New York University has rescinded a lecture invitation to James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, because of his apparently offensive views.
The lecture, initially scheduled for September 12, was canceled in response to objections that Watson, who essentially led the way forward in microbiology and earned a Nobel Prize for his efforts, suggested in an interview with The Times of London in 2007 that blacks on average have lower IQs than other population groups.
But a group of students protested the choice of Watson for the 3rd annual Rodolfo Llinás Lecture Series at the NYU Langone Medical Center. The students, who argued Watson had been offensive to blacks, women and the obese, won out.
“We are writing to inform you that the lecture by Professor James Watson, scheduled for September 12, 2016 has been cancelled,” the NYU letter read. “We received the attached letter that had been written by medical and graduate students at NYU School of Medicine to express their feelings regarding the invitation of Dr. Watson for this distinguished lecture. In the letter, the students raised the point that Dr. Watson had made public claims to diminish respect for black, female and obese individuals. We agree with the students that this runs counter to our mission of diversity and inclusion at NYU Langone Medical Center and have thus elected to cancel the lecture.”
The letter stated that NYU has a commitment both to equality, as well as freedom of speech.
But that balance did not entail tolerating Watson’s speech as part of the lecture series.
In response to student outrage, the letter said the Neuroscience Institute will hold an “open forum on inclusion and diversity in the sciences.”
An NYU official told The Daily Caller News Foundation that after the school received a large number of complaints about Watson’s insensitive remarks, the department sided with the students.
“J. D. Watson was invited to speak at a departmental lecture series honoring scientists who have made powerful contributions to science,” Lisa Greiner, spokesperson for NYU Langone Medical Center, told TheDCNF. “When a significant number of students expressed concerns regarding sensitive racial and ethical statements he previously made, the department rescinded its invitation in support of its students. While the decision to do so was made at the departmental level without administrative leadership input, we take this situation quite seriously, and will examine further as it has sparked discussions within our own school as to what was the best course of action to follow.”
Watson ran afoul of the scientific community in his interview with The Times of London, even though just prior to his comments to the media, he expressed roughly the same sentiment in his book, “Avoid Boring People,” which he was promoting. The book, interestingly enough, received near-rave reviews.
In the book, Watson stated, “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.”
In the interview, he said “there are many people of color who are very talented,” but added he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa.”
“All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours–whereas all the testing says not really,” he said in the interview.
Following his remarks in the 2007 interview, he was forced to resign from his position as Chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor National Laboratory and essentially blacklisted from public life. So much vitriol was directed his way that he announced the sale of his Nobel Prize in 2014, as he ended up running short of funds due to extreme ostracism.
“[N]o-one really wants to admit I exist,” he said.
Biologist Jerry Coyne wrote on Wednesday that NYU’s cancellation constitutes “censorship, pure and simple.”
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