David Cox on Meeting Jim Watson
  David Cox     Biography    
Recorded: 02 Jun 2003

So this was a real opportunity for me with respect to Jim. Jim was the DNA guy. And so that he, it was actually quite far down the line before Jim knew any of the human geneticists, but more importantly thought that they were even worth talking to, right? So they weren’t the Cold Spring Harbor crowd. All these people that were at these mapping and sequencing meetings were specifically not at cold Spring Harbor. But that Rick Myers who had trained with Tom Maniatis was part of the Cold Spring Harbor crowd. He knew Jim from the beginning. So when Rick and I became colleagues, that’s how I met Jim and got to be part of Cold Spring Harbor. And this was really sort of interesting to me because I knew Jim very early on before he actually had much respect for the human genetics people and have watched of how now basically is that these human genetics people who weren’t really very molecular are as integrated into Cold Spring Harbor as the molecular people are. So I think Jim’s view of this was and it was probably accurate in many cases is that the people doing human genetics weren’t really doing science, hypothesis-based science and weren't very rigorous. So what he did is he identified because Jim is always really open minded about people that are doing science. And if he was exposed to people doing science then he embraced them. And so Jim was a key factor in terms of bringing in the human geneticists into the molecular stuff and people never give him credit for that. At the same time though, Jim is a very tough guy. And so his view of success is to have two bright people do the same thing and the one that wins is alive and the other one’s dead. So he’s always been that way and that’s how he ran the genome project. And so I was taught with The Molecular Biology of the Gene and I knew the book long before I knew Jim. But that it was by being introduced to Jim and to Cold Spring Harbor through Rick who was really very much an insider is when I got to know Jim. Because of radiation hybrid mapping that’s how Jim realized, I think, that I wasn’t an idiot and he would talk to me and that opened up for me a really wonderful relationship of basically how the DNA would be used in the context of medicine. And we had many discussions about that, general discussions, but specific discussions with respect to his own personal life and with respect to his son Rufus. And that actually had led to me to have very warm feelings to Jim about Jim. Because he is an extremely sensitive person, not just with respect to recognizing science, but with understanding the ethics of the genome project and to having it actually matter to people. So to watch Jim stand up in public and make statements which many people think are really outrageous, but he’s just telling the truth and given his stature in the scientific field he’s done a tremendous amount I think to have the genome project to have practical applications to human beings.

This is particularly true with respect to the ethics. So I’ve been on a number of ethics commissions I was on, President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Board. But I think if we had more people like Jim just telling it like it is and fewer people putting their heads in the sand or being afraid to talk about the real issues we’d be much further along with having genetics improving people’s lives.

David Cox received B.A. and M.S. degrees from Brown University and M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington. From 1980 to 1993, Dr. Cox held faculty positions in the Departments of Pediatrics, Biochemistry and Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. In 1993, he became Professor of Genetics and Pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine as well as the Co-director of the Stanford Genome Center.

Dr Cox was a co-founder of Perlegen, and has been Chief Scientific Officer of the Company since its formation in 2001. He has served on several international and national councils and commissions including the Council of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC). He presently serves as a member of the Health Sciences Policy Board of the Institute of Medicine. Dr Cox's honors include election to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cox was a member of one of the first groups to begin sequencing the human genome. His relationship with Watson developed from his interest in Cox’s innovative approach to sequencing, called radiation hybrid mapping.

He attended the 68th Cold Spring Harbor symposium to celebrate the completion of the rough draft of the human sequence.