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Scientist who discovered DNA disinvited by university because he once criticized Africa

Are you elderly? Have you ever said anything that looks racially problematic out of context?

If so, don’t count on the University of Illinois fulfilling its promise for you to speak on campus.

James Watson, who co-discovered the structure of DNA with Francis Crick and shared the Nobel Prize with him, got disinvited from giving a “narrowly focused scientific talk” at the university’s Carl Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, The News-Gazette reports.

He was just going to talk about his cancer research, but UI faculty threatened to protest his planned speech because of his past comments on race and intelligence (think Charles Murray), including that African populations have lower intelligence than other peoples:

The director of the National Institutes of Health, where Watson ran the Human Genome Project for years, called his comments “wrong from every point of view — not the least of which is that they are completely inconsistent with the body of research literature in this area,” according to news reports.

Watson apologized, saying he didn’t mean to characterize Africans as genetically inferior and that he was referring to geographically separated populations evolving differently. But he was suspended and later resigned from his post as longtime chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, though he retains ties to the lab.

MORE: Middlebury prof says her ignorant colleagues tried to shut down Murray

Kate Clancy, professor of biological anthropology, started tweet-threatening to disrupt Watson’s speech if the university let him visit, much like faculty at Middlebury College whipped their students into a frenzy when the social scientist Murray spoke there.

And it worked “within an hour,” according to the News-Gazette.

Institute Director Gene Robinson justified the snub to the News-Gazette based on “faculty concerns.” His earlier email to faculty “stated very clearly that we didn’t condone any of his past comments” and that Watson had apologized, but he caved anyway.

Campus Reform notes that the Chicago Tribune editorial board blasted the school for disinviting Watson, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, despite stating explicitly it disagreed with his past comments:

What a missed opportunity for this state’s flagship university. …

If you have even a passing interest in science, hearing about Watson’s epiphany is enough to send a shiver down your spine: This is human achievement of the grandest order. To anyone in the genetics field at the U. of I., the chance to listen to him speak on science would have been invaluable, maybe life-shaping. …

There’s a reflex on college campuses to shut down offensive or controversial speech as an affront to the community. … Harmony may be restored but at a cost, because universities should be places of discovery and dialogue. The wrong lesson is taught when disagreeable thoughts and people are banned.

Read the News-Gazette and Tribune articles.

MORE: Middlebury punishes six dozen students for Murray disruption

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