James D. Watson on Dangers of Genomic Research
  James D. Watson     Biography    
Recorded: 25 Jul 2003

Well, the ones that people worry about are that they will be able to understand the variation between people. And we’ll see that some people are more equal than others in the sense that some people are predisposed to mental disease or they have cancer. That that, you know, could affect, given the American way we do health insurance and things like that and produce a double whammy in your life. You can’t get insured and you’re—so that was why I firmly—you know, when we started I thought we had to have an ethical—spend some money so we can discuss that. You know, I always thought, you know, the evil mental disease not being stigmatized by carrying a gene for it or we’d so stigmatized by the disease when your family is already so crippled by having it in your family that these other things were sort of second order nuisances, but not the main dilemma. And that the knowledge that you would get from the program might enable you to get to the heart of the matter.

And a belief that people really care about other people and won’t move toward the world that Lee Silver had in his book of, you know, genetically superior people or the Gattaca thing where we’ll be governed by genes. It makes a very clever movie but, you know, just judging from seeing our son, you know, that the people on top are those with good genes. And there’s a sort of denial of it. I suspect it’s—thinking of genetic differences and only couple only one or two percent of the people being hurt by the bad luck of having a genetic disease I think is far—the variation is much broader and that the—some of the people who are on top because their fathers were on top, you know. The head of North Korea is there because his father was. Not because—but you know the original kings or so—you know, John D. Rockefeller is probably a bright man. He became very rich, but if he’d had mental disease he wouldn’t have become very rich.

I think the Rockefellers—their problem, why they aren’t so important is just an awful lot of dylexia in the family which is really very crippling. So, you know, it makes it hard. Certainly, saying that 1 in 5 children have some problems n reading. And, of course, we didn’t evolve to be able to read. So, you know, I think it’s again trying to understand that human differences will lead to being able to handle some of these differences in a more compassionate fashion. Which seems to be happening with dyslexia so. You can learn to read. It’s just harder.

A member of the Time 100 ‘Century’s Greatest Minds’, Dr. James Watson’s life in science has taken him from the revolutionary discovery of the structure of DNA to the head of the National Institute of Health’s Human Genome Project, and places between.

Dr. Watson was born in 1928 in Chicago, and enrolled at the University of Chicago when he was just 15. His graduate studies in genetics with Salvador Luria took him to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for the first time in 1948. His graduate work would eventually bring him to the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, where, together with fellow scientists Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, Francis Crick and Dr. Watson would discover how the four-nucleotide bases arrange themselves to create the unique identities of each living organism. Their account of the structure of DNA, published in Nature, would win them the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology. Watson's bestselling account of his time at Cavendish, The Double Helix, was named the No. 7 best work of nonfiction by the Modern Library.

Watson spent two decades at Harvard University, where he penned the revolutionary biology textbook, Molecular Biology of the Gene in 1965. Dr. Watson's distinguished academic career led him to the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1968, where he has pushed the lab towards important steps in cancer research and the causes of mental disease. From 1988 to 1992, Dr. Watson was appointed to head the National Institute of Health in the Human Genome Project. Dr. Watons's genome was the first to be decoded and was made public as part of the project in 2007. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, he has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. After forty years as a brilliant educator and administrator, Dr. Watson retired as Chancellor of the laboratory in 2007.