Science Museum cancels talk by Watson after 'racist' comments

A speaking tour by the DNA pioneer James Watson was thrown into chaos last night when one of Britain's most high-profile scientific institutions announced it was cancelling a planned sell-out appearance.

The Science Museum in London said Dr Watson had gone "beyond the point of acceptable debate" during an interview this weekend in which he claimed black people were less intelligent than their white counterparts.

The 79-year-old American academic, who won a Nobel Prize for his part in unravelling the structure of DNA in the 1960s, had been due to kick off a week-long publicity tour at some of Britain's leading academic institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge Universities, tomorrow by addressing a capacity audience at the museum.

But it said that although the museum was ready to discuss difficult subjects it could no longer act as a platform for Dr Watson's views in the light of his remarks. The scientist, who is director of one of America's leading research institutions, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, had been due to discuss his autobiography, in which he suggests that the notion of " equal powers of reason" across all races are a delusion.

In a statement, the museum said: "We know that eminent scientists can sometimes say things that cause controversy and the Science Museum does not shy away from debating controversial topics.

"However, 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 move came as other academic institutions hosting Dr Watson vowed to ensure he faced tough questioning on his views, which have once more opened a debate on race and intelligence considered beyond the pale by the scientific mainstream.

Human rights campaigners called on Dr Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his role in the discovery of the structure of DNA in the 1960s, to apologise publicly for his comments, describing them as "scientifically unethical and unjustifiable".

Dr Watson is still due to speak at five engagements, including events at the Oxford and Cambridge universities. He will also attend a reception at the Royal Society in London.

But his comments in The Sunday Times have overshadowed the visit and caused an outcry from across the worlds of science, politics and the anti-racism lobby. He said 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". The new Human Rights and Equality Commission, which has the power to investigate alleged infringements of race laws, has said it is studying Dr Watson's comments "in full".

Among Dr Watson's appearances will be an event at Bristol's annual Festival of Ideas hosted by the university's vice-chancellor, Eric Watson. A university spokesman said yesterday: "As a university, we respect ... the right of people to express their views. But we would also expect there to be some robust questioning of Dr Watson on his ideas."

Organisers at each of the appearances in London, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol said there would be questions from the audience. The co-ordinator of one event, who asked not be named, said: " The correct way to respond is to allow him to be challenged as strongly as possible. A view that is not based on science or is simply wrong will be exposed as such."

Professor Dawkins, who as author of the The God Delusion is no stranger to controversy, yesterday declined to comment on Dr Watson's remarks. The two men, widely considered to be among the world's leading secularists, will appear at Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre next week. Professor Dawkins has previously sprung to Dr Watson's defence after he suggested in a 1997 newspaper interview that a woman should have the right to abort a foetus if it was found to be carrying a "gay" gene. The Oxford academic said Dr Watson was merely speaking in favour of choice for women.

Blink, a London-based human rights organisation for black people, described Dr Watson's remarks as "scientifically unethical, unjustifiable theories [that are] ideologically fudged and bankrupt propositions".

Koku Adomdza, the director, said: "We call on Dr Watson to lodge an unreserved apology to Africa and all people of African origin for his disrespectful remarks and request for the leadership of his university to take appropriate action against him."

CSHL said last night that Dr Watson was unavailable to comment as he was en route to London.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Recruitment Genius: Office Furniture Installer / Driver

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Furniture Installer /...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - North West - OTE £40k

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Ashdown Group: SQL DBA - Croydon - up to £65,000

£58000 - £65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL DBA - Bromley, South East London...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor