A NOBEL prize-winning scientist will no longer be appearing in the North-East following an angry backlash over his claims that black people are less intelligent than whites.
Dr James Watson’s remarks provoked a furious response, and were condemned as providing “oxygen for the BNP” by a Government minister.
But bosses at Newcastle’s Centre for Life refused to cancel the 79-year-old American geneticist’s appearance at the museum tomorrow, saying they found censorship “abhorrent”.
However, it was revealed yesterday that the eminent scientist’s speech would no longer go ahead because he had returned to the United States.
Dr Watson, who has been patron of the science attraction since 1998, has now said he is “mortified” about his comments that black people are inherently less intelligent than white. He had been due to attend an interview with The Observer’s science editor Robin McKie in front of about 350 people.
Chief executive for Life, Linda Conlon, said: “We are extremely disappointed that James Watson has cancelled this event.”
She added: “Robin McKie is a tenacious interviewer and would certainly have vigorously challenged Dr Watson’s views. We planned to follow the interview with questions from the audience.”
Dr Watson, who won a Nobel prize in the 1960s for his part in discovering the structure of DNA, sparked controversy after saying in a newspaper interview that 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.”
He added that he hoped everyone was equal, but that “people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true”. His comments angered human rights groups around the globe and Skills Minister David Lammy condemned the remarks as being “deeply offensive” and would “succeed only in providing oxygen for the BNP”.
But Mrs Conlon said his appearance at the centre would have provided a forum for debate.
She said: “A great many people felt that Dr Watson’s remarks were outrageous and offensive, but we feel censorship is equally as abhorrent. We wanted a rigorous and open debate about his remarks. Many have been denied an opportunity to question Dr Watson directly about his views and that’s disappointing.”
However, Dr Watson has now moved to distance himself from the remarks, insisting he does not believe Africans are genetically inferior.
In a statement, he said: “I have had my share of controversy, as many of you know, but I am mortified about what has happened. More importantly, I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said. I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the way they have. To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly.”
Newcastle University professor Anoop Nayak, who specialises in ethnicity and race, said he would have liked Dr Watson to have appeared at the event, to clarify his position and make his views “crystal clear”.
Those who had bought tickets for Dr Watson’s interview can get a refund by calling (0191) 243-8210.