back to article DNA egghead James Watson sells Nobel prize for $4.8m, gets it back

DNA brainiac James Watson has got his Nobel Prize medal back from Russia’s richest man, who bought the gong from the scientist for $4.8m (£3m). While Watson gets to keep the medal, the money raised is still going to science. Watson, along with coworkers Maurice Wilkins and Francis Crick*, was awarded the Nobel Prize for …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I kept asking myself who would possibly buy that thing

    You guessed it: some Russian

  2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Key contribution to the discovery has been omitted

    What all the stories omit is that the Chemistry dept was across the street from The Eagle and the "analysis" of the X-rays was taking place in the evening there. All experimental protocols, etc omit a key variable - the number of pints it takes for the images to do a double helix in your head.

    In any case - nuts as his opinions may be, he is entitled to them and the way he is being treated for them is not cool. Pity it takes Gasprom to secure his pension.

  3. Anomalous Cowshed

    in my opinion

    Watson should also have been awarded the Nobel prizes for literature and peace for his outstanding collaboration with Holmes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before he went on to discover DNA.

    1. Red Bren

      Re: in my opinion

      You're getting confused with his brother John.

      1. veeguy

        Re: in my opinion

        And his little friend Vera Wang...

    2. AbelSoul

      Re: in my opinion

      Lemon entry, my dear Cowshed.

  4. Google

    According to wiki...

    this is what he said on intelligence and race:

    “there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so”'

    Which seems more reasonable than saying "white people are superior" and reasoned from a scientific point of view.

    1. 's water music

      Re: According to wiki...

      your post seems, to me, to be a rather disingenuous summary of what he is said to have said in the linked article.

    2. Tenacal

      Re: According to wiki...

      That had been the way I'd read it. Saying that one race may inherently have a statistically lower intelligence is no different from saying that a race is statistically stronger or faster. Genetics is quite unbiased when used see averages. The important thing to remember is that individuals can and will stand apart from the averages.

      Having said that, looking at his comment alongside some of the other things he's said does not do him any favours.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: According to wiki...

        Funny thing is, there is only one race. Differentiation may occur geographically, or even personally, but we all remain part of one race, the human race, which can interbreed among any of its individuals. Subcategories are fallacious and are constantly used to promote agendas intended to divide otherwise compatible peoples.

        1. Sweep

          Re: According to wiki...

          We are all the same species however I am sure you will agree that there are differences between populations- if I introduced you to a Maasai and an Inuit you would be able to tell which is which, right?

          The studies on IQ and race that Watson is presumably referring to should really raise questions about what the IQ test is actually measuring and whether or not the differences are due to nature or nurture (does socio-economic background or other factors such as exposure to lead in the womb/ infancy have an effect on IQ?) however from his other stated views it seems that Watson has already come to the conclusion that black people are genetically inferior.

          He's a bit of a twunt really, which is a shame as he has contributed so much to the study of biology- I'm pretty sure my first lecture at university was on the double helix.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: According to wiki...

            It had escaped me that he had made such a faux pas.

            I wonder if certain types of people lack an inherit ability to keep their feet out of their mouths.

            Although I have read that there is an opinion held by some that Ashkenazi Jews are more intellectually able than the rest of us, not sure if it's OK to say that or not


    3. teebie

      Re: According to wiki...

      He did say that it was possible that different races may have developed different intellects - maybe this true, and is a point that could be made with no racist intent - maybe it's ok that race X in underrepresented in job A, but a scandal that race Y is so underrepresented in job B.

      Had he not followed up with "people who have to deal with black employees find [races being equal] not true" he probably wouldn't have had to sell his nobel.

    4. illiad

      Re: According to wiki...

      well, all i can say is...

      ( WARNING: Stereotypes ahead!!!! )

      some white men have bigger dicks than black men..

      some Jewish people have vary small noses...

      many big, tall, crewcut, big shouldered guys are the nicest people you will meet...

      Many (old or young!) small, skinny, 'weedy' girls are actually strong enough to lift or knock over the guy above!!

      (I know her, she always laughs at the guys shock when 'granny' makes him 'kiss the floor' in less than a second! LOLOL )

  5. Yag

    Interesting case.

    We often hear about how the catholic church was a strain on scientific research during the "dark" ages - Gallileo is the poster example.

    But I wonder what will be said about the "politically correct" state of mind of our current age in a few centuries.

    (DISCLAIMER : I am NOT trying to start a "flame war".)

    1. Mike 16

      Re: Interesting case.

      Perhaps if you read more detailed history about that time you would have a more nuanced view. Most of what we get in school is based on propaganda from the protestant princes who were miffed at the pope meddling in their right to subjugate their own people. Not that the pope's hand were clean, but essentially, this was a power struggle and truth was the first victim as usual (followed by masses of peasants, of course). Much like the "political correctness" cudgel is so readily deployed in the battle against "people who don't vote (or look) like me". Well, one side of that battle. The other side uses the "Evil Corporations" cudgel.

      1. Yag

        Re: Interesting case.

        Indeed, the picture is far more nuanced, this is why I put the quotes around the "dark" of "dark ages". Gallileo himself had the support of the pope... until some unfortunate references of the pope as a simpleton in one of Gallileo's books.

  6. DocJames

    Not more Rosalind Franklin stuff

    Sure, she was awesome at X-ray crystallography (even The Double Helix had to admit that) but she had no idea what her picture meant. She could not conceive that DNA was the "molecule of life", responsible for storing and transmitting information between the generations.

    It seems easy now that if she took the photos of DNA crystals that she must realise what they meant. This is a false perspective as nobody knew what carried hereditary information; this was so startling that Watson and Crick (and Wilkins) got the Nobel for it.

    It's akin to Fleming getting to share the Nobel with Florey, goddamit!

    1. Tony Haines

      Re: Not more Rosalind Franklin stuff

      "...This is a false perspective as nobody knew what carried hereditary information..."


      The Avery MacLeod McCarty experiment published in 1944 had shown DNA as the transforming principal.

      This was surprising and therefore contested; further experiments were done in the following years, confirming it.

      Franklin was perhaps over-cautious. But then, she apprarently didn't want to publish an incorrect model - which seems reasonable when you consider that several published models had already been proved wrong. This including a triple helix by Watson and Crick which she'd blown out the water. No really, she pointed out that their DNA model didn't have enough water molecules in it, something they should have known but had forgotten.

      1. DocJames

        Re: Not more Rosalind Franklin stuff

        Sure, the triple helix seems ludicrous in retrospect. That's my point; it is very difficult to imagine not knowing about the double helix. Watson and Crick do seem foolish in forgetting the water molecules - that's part of science's error checking (as performed in the 20thC - come up with idea, try to disprove, get colleagues to try to disprove, publish and the world tries to disprove).

        I don't think everyone believed Avery MacLeod McCarty, even in 1953.

        Crick's "what mad pursuit" and Matt Ridley's biography of Crick are both illuminating. Shame Rosalind never got to tell her side of the story publicly, but again it would all be influenced by the retrospective knowledge of the Nobel...

  7. Alan Bourke

    He's of his generation

    in terms of his racial comments which appear to have been a teeeeeny bit misrepresented.

  8. dncnvncd

    genotype;phenotype;hereditary vs. environment

    A wiki article as good as they are for a quick reference is hardly adequate for deciding the fate of one's career. The same comment uttered at a white supremacist meeting would have a different connotation that when uttered at a scientific meeting. Human DNA has changed over the years due to environment. Currently, sperm banks of highly talented individuals offer the promise of superchildren. Dirty little secret is the heredity factor . Some traits aren't that inheritable. As for race. The Egyptians, Mayans and Incas all achieved things that puzzle us to this day. Yet, their descendants are among the poorest and least educated in the world. The scandal is that a person that discovered the key to unlock the mystery of why people with the same parents have different characteristics is crucified for scientific musings. Without conjecture and theory there is no critical thinking. Without critical thinking there are no scientific breakthroughs and we are doomed to repeat past mistakes. Like a war for racial superiority.

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