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'Race row' Nobel winner suspended

  • Story Highlights
  • Nobel laureate biologist James Watson suspended from job after comments
  • Watson said in interview that black people less intelligent than whites
  • He has apologized for the controversial remarks, denounced as racist
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Nobel laureate biologist James Watson was suspended Friday from his longtime post at a research laboratory and canceled his planned British book tour after controversial comments that black people are not as intelligent as white people.

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James Watson won the 1962 Nobel prize for discovering the structure of DNA.

Watson has apologized for the controversial remarks.

He failed to appear to a book signing at a London bookshop Friday afternoon, and organizers of his planned Sunday evening talk at Newcastle's Center for Life said they had been informed Watson would not appear because he was already on a flight home to the States.

The board of trustees at New York's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which Watson has led for nearly four decades, said they had suspended his administrative responsibilities pending a review of his comments.

Watson, 79, an American who won the 1962 Nobel prize for his role in discovering the double-helix structure of DNA, apologized Thursday for his remarks -- but not before London's Science Museum canceled his talk there, planned for Friday evening.

The museum said Watson's words had "gone beyond the point of acceptable debate."

The controvery began with an October 14 interview Watson gave to the Sunday Times, which quoted him saying 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."

Watson also asserted there was no reason to believe different races separated by geography should have evolved identically, and he said that while he hoped everyone was equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true."

The biologist apologized "unreservedly" Thursday for his comments and said he was "mortified" by the words attributed to him.

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"I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said," Watson said during an appearance at the Royal Society in London. "I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the ways that they have."

"To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief."

Watson was expected to sign copies of his new book, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science, at Blackwell bookshop in central London Friday afternoon but failed to appear. Soon afterward, a spokeswoman for the Center for Life in Newcastle, where Watson was expected to speak Sunday night, said they had been told Watson was canceling all speaking engagements and was already flying home.

Center spokeswoman Julia Hankin said they were disappointed.

"We welcomed the opportunity to discuss his controversial comments," Hankin said. "We had hoped for a rigorous and lively debate."

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the institute on New York's Long Island which Watson has headed since 1968, confirmed it had suspended his responsibilities as chancellor "pending further deliberation by the board."

It said the board publicly disagreed with the comments attributed to Watson in the Sunday Times.

Late Thursday, The 1990 Trust, a British civil rights group, called for a boycott of Watson's books and pressure to be put on venues to cancel his planned appearances.

Watson's remarks to the Sunday Times were but the latest controversial comments from the eminent biologist.

In 1997, Britain's Sunday Telegraph quoted Watson as saying that if a gene for homosexuality were isolated, women who find that their unborn child has the gene should be allowed to have an abortion.

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During a lecture tour in 2000, he suggested there might be links between skin color and sexual prowess and between a person's weight and their level of ambition.

And in a British TV documentary that aired in 2003, Watson suggested that stupidity was a genetic disease that should be treated. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN correspondent Alphonso Van Marsh contributed to this report.

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