If he could not be more useful in his lifetime, at least he could make amends for what he has done — or has not done.
James D. Watson, one of the grandfathers of DNA, wants to make that clear in his own mind and ultimately in the minds of others after announcing that proceeds of an upcoming auction of his Nobel Prize medal and other memorabilia will go to charity.
Christie’s estimates the medal will sell for US$2.5 million to U$3.5 million.
Watson’s notes for his Nobel acceptance speech could fetch up to US$400,000 and the manuscript for the lecture he gave the day after he received the medal about US$200,000 to US$300,000, according to the Financial Times.
In recent years, his 1962 Nobel achievement, which led to the booming science of genomics, has been overshadowed by controversy after he questioned black people’s I.Q. in a 1968 memoir, The Double Helix.
Many readers also accused him of ignoring the work of a female scientist, Rosalind Franklin, in the 1953 discovery of the DNA structure.
In a 2007 interview with The Sunday Times of London Magazine, he said he felt gloomy about 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”.
He also said that “people who have to deal with black employees” find that everyone was not equal.
Although he later apologized for the remarks, the outcry over them forced him to retire from his position as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.
Watson suggested the proceeds from the auction would allow him, if not to do penance, then to make up for lost time.
“As you can imagine, it is wonderful to be in a position to do great things, to make things happen,” he said in an e-mail.
“To have that, and then not, is disheartening. I think I could have been far more useful in this time.”
All the money from the auction will benefit institutions that had nurtured him such as the University of Chicago which he entered as a 15-year-old undergraduate; Indiana University where he received his Ph.D., and Cambridge and Cold Spring Harbor Lab where he did research.
He will keep a small amount for himself and his family.
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