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Decoding Watson

Meet James Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist behind the double helix as he confronts his complex legacy. With unprecedented access to Watson and his family, “American Masters: Decoding Watson” explores his life, achievements, controversies and contradictions.

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♪♪ O0 C1 O0 C1 -It's all for you.

-Yes.

-There he is -- the man of the hour!

-How are you?

-I'm fine. -Great to see you!

-Cheese.

-You have to smile for the cameras.

-Happy birthday! -How 'bout a good champagne?

-I discovered DNA through Jim Watson.

I took a class from him, and after one hour, that was it for me.

-Nancy! [ Laughs ] -I think he changed many people's lives that way.

-Jim Watson changed my life!

-He was clearly absolutely brilliant and very eccentric.

-Look.

-Oh, Jim! Mwah!

-I had to be here and look alive today.

-He was a genius who discovered the secret of life when he was 25 years old.

It burst on the scene. There it was.

Bang. Just there it was.

-You could see it would be revolutionary.

And, of course, it was.

-It's a discovery of a lifetime.

-It's certainly one of the greatest discoveries in science that's ever been made, and in biology, it ranks up there with Darwin and Mendel and then Watson and Crick.

-Well, I wanted to do something big.

That's all. [ Chuckles ] -This is the kind of scientist that people, in some ways, dream about, right?

Trying to discover something that people care about, would have a lasting impact.

There are sort of not too many people that I can think of that sort of had that moment.

-The structure of DNA was a monumental discovery.

It would have been hard for anyone, no matter how brilliant they were, to do another thing at that level.

-It was even more important than Darwin.

-There are many adjectives one could use to describe Jim Watson, and 'humble' is probably not the first to jump to your lips.

♪♪ -He's kind of the enfant terrible.

-Jim is a radical.

-He's an anarchist.

-Rules are there to be broken.

He's not afraid of that.

-The rebel against all standard thinking.

-He was so innovative. He had such vision.

And he was so full of intellectual energy and life.

But he upset too many people.

-You have gotten in trouble with what you say and what you write.

-Incredibly caustic, irresponsible things about women, about African-Americans, about whole categories of people.

-I don't know whether simply because you're the most candid person alive or whether you have no edit function in your brain.

-We've all heard the racist, sexist, eugenicist, you name it.

There's a risk to thinking about genes all the time.

-He loves throwing ideas out there that provoke people to push back against them.

-Sometimes telling the truth or just thinking the truth leads you into great difficulty, like, you know, Plato or, particularly, Galileo.

They gave him life imprisonment.

-There are, you know, two sides, and one you clearly can't understand, and the other embodies a person that you respect and interact with for how they engage science and how they think about a problem.

And they can't be reconciled.

-I think it's very hard to reconcile all the parts.

I don't think they really fit together very well.

And I think it's just part of the bundle of things that make up this complicated human being.

-People are enigmas.

We all are.

Some of us are just bigger enigmas in more different directions than others.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -I've had this prejudice since, you know, my 20s that genes really are important.

Oh, I think I'm a real old-fashioned believer in the paramount role of genes as opposed to environment.

Genes -- they make you what you are.

♪♪ I want to be known as both a writer and a scientist.

I might even be a mathematician.

Just some of my dreams.

You know, I like to believe that I've been successful for some of the genes that I probably shared with my relative Orson Welles.

-The DNA molecule might very well turn out to be the most important discovery in the whole history of medical science.

Imagine the implications to duplicate a human being genetically down to the last detail.

-'Citizen Kane' was sort of the most famous movie ever made, you know, so the double helix was the most famous piece of chemistry ever done.

-Using physical and chemical clues, scientists have been able to figure out how the DNA molecule looks in detail.

-Well, gee. What kind of stuff is DNA?

-It's who you are.

That very core of your being -- it's in your DNA.

It's in your genes.

If you're talking about the molecule of life, it has to be able to do an incredible number of things, right?

It has to exist in every cell.

It has to have enough diversity that, from that information, you can create an entire organism.

And it also has to be able replicate itself.

So, understanding the structure of the DNA molecule is really key to thinking about how all of these properties can exist in a single molecule.

-DNA is often called a double helix.

-It's two strands... -Kind of like a pair of spiral staircases.

-...like a twisting ladder.

-Those are DNA's backbones.

There's no information, per se, in the backbone.

What those backbones are supporting in between them... -The rungs of the ladder... -...that's what makes each of us genetically distinct.

-The whole of nature's instructions are printed in these four chemical letters.

-The rungs are called 'bases,' which are these little compounds... -There are four bases... -...adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine.

-...A, C, G, and T.

-And they bond together with hydrogen bonds.

-A always pairs with T.

C always pairs with G.

-We have four different puzzle pieces that you can arrange in any number of ways.

-If you change the sequence of bases, that can change the organism itself.

If you take those two strands and you pull them apart, you can rebuild a new second strand on each one of those, and you will have two identical copies of the original DNA molecule.

-That tells you how hereditary information is passed down to the next generation.

That's the central insight of the double helix.

♪♪ -I was born in Chicago on April 6, 1928.

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a clean, middle-class neighborhood.

My mother was very social.

She was a real social winner.

Everyone liked her.

She was unusually nice.

My father was shy, whereas I've never been shy.

You know, sometimes it's to the point of saying too much of the truth.

My parents believed that you just had to look after other people.

They saw the solution to many of our nation's problems should only be solved by the government as opposed to business.

My father had been an amateur birdwatcher, a very obsessive one.

Whenever there were birds around, we went out together and walked.

-Jim went to the University of Chicago at age 16.

He thought for a while he wanted to be an ornithologist.

-I thought probably I'll be teaching birds in a school like Montana.

I like Montana, so I wasn't in any sense dreading what my life was going to be.

Suddenly, I just saw something else grip me more.

-Schroedinger was a quantum physicist, and Schroedinger's book asked the question, 'What is a gene?'

-That was a really big thing.

That was maybe the biggest of all questions.

I read that in the spring of '46.

And I remember I said 'What Is Life?'

was more interesting than bird migrations.'

-Schroedinger basically presented life as a question of physics.

Physicists were very satisfied with themselves by the 1930s, and they had every right to be.

They had discovered particles like electrons and protons.

Physicists were able to unlock the energy inside of atoms that you could see in nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

There were all these amazing things that were happening with quantum physics, and they really started to feel like they were starting to find most of the forces and the particles in the universe.

And yet when they looked over at life... [ Baby crying ] ...they said, 'Wait a minute.

Like, we can't explain that.'

-This body -- what is it? How did it begin?

-The discovery of DNA itself as the hereditary material was not the discovery of Watson and Crick.

-About the time that Darwin published 'On the Origin of the Species,' a Swiss-German scientist named Friedrich Miescher was looking for a project, and his adviser said, 'See if you can find out anything about the nucleus.'

Miescher went down to the local hospital and got some bandages from patients and scraped off the pus because that was a great source of white blood cells and each one of those has a nucleus.

So he had a little vial of cell nuclei, ground them up, and did chemical tests on them.

And he discovered in the cell nucleus this new material.

He didn't know what it was.

He discovered DNA.

But DNA is not yet thought of as the material of genes.

It's still pus on a bandage.

We knew by about 1910 that genes were associated with chromosomes.

Chromosomes were known to be made of DNA and protein.

It wasn't clear which one was the hereditary material.

Protein is most of the interesting stuff that goes on in your body -- tissue, muscle, blood, sinew, organs.

Around the turn of the century, a number of people studied the biochemistry of DNA, found out that it has these four subunits.

Protein has 20 or more different building blocks.

So, it seemed obvious that protein as a more complicated molecule, so, probably, it was the material of the gene.

Then in 1944, out of left field came an experiment that changed the game.

-Avery, MacLeod, and McCarty did an eloquent experiment with the bacterium pneumococcus.

-The bacteria that caused pneumonia.

There were different strains of the bacteria, and one of those strains was virulent, meaning it caused the disease.

Then you had another form of the bacteria that was non-virulent.

-Oswald Avery showed that you could convert the benign form into the virulent form when the only thing exchanged was DNA.

-These bacteria -- when they divided, their descendants could be killers, too.

-This, therefore, was definitive evidence that DNA was the molecule of heredity.

-So, experiments like Avery's were making it clear that DNA was the stuff of genes, but that alone didn't tell you how they stored genetic information.

They didn't even tell you what DNA looked like.

-The Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge University was the most distinguished laboratory for physics in the world.

That's where Watson went.

-Francis Crick was a physicist who was turned biologist, and he just happened to be in the same office with Watson, and they struck up a conversation.

-Francis was, you know, the most intelligent person I met.

And Crick would have never focused on DNA if I hadn't been there.

-Crick had done amazing work in World War II, working with the military on different kinds of technology.

And so he was part of that generation that was trying to get their footing in the post-war world.

-He was just this larger-than-life personality, and, I think, was a great foil to Jim in the sense that they played off each other, but they understood each other at the same time, immediately.

It was like they could finish each other's sentences, I think.

-We liked each other.

Yeah.

You know, I didn't adore him or anything like that, but, uh... I couldn't get enough of him.

-Their relationship was driven by mutual competition.

They were always competing against each other.

And that was part of what made them close friends.

That was part of what made them push so hard to get that structure.

-Sometimes when you see two names linked together, you know that one person did all the work.

But I think Watson and Crick was -- you know, we were equal.

-In the late 1960s, Watson decides that he wants to tell his own personal story about discovering the structure of DNA in 1953.

-I mean, it was a great story.

It would be nice if we could write it up.

I was relieved when Francis had no intention of getting involved in it.

And I guess you have to say it was a chance to really show I was, in some way... better than Francis.

-'The Double Helix' is kind of a prototype of telling the story of how science really works, which was extremely controversial at the time.

♪♪ -Here was an account that was actually exciting to read.

With characters and competitions and stories and bad guys and good guys.

-There's a tremendous amount of science packed into those 107 pages, but he tells the science story by talking about what was driving the people.

-Science was usually portrayed in a very gentlemanly way.

You were polite to your colleagues.

You did not badmouth them.

You never said that their ideas were screwy.

Watson said, 'It's not gentlemanly.

It's rowdy, and it's fun, and it's rude.'

-Generally, as soon as I finished a chapter, I would always show it to someone -- generally, a girl.

-One day he had something he wanted to show me, and it was a draft of 'The Double Helix.'

And he couldn't resist looking to see what the reaction was gonna be to these pretty outrageous -- some of the outrageous things he said.

I thought, 'Wow, this is the best science book I've ever read,' you know?

I just thought it was just thrilling.

-'I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood.'

The first sentence, I, you know, would say that was the essence of the book.

When I had the first sentence, I had a point of view.

-Rather than thinking of it as you're looking through transparent glass window into 1952-53, 'this is the way it was,' think of it as looking through glass darkly, through a distorting lens.

You can't think of it as a direct look into the past.

-In many ways, 'The Double Helix' is a nonfiction novel.

It tells a basically true story, but it fictionalizes the characters, including Watson himself.

-The outsider comes in, shakes everybody up, and just shows them how it's done.

-I think Francis Crick, the brilliant loudmouth who spends more time solving other people's problems than doing his own.

-He dominated any room he was in.

-Maurice Wilkins, a researcher at King's College, was trying to use X-rays to figure out the structure of DNA.

He was very reserved, very, very, very British.

-Dr. Maurice Wilkins lives with his family in Blackheath in South London.

Dr. Wilkins, what do you actually do?

-The main thing in my kind of scientific work is to be able to fiddle with a thing, go on fiddling with it, and fiddle, fiddle.

-He's the kind of person that you think would have been dabbling around with this forever.

-DNA belonged to Wilkins, even though he wasn't necessarily making any progress on it.

-Maurice Wilkins was not very effective, you know?

He doesn't come out... good in the story.

-At the time, Maurice was working under a man called Randall.

-John Randall, the head of the lab... -Randall took the project away from Maurice Wilkins.

-The decision was to bring in Rosalind Franklin to work on his project with his student on his DNA.

-Rosalind Franklin, in her 20s, became a real master of X-ray crystallography -- to use X-rays to figure out the structures of complicated molecules.

Franklin was not a biologist, and she was very frank about that.

She did a lot of work for years on coal, so she was actually able to figure out the very complicated structure of coal.

Franklin got hired with the understanding that she would be studying the structure of DNA.

Well, nobody told Wilkins.

[ Laughs ] And nobody told Franklin that Wilkins was already studying DNA.

-I mean, that was unbelievable that that happened.

-He starts to treat her as if, like, she's his assistant, and Rosalind Franklin was not the sort of person to be treated as an assistant.

She was very tough and wasn't gonna take guff from anybody.

And Wilkins clearly did not know how to deal with a strong woman.

-In 'The Double Helix,' she's represented in almost an entirely negative light.

Like, if this were a fairy tale, she might be some kind of a witch who is holding on to the treasure and she won't let it go.

-Throughout the book, he uses the name 'Rosy' to refer to Rosalind Franklin.

In her own biographies, it is made very clear that she found that name an insult.

-He said if she had wanted to, she could have looked really pretty, as though, number one, she should have, and, number two, she didn't, and, number three, if she really put effort into it, that's the thing that's really important.

-Outside the Franklin that Watson knew, if you followed her to one of her weekends in Paris, you would see a very, very different woman.

-The book was controversial because of the way Jim wrote about people.

There are a lot of passages in the book that are just insulting.

♪♪ He could have written a book about his personal experiences in the discovery of the structure of DNA without doing that to people that he worked with.

-I knew people would say, 'You can't tell.

It'll upset people.'

Finally, it upset Francis.

Then he objected to the president of Harvard.

-It was getting published by Harvard University Press, and they wouldn't publish it, partly because they were getting communications from Crick and Wilkins saying, 'Don't do this.'

-Francis wrote a letter to the president of Harvard or told the head of the press, 'I don't want to get between two wild men.'

-Francis Crick wouldn't talk to him for years after that came out.

But it was a best seller.

-It's on the list of top 100 books in the American history of literature.

-And every history of DNA since then starts with Watson's book.

-Well, it takes all kinds of scientists to make science.

-Most scientists work in a laboratory.

It's like cooking.

You know, you're following recipes, and you're doing experiments, and you get results, and you look at the results, and that changes your thinking.

Jim, on the other hand, used the results of everybody else.

-I was never really a lab person.

Francis said I was always off working with my hands, and I suspect I am.

I like to think about other people's data.

I found that there's actually a role for people who just think about other people's data.

-'Impresario' is actually a great word for Jim.

-He created a vibrant department of molecular biology at Harvard.

-He liked having people in his lab whom he could shape and mold.

-It was a bunch of rag-tag, kind of offbeat characters who came together to make the science.

-It was the beginning of molecular biology, and it was a time when nobody had been trained.

We were the first people to be trained as molecular biologists.

-You knew when you heard him that you were at the start of a revolution in understanding, and you felt as if you were part of this tiny group of people who had seen the light.

[ Bell tolling ] -Until DNA came along, the big idea in biology was evolution.

What was the tree of life?

How did it branch and so on?

-He wanted to displace these evolutionary biologists and replace them with molecular biologists, so he was going into war.

-Basically, evolution was the top dog, and I went there and said, 'I'm the top dog.'

DNA was more important than evolution.

-He didn't care, I guess, if people disliked him.

He didn't care because he knew he was right.

If he had to upset somebody to do it, well, so what?

That didn't bother him at all.

In fact, he kind of got a kick out of it.

-You can't go through life not making enemies and accomplish great things.

You have to have the courage that something is better than something else.

-When it was time to decide which lab I should work in to do my thesis work, I actually went along to a very famous professor at Harvard and asked whether I could work in his lab, and he looked at me and said, 'But you're a woman.

You'll get married. You'll have kids.

What will be the good of your having done a science degree then?'

And I made it out of his office before I burst into tears, and I went to my second thesis adviser choice.

-Joan came and said, 'Can I work for you?'

And, uh, of course I said yes.

-And it wasn't until several months later that I realized I was the first woman to whom he had ever said, yes, I could come be a graduate student in his lab.

-I myself wondered, 'Can women be scientists?

There don't seem to be many.'

All these people winning the Nobel Prize were men.

And I think one of the things that was so wonderful about Jim's support for a young person -- it didn't cross my mind -- he never made me feel, 'Oh, you're a woman, and I don't know if you can do this.'

He never made me feel that.

If he was interested in you, if he believed in you, if he thought you could do it, then he supported you.

-I always found women made labs more interesting.

I wanted as many women as possible, you know, as long as they were highly intelligent.

-He confesses to have a penchant for pretty girls, and he doesn't -- he'll say it to anybody, and he certainly said it to me, you know, many, many, many times.

-I think one forgets that this man was only 35 years old when I met him.

For people of that age, whether they're men or women, sex is certainly on people's minds.

-I knew I was gonna be very famous, but it didn't necessarily mean I'd ever get a girlfriend, and if you're an unmarried young man, that's what you think about.

You want a girlfriend.

♪♪ -I worked for him in his office.

I was actually a math major at that time.

I started in my sophomore year.

I had just turned 18 that summer.

There must have been something really deep down that I couldn't have described that made me like him.

So, I made a mental note at the end of the job interview that I would marry him.

-We had one date at the end of summer, and then I took her to a sort of faculty party.

Ask her.

-At the end of the year, he took me to a cocktail party, and -- I don't know -- I had gin and tonics.

And then he walked me back to the dorm, and I said, 'Dr. Watson, it was really fun working for you this year,' and then he said to me, 'Well, I hope you'll work for me next year, too.'

So, that way, I knew he liked me.

But he didn't really know how much I liked him.

-You know, I didn't have a series of 20 important girlfriends.

I didn't have any important girlfriend ever.

And really never was with girls very much until I married Liz.

-People knew that he was looking for a wife, I think.

But we never saw any evidence of a girlfriend.

-It wasn't a very public romance.

-She was just 18, and I was then 38.

-So I think -- I don't just think it.

I've heard Jim say it.

It was unseemly.

Our dates my junior year consisted of a movie, a concert, a cocktail party or two, and sharing the same bed.

[ Laughs ] That's about it.

-[ Grunts ] [ Grunts ] Oh!

I'm too slow.

-Yeah, you got to go for the winner.

That's what Dr. Watson likes to do.

-You have to go for winners in science, too, you know?

[ Chuckles ] ♪♪ ♪♪ -Linus Pauling was this great chemist.

Jim saw him as the competition.

-In a sense, when you're working on the same problem as someone else, you're at war with each other.

-Why did he want to find out the structure of DNA?

Is it to help humankind?

Is it to advance human knowledge?

No, it's 'cause he wanted to get it first.

He wanted to beat Pauling.

-Linus Pauling, by the early 1950s, had already established himself as perhaps the finest chemist in the world.

-If we want to understand the human body, we must know its structure.

-I guess both of us at that time -- our thoughts were dominated by Linus Pauling, a great chemist who was going to solve biology, and -- -Had you met Linus by this time?

-He smiled at me. -He smiled at you once?

-The story to me was the race with Pauling.

Who was gonna win the race with Pauling?

-In 'The Double Helix,' Linus Pauling is Goliath... the lion in the room.

[ Applause ] The dark-horse team of Watson and Crick are going to try to bring down the giant.

Pauling didn't know that he was racing against this guy.

He probably didn't even know who Jim was.

-Well, one day, Watson gets the news that he never wanted to hear.

Linus Pauling had proposed a structure for DNA.

-Of course, we were upset. -We were really on tenterhooks.

-The question was, could it be right?

-Pauling was claiming that it had three backbones.

-A triple helix.

-Three backbones -- that's wrong.

-The structure was so awful.

It was chemically impossible.

[ Laughs ] -Very embarrassing for the great Linus Pauling to make a rookie error, and so Watson thought as soon as everybody starts pointing out to Pauling what a dumb mistake he made, he would just go at the DNA problem with everything he had and then he would crack it 'cause he's Linus Pauling.

-The way Watson tells it, he had been down to King's College London to tell Franklin and Wilkins, 'Look, the great Linus Pauling got it wrong!'

-Linus wasn't gonna wait.

Someone at Caltech was bound to tell Linus he was wrong.

-He had seen Franklin's lab door open and gone in.

♪♪ Franklin didn't like that.

She was very private, and Watson kind of barged in on her.

She didn't like the interruption.

And the way he tells it, he got a little cocky.

♪♪ Franklin just blew up at him.

-She came toward me, and I thought she was going to hit me.

I quickly got out, at which point Maurice was coming around, and she almost hit Maurice.

-Oh, God. Who hit who?

I don't think anybody hit anybody, actually.

Some people may have thought someone was gonna hit somebody.

-Wilkins and Watkins were decompressing after that, both sort of panting and sweating, and Wilkins said, 'By the way, I got something to show you.'

♪♪ -Maurice opened a drawer and took out a photograph, and, boy, I could hardly believe it.

-Photograph 51 is quite extraordinary.

-This was the best X-ray photograph of DNA ever taken.

Wilkins couldn't take X-ray pictures that good.

He knew that.

-Franklin was probably the only person in the world good enough at what she did to take those pictures.

-Raymond Gosling, who had worked with Franklin in creating the picture, gave Wilkins that photograph.

-An X-ray picture is not a simple picture like a photograph.

-You can't interpret it just by looking at it.

-When a X-ray strikes the molecule, the waves of the X-rays can squeeze in between the atoms, and when they come out the other side, their directions are deviated.

-What it is is the pattern of X-rays bouncing off the molecules.

-You could tell there were these two strands of DNA that are wound around each other.

That's what you can get from X-ray crystallography.

What you can't get is what's the chemistry that's driving that structure.

-Watson just sort of, like, looked at Photograph 51 and got an idea of the structure that could explain it and then went off and built a model.

-Watson and Crick built models. That was their approach.

-I cut some things out of cardboard, and so made the right shapes and pasted things on which would indicate hydrogen atoms.

-There's a lot of audacity in saying, 'This can be figured out just by making models of it.'

-It was theory, you know, what might this molecule be like?

What kind of structure might work?

What would be plausible?

-It's a hugely high-risk, low-probability approach to science.

-And Franklin just thought this was ridiculous.

-It's as if they were moving towards the problem from different directions.

-She felt that the data had to speak for itself.

She wanted to continue making excellent measurements.

-Picture after picture after picture after picture, and then you sit down and then you think about it and then you work out an idea for the structure.

She herself was getting pretty close to figuring out the structure of DNA.

-But she's not gonna publish anything until, like, it's ready to take it to the bank.

-You know, Rosalind Franklin had that famous photograph for eight months and never concluded it was the helix.

You know... it's just stupid!

-She was very devoted to hard evidence.

She didn't want to make any claim for anything without hard evidence.

And part of that may be because she was a female scientist.

-This idea of having to hold so close the work that you're doing and the scrutiny that it might get since you are female -- I could relate to this idea that I'm gonna keep everything very close until it can be checked a thousand times over before I share it.

-I think we all know that if you're from a marginalized group and you make a mistake, that could be the end of your career, whereas, you know, if you're from a privileged group and you make a mistake, 'Eh.'

-Well... she -- she just botched it.

She basically threw me out of her office when I said DNA is a helix.

So, you know, she was -- she was pig-headed.

-She had this gorgeous data, a beautiful, essential piece of data, but she was, um, isolated.

-The men obviously had a network because it was a men's kind of job.

The men were free to interact, to listen, and they were in their boys' club, and without that, nothing would have happened.

-They talk about the discussions over lunch every day... -I remember this conversation was in the dining room of our house.

We were sitting in a pub.

-...you know, walking to play tennis.

-I met him a little later in the tea queue at the Cavendish.

-And so if you're not part of those discussions, it makes it a lot harder.

-Watson's great strength was his ability to synthesize the various observations surrounding DNA such that he could work out the structure of DNA.

-And the next morning, I came in and started playing with models, and then I discovered that you could put adenine and thymine together in exactly the same way you could put guanine and cytosine together.

-Jim realized that the shape of an A-T base pair and a G-C base pair was exactly the same.

-Everything from then on was clear.

♪♪ ♪♪ -February 28, 1953, is the day that they solved the structure of the double helix.

-Crick was famous for walking into the Eagle bar and saying, 'We've discovered the secret of life!'

-We used to occasionally, just Jim and I, just sit and look at the molecule and think how beautiful it was.

And I remember an occasion when Jim gave a talk to a little bar physics club we had.

It's true they gave him one or two drinks before dinner.

It was rather a short talk because all he could say at the end was, 'Well, you see, it's so pretty.

It's so pretty.'

-You see a lot of stuff about the Nobel Prize and rivalry with Pauling in 'The Double Helix.'

I actually think their motivation was purer than is actually portrayed.

I think they were thinking, 'We've got an intuition about what's important in biology, and we're gonna carry that forward.'

I don't think they were thinking, 'Nobel Prize.'

-I think you could say within five seconds we knew we should have a Nobel Prize.

Well, we got the Nobel Prize in 1962, so that was nine years after the discovery.

It was Francis and I and Maurice Wilkins.

And you could say, 'Well, what did he do to deserve a Nobel Prize?'

But, in fact, we couldn't have done it if Wilkins hadn't started it.

-Maybe had there been more of a collaborative environment, then everyone might have made it to the finish line together.

-Rosalind was bright.

She had all the intelligence you need to solve the problem.

She just didn't make friends easy.

-If she had had a real friend who was intelligent, they would have probably told her on a couple of occasions, 'You're an ass.'

-Later, much later, the myth had arisen that Jim Watson and Francis Crick had stolen her work, which is basically nonsense.

-Watson did not break in to Franklin's office and pilfer photographs.

-Wilkins showed it to Watson without Rosalind Franklin's knowledge.

-Wilkins showed it to me 'cause he was so frustrated that Rosalind wasn't following up her X-ray picture.

You shouldn't look at it until you get permission, but you can't see something so potentially exciting without thinking about it.

I would just say that's against human nature.

-He didn't steal it, you know, but he didn't acknowledge it.

That's the point.

I mean, normally in science, you acknowledge the data you get.

And probably he should have contacted her and asked, right, 'Are you happy if we use it?'

This is clearly unethical behavior in science.

-By modern scientific standards, we would have actually considered this an example of scientific malfeasance.

Showing another scientist's data without their permission is not something that's allowed today.

But in that climate, under those circumstances, it wasn't considered that.

-When a woman made a scientific discovery, it often was not credited to her.

She wasn't valued in the same way that men were who made that.

Women's scientific discoveries didn't even belong to them, really.

They were just there for the taking.

They belonged to the air.

-If we didn't exist, then she would be the most famous woman scientist ever to live.

So, that's a big loss that women don't have her.

-Of course, the greatest tragedy of why she couldn't have been nominated for the Nobel Prize was the fact that she died before the structure of DNA was considered for a Nobel Prize.

-She died of cancer at a very young age, well before they got the Nobel Prize, and probably died in part because of the science she was doing that involved X-rays and radiation.

-Jim used to say science is a young person's game.

And, you know, he discovered the double helix at the age of 25, won the Nobel Prize at a very young age, and most people would have sat on their laurels.

Jim didn't.

He came here because I think he wanted to run his own shop, if you will and have a direction and an influence.

-I think except when I'm playing tennis.

I spend my whole life thinking.

That's all I want to do.

-This is a place where you can set the stage for what's going on in science.

-My own desire was to understand cancer viruses and then probably understanding cancer genes as fast as possible.

I had seen my father's younger brother die of melanoma, and, you know, it's awful.

Oh, Matt, we shouldn't have waited till the drug gets approval.

You know, that could be another year from now.

And I have a self-interest in trying to explain to them that, you know, I'm still alive.

Even though I will soon be 90, I'm trying to be at the frontier.

-Jim was one of the scientists, very prominent scientists -- he had already won a Nobel Prize -- who was working on trying to influence Congress but particularly the president on putting much more funding into cancer... -We are here today for the purpose of signing the Cancer Act of 1971.

-...now known as the so-called 'war on cancer.'

-We don't have to tell House and Senate members how to get in the picture.

[ Laughter ] -To my amazement, all of a sudden, Jim was going to start a whole lab devoted to understanding cancer at the molecular level.

-Even before the DNA structure, I was conscious that, probably, cancer was a genetic disease that ran in families, so I thought cancer would be understood through DNA analysis.

-And he needed more resources than he could get at Harvard, so he was gonna go to Cold Spring Harbor.

-You know, I've always loved Cold Spring Harbor.

I had come here at the end of my first year of graduate school, and I was 20 years old.

It had been the first place for genetics in the United States.

-Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory was founded in 1890, and for 60 years, it was funded by Andrew Carnegie's foundation.

Huge, important work done here.

But when the Carnegie Foundation pulled out, the laboratory was almost broken.

In fact, almost closed.

-The plumbing didn't work. The lawns were overgrown.

The paint was peeling.

It was on the verge of bankruptcy.

-When it began to fail, I didn't want to see it fail.

-One of Jim Watson's goals has been the directorship of the Cold Spring Harbor Biological Laboratories on Long Island.

-Jim took over the lab.

In November of 1967, hubby-pie Watson brought me to Cold Spring Harbor on our honeymoon.

He said he would run Cold Spring Harbor Lab for three years, and if he hadn't built up an endowment for the lab, he'd just go back to Harvard.

-He started courting the neighbors and getting donations.

He is actually pretty good at currying favor with rich people and powerful people.

He learned to be a little odd, to say funny things, and they like him better.

There's this piece of Watson lore that everybody knows.

-That he sometimes purposefully untied his shoes before he entered a room.

-Before he'd go in, he would stop and mess up his hair and untie his shoelaces.

-The untied shoelaces.

-He'll deliberately untie his shoes and mess up his hair so he's the stereotypical mad scientist as he goes to meet with them.

-To give them what they were paying for.

-He wouldn't do it on purpose.

You know, he's an absent-minded scientist.

I imagine it's in his DNA.

-Jim stormed in to Cold Spring Harbor and went to work with unbelievable energy.

Suddenly, it was vibrant. It was growing.

-Under his leadership, Cold Spring Harbor became a focus for molecular genetic research at a world level.

-I was giving my job interview here, and, at some point, I realize there's somebody yawning extremely loudly in the first row... [ Yawns ] ...throughout my talk.

And so I realize, 'Oh, this is Jim.'

He was trying to say that, 'You know, this cancer stuff that you're presenting is so boring.

Give me something that actually matters and makes a difference.'

-There are very few institutions in the world that have such a big influence.

I mean, we've got DNA money sent to us in Singapore and China and Vienna and around the United States.

You know, just on Long Island alone, we educate 32,000 kids a year.

-In our school, we had the Meeting of the Minds Project... -Yeah. -...which is basically where people dress up as someone.

Like, my brother did Beethoven, and I did you.

-Oh. We should get a picture together.

Say, 'DNA.'

-DNA!

♪ I got, I got, I got ♪ I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA ♪ -Watson has been DNA's front man for 50 years.

That's because of the 'Double Helix' book.

That's because of his work at Cold Spring Harbor.

[ Applause ] -James Watson.

[ Cheers and applause ] -He made DNA 'DNA.'

-Dino DNA.

♪♪ -Even if you don't know anything about genetics, you can say, 'Oh, it's in his DNA.'

-Sometimes I feel like I have comedy in my genes.

-If you want to find out who you are, you can get your DNA sequenced.

-Jewish?! -So now, all of a sudden, people have a molecule that they can put all of their beliefs about heredity on.

-I wanted to marry somebody smart so my kids would be smart.

I got a phone call from my gynecologist, and he said, 'Well, the future president of the United States is on his way.'

In the winter of '70, Rufus was born.

-Everyone was in agreement that Rufus was pretty bright, and I was very pleased, because, you know, for a while, he would go birdwatching with me, and we had some relationship.

-Jim used to use the expression 'A bad roll of the genetic dice,' and, in fact... ...genetically, Rufus did -- he was dealt a bad hand.

-My son was damaged at birth.

He was having difficulty interacting with people when he was 3.

When he was 10 years old, he began to have some sort of social problems.

The school suggested we take him to a local child psychologist, and we had and, uh, just hoped it would all disappear.

-In 10th grade, he had a full-blown psychotic event at Exeter, and they sent him home.

-He came home, and we put him in the local high school, and three days later, he took himself into the World Trade Center, where he went to the top with the hope of ending his life.

-We realized that Rufus was very, very, very ill.

-They said he had sort of abnormalities which you frequently find in schizophrenia.

-I had never seen Jim weep before or since in his life, and, you know, this kind of emotion is not something that I'm used to seeing from Jim, you know?

He wanted Rufus cured, and I just wanted Rufus to feel loved.

You know, that's the difference.

Moms tend to be -- They just want to love their children, and men try to fix things.

-I don't want to, in any sense, be ashamed of him, which I am not.

You know, he's really a very lovable child, you know, and he's a nice person, as well as being very bright.

-Now, in this -- in this series, I mean, obviously, I'll be labeled as a schizo, right?

I mean, that would be truth in advertising right?

My dad will tell people, 'Oh, my son Rufus -- he's bright, but he's mentally ill,' whereas I think of it as the opposite.

I think I'm dim but not mentally ill.

And so -- -No, it's unfair. You're the kind of person that -- that, uh -- that Pop has, like, fought for his, like, whole career.

-Much human disease has a genetic origin.

It's likely that mental illness is not caused by one gene, but there may be hundreds if not thousands of them, and so I would like to know, where did his DNA go wrong?

-Good evening. History will mark this day as a milestone in medicine and science.

Researchers have decoded the human genome.

That's the sequence of billions of DNA fragments that are the recipe for humankind.

-The seeds of the Human Genome Project were essentially sewn on February 28, 1953, when Watson and Crick walked into the pub and Crick said, 'We've discovered the secret of life!'

-We have about 22,000 genes.

Working out what each of these does, we'll find out what we are.

-In 1986, Jim Watson had organized the famous Cold Spring Harbor Symposium here at Cold Spring Harbor on the human genome.

-It was really mental illness that was the reason why I was so keen to get it started.

-Jim didn't actually get to go to that session because Rufus had run away the night before, and Jim and Liz were out hunting for Rufus.

-He brought the world's most influential human geneticists together, and he decided to have an afternoon of discussion about whether we really should sequence the human genome, because there was a lot of opposition from very prominent scientists.

-The scale was outrageously beyond anything that seemed achievable, so it was only people who were willing to think way outside of reality that could develop enough momentum to make it happen.

-A small group of us came together and asked, 'Okay, if this was going to happen, who should be the person who leads it?'

And we all agreed Jim Watson.

It's obvious. It's perfect.

It's so poetic.

-Jim saw the end game.

He saw that he could go from discovering the double helix to having, in his lifetime, a sequence of the human genome.

He had that confidence again that we could do it even though we didn't know how to do it.

-And then there got to be this tense disagreement about patenting.

-Tonight's 'Eye on America' takes you to the frontiers of science news -- locating the 100,000 genes.

Can those who discover it all patent and own it?

-His boss was Bernadine Healy, who supports the patent.

-She's Clint Eastwood in suits and high heels -- dressed for tea, ready for combat.

-Jim Watson was emotionally violently opposed to that.

-She was a highly intelligent woman who I just thought doesn't know as much as I do, and she acts as if she does.

-He said, 'No. DNA is very special.

It's the storage and transmission medium of biological information, so you can't patent it.'

But you know what? She's his boss, and they're on opposite sides of this patenting thing, but they're on opposite sides of a lot of things.

The patent story became a very public controversy, and in a way, one of them had to lose.

-Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you, God?

-Some of us have a governor on what we decide we're going to articulate that we might be thinking but maybe wouldn't think it's time to say it.

Jim's governor was perhaps a little harder to perceive.

And there were times when he would, in a very blunt way and a dismissive way, offend people.

And he, I gather, called her a lunatic, not once but more than once, in front of open microphones.

-Not a good way to make friends and influence people.

-Jim has a penchant for opening his mouth and sticking his foot in it.

-What I call 'foot in mouth disease.'

He got himself in a lot of trouble a few times.

-I'm just not afraid to say what I think.

-He and Dr. Healy had a history, so they didn't come into this with a warm and fuzzy relationship.

She basically had it and said, 'We're done with you, and if you don't resign, we will figure out a way to get you out of here that won't be pretty.'

-In March 1992, he sends in his resignation.

It was a dark day.

This project was barely out of the gates.

This is like a baby still in the crib.

And Daddy just left.

Jim certainly had offended a fair number of people, and it was necessary for me to do some repairs there.

But I benefited greatly by the fact that he was the initiator of a lot of what I then got to take on.

[ Applause ] We declared victory of the completed Human Genome Project goals in April of 2003.

♪♪ -I don't think the genome program would have come up with any answer for my condition.

I mean, my dad was successful, so I always assumed that I would be successful at what I tried to do.

-Yeah, me too. You make that assumption.

You kind of grow up and you think, 'Wow,' you know?

'This Watson -- this is family thing, right?

He's extraordinary, and, you know, it's my genetic destiny.'

And then, at a certain point, you know, I started to -- 'Oh, gee, I wonder when I'm gonna have my big ideas or something.'

And then, you know, that passed pretty quickly.

-I thought that I'd be smart, but, you know, it wasn't until I became aware of how dim I was that I thought, 'Well, this is strange because my dad's not dim.'

Then I thought, 'Well, I'm a burden on my parents because he's successful, and doesn't he deserve a successful child because he's worked hard, and, if you believe in karma, then he should have earned himself a successful son.'

♪♪ But, Pop, do you still consider yourself a scientist?

-Yes.

I'm probably still the best scientist here in Cold Spring Harbor.

♪♪ -He came here when he was 20, and it's been his whole life.

-In an important way, Cold Spring Harbor is Jim Watson, and he's very, very devoted to the place.

♪♪ I would say that it is one of the things that he probably feels he's gonna be most remembered for.

♪♪ -Scientists on both sides of the Atlantic are now up in arms over comments quoted from the biologist and Nobel Laureate James Watson.

-Watson sparked a furor when the UK's quoted him saying, 'I'm inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa,' adding, 'All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says not really.'

-In 2007, he made... ...some very unfortunate comments about race and intelligence.

-It was like a bomb going off on campus, so, uh... it sent everything kind of spinning.

-I thought, 'Whoa. This is not good.

I mean, what's happened, you know?

Where's the Jim I knew?'

-And that wasn't all.

Watson was quoted as saying he hopes everyone is equal but 'People who have to deal with black employees find this not true.'

-He said anyone who has had black employees knows that this is not the case.

Right. Just put the little... dig right in there. Yeah.

-Tonight the Nobel Laureate's job at a prestigious laboratory is on the line and his reputation is badly bruised.

Are there any studies or any tests that support his statement?

I mean, what is he talking about?

-Well, he is talking about a literature that developed over the 20th century in basic IQ testing that does show a result of persons of European descent and persons of East Asian descent in the United States and also across Europe and Asia scoring higher on IQ tests than persons of African descent.

Now, one has to be very careful, however, about imputing a meaning to the differences in the results, particularly a genetic meaning.

The most obvious causal factor that would be accounting for the differences in IQ test scores would be the physical environment that the two groups live in.

In the United States, European-Americans and African-Americans have never lived in the same social, environmental, economic, and physical environments, and, hence, any outcome from those tests cannot be ascribed to genetic sources.

-The brain, it's a device.

Yes, the genes make the device, but what it's capable of doing depends on having good nutrition and 8 trillion things we don't begin to understand.

-Furthermore, it's not agreed upon by psychologists that IQ tests are actually really measuring intelligence.

-Were you surprised to hear Dr. Watson making these comments?

I mean, there is a history here of this man making some very controversial statements.

-Well, in Watson's case here, he's really talking about things, personal beliefs and biases that he has that he'd to be true and that there's really no scientific evidence for, and I find that irresponsible.

I'm the first person of African-American descent to have ever earned a PhD in evolutionary biology.

And when I was interviewed by Anderson Cooper, I tried to maintain the scientific high ground and not in the interview, um, give to the viewing audience the pain that I feel every time I read these words about how, because of my genetic heritage, I can't be or am not as good a scientist as Watson was.

-For me, personally, he stands for -- in my world, stands for critical, radical thought, and, you know, how you can go back to a... old, rooted notion, um... that has nothing to do with critical thinking today -- I don't know. I really don't know.

-It's not science-based, and that's what makes you concerned that, 'What happened to cause him to say it?'

-We had been in the habit of taking gap-year kids from England.

-And Jim and Liz had a young woman who was staying with them for a year who worked at the laboratory, she went back and became a journalist.

-Somehow, she got herself the job of writing a profile of him.

-And he gave an interview.

-And, unfortunately, she had her tape recorder running, which, um, I doubt my husband was aware of the fact that she had it running.

He said, 'Why don't you come with me to the tennis game, and we can talk in the car?'

-Yeah, I was trying to keep the girl amused as I drove her back from watching me play tennis.

That's it. [ Laughs ] So, what really concerned me was how my tennis was.

From the moment I read it, I knew I was in deep [bleep] -It was picked up in the British press, and then it just blew up in a few days.

-Well, you get into trouble. You can't control yourself.

I mean, but sometimes we don't know.

I mean, just take the race stuff that -- Africa and Europe. -Yeah.

-The question still is how could someone as smart as you are say what you did?

-Oh, I was saying something to a girl.

I never thought of her as a reporter.

She lived in our house for a year.

-Well, that doesn't make any difference.

-I was treating her like a daughter, and -- -That doesn't make any difference, either.

Did you think the thought?

-Sure, I thought the thought, whether it was right or wrong.

I didn't think it appropriate ever to say it in public.

-Right.

-I never expected this woman who lived with us for a year would write an article which would make me despised by so many people.

I regret it.

I can't erase it by now saying I never meant what I said.

-I just -- We were devastated.

I really can't remember 'cause it was really bad.

That's all I can think of.

-Do you recognize it was off? -Oh, God, yes.

Instantly, I saw... You know, this is the worst trouble ever in my life... -Exactly. It was. -...because it hurt people, and I didn't intend to hurt people, and it implied that some people I work with I have poor impressions of.

I don't.

-I had calls from Washington that were saying, 'Should Cold Spring Harbor even be supported by public research grants with somebody who has an attitude like that?'

My main concern at that time was making sure that Cold Spring Harbor, the institution, in 2007 was not gonna be linked to statements which fundamentally, I think, haven't been proven and are very, very controversial.

Part of the reason for that is the history of eugenics here, going way back into the 1920s, 100 years ago.

I didn't want Cold Spring Harbor to get recast in the era of the eugenics movement again.

-Early on in the history of Cold Spring, a scientist named Charles Davenport took over the leadership of the biological research there.

He believed in what was known as eugenics -- that if you prevented certain people from having children and promoted other people to have children based on their genes, you could improve the human race.

Thousands and thousands and thousands of people were sterilized because they were deemed unfit.

-By the 1930s, the only people who were promoting it were Nazis.

They were awful!

-The Nazis in Germany were embracing eugenics and promoting it.

They were celebrating the work of these American eugenicists.

But back in the United States, people like Charles Davenport were on the outs.

Other scientists were realizing that it was just a way of justifying racism.

All these old attitudes were being propped up by a poor reading of genetics.

By the time that Watson arrives in Cold Spring in 1948, this sordid history with eugenics is in the past.

-I was not in the slightest interested in eugenics, nor was anyone there.

-The laboratory has been incredibly open, putting all of this up on the web that was, you know, under Jim's watch, and, in fact, he and I have had this discussion -- that, given the history of the laboratory and eugenics, we can't revive this.

-They must have had board members come out from New York to, you know, decide whether he should be fired or not.

-There was some sentiment to ask him to, you know, step down from the laboratory completely, and I completely opposed that.

That was not even remotely on the radar screen for me.

-And the next day, Jim was fired without a lawyer or anything.

It was -- It was -- It was like a kangaroo court.

-We wanted to make it clear that Jim Watson had no administrative role at the laboratory.

That did not mean that we fired him.

That meant that we made it explicit that he had no administrative role.

I don't think what he said was defensible, mainly the comment about African-American employees.

I wish he had, for lots of reasons but mainly for his own reasons, he would think a little bit more about what he says because he has done so many amazing things in his life.

-That's fine.

-He called late yesterday to say he's back from Colorado.

-You know, Jim's still here.

He has still retained an office and an assistant, and he plays a role as a scientist at the laboratory.

I think he is an extraordinarily valued person still... despite some of the things that he said.

♪♪ -Given my desire never to stay away from messy problems, I was bound to [bleep] myself sometime.

And that's what I did.

-Have your views on the relationship between race and intelligence changed?

-No, not at all. I would like for them to change, since there be new knowledge which, uh... says that, uh, your... nurture is much more important than nature.

But I haven't seen any knowledge, and there's a difference, on the average, between blacks and whites on IQ tests.

I would say the difference is, uh... It's genetic.

-He's... wrong, you know?

He's just wrong.

-Race is less a biological construct of humans and more a social construct.

We know a great deal about human genetic variation and how it's apportioned around the world.

There is absolutely no evidence that there are genetic differences that favor intelligence in any subpopulation of human beings -- none whatsoever.

-I'm a product of the Roosevelt era.

And if you ask me what people thought about race in the Roosevelt era, we thought there were differences.

You know?

Thomas Jefferson thought there were differences.

♪♪ It should be no surprise that someone who wanted to find the double helix believed that genes were important.

-Racism suspends all rational judgment.

It really does.

And it's one of the most insidious things that racism does.

It takes people who are otherwise brilliant people and gets them down roads that are intellectually unsupportable.

-Jim's been called a racist, but a racist is someone who makes the life of someone who he has a strong feeling of dislike for miserable.

-The guy was clearly wrong, you know?

It's just -- It's just fundamentally wrong to judge people by their race.

My point is that that's -- that's the -- the antithesis of who he is -- is actually a person who's extremely compassionate and would look at people suffering from a disease and say, 'It doesn't matter what their religion is or their ethnicity.

None of that really matters.'

-What my dad doesn't understand is that because people worship him and treat him like this living god, that when you're in a position like that, you have to be extra careful about what you say.

-He's been put on a pedestal because of the significant impact that his -- his science had and continues to have, but the responsibility that comes with being on that pedestal is not being met.

-I would actually thank him for his work on the discovery of the structure for DNA, and that should not be taken away from him, despite the fact that he holds views that I would -- social views that I feel are abhorrent.

-To the extent, uh, that, uh... I have hurt people, of course I regret it, and, you know, I like black people, so why would I want to hurt them?

I don't know anyone who -- who takes any pleasure on the differences between black and white which didn't exist.

What? It's awful, just like it's awful for schizophrenics.

But if the difference exists, then we have to ask ourselves, 'How can we try and make it better?'

-I just don't -- I don't understand it.

It is very painful because I do love this man.

I mean, you have to love the teacher who gave you your life in science.

I do love that person, you know, and you have to.

And I admire what he did for, you know, creating a world of science and creating the careers of all these people who every one was privileged to have known such a person.

I don't know. It's tough.

-I guess what I think about is after my dad's died, how will people judge him?

And... this is sort of an anecdote, but I saw this video, and it showed this albino orangutan with blue eyes.

It wasn't albino.

Whatever it is -- had white fur and blue eyes.

And it looked just like my dad.

And I thought, 'Well, if this orangutan looks just like my dad, what does this prove?

Does this prove that this orangutan is highly intelligent, or does it prove that my dad's simply a monkey?'

And when I saw this video of this monkey looking like my dad, I was like -- it was just weird, because that's my position, that we're -- you know, humans are all monkeys and we wear clothes and we live in houses, but, you know, my dad's a monkey that made the most of it, you know?

I-I -- That's the way I see it.

And he's just hoping he doesn't die a monkey death, you know, falling on the forest floor and being ignored.

I don't know.

♪♪ -Rufus asked me how I wanted myself portrayed.

You know, what was a take-home lesson after turning off the tube and seeing me for a couple hours?

I said, 'I just always wanted to be exceptional.'

I think I have achieved that.

I want to be portrayed as someone who was concerned for the world about me as important as my concern for myself.

You know, now I really miss Crick.

I don't have anyone I can talk to now of Crick's intelligence.

Francis, do you think we were lucky to have solved it, or was it real brainwork?

-Well, I guess we were certainly lucky.

We were lucky, I think, for two reasons.

We were thinking about the problem at the right time, and then the two of us, by collaborating, when one of us got on the wrong track, the other one could get us out of it.

We weren't at least afraid of being very candid to each other, to the point of being rude.

-You know, after I'm dead, I'll be more famous than I am now because DNA gets more famous.

DNA is not overrated.

[ Laughs ] You know?

Some -- Some things come and go.

Oh, DNA won't come and go.

♪♪ ♪♪♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Davis: I'm colored, Jewish, and Puerto Rican.

When I move into a neighborhood, I wipe it out.

Man: Sammy Davis Jr.'s whole life was about confronting obstacles.

Davis: ♪ Mr. Bojangles ♪ I gotta be Man: But he had a vision for himself that was bigger than white or black.

Davis: ♪ Me!

♪♪