In a recent auction, DNA pioneer James Watson became the first living Nobel Prize recipient to auction off his medal, selling the prize for $4.8 million.
The sale largely served as an apology to the science community for racist comments he made back in 2007. Watson was planning to use a bulk of the proceeds from the sale to fund schools and other academic institutions within the science community. However, while the medal did sell at auction, it seems the prize is going to be returned to its original owner. Alisher Usmanov, Russia’s richest man, revealed that he bought the medal at auction, but now feels like he doesn’t deserve the prize.
BBC reports this is because the billionaire, who made a fortune in steel and telecoms, does not approve of the circumstances under which the medal was sold. Due to the controversy surrounding Watson, Usmanov feels like the scientist was forced to sell the medal rather than sell it willingly. As such, he plans to return the medal to Watson. Usmanov was quoted saying that any achievement recognizing a scientist for his or her work, especially one who was so key in advancing modern knowledge, should be kept by that scientist.
The original purchase, which Usmanov made by way of anonymous phone bid, was a chance to obtain a very important part of modern history. Even now, with the billionaire changing his mind about the sale, there is no doubting the historical significance of the prize, which was awarded in 1962 to three different recipients. Watson was one of those recipients, along with his fellow scientists Maurice Wilkins and Francis Crick. Usmanov has nothing but praise for Watson, calling him “one of the greatest biologists in the history of mankind”, and stating the award “must belong to him”.