James Watson was a biologist credited with Nobel peace prize for his studies into DNA and its double helix structure. He believed that DNA was the key to understanding life and alongside partner Francis Crick he was able to give the world an exact model for the double stranded molecules of nucleic acid.
Ever since his findings, Watson has been awarded various accolades such as the president of the Cold Springs Harbour Laboratory in 2004 and Head of the Human Genome project in 1988.
The accolade central to this article is located in the centre of Portsmouth on the Guildhall walk and currently offering 710 beds to its residents. James Watson hall is an integral strand to the web of student accommodation around Portsmouth. Unite Students (the owning company) have boasted of James Watson’s superiority to the other student rooms around Portsmouth. The halls are popular with students for its modernised rooms and close proximity to the local nightclubs (always an instant hit).
However, the halls now carry a name that has been blemished by the scandal that has recently
arisen around James Watson. The DNA scientist hasn’t shied away from making his views about the superiority of white people’s IQ compared to black people’s being known. Watson claimed that, due to genetic disadvantage, the continent of Africa shows a poor chance of competing with the intellects of westernised societies. Consequently, the 90-year-old Nobel Prize winner has been stripped of honours he was given by the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in New York because of his comments.
The question that remains now, is why do Unite Students still choose to preserve the name of James Watson on their building? The widespread disgust at Watson’s claims have shattered his name in the scientific community. People offended by Watson’s claims may feel that Unite Students is advocating Watson’s misgivings by not changing the name of its building. It must be decided whether Watson’s monumental scientific breakthroughs in DNA research can oust this mark on his name.
The University of Portsmouth is an environment that welcomes all ethnic backgrounds. It is a blend of races, cultures and beliefs united in their aims to pursue higher education and craft a better life
for themselves. Modern universities like Portsmouth believe that a student can achieve whatever
they wish for in their lives with enough commitment and perseverance, no matter what odds
stand in their way.
It is a powerful message that conveys why the James Watson issue is so important. The university doesn’t advocate racial difference as an issue of extreme importance, but the words of James Watson counter that sentiment. To achieve the vision of an all-inclusive higher education environment, perhaps the university should publicly distance itself from Watson
as many of his former supporters have done. For now, as students we should choose what we
want to remember James Watson for. His scientific breakthroughs that helped us understand
DNA, or his beliefs on ethnic advantage.
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