James Watson as genetic error

Adam Rutherford addresses James Watson’s attempt to dodge his past:

Like all contemporary biologists, my career is largely based on his work. The medal? If I could afford it, I wouldn’t want it. My field, human genetics, was founded by another racist, Francis Galton, who sought to demonstrate white British dominance over the colonies using biometrics. He gave birth to eugenics, an endeavour never realised in the UK, but that was broadly supported around the beginning of the 20th century across the political spectrum, from Churchill to Marie Stopes to William Beveridge. His and my alma mater, UCL, is currently thinking hard about how to scold his racism and continue to respect his scientific legacy, which is undeniable and unrivalled. The nicest irony is that genetics – the field he founded and Watson transformed – is precisely the subject that has singularly demonstrated that race as a scientific concept holds no water.

“No one really wants to admit I exist” says Watson. That’s not it. It’s more that no one is interested in his racist, sexist views. Watson, alongside Crick, will always be the discoverer of the double helix, to my mind the scientific breakthrough of the 20th century. Here’s our challenge: celebrate science when it is great, and scientists when they deserve it. And when they turn out to be awful bigots, let’s be honest about that too. It turns out that just like DNA, people are messy, complex and sometimes full of hideous errors.

It’s a short, lovely, smart takedown. Get the rest at He may have unravelled DNA, but James Watson deserves to be shunned | Adam Rutherford | Comment is free | The Guardian.