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Nobel winner in 'racist' claim row

  • Story Highlights
  • Museum cancels lecture by DNA scientists James Watson
  • Nobel winner said in interview that black people less intelligent than whites
  • Comments denounced as racist
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A British museum has canceled a lecture by Dr. James Watson, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, after he claimed black people are less intelligent than whites in a recent newspaper interview.

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James Watson won the 1962 Nobel prize for discovering the structure of DNA.

Watson, who won the 1962 Nobel prize for his part in discovering the structure of DNA, provoked a storm of criticism after his comments were published in the Sunday Times.

The eminent biologist told the British newspaper 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."

Watson, 79, had been due to give a lecture at London's Science Museum on Friday but the museum canceled his appearance, saying his comments had "gone beyond the point of acceptable debate."

The American professor's words have been roundly condemned as "racist," with fellow scientists dismissing his claims as "genetic nonsense."

"He should recognize that statements of this sort have racist functions and are to be deeply, deeply regretted," said Professor Steven Rose of the British Open University.

Watson is credited with discovering the double helix along with Maurice Wilkins and Francis Crick in 1962.

In the newspaper interview, he said there was no reason to think that races which had grown up in separate geographical locations should have evolved identically. He went on to say that although he hoped everyone was equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".

The British government's skills minister, David Lammy, who is black, called the comments "deeply offensive" and said Watson would only succeed in providing oxygen for extremist political groups.

"It is a shame that a man with a record of scientific distinction should see his work overshadowed by his own irrational prejudices," Lammy told CNN.

Watson is not the first scientist to show sympathy for the theory of a racial basis for intellectual difference. In March of last year Dr. Frank Ellis from Leeds University provoked anger in Britain after he admitted he found evidence that racial groups perform differently "extremely convincing." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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