Universiteit Leiden

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Rectification PhD Research Day introduction

28 January 2021

A message from Jan Kolen

Dear all,
In my intro for the Annual PhD Research Day on Tuesday January 26, I briefly referred to James Watson – who was involved in the discovery of the structure of DNA in the early fiftees – and more particularly to his book “Avoid Boring People”. Although written is a somewhat arrogant style, I liked several of the tips and tricks for early career researchers that he explains there.
It was only during the meeting itself that I learned that James Watson has been accused quite recently of racist and sexist statements – and that the critiques are well-grounded. There were rumors before, some fifteen years ago, but he then apologized for ”misunderstandings” surrounding his opinions. But last year, again, the media reported that he repeatedly expressed racist and sexist comments about intelligence, for which he has now been stripped of his honorary titles.
So, this is -again- a bad example of an influential scientist with reprehensible and harmful convictions, allegedly “based” on his scientific observations. Racism and sexism do not belong in society, nor in science of course. It once again shows that scientists who have made fascinating discoveries or inventions may have inimitable or even dangerous convictions. Sorry, therefore, for referring to Watson and his ideas….in fact, he is anything but a source of inspiration for young (and old) researchers and scientists…
Jan (Kolen)

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