LONDON, England (CNN) -- Nobel laureate biologist Jim Watson apologized "unreservedly" Thursday for stating that black people were not as intelligent as whites, saying he was "mortified" by the comments attributed to him.
Jim Watson won the 1962 Nobel Prize for his part in discovering the structure of DNA.
"I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said," Watson said during an appearance at the Royal Society in London.
"I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the ways that they have."
"To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief," he said.
Watson, 79, an American who won the 1962 Nobel prize for his role in the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA, told the 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."
Watson also asserted there was no reason to believe different races separated by geography should have evolved identically, and he said that while he hoped everyone was equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true."
His comments were met with an avalanche of criticism, and London's Science Museum canceled Watson's planned Friday appearance, saying his remarks had "gone beyond the point of acceptable debate."
The British government's skills minister, David Lammy, who is black, called the comments "deeply offensive."
"It is a shame that a man with a record of scientific distinction should see his work overshadowed by his own irrational prejudices," Lammy said.
Watson's remarks to the Sunday Times were the latest in a number of controversial comments from the eminent biologist.
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 a person's weight and their level of ambition and between skin color and sexual prowess.
"That's why you have Latin lovers," he said, according to The Associated Press, which cited people who attended the lecture. "You've never heard of an English lover. Only an English patient."
And in a British TV documentary that aired in 2003, Watson suggested stupidity was a genetic disease that should be treated. E-mail to a friend
CNN's Alphonso van Marsh contributed to this report.
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