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Arsenal owner Alisher Usmanov hands Nobel Prize back to disgraced DNA scientist James Watson straight after buying it off him

Watson hoped to use the sale to re-enter public life after being shunned by scientific community following comments linking race and intelligence

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 09 December 2014 14:14 GMT
Dr. James Watson with the original DNA model ahead of a press conference at the Science museum in London in 2005
Dr. James Watson with the original DNA model ahead of a press conference at the Science museum in London in 2005 (AFP/ODD ANDERSEN)

Alisher Usmanov, the Arsenal owner and the richest man in Russia, has bought the Nobel prize that was sold by James Watson, one of three people who won the prize for discovering the DNA double helix. Usmanov will now give it straight back to him — leaving Watson with the medal as well as the record-breaking $4.1 million that Usmanov bought it for.

The sale of the medal — which cost Usmanov $4.8 million including commission — set a record for the sale of such a medal and was the first time one has been sold by a living recipient. Usmanov said today that he would give him back the medal as well as giving him the cash for it.

Usmanov said that he had been motivated to buy and return the medal to avoid Watson having to sell it. He values Watson's work because of his contribution to cancer research, the disease fro mwhich Usmanov's father died, he said.

Watson, who has been spurned by the scientific community in the wake of controversial comments, told the Financial Times in November that he planned to use the sale to ‘re-enter public life’, and would use the funds generated to buy art, supplement his income and give money to educational institutions.

“In my opinion, a situation in which an outstanding scientist has to sell a medal recognising his achievements is unacceptable,” Usmanov said. “James Watson is one of the greatest biologists in the history of mankind and his award for the discovery of DNA structure must belong to him.

“I wouldn’t like the medal of the distinguished scientist to be an object on sale.”

Watson will give some of the money back to research institututions that have ‘nurtured him’, including the University of Chicago, Indiana University and Cambridge University, where DNA was discovered.

Watson has been embroiled in controversy since his discovery, for both his scientific and political work. He has been accused of using results discovered by other scientists without being authorised to do so, as well as being attacked for his political views.

He has supported the selective abortion of gay children, endorsed the view that dark-skinned people have higher sex drives and was forced to retire as chancellor of a laboratory after being quoted saying that Africans are less intelligent than westerners.

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