How much is a Nobel prize worth?
If you're James Watson, who shared a 1962 Nobel for his role in the discovery of the structure of DNA, it's worth about $4.76 million. That's how much his 23-carat gold medal fetched at auction in New York City on Thursday night (the price includes the buyer's premium).
The auction house Christie's said the medal, which went to an anonymous bidder, was the first ever sold by a living recipient, the Associated Press reported.
Watson, 86, was there to watch the auction with his wife and one of his sons, the New York Times reported. After the sale he said he was pleased, adding, "It's more money than I expected to give to charity."
He said some of the proceeds would go to the University of Chicago, Cold Spring Harbor Lab, and other charities, the paper reported.
Watson told Nature that selling his medal was aimed at redeeming his reputation, which had been tarnished by comments he made linking race and intelligence. In 2007, he was suspended from his job at Cold Spring Harbor Lab after furor erupted when he suggested that black people are less intelligent than white people.
The controversy over his remarks also left him strapped for cash, he told the Financial Times.
“No one really wants to admit I exist,” Watson said. “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.
Watson later attempted to clarify his comments in a piece published in 2007 by The Independent that ran under the headline "James Watson: To question genetic intelligence is not racism."
In the piece, he offered his apologies to those who had "drawn the inference" from his words that he thought that Africa was genetically inferior. "That is not what I meant," he wrote, adding:
"We do not yet adequately understand the way in which the different environments in the world have selected over time the genes which determine our capacity to do different things. The overwhelming desire of society today is to assume that equal powers of reason are a universal heritage of humanity. It may well be. But simply wanting this to be the case is not enough. This is not science."
Watson shared the Nobel prize with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins.