Lab suspends scientist Watson over comments on race

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WASHINGTON, Oct 19 (Reuters) A prominent New York scientific laboratory suspended Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Dr James Watson last night over racially insensitive comments he was quoted as making in a newspaper interview earlier in the week.

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory joined a throng of prominent researchers and institutions who said they found the remarks Watson was quoted as saying to be offensive and scientifically incorrect.

''Earlier this evening, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Board of Trustees decided to suspend the administrative responsibilities of Chancellor James D Watson, PhD, pending further deliberation by the Board,'' the lab said in a statement.

''This action follows the Board's public statement yesterday disagreeing with the comments attributed to Dr. Watson in the October 14, 2007 edition of The Sunday Times UK.'' The Sunday Times newspaper printed an interview with Watson in which he was quoted as 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.'' 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, because ''there are many people of color who are very talented, but don't promote them when they haven't succeeded at the lower level.'' Watson shared the 1962 Nobel prize for medicine with Francis Crick and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins for their description of the double helix structure of DNA.

Watson has long been on record as saying there is a genetic basis for intelligence -- something undisputed by other scientists. But experts deny there is any such thing as race on a genetic level.

MORTIFIED BUT SILENT Attempts to reach Watson to clarify his statements have been unsuccessful. His publicist gave a written statement to the Associated Press saying he was ''mortified,'' but not explaining whether he had been misquoted.

The publication prompted an unusual outpouring from other scientists.

''The comments, which were attributed to Dr James Watson earlier this week in the London Times, are wrong, from every point of view -- not the least of which is that they are completely inconsistent with the body of research literature in this area,'' Dr Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement.

''Scientific prestige is never a substitute for knowledge. As scientists, we are outraged and saddened when science is used to perpetuate prejudice,'' Zerhouni said.

Another group of Nobel laureates also expressed revulsion.

''The Federation of American Scientists is outraged by the noxious comments made by Dr. James Watson that appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine on October 14th,'' said the group, founded by Manhattan Project atomic physicists.

''At a time when the scientific community is feeling threatened by political forces seeking to undermine its credibility, it is tragic that one of the icons of modern science has cast such dishonor on the profession,'' added Federation of American Scientists President Henry Kelly.

London's Science Museum canceled a talk by Watson, but other events in Britain were scheduled to go ahead as the geneticist promotes his new book, ''Avoid Boring People: Lessons From a Life in Science.'' Reuters SYU DB0922

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