I tend to have a jaundiced view of Russian oligarchs, thanks to their shenanigans over the past couple of decades. However, I've got to give credit where credit is due: and one of them has just done something that I, for one, think is a very special gesture.
James Watson is one of three scientists who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 for the discovery of DNA's "double helix" structure. He attracted controversy in 2007 for his assertion that people of African ancestry were less intelligent than Westerners due to genetic differences. (I have no idea whether there's any scientific basis to his theory, but as far as I know neither has anyone else. As far as I can tell, he was pilloried for being politically incorrect.)
Last month Dr. Watson claimed that as a result of his position on race and intelligence, he'd been ostracized from the scientific community. The Telegraph reported:
James Watson, the world-famous biologist who was shunned by the scientific community after linking intelligence to race, said he is selling his Nobel Prize because he is short of money after being made a pariah.
Mr Watson said he is auctioning the Nobel Prize medal he won in 1962 for discovering the structure of DNA, because "no-one really wants to admit I exist".
. . .
Mr Watson said his income had plummeted following his controversial remarks in 2007, which forced him to retire from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York. He still holds the position of chancellor emeritus there.
“Because I was an ‘unperson’ I was fired from the boards of companies, so I have no income, apart from my academic income,” he said.
There's more at the link.
The sale went ahead last week, but took a surprising turn.
Russia’s richest man and a major stakeholder in Arsenal football club has bought James Watson’s Nobel Prize award for £2.6m [well over $4 million] with the intention of giving it back to him.
Alisher Usmanov, who owns the country’s biggest ore producer, bought the medal at an auction at Christie’s in New York city as he wanted to make sure the double helical DNA structure stayed in the scientist’s possession.
Mr Usamanov was upset to hear he would be selling it as he "deserved" the medal, and wanted to thank him for his discovery which has helped further research into cancer, the disease which killed his own father.
. . .
The billionaire, who was named Britain's wealthiest man in the Sunday Times rich list for 2013 with an estimated worth of £10.7 billion, said: “James Watson is one of the greatest biologists in the history of mankind and his award for the discovery of DNA structure must belong to him."
Again, more at the link.
Now Dr. Watson has his Nobel Prize medal, plus enough money to live on for the rest of his life, plus more that he's said he'll donate to worthy scientific causes. That was a very classy gesture, Mr. Usmanov. Thank you.