The Science of Racism

From The Root:

In a conversation with The Root  Editor-in-Chief Henry Louis Gates Jr., Watson clarified his views about race and genetics.

Watson20dna20modelvertical James Watson has long assumed a certain special status among American scientists. The molecular biologist was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962, along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, for, as the Swedish Academy put it in its announcement for the prize, “their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.” Watson and his British colleague Crick are remembered popularly for identifying the elegant and unexpected “double helix” three-dimensional structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, commonly known as DNA. Watson’s important contribution to this uncanny discovery was to define how the four nucleotide bases that make up DNA—guanine (G), cytosine (C), adenine (A) and thymine (T)—combine in pairs to form its structure. These base pairs turn out to be the key to both the structure of DNA and its various functions. In other words, Watson identified the language and the code by which we understand and talk about our genetic makeup.

I have been among those who have long held Watson in high regard for several reasons. First of all, the discovery of DNA’s three-dimensional structure was counterintuitive; it was an ingenious act of deduction, using models made of cardboard and paste with an exacto knife and a straight edge. How Watson and Crick, working at the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, became the first scientists to identify this elusive structure is the stuff of drama, especially when we recall that Watson was just 25 years old when he and Crick published their findings in the journal Nature on April 25, 1953.

Though Watson would tell me during our recent interview that he had a rather low IQ, as proof that IQ tests aren’t really that important, he enrolled at the University of Chicago when he was merely 15 and earned his B.S. in zoology there in 1947 at the age of 19 and a Ph.D. in zoology from Indiana University at age 22. He was 34 when he won the Nobel Prize. Not too shabby for a guy with a “low” IQ.

More here.