DNA pioneer James Watson has been busily lighting fires while touring to promote his latest book. So far he had ignited conflagrations over race, sex, and fellow scientists, to name but a few.
It is the race aspect of his comments in interviews that has so far generated most heat. Regarding Africa he said “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really” (The Times, Daily Mail, Independent). The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has wide powers to combat racism, is now studying Watson’s remarks. As far as we know Watson has not publicly responded to this.
Watson has previously courted controversy with his views on women and his musing on the fact it might be possible to abort homosexual babies. In a recent interview with the Guardian, where he also makes unflattering remarks about fellow DNA-scientist Rosalind Franklin, he said “Unfair discrimination exists whether we like it or not; I wouldn’t have married a gum-chewing vegetarian. Ultimately, we’ll help the people we discriminate against if we try to understand more about them; genetics will lead to a world where there is a sympathy for the underdog.”
Watson’s former ‘protégé’ Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe has written an extended essay on the man she calls an “immensely powerful and revered force in science”. It’s well worth a read.
UPDATE: Watson has apologised for and clarified his statement: see Great Beyond entry