Dons defend DNA pioneer in race row

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Dons have rallied behind a Nobel laureate accused of racism after he told reporters that black people were of lower intelligence than white.
James Watson, who shared the Nobel Prize for co-discovering DNA, was forced to cancel a discussion at the Sheldonian Theatre on Wednesday after being suspended from his administrative duties as Chancellor of Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory in the United States.
Watson was due to appear alongside Richard Dawkins, the University’s Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, as part of a tour to promote a new book.
He told the Sunday Times Magazine that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” since “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says not really”.
In the interview with one of his former students, Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe, Watson also said that he wished everyone could be equal, but that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.
Other institutions had already cancelled visits by Watson in light of his comments. The American biologist had been due to talk at the Science Museum in London, who stated, “The Science Museum feels that Nobel Prize winner James Watson’s recent comments have gone beyond the point of acceptable debate and we are as a result cancelling his talk at the Museum.”  The Bristol Cultural Development Partnership and the University of Edinburgh also cancelled talks by Watson.
Professor Dawkins, due to interview Watson as part of the Oxford event, criticised the London Science Museum’s decision to cancel his appearance.
“What is ethically wrong is the hounding, by what can only be described as an illiberal and intolerant ‘thought police’, of one of the most distinguished scientists of our time, out of the Science Museum, and maybe even out of the laboratory [Cold Springs Harbor] that [he] has devoted much of his life to building up a world-class reputation,” he said.  
Professor Colin Blakemore, former chief executive of the Medical Research Council and a neuroscientist at Oxford, also defended Watson. “It would be a sad world if such a distinguished scientist was silenced because of his more unpalatable views.”
Blakemore also pointed out that measuring intelligence accurately is still an area needing research. “Defining intelligence is complex and there are many forms of intelligence, not all of which are captured by IQ tests,” he said. “In any case, it would be as unethical to organise society around some numerical indicator of difference as it would to do so on the basis of skin colour.”
In a press release, Watson apologised for his remarks. “I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said. I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the ways they have. To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly. This is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief.”
Prominent Oxford neuroscientist Baroness Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, condemned Watson’s comments. “There was a great uproar quite some time ago with a book called The Bell Curve which suggested that there were racial differences in intelligence,” she said. “If Watson is citing this work, further work has found the findings not to be as simple as they implied and that there was a strong cultural factor involved.”
Oxford University Press suggested that they would have gone ahead with the event at the Sheldonian despite the controversy Watson’s remarks have caused. Kate Farquhar-Thomson, Head of Publicity, said, “We are disappointed that we have had to cancel our book tour.”

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