When Bad Scientists Do Good Science

He may have unravelled DNA, but James Watson deserves to be shunned

James Watson, who – along with Francis Crick – discovered the secret of DNA, has sold off his Nobel prize medal after claiming that he has been cut off from the modern scientific world following accusations of racism.

Watson has said that he is “not a racist in a conventional way”. But he told the Sunday Times in 2007 that while people may like to think that all races are born with equal intelligence, those “who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. Call me old-fashioned, but that sounds like bog-standard, run-of-the-mill racism to me.

And this current whinge bemoans a new poverty born of his pariah status. Apart “from my academic income”, he says, Watson is condemned to a miserly wage that prevents him from buying a David Hockney painting.

His comments reveal a pernicious character entirely unrelated to his scientific greatness, but that is longstanding and not new.

Is it possible to isolate the shared knowledge of natural sciences from the individuals who have contributed to it? Is it possible to continue to produce knowledge in natural science without thinking about the ethical implications?

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