James Watson, the biologist who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his contribution to the discovery of DNA’s structure, will become the first recipient to sell the medal in his or her lifetime, the Financial Times reports.
The Nobel laureate said that he had no choice but to sell the medal — which auction house Christie’s believes could fetch as much as $3.5 million — because of financial pressures stemming from comments he made about race and intelligence in 2007.
In a 2007 interview with the Sunday Times, Watson claimed 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.”
Moreover, while he admitted that everyone wants to believe that all races are born with equal intelligence, anyone “who [has] to deal with black employees [finds] this not true.”
He apologized for his remarks, saying that he was “not racist in a conventional way,” and that the journalist interviewing him “somehow wrote that I worried about people in Africa because of their low IQ — and you’re not supposed to say that.”
The scandal made him a pariah.
“No one really wants to admit I exist,” he said. “Because I was an ‘unperson’ I was fired from the boards of companies, so I have no income, apart from my academic income.”
The auctioneer handling Watson’s auction, Francis Wahlgren, said that he fully expected the medal to reach its $2.5 million reserve, and that he expected bidding to go much higher.
“The far-reaching aspects of their discovery affect everybody and are only being appreciated now,” he said.
Nor does he think the scandal that necessitated the sale will deter buyers. “I think the guy is the greatest living scientist. There are a lot of personalities in history we’d find fault with,” Wahlgren said, “but their discoveries transcend human foibles.”