ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

3 March 2003

Nobel laureate flags cure for stupidity
March 2 2003
The Sun-Herald

James Watson, the US biologist who won a Nobel Prize for his role in unlocking the structure of DNA 50 years ago, has advocated using genetics to "cure stupidity", in a documentary television series to be broadcast next month.

People of low intelligence who do not have a recognised mental disability are suffering from an inherited disorder as real as cystic fibrosis or haemophilia, Professor Watson says in the series, according to a report in a British newspaper.

In the series which starts this week, Professor Watson, 75, is sceptical of theories that blamed learning disabilities or poverty for poor intellectual performance and says the true cause of poor intelligence and achievement is more likely to be genetic.

"If you really are stupid, I would call that a disease. The lower 10 per cent who really have difficulty, even in elementary school - what's the cause of it?" Professor Watson asks.

"A lot of people would like to say, 'Well, poverty, things like that.' It probably isn't. So I'd like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10per cent," he says.

Professor Watson says it is unfair that some people receive less opportunity and warns that some will resort to genetic means.

He says children who are genetically enhanced by their parents will be the ones who dominate the world.

Turning to beauty, Professor Watson says this, too, could be engineered. "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great," he says.

Oliver James, a clinical psychologist and author, accused Professor Watson of "ropy thinking" about the balance between nature and nurture, saying the professor's ideas were "science fiction".

Tom Shakespeare, a bioethics expert at the University of Newcastle, told The Times newspaper: "He is talking about altering something that most people see as part of normal human variation, and that, I think, is wrong.

"I'm afraid he may have done more harm than good - his leadership of the Human Genome Project and his discovery of 1953 notwithstanding," Mr Shakespeare said.

Sir John Sulston, who ran Britain's contribution to the Human Genome Project, said Professor Watson was exploring an "extremely dangerous area", but he was not wrong to speak out.

"It is foolish to put our heads in the sand," Sir John said.

Professor Watson and Professor Francis Crick jointly received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1962, almost a decade after their discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA was published in April 1953.

The discovery itself was a couple of months earlier, on February 28.

"The discovery was made on that day, not slowly over the course of the week," Professor Watson once told the BBC.

"It was simple; instantly you could explain this idea to anyone," he said. "You didn't have to be a high-powered scientist to see how the genetic material was copied."

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