Thursday, October 25, 2007

Watson Retires

James Watson, DNA pioneer, has announced his retirement from his current position as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the wake of recent inflammatory comments about race.
In a statement, he noted that, at 79, he is “overdue” to surrender leadership positions at the lab, which he joined as director in 1968 and served as president until 2003. But he said the circumstances of his resignation “are not those which I could ever have anticipated or desired.”

Dr. Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for describing the double-helix structure of DNA, and later headed the American government’s part in the international Human Genome Project, was quoted in The Times of London last week as suggesting that, overall, people of African descent are not as intelligent as people of European descent. In the ensuing uproar, he issued a statement apologizing “unreservedly” for the comments, adding “there is no scientific basis for such a belief.”

Make of it what you will. I'm curious to see how this apology, in tandem with his retirement, will be received vis-a-vis other apologies from persons who have made racist remarks in the recent past (e.g., Trent Lott, Michael Richards, Don Imus). Did Watson seem more sincere? Does he get extra "points" for resigning pretty much immediately after the event? He did seem to make a more sincere apology than the standard, inadequate, "I'm sorry if anyone was offended."

I think there are some interesting dynamics around racial apologies, and they need to be explored in greater detail.

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