The Broad Institute's Eric Lander has apologized for toasting Nobel laureate James Watson, Stat News reports.
At the Biology of Genomes meeting last week, Lander gave a toast in honor of Watson's 90th birthday. This sparked a backlash on Twitter, as the toast glossed over racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic remarks Watson has made. In a tweet, the University of California, Davis' Jonathan Eisen called the toast "disgusting."
Watson has also been criticized for his treatment of Rosalind Franklin, whose X-crystallography images were key to Watson and Francis Crick deciphering the DNA double helix. Watson, who became the director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where the meeting took place, in 1968, had to step down as chancellor in 2007 because of his offensive statements. However, he remains a professor and chancellor emeritus there.
In an email to members of the Broad community, Lander apologizes and says he should have followed his first instinct to decline the request, Stat News reports. "People who have called this out are correct. I was wrong to toast, and I'm sorry," he wrote, according to Stat News.
In a tweet, Lander adds he finds Watson's views "abhorrent" and calls them "racist, sexist, [and] anti-Semitic" and says that his "brief comment about [Watson] being 'flawed' did not go nearly far enough." Stat News adds that Lander further acknowledges he should have been more cognizant of the "damage caused by recognizing him in any way" as he himself has been on receiving end of Watson's anti-Semitic remarks.
One of the meeting organizers, Jonathan Pritchard from Stanford University, also apologized on Twitter. "I did not speak up against this plan [to toast Watson] and I sincerely apologize for this failure," he writes. "Watson's views are vile and they do not reflect the values of our community or of this meeting."