DNA pioneer James Watson stripped of honours for saying Africans are less intelligent than whites

One of the men who discovered the building blocks that make up life is under fire for saying the same blocks that determine our race also affect our intelligence.

James Watson, alongside colleague Francis Crick, discovered "the secret of life" when the pair figured out DNA's double-helix structure in the early 1950s.

Nearly a decade later they were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, and Dr Watson went on to spend nearly four decades as director and president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and helped kickstart the Human Genome Project.

But following comments made in a new documentary, Cold Spring Harbor has stripped him of several honours, including "honorary titles of Chancellor Emeritus, Oliver R.Grace Professor Emeritus, and Honorary Trustee".

Dr Watson was asked by the makers of PBS documentary American Masters: Decoding Watson whether he still believed black people were less intelligent than others, as he claimed in a 2007 interview.

"Not at all," the 90-year-old said. "I would like for them to have changed, that there be new knowledge that says that your nurture is much more important than nature. But I haven't seen any knowledge. And there's a difference on the average between blacks and whites on IQ tests. I would say the difference is, it's genetic."

In 2007, Dr Watson told the UK's Sunday Times 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".

While he wanted each race to be equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true", he claimed.

James Watson.
James Watson. Photo credit: Getty

Dr Watson apologised and withdrew those comments shortly afterwards, but not before he'd lost his job at Cold Spring Harbor, which said his latest comments "effectively reverse the written apology and retraction" he made in 2007.

"The statements he made in the documentary are completely and utterly incompatible with our mission, values, and policies, and require the severing of any remaining vestiges of his involvement," said Marilyn Simons, board chair.

"Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory respects and upholds the rights, abilities, and potential of all human beings."

Dr Watson has previously also claimed "some anti-Semitism is justified", melatonin - the substance that affects our skin colour - affects sex drive and that women should be allowed to abort children that have a 'gay' gene. He also once said he felt sorry for fat people in job interviews "because you know you're not going to hire them".