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The Human Genome Project


My values
James Watson Scientist
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I gave this talk at the Double Helix Theatre in New York, probably the most effective public talk I've ever given in my life. It was about 10 days ago. And I started, you know, my first sentence was, like Barrack Obama I'm a product of the South Side of Chicago where, you know, books, birds and Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave us hope for the future and where four family values held us together during the Great Depression and World War II: pursuit of the truth; personal honesty; fair play towards other human beings; and civic responsibility to the less fortunate. Now that sort of summarizes what I think I am. So you know, pursuit of the truth is not what these academics want. Personal honesty – they're quite willing to be dishonest. I don't think they're showing true civic responsibility to the less fortunate. One out of every three black kids in New York City winds up in prison. That's a pretty high level. It wasn't true 50 years ago, we had a much more law-abiding black population. This Black Panthers and all that rap music, it's awful! This Kanye West, terrible man, glorifying, you know, criminals. So all you do is you, you know...

[Q] I would have said that the four points you made, there are others who would say the same thing, but it doesn't capture you as what distinguishes you from others, I think, is an intolerance for hypocrisy that distinguishes you. There are others that have those same views about honesty and so on, but the thing that makes you, I think, among many things, but one in this arena...

This was, you know how it was developed? The absolute hypocrisy of my Irish grandmother, who was just saying, just you know, things were good. The Irish were just totally hypocritical. Well, what was up? So you know, I just used to, the word hypocrisy I have was synonymous with my grandmother. She was very kind to me, she was, you know, there wasn't, it wasn't that, but it was just not... So these are things which go so deep in my childhood that were all there by, before I went to the University of Chicago and, but my father, he really was...

[Q] Did he have that as well?

Well, as I say in my book, he hated anti-Semites. So you know he really, he really liked people who pursued the truth.

American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson is probably best known for discovering the structure of DNA for which he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His long career has seen him teaching at Harvard and Caltech, and taking over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1988 to 1992, James Watson was head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. His current research focuses on the study of cancer.

Listeners: Walter Gratzer Martin Raff

Walter Gratzer is Emeritus Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at King's College London, and was for most of his research career a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. He is the author of several books on popular science. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and has known Jim Watson since that time

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 4 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2008 and October 2009

Date story went live: 18 June 2010