UCC removes name of nobel winner Dr James Watson from building over race comments

Dr James Watson

University College Cork has removed the name of a Nobel Prize winner from a building at its health campus following controversial comments about race.

The name of Dr James D Watson has been removed from a building at the Brookfield Health Campus with immediate effect. The building had been named after Dr Watson since 2016.

He has been stripped of a host of honorary titles after making racist remarks in a recent documentary.

Watson, now 90, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1962 alongside Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for their discovery, in 1953, that DNA is a double helix and "its significance for information transfer".

In a recent documentary film, Watson claimed there is a direct correlation between intelligence and race. It reflects comments he made in an interview with the Sunday Times in 2007.

In the PBS documentary 'American Masters: Decoding Watson', he said: "There’s a difference on the average between blacks and whites on IQ tests. I would say the difference is, it’s genetic.”

The comments prompted an outcry by UCC staff and the UCC Students' Union, prompting the university to consider removing Dr Watson's name from the building.

In 1997, he said: “If you could find the gene that determines sexuality, and a woman decides she doesn’t want a homosexual child, well, let her.” He has also been critical of women and said that “it would be great” if all girls were pretty.

In 2003 he said the Irish curse was not alcohol, but ignorance. "I grew up with that, where the Irish were, you know, not a serious people — blarney, full of blarney," said Professor Watson. "You can be real dumb or you can seem dumb because you don’t know anything — that’s all I’m saying. The Irish seemed dumb because they didn’t know anything."

Under its asset naming process, UCC reserves the right to revoke naming honours 'without consultation' in cases where the affiliation may be 'prejudicial' to the university's reputation.

That review is now complete, with Dr Watson's named removed with immediate effect.

Staff were informed of the change in an all-staff email by Professor John O'Halloran, deputy president and registrar off UCC.

“University College Cork (UCC) rejects the deplorable comments by Dr James D. Watson, expressed on the subject of ethnicity and genetics during the documentary, “American Masters: Decoding Watson”, that recently aired on the American public broadcaster, PBS. These comments are utterly incompatible with the mission and values of UCC," he said.

"Upon review of these statements, and following a recommendation of the University Asset Naming Group, UCC has taken the decision to rescind the name of the building at the Brookfield Health Sciences Complex, which was named after Dr Watson in 2016.

"UCC acknowledges Dr Watson’s scientific contribution, in particular, his research on DNA. However, his most recent statements, which invalidate the apology and retraction Dr Watson made in 2007, are irreconcilable with UCC’s core values of respect, diversity and equality.

"UCC wishes to thank the contribution of its staff and students on this issue."

The renaming of the building at the Brookfield Health Sciences Complex will 'occur together with the university community, under the established university process', the university has confirmed. In the interim, the building will return to being the Assert Centre.

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