CBSN

DNA Scientist's Race Comments Draw Outrage

PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 23: Picture taken 23 April 1993 in Paris of American geneticist James Dewey Watson in front of a blackboard, explaining his work to discover the molecular structure on DNA for which he shared the 1962 Physiology and Medicine Nobel Prize with British Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. James Dewey Watson, one of the most important researchers in field of genetics, was born 06 April 1928 in Chicago, Ill.
Getty Images/AFP/Daniel Mordzinski
One of the best-known scientists of modern times has lit the fuse under an old scientific time bomb - an always-explosive mix of genetics, race and intelligence.

In London to promote a new book, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist James Watson provoked widespread outrage after the co-discoverer of DNA's structure told a newspaper that Africans and Europeans had different levels of intelligence.

He is credited with helping to unlock the key to modern genetics, as part of the team that discovered the double helix of DNA. But Watson has courted trouble in the past whenever he's strayed from pure science into social conjecture.

This week's Sunday Times quoted the 79-year-old American as saying 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 told the paper he hoped that everyone was equal, but added: "People who have to deal with black employees find this not true."

In the book, titled "Avoid Boring People," he says, "There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically."

The comments drew condemnation from British lawmakers, scientists and civil rights campaigners. On Wednesday The Independent newspaper put Watson on its front page, against the words: "Africans are less intelligent than Westerners, says DNA pioneer."

"I think these remarks are extremely dangerous and extremely offensive to make," Steven Rose, a neuroscientist and a co-founder of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science, told CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips. "They distress black people; I think quite rightly, too. And they do no good either scientifically or to the fight against racism, in Britain or the United States."

Watson was to deliver a sold-out lecture at the Science Museum, but on Wednesday night the institution said Watson's comments had gone too far and the event had been canceled. The organizers said his comments went beyond the point of acceptable debate.

Calls to Watson's book publisher and his office in New York were not immediately returned.

This is not the first time Watson's speaking engagements have caused a stir.

The Independent catalogued a series of controversial statements from Watson, including one in which he reportedly suggested women should have the right to have abortions if tests could determine their children would be homosexual.

In 2000 Watson shocked an audience at the University of California, Berkeley, when he advanced a theory about a link between skin color and sex drive.

His lecture, complete with slides of bikini-clad women, argued that extracts of melanin - which give skin its color - had been found to boost subjects' sex drive.

"That's why you have Latin lovers," he said, according to people who attended the lecture. "You've never heard of an English lover. Only an English patient."

Telephone and e-mail messages left with the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (where Watson serves as chancellor) were not immediately returned.