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Controversial Nobel winner resigns

  • Story Highlights
  • Nobel prize-winning biologist resigns from his job after making racist remarks
  • James Watson worked at the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  • He won the 1962 Nobel prize for his part in discovering the structure of DNA
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(CNN) -- The Nobel prize-winning biologist who caused a furor with comments about the intelligence of black people resigned Thursday from his longtime post at a renowned research lab.

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

In a statement announcing his departure from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on New York's Long Island, Dr James Watson did not mention the comments but instead cited "events" which led to his decision.

"The circumstances in which the transfer is occurring," he wrote, "are not those which I could ever have anticipated or desired."

The lab's board had already suspended him pending a review of his remarks, for which Watson apologized last week.

The controversy began with an interview with Watson published October 14 in Britain's Sunday Times.

Watson 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."

He also asserted there was no reason to believe different races separated by geography should have evolved identically, and that while he hoped everyone was equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true."

Watson had been on a tour of the United Kingdom to promote his new book, and the comments led several venues to cancel his planned appearances.

The 79-year-old biologist apologized "unreservedly" last week and said he did not understand how he could have made the quoted remarks. The paper stood by its interview.

Watson won the 1962 Nobel prize for his role in discovering the double-helix structure of DNA. He had been chancellor of the lab and served on its board for 43 years, but he said it was now time to retire.

"Closer now to 80 than 79, the passing on of my remaining vestiges of leadership is more than overdue," he wrote.

Watson said he was proud of the laboratory's legacy and reputation as one of the world's leading sites for biological research and education. Specifically, Watson mentioned cancer research as one of the lab's achievements.

Eduardo Mestre, chairman of the lab's board, said Watson had made "immeasurable contributions" to the lab's research and that the board respected his decision to retire.

The lab's director, Bruce Stillman, credited Watson with raising the lab's profile.

"Jim's legacy will not only include CSHL and the double helix, but his pioneering efforts that led to the sequencing of the human genome and his innovations in science writing and education."

Watson had made controversial remarks in the past. In 1997, Britain's Sunday Telegraph quoted Watson as saying that if a gene for homosexuality were isolated, women who find that their unborn child has the gene should be allowed to have an abortion.

During a lecture tour in 2000, he suggested there might be links between skin color and sexual prowess, and between a person's weight and their level of ambition.

And in a British TV documentary that aired in 2003, Watson suggested that stupidity was a genetic disease that should be treated. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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