Scientist Watson returns to U.S. over race row

LONDON (Reuters) - Nobel Prize-winning DNA authority Dr. James Watson cut short a book tour in Britain on Friday and returned to the United States over racially insensitive comments attributed to him in a British newspaper.

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The winner of the 1962 Nobel prize for his description of the double helix structure of DNA apologized for his remarks on Thursday at an appearance to promote his new book, saying he did not mean to characterize Africans as genetically inferior.

But he cancelled the rest of his tour to return to the United States to deal with the growing controversy and his suspension as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, his publicist said in a telephone interview.

“My understanding is he left; he had to return home immediately to deal with that,” Kate Farquhar-Thomson said. “He is on the way back to the United States and therefore I have had to cancel all his engagements in the United Kingdom.”

Watson has been associated with the lab since 1948 but it joined a throng of other institutions and researchers that said his comments were offensive and scientifically incorrect.

In an interview published in the October 14, 2007 edition of the Sunday Times, Watson was quoted as saying he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa”. “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 Sunday Times did not publish the full interview with Watson, 79, who is known for his outspoken comments.

The newspaper also quoted Watson as saying people should not discriminate on the basis of color.

Watson said he was sorry for the comments in an appearance at the Royal Society in London.

“I am mortified about what has happened,” he told a group of scientists and journalists. “I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the ways 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.”

additional reporting by Maggie Fox in Washington