James Watson (85) one half of the legendary Watson and Crick pairing who discovered the structure of DNA, made the front pages this week, but not for a new discovery, instead he caused uproar when he savaged Irish intellects.
According to the Irish Examiner, whilst visiting Dublin's Mater Hospital to open a new cancer and haematology unit this week, the elderly Nobel prizewinner was asked to clarify comments he made in the US last month when he said the Irish curse was not alcohol, but ignorance.
'Your brain is not filled with useful things,' replied the Chicago native , who previously caused outrage by making the claim that black people had an inferior intellectual capacity and a higher libido than white people, and were worse than white people as employees.
In regard to the Irish, his opinions of them were formed by the prejudices he heard concerning them in childhood, he says.
'I grew up with that, where the Irish were, you know, not a serious people — blarney, full of blarney,' said Professor Watson. 'You can be real dumb or you can seem dumb because you don’t know anything — that’s all I’m saying. The Irish seemed dumb because they didn’t know anything.'
The outspoken 85-year-old stressed that he was talking about the past and in particular about his run-in with the former head of the US National Institutes of Health, the late Bernadine Healy.
Healy, a third generation Irish American, wanted to patent newly discovered genes when Watson was head of the Human Genome Project in 1992 and Watson, who described the idea as 'sheer lunacy,' quit in protest.
Critics contend that Professor Watson’s remarks are curious given that his heritage is part Irish. He reportedly had a grandmother from an immigrant family from County Tipperary.
Watson has also admitted his research and subsequent discovery of the double helix was inspired by the 1944 book This Is Life by physicist Erwin Schrodinger, who had joint Austrian-Irish citizenship and wrote his groundbreaking work during the 17 years he taught in Dublin.
To defuse the growing controversy, Professor Watson then stressed that Ireland and the Irish had changed over the decades and he had intended no offence. 'I made a joke, that’s all,' he said. 'I don’t have a problem with the Irish — I just didn’t like Bernadine Healy. I never kick people when they’re down — I tell jokes when they’re up.'
Watson has reportedly previously claimed that if scientists could find the gene which determines sexuality, and a woman then decides she doesn't want a homosexual child then he would have no problem if she decided to have an abortion. He has also suggested that if beauty could be genetically engineered to make more pretty girls he would be all for it.
Professor Watson also courted controversy when he made disparaging remarks about overweight job candidates. According to the Daily Mail he said 'Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you're not going to hire them.'