Officials at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), while acknowledging the scientific contributions of James D. Watson, PhD, issued a statement indicating that the research institution “unequivocally rejects the unsubstantiated and reckless personal opinions” he put forth on the subject of ethnicity and genetics during the “American Masters: Decoding Watson” PBS documentary that aired on January 2, 2019. “Dr. Watson’s statements are reprehensible, unsupported by science, and in no way represent the views of CSHL, its trustees, faculty, staff, or students,” the statement continued. “The Laboratory condemns the misuse of science to justify prejudice.”
The CSHL Board of Trustees immediately relieved Dr. Watson of all his administrative duties at the Lab when he expressed offensive views in 2007. The Board also eliminated his status as Chancellor at that time.
Watson has not been involved in the leadership or management of CSHL for more than a decade, and during this time he has assumed no further roles or responsibilities at CSHL. In response to his statements made during the recent PBS documentary, which “effectively” reverse the written apology and retraction Watson made in 2007, the Lab also revoked his honorary titles of Chancellor Emeritus, Oliver R. Grace Professor Emeritus, and Honorary Trustee.
“I think that the [Cold Spring Harbor] lab did the right thing,” said Nancy Hopkins, PhD, Professor of Biology Emerita at MIT and a former student of Watson’s.
Hopkins said the documentary filmmakers “were not out to hurt Jim or put him in a tight spot. They gave him a chance to really say what he thought. They filmed it, showed it to him after several weeks, and asked if he’d like to reconsider what he said. He said no, that was his belief. So that was the film that got made.”
“I don’t think the lab had any choice. It’s a sad thing, he built the place. You respect what he accomplished, but these unfounded beliefs are too damaging,” continued Hopkins. “He had an opportunity to correct [his quote] but I assume that’s what he actually believes, so presumably he decided to be honest at least.”
[Correction: The original story stated that the producers had showed Dr. Watson a cut of the film before it went public. In fact, that was not the case but opportunities were offered to Dr. Watson to clarify or change any of his quotes.]