Dr James Watson, the American scientist who discovered the double helix structure of DNA, is selling his Nobel Prize medal in an effort to “re-enter public life” after being shunned for making controversial comments about race and intelligence seven years ago.
Watson traces his roots to Tipperary and is a member of the Irish America Hall of Fame.
Watson said he has been an “unperson” ever since 2007, when he made a comment during an interview with the Sunday Times that black people were not of equal intelligence to white people.
The biologist added, “no one really wants to admit I exist.”
Following his comments, Watson was forced to retire from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York, although he still holds the position of chancellor emeritus there.
“Because I was an ‘unperson’ I was fired from the boards of companies, so I have no income, apart from my academic income,” he said.
He told the Financial Times: “I apologize ...(the journalist) somehow wrote that I worried about the people in Africa because of their low IQ – and you’re not supposed to say that.”
Watson said it had been “stupid on my part,” and insisted he is not racist “in a conventional way.”
During the 2007 interview, Watson said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really.”
Watson shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins.
Christie’s has said Watson’s medal could sell for as much as $2.2 million dollars, when it is auctioned in New York on Thursday.
According to the Irish Times, Watson said he plans to use the money from the sale of the gold medal to supplement his income, make donations to “institutions that have looked after me” such as the University of Chicago, his alma mater, and Clare College, Cambridge, and to buy art.
“I really would love to own a (painting by David) Hockney,” he said.
Auctioneer Francis Wahlgren said he did not expect the scientist’s previous comments to negatively affect the sale.
“There are a lot of personalities in history we’d find fault with – but their discoveries transcend human foibles,” he said.