It was the first time a living Nobel Prize recipient had ever sold his medal. And now scientist James Watson, 86, will hang on to the medal he won for his work on DNA, after a Russian billionaire who bought the medal for $4.75 million at auction says he wants Watson to keep it.
Watson famously shared the Nobel with his research partner, Francis Crick, and another colleague after they determined that DNA’s structure is a double helix. He has said he would donate much of the proceeds to several schools, to promote research.
Before today, the winning bidder on the 1962 medal at a Christie’s auction had not been identified. Now business tycoon Alisher Usmanov, who has been rated Russia’s wealthiest man several times, acknowledged buying the medal. And he said he had several reasons to return it to Watson, whom he called “one of the greatest biologists in the history of mankind.”
“In my opinion, a situation in which an outstanding scientist has to sell a medal recognizing his achievements is unacceptable,” Usmanov said through his press agent, according to Russia’s ITAR-Tass. He added, “Dr. Watson’s work contributed to cancer research, the illness from which my father died. It is important for me that the money that I spent on this medal will go to supporting scientific research, and the medal will stay with the person who deserved it.”
When it went up for sale last week, the medal fetched far above the $2 million or $3 million price some experts had predicted. As we noted last week, Watson is believed to have had several motivations for selling the medal, ranging from philanthropy to a quest for redemption — and possibly a rejection of the scientific community.