Nobel medal

It's Nobel Prize season, and the Nobel scientists are very much in the news. James Watson, awarded the laureate in 1962 for helping to deduce the now-iconic double-helix structure of DNA, is currently embroiled in controversy after making a series of blatantly racist remarks in the UK Sunday Times last week.

But related views espoused by one of this year's laureates have gone unnoticed. In early October, the Nobel Prize for biology went to three scientists whose talent and persistence gave us "knockout mice," the genetically engineered lab animals widely used by researchers to model and study human diseases. In the words of a Nobel committee member, these designer mice have "led to penetrating new insights" in several biological fields.

The story of one of the biology winners, Mario Capecchi, was the lead in most of the news reports about the award. Capecchi's rags-to-riches life gave an extra mythic dimension to the fairytale-like quality that always accompanies the Nobel announcements, with their large sums of money and middle-of-the-night phone calls to astonished scientists.

Capecchi spent his early childhood in World...