James Watson Steps Down

Oct 25, 2007 8:49am

James Dewey Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, seems to concede he brought this on himself. Last week, as you’ll recall, he was quoted as suggesting that Africans were generally less intelliigent than westerners.

The explosion that followed was international. The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory near New York, where he was chancellor, said it was "bewildered and saddened" by his comments. He apologized, saying he couldn’t believe he’d said what he’d been quoted as saying.

Not enough. This morning he released this statement:

This morning I have conveyed to the Trustees of the Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory my desire to retire immediately from my position as its
Chancellor, as well as from my position on its Board, on which I have
served for the past 43 years. Closer now to 80 than 79, the passing on
of my remaining vestiges of leadership is more than overdue. The
circumstances in which this transfer is occurring, however, are not
those which I could ever have anticipated or desired.

That the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is now one of the world’s
premier sites for biological research and education has long warmed my
heart. So I am grateful that its Board now will allow me to remain
along my beloved Bungtown Road. Forty-nine years ago, as a newly
appointed young Assistant Professor at Harvard, I gave my first course
on this pernicious collection of diseases of uncontrolled cell growth
and division. Cancer, then an intellectual black box, now, in part
because of research at the Laboratory, is almost full lit. Though
important facts remain undiscovered, there is no reason why they
should not soon be found. Final victory is within our grasp. Strong in
spirit and intensely focused, I wish to be among those at the victory
line.

The ever quickening advances of science made possible by the success
of the Human Genome Project will also soon let us see the essences of
mental disease. Only after we understand them at the genetic level can
we rationally seek out appropriate therapies for such illnesses as
schizophrenia and bipolar disease. For the children of my sister and
me, this moment can not come a moment too soon. Hell does not come
close to describing the impact of psychotic disorders on human life.

This week’s events focus me ever more intensely on the moral values
passed on to me by my father, whose Watson surname marks his long ago
Scots-Irish Appalachian heritage; and by my mother, whose father,
Lauchlin Mitchell, came from Glasgow and whose mother, Lizzie Gleason,
had parents from Tipperary. To my great advantage, their lives were
guided by a faith in reason; an honest application of its messages;
and for social justice, especially the need for those on top to help
care for the less fortunate. As an educator, I have always striven to
see that the fruits of the American Dream are
available to all.

I have been much blessed.

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