Watson, 79, said in a statement given to the Associated Press. "To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly.

"That is not what I meant. More importantly, from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief."

In a profile in the Sunday magazine of the Times of London, Watson was quoted as saying that he's "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."

Watson, who won the 1962 Nobel Prize with colleague James Crick for discovering the structure of DNA, is one of the most acclaimed scientists of his time. But his remarks have been roundly denounced by scientists, educators and government officials as racist and unsupported by science.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where Watson is a trustee and chancellor of a school named after him, called an emergency teleconference of its 34-member board of trustees last night to discuss Watson's comments and decide how to proceed, said spokesman Jim Bono.

It was unclear what action they took, if any.

It's also unclear whether Watson, who is also a trustee, participated in the conference. Watson made his comments in England while on tour for his book, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science, and lab officials have been unable to reach him, Bono said.

In a statement, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory administration, faculty and trustees said they "vehemently disagree" with Watson's comments.

Watson has made controversial statements in the past, making connections between skin color and sex drive, and dismissing religion outright. But scientists said he went too far this time and might have damaged his legacy.

"He has failed us in the worst possible way," said Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists. "It is a sad and revolting way to end a remarkable career."

Michael Amon writes for Newsday.

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