Last modified on 17 November 2014, at 18:42

James D. Watson

James D. Watson

James Dewey Watson (born 6 April 1928) is an American scientist, best known as one of the four discoverers of the structure of the DNA molecule.


  • One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.
    • The Double Helix
  • No one may have the guts to say this, but if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn't we?
    • "Risky Genetic Fantasies" in The Los Angeles Times, p. M4 (29 July 2001)
  • If we don't play God, who will?
    • The Lives to Come: The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities (1996), New York: Simon and Schuster. See also DNA (2003) a five part series on PBS-TV
  • "Science Ph.D. students have effectively become serfs. And who would become a serf when you can work for Goldman Sachs and get paid $300,000 a year to become a serf? Why drive a Chevy when you can drive a BMW -- and now you're condemned to driving a car from Malaysia or something. Life should be fun."[1]
  • I just can’t sit while people are saying nonsense in a meeting without saying it’s nonsense.
    • Scientific American 288(4), p. 54 (2003)

October 2007 Times interview, after which he resigned as chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory:

He says that he is “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”, and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level”. He writes that “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”. [2]

He has since offered several clarifications.[3]

  • Moving forward will not be for the faint of heart. But if the next century witnesses failure, let it be because our science is not yet up to the job, not because we don't have the courage to make less random the sometimes most unfair courses of human evolution.
    • All for the Good: Why genetic engineering must soldier on, Time Magazine 11. Jan. 99 v. 153, n.1. Link

Succeeding in Science: Some Rules of Thumb (1993)Edit

  • To succeed in science, you have to avoid dumb people (here I was still following Luria's example). Now that might sound inexcusably flip, but the fact is that you must always turn to people who are brighter than yourself.
  • To make a huge success, a scientist must be prepared to get into deep trouble. Sometime or another, someone will tell you that you are not ready to do something. … If you are going to make a big jump in science, you will very likely be unqualified to succeed by definition. The truth, however, won't save you from criticism. Your very willingness to take on a very big goal will offend some people who will think that you are too big for your britches and crazy to boot.
  • Be sure you have someone up your sleeve who will save you when you find yourself in deep s—.
  • Never do anything that bores you. My experience in science is that someone is always telling to do something that leaves you flat. Bad idea. I'm

not good enough to do something I dislike. In fact, I find it hard enough to do something that I like. … Constantly exposing your ideas to informed criticism is very important, and I would venture to say that one reason both of our chief competitors failed to reach the Double Helix before us was that each was effectively very isolated.

    • J. D. Watson (24 Sept. 1993). "Succeeding in Science: Some Rules of Thumb". Science 261: 1812-1813.


  1. "Dr. James Watson Follows His Own Advice" Seattlest, September 28, 2007.
  2. Hunt-Grubbe, C. "The elementary DNA of dear Dr. Watson", Times Online, October 14, 2007. Retrieved October 24, 2007.
  3. Watson, J.D. "James Watson: To question genetic intelligence is not racism", Independent, October 19, 2007. Retrieved October 24, 2007

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