Ostracized DNA Pioneer Is Hawking His Nobel Prize

DNA co-discoverer James Watson says he's become a pariah, needs the cash
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 2, 2014 10:13 AM CST
Ostracized DNA Pioneer Is Hawking His Nobel Prize
US scientist James Watson poses for photographers behind a model of the DNA double helix, which was discovered by Watson and Francis Crick at an exhibition in Berlin in this Oct. 11, 2004, file photo.   (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

One of the scientists who helped unfold the structure of DNA is putting his Nobel Prize on the auction block, and James Watson says it's because he's broke after being ostracized by the academic community over racist remarks he made seven years ago, the Atlantic reports. "No one really wants to admit I exist," he tells the Financial Times, labeling himself an "unperson." The remarks were made in a 2007 Sunday Times article, in which he admitted to feeling "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 tacked on that even though some would say black people were as intelligent as whites, "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true."

Those weren't the first incendiary statements he's made: As Laura Blue pointed out in a 2007 Time article, Watson has also said fat people don't get jobs because they lack ambition, that sun and dark skin creates a "Latin lover" libido, and that a female colleague widely credited with expediting the DNA discovery didn't dress well. But while Blue writes that it's "hard not to feel a little bit sorry" for Watson, whom she calls "less an arrogant bigot than an enthusiastic if misguided old man," Adam Rutherford says in the Guardian that "no one is interested in his racist, sexist views" and that "it turns out that just like DNA, people are messy, complex, and sometimes full of hideous errors." Meanwhile, his Nobel is expected to net between $2.5 million and $3.5 million when it's up for auction on Thursday, according to a Christie's statement. (Maybe he just needs to watch some Jon Stewart.)

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