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How a Person Should Be Judged

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I consider Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. to be a friend, but I would like to clarify some of the points he raised in his interview with me ["Is He a Racist?" op-ed, July 11].

First, I don't believe now, nor have I ever believed, that the color of a person's skin, where a person comes from, a person's accent or any such human characteristic provides any indication whatsoever of that person's intelligence or potential to succeed in life. That's why I was so mortified and saddened, as Skip wrote, when a published report last year suggested a contrary view to those who don't know me. I immediately apologized publicly for a grievous misstatement of my views.

Second, as a biologist, I realize that all newly born human beings contain hundreds of new changes (mutations) in their DNA that create in many cases profound differences in their ability as individuals to move through life. In assessing other human beings, we should always treat them as individuals, never as members of any ethnic or racial group. Therefore, I agree with Skip that what finally counts is how well you perform in life at the tasks you as an individual have chosen to pursue.

Third, it's true that I am not against -- indeed, I strongly favor -- engaging in DNA research, especially the search to find the genes whose malfunction impairs brain functioning. My eldest son has a badly impaired working memory that prevents him from living an independent life. Examining his genetic makeup could enable us to better understand and help him. I wholeheartedly support moving toward such knowledge as fast as possible.

JAMES D. WATSON

New York

The writer received the 1962 Nobel Prize for medicine for his part in the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA.

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