Segments in this Video

James Watson (04:36)


Watson celebrates his 90th birthday at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in April 2018; scientists and students discuss his influence. He is described as brilliant, eccentric, historical, radical, and having a reputation for bigotry and controversy.

Genetics (03:55)

Watson believes genes are more paramount than environment to dictating an organism's traits and behaviors. Scientists explain deoxyribonucleic acid's basic properties, including structure, bases, and function.

Aspirations to Explain Life (06:12)

Watson was born in 1928 to a middle-class family; he attended the University of Chicago at 16. Inspired by Erwin Schrodinger, he researched existing molecular biology. Friedrich Miescher discovered deoxyribonucleic acid; Avery Macleod and Colin McCarty proved it the heredity molecule.

Double Helix (09:42)

Watson worked with Francis Crick at Cavendish Laboratory; they found the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid. Watson wrote a fictionalized account of the discovery, alienating his partner and crystallographer, Rosalind Franklin.

Fame and Women (06:50)

Watson created Harvard's molecular biology department, aspiring to update the science. He accepted female students into his programs. His wife Elizabeth discusses meeting him during a job interview, and keeping their relationship quiet.

Structure Competition (10:22)

Crick and Watson competed with Linus Pauling to find the structure of DNA. Pauling published an incorrect proposal and discussion of his mistake led to the viewing of Franklin's x-ray photograph of the molecule. Crick and Watson solved the double helix, winning the Nobel Prize in 1962.

Female Crystallographer (03:45)

Franklin was not included with the 1962 Nobel Prize winners; rumors arose that Watson and Crick stole her work. Wilkins showed Crick and Watson her x-ray photograph, helping their discovery. Women were often not credited for scientific research.

Reviving an Institution (06:04)

Watson went to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, establishing a cancer research department. He suspected cancer was inherited and cold be understood through DNA analysis. He took over the organization in 1967, transforming into an international molecular genetics center.

Unpredicted Heredity (04:02)

Watson's son Rufus was born in 1970; he had difficulty socializing at a young age and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Thousands of genes dictate mental illness and Watson aspired to fix his son's mental health.

Owning Deoxyribonucleic Acid (06:41)

Watson organized the Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on the Human Genome in 1986. Scientists and the public expressed ethical concerns over studies. Watson and Bernadette Healy battled over patenting research findings, resulting in Watson’s resignation.

Race and Intelligence (11:15)

During the early 1900s, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory pioneered eugenics research through IQ testing. Scientists discuss causal factors accounting for differences in exam results. Charlotte Hunt Grubbe wrote an article exposing Watson's views on Africans, triggering his termination.

Subpopulations, Genetics, and Intelligence (04:59)

Race is more of a social construct than biological. Watson shares opinions on African intelligence, referencing standardized test results. His family discusses his compassion for others.

Controversy and Success (02:48)

Rufus discusses his father's legacy. Watson wants to be remembered as exceptional and as someone concerned about the world. He believes he will become more famous as DNA science becomes more mainstream.

Credits: Decoding Watson (01:51)

Credits: Decoding Watson

For additional digital leasing and purchase options contact a media consultant at 800-257-5126
(press option 3) or

Decoding Watson

3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



Thrust into the limelight for discovering the secret of life at age 25 with Francis Crick, influential Nobel Prize-winning scientist James Watson has thrived on making headlines ever since. His discovery of DNA's structure, the double helix, revolutionized human understanding of how life works. He was a relentless and sometimes ruthless visionary who led the Human Genome project and turned Harvard University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory into powerhouses of molecular biology. With unprecedented access to Watson, his wife Elizabeth and sons Rufus and Duncan over the course of a year, American Masters explores Watson's evolution from socially awkward postdoc to notorious scientific genius to discredited nonagenarian, also interviewing his friends, his colleagues, scientists and historians. Controversial and unapologetic, Watson still thrives on competition and disruption. The film uncovers his signature achievements, complexities and contradictions, including his penchant for expressing unfiltered and objectionable points of view.

Length: 85 minutes

Item#: BVL203115

Copyright date: ©2019

Closed Captioned

Performance Rights

Prices include public performance rights.

Not available to Home Video, Dealer and Publisher customers.