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May 22, 2002
Did He Say What They Thought He Said?
I've received some mail pointing out that James Watson denied the "cure cancer in two years" quote which appeared in the 1998 Times article. I was aware of those denials, but (since you have to make a judgment call on these things,) I believe that he probably did say it.
Why? First of all, because it's hard for me to believe that Gina Kolata, the Times reporter, would invent such a doozy of a quote. It's one of the main things that people remember about the article, four years later. It would take nerves of steel (and some other metallic parts) to fabricate that one. Second, Watson has a history of, well, outspokenness. No one I heard at the time had much trouble believing that Watson would have said it. Or that he'd deny it. The incident occurred at a dinner party; I don't know if other witnesses came forward.
I'm also sticking to my interpretation of the Times story as well. Angiogenesis wasn't a new concept when the piece came out. Folkman certainly had been one of the main movers behind it for many years, and his story was well worth telling, but the article centered just as much on the peptides he was working on. Note the link above, which was written at the time of the initial furor. Its whole focus is on the two peptide drugs, and whether they were miracle cures or not. Here's another 1998 story from Time with the same take.
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