I don't often find it necessary to put this disclaimer here, but let me reiterate that my views are mine alone and are not necessarily the views held by Baylor College of Medicine, the HGSC, or members of my lab. That clear? Okay, let's dive into this mess
Let me start by saying that I respect the scientific contributions of Jim Watson. He and Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA, which was one of the first steps that led us into the current era of genomics. I haven't criticized him in the past because I also work in genomics, and as a junior scientist, I need to be careful about offending people who I may need a job from one day.
After his most recent comments, though, I've had it. Here's what he had to say to the Sunday Times
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 â€“ whereas all the testing says not really".
Wow, that's going to piss some people off. But, wait! There's more
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".
These kinds of statements aren't exactly new behavior for Watson either. During his talk at BCM a few months ago, he said some mildly offensive things about the Irish. He's said some pretty controversial things about women and homosexuals too. And none of this even begins to delve into the complete disdain he's shown for Rosalind Franklin. Not only does he refuse to acknowledge her full contribution to solving the structure of DNA, he 's taken to calling her autistic. Seriously, Dr. Watson. She's been dead for almost 50 years. Let this one go.
Whether he gets slack because he's old or because he's a Nobel prize winner doesn't matter in my book. One seminal discovery doesn't excuse your behavior for the rest of your life (and neither does being old and set in your ways).
There are plenty of other great minds in genetics that deserve to be giving lectures. Perhaps it's time to start calling on them to serve as figureheads instead.
Update: edited slightly to remove some language that was perhaps overly harsh. It's also worth noting that a London museum canceled his lecture after the uproar.