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October 19, 2007

Losing the race

Other scientists sprinted into action following the published report of the comment made by a famed colleague—pioneering geneticist James Watson, who won the Nobel Prize 45 years ago for his work on DNA. It was front-page news in today’s Chicago Tribune. Watson’s peers rushed to refute his comment, quoted in a British newspaper, that it is wrong to assume the intelligence of Africans is “the same as ours.” They also canceled speaking engagements and suspended him from the very laboratory he once directed.

The 79-year-old hurried to apologize, too, saying, “I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said.”

It’s hard to know what really has happened—except that great damage has been done. To more people that we can guess, including, of course, Watson himself.

What’s most troubling is what’s still to come. Rick Kittles, genetic medicine professor at the University of Chicago and director of African Ancestry Inc., says it well: “...when a Nobel laureate says Africans are less intelligent than Europeans, the average person on the street runs with it. That’s the sad part.”

And we risk losing the race to end racism.

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