True to form, James Watson didn't mince words at a recent lecture at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, where he said that the majority of cancer research is "irrelevant" and got into a verbal tussle with fellow Nobelist Roger Tsien.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Watson, in a talk about the role of oxidants in cancer and diabetes, questioned the utility of sequencing cancer genomes.
"You could sequence 150,000 people with cancer and it's not going to cure anyone," he said, according to the paper. "It might give you a few leads, but it's not, to me, the solution. The solution is good chemistry. And that's what's lacking. We have a world of cancer biology trained to think genes. They don't think chemistry at all."
Regarding the broader field of cancer research, he said that "most of the experiments we do are irrelevant ... We're not going to cure cancer by doubling the money. We're going to do it by being more intelligent. The money thing is just a red herring of people not thinking."
At one point during the talk, Tsien, who shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry, questioned Watson's comments about oxidants and antioxidants. According to U-T San Diego, "Watson cut him off. Tsien pressed on. Watson got agitated and said, 'All you have to do is think clearly and these difficulties vanish.'"
The paper reports that the scientists continued to "spar" until "Salk biologist Ron Evans stepped in, easing the tension with his own take on exercise research."
Also during the talk, Watson discussed his dislike of Bernadine Healy, former director of the National Institutes of Health, and referred to the "historic curse of the Irish," which, according to him, is "ignorance."
Tsien told the paper afterwards that Watson "likes to provoke people" and "enjoys being politically incorrect."