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James Watson retires, gives statement, has media ties questioned

Watson has done the wise thing and decided to distance himself from his by all appearances much-beloved Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. A statement from the board lauded his 40 years of service, during which he "[transformed] a small facility into one of the world's great education and research institutions." Simultaneously, he released a statement of his own, in which he declared "That the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is now one of the world's premier sites for biological research and education has long warmed my heart." Watson's statement did not directly address his comments to the Sunday Times (of London) about Africans and African Americans that set off this firestorm, but earlier this week he apologized, saying that he was surprised by what he was quoted as saying, and that "there is no scientific basis for such a belief." Both statements, and more on Watson's ongoing ties to Seed Media Group, publisher of Seed Magazine, after the jump. One would hope that this ends the association of CSHL with Watson and his ill-considered comments about africans and african americans. Meanwhile, an article in the Harvard Crimson directly addressed Watson's ties to Seed Media Group, which declined to comment for the story. However Andrew Berry, who wrote a book on DNA in 2003 with Watson, said "It seems to me a no-brainer" for Seed Media to remove Watson as an adviser.
"Watson is someone, whether he believed in his comments or not, who is damaged goods," Barry said.
Meanwhile Howard C. Berg, "the Smith professor of physics and a friend and colleague of Watson for over 40 years... said that Watson would not associate himself with an organization on a superficial level."
"If he didn't participate directly in the work in a significant way, he wouldn't attach his name to it," Berg said of Watson. "In that regard, he's very ethical."
* * * Cold Spring Harbor's statement: October 25, 2007 Dr. James D. Watson Retires as Chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cold Spring Harbor, NY – Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) today announced that Dr. James D. Watson, 79, has retired after nearly 40 years of distinguished service to CSHL. He had stepped down as President of CSHL in 2003 and most recently served as Chancellor. In 1968, Watson became Director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, transforming a small facility into one of the world's great education and research institutions. Initiating a program to study the cause of human cancer, scientists under his direction have made major contributions to understanding the genetic basis of cancer. Having served as home to a total of seven Nobel Prize-winning scientists, CSHL expanded its research portfolio over the years to programs that now include a broad cancer program, plant biology, neuroscience, and computational biology. CSHL has also expanded its science educational programs under Watson's direction to include the famed Banbury Center and the DNA Learning Center that teaches middle and high school students, and their teachers. Eduardo Mestre, Chairman of the Board of CSHL, said, "For over 40 years, Dr. Watson has made immeasurable contributions to the Laboratory's research and educational programs. His legacy as 1962 Nobel Prize laureate for describing the structure of DNA will continue to influence biomedical research for decades to come. The Board respects his decision to retire at this point in his career. We have great confidence in Dr. Bruce Stillman, who since 1994 has served as Director, then President. His leadership of CSHL's 400 scientists will ensure the best environment for groundbreaking research." Dr. Stillman said, "Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has been at the forefront of research ever since its founding in 1890, but Jim Watson created a research environment that is unparalleled in the world of science. It was that environment that attracted me here 28 years ago. As one of the most highly rated research institutions in the world today, our many award-winning researchers are well positioned to continue to make new research breakthroughs thanks to the extraordinary, young talent working here. We all owe Jim and his wife Liz a great deal of gratitude for devoting much of his professional career and all of their married life to building up Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory into a leading research center. Jim's legacy will not only include CSHL and the double helix, but his pioneering efforts that led to the sequencing of the human genome and his innovations in science writing and education." Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a private, non-profit research and education institution dedicated to exploring molecular biology and genetics in order to advance the understanding and ability to diagnose and treat cancers, neurological diseases, and other causes of human suffering. For more information, visit Watson's statement: Statement of Dr. James D. Watson This morning I have conveyed to the Trustees of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory my desire to retire immediately from my position as its Chancellor, as well as from my position on its Board, on which I have served for the past 43 years. Closer now to 80 than 79, the passing on of my remaining vestiges of leadership is more than overdue. The circumstances in which this transfer is occurring, however, are not those which I could ever have anticipated or desired. That the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is now one of the world's premier sites for biological research and education has long warmed my heart. So I am grateful that its Board now will allow me to remain along my beloved Bungtown Road. Forty-nine years ago, as a newly appointed young Assistant Professor at Harvard, I gave my first course on this pernicious collection of diseases of uncontrolled cell growth and division. Cancer, then an intellectual black box, now, in part because of research at the Laboratory, is almost full lit. Though important facts remain undiscovered, there is no reason why they should not soon be found. Final victory is within our grasp. Strong in spirit and intensely focused, I wish to be among those at the victory line. The ever quickening advances of science made possible by the success of the Human Genome Project will also soon let us see the essences of mental disease. Only after we understand them at the genetic level can we rationally seek out appropriate therapies for such illnesses as schizophrenia and bipolar disease. For the children of my sister and me, this moment can not come a moment too soon. Hell does not come close to describing the impact of psychotic disorders on human life. This week's events focus me ever more intensely on the moral values passed on to me by my father, whose Watson surname marks his long ago Scots-Irish Appalachian heritage; and by my mother, whose father, Lauchlin Mitchell, came from Glasgow and whose mother, Lizzie Gleason, had parents from Tipperary. To my great advantage, their lives were guided by a faith in reason; an honest application of its messages; and for social justice, especially the need for those on top to help care for the less fortunate. As an educator, I have always striven to see that the fruits of the American Dream are available to all. I have been much blessed. James D. Watson Cold Spring Harbor, New York October 2007

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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