James Watson's Legacy

Posted by Center for Genetics and Society October 22, 2007
Biopolitical Times
Over the past half century, millions have known James Watson for his Nobel Prize and double-helix fame. Only last week did most learn about James Watson, bigot and eugenics enthusiast.

Watson now says, "That is not what I meant." But take a look at these statements by  him, stretching back years. And he's not the only one; some of his colleagues have joined him in advocating for a new high-tech eugenics.

Do you have a Watson quote we've missed? Post it as a comment below, and we'll add it to the list. Please be sure to include citation.

On race and intelligence

“[A]ll our social policies are based on the fact that [Africans'] intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really… [P]eople who have to deal with black employees find [equality] is not true.”

Interview with The Times of London, October 14, 2007

"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."

Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science (2007)

On "stupid" kids, ugly girls, and enhanced children

"If you really are stupid, I would call that a disease.... The lower 10 percent who really have difficulty, even in elementary school, what's the cause of it? A lot of people would like to say, 'Well, poverty, things like that.' It probably isn't. So I'd like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10 percent...."

"It seems unfair that some people don’t get the same opportunity. Once you have a way in which you can improve our children, no one can stop it. It would be stupid not to use it because someone else will. Those parents who enhance their children, then their children are going to be the ones who dominate the world..."

"People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great...."

"I think it's irresponsible not to try and direct evolution to produce a human being who will be an asset to the world."

DNA, British documentary, March 2003

"Then I am a eugenicist"

"My view is that, despite the risks, we should give serious consideration to germ-line gene therapy. I only hope that the many biologists who share my opinion will stand tall in the debates to come and not be intimidated by the inevitable criticism ... If such work be called eugenics, then I am a eugenicist."

DNA: The Secret of Life, 2003

On sex and discriminating against overweight people

Watson proposed that skin color and sex drive are linked. "That's why you have Latin lovers. You've never heard of an English lover. Only an English patient."

Watson proposed that thinness and ambition are linked, and thus thin people are better hires. "When you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you're not going to hire them."

"The Pursuit of Happiness: Lessons from pom-C," Watson's lecture at University of California, Berkeley, October 2000

Let's play God

"If scientists don't play God, who will?"

Addressing members of the British Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, May 2000

Embracing the Master Race

"Here we must not fall into the absurd trap of being against everything Hitler was for.... Because of Hitler's use of the term Master Race, we should not feel the need to say that we never want to use genetics to make humans more capable than they are today."

A Passion for DNA: Genes, Genomes, and Society, 2000

On inheritable human genetic modification

"I'm afraid of asking people what they think. Don't ask Congress to approve it. Just ask them for the money to help their constituents. That's what they want.... Frankly, they would care much more about having their relatives not sick than they do about ethics and principles. We can talk principles forever, but what the public actually wants is not to be sick. And if we help them not be sick, they'll be on our side....

"If we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn't we? What's wrong with it?… Evolution can be just damn cruel, and to say that we've got a perfect genome and there's some sanctity?"

Engineering the Human Germline, symposium at University of California Los Angeles, March 20, 1998

Aborting fetuses with a "gay gene"

"If you could find the gene which determines sexuality and a woman decides she doesn't want a homosexual child, well, let her."

The Telegraph, February 16, 1997

On the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications program of the Human Genome Project

"I wanted a group that would talk and talk and never get anything done," Andrews quotes Watson as telling a meeting. "And if they did do something, I wanted them to get it wrong. I wanted as its head Shirley Temple Black."

Quoted by Lori Andrews in The Clone Age: Adventures in the New World of Reproductive Technology

More on Hitler

The time has come to "put Hitler behind us," Watson said, urging Germany to put more resources into genetic research.

Keynote speech to a conference on molecular medicine in Berlin, May 1997