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A Geneticist Looks at the Double Helix,
This review is from: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
When "The Double Helix" came out in 1968, as a geneticist I naturally read it. And it has stuck far more firmly for me than any of the many other books I've read over the years about genetics.
Why do I remember this book so well? I've wondered. The answer is right in the first sentence of "The Double Helix" that reads: "I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood."
In his account of how the structure of DNA was discovered, Jim Watson doesn't try to tell the story from a disinterested point of view. This is my version, he says, and I'm not going to touch it up to cover the warts and other blemishes. Yes, for instance, Watson and Crick were patently and terribly unfair and unjust toward Rosalind Franklin but Jim doesn't deny it. He makes it plenty clear.
Most writing in and about science is well varnished. But varnish gives a gloss and it's not easy to hold onto. Jim Watson forgot the varnish, on purpose. Watson's brashness (and Crick's conceit) season this narrative in a memorable way, a way I can't easily forget, even if I wanted to.
This is first-rate personal science writing. Five stars, for sure, or more. It's about one of the most important discoveries in the history of science. I hope you'll enjoy (and remember) "The Double Helix" too.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 24, 2012 1:12:45 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 24, 2012 1:13:44 AM PDT
Why are you giving Watson such credit for his shameful and unethical behavior? He only addced the edited portion on Franklin after he was called out on it. He may never have come up with the correct model without his lifting of another's work. He had already created an incorrect model which Franklin had been shown and critiqued (as inaccurate).
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012 6:10:51 AM PST
Julian G. Franco says:
I am a physicist and a fervent feminist, but just because there is still so much sexism in the world, doesn't mean that every case that you hear qualifies for it. Franklin had her picture for eight months -an eternity in this case- and had not elucidated the right structure of DNA because she didn't believe it could be helical. Watson always acknowledged having gotten the right structure from Franklin's picture. And of course he and Crick played with all kinds of models until gotten the right one. You have to be wrong a few times before you get it. That's simply how science works! The goal is not to take the picture, but to be able to interpret it correctly. By hording the picture she slowed scientific progress -eight months, instead of advancing it. One person from King's College would have received a share of the Nobel for it. She would have had probably received the Noble Prize, instead of Wilkins, if not for the science, for her brilliant technique as an x-ray physicist, but she was dead and the Noble is not given posthumously. Please also note that she was very good friends with Crick and wife, where she spent the last months of her life, not to mention that she was no pushover -far from it. I would have been the first one to be outraged at the unfairness of it, if it were true. Let's look for the many other real cases where women in science have been discriminated and wronged -this is a sad story because she died, but not a sexist case, in my humble opinion.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2012 2:37:42 PM PST
It's not a matter of feminism. It's a matter of stealing intellectual property; pure and simple. The fact that Ms. Franklin and Dr. and Mrs. Crick were good friends is another argument that proves Crick's devious character and dishonesty.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2012 4:39:25 PM PST
Frederick Hecht says:
Thank you for the comment. In this particular regard I wrote: "In his account of how the structure of DNA was discovered, Jim Watson doesn't try to tell the story from a disinterested point of view. This is my version, he says, and I'm not going to touch it up to cover the warts and other blemishes. Yes, for instance, Watson and Crick were patently and terribly unfair and unjust toward Rosalind Franklin but Jim doesn't deny it. He makes it plenty clear." Never did I state or imply that Watson and Crick treated Rosalind Franklin as they did because she was a woman (or a Jew). My own take on the situation is that both Watson and Crick had no specific animus toward Rosalind Franklin but simply engaged in a selfish game that scientists have been known sometimes to play -- that the fewer names (authors) that appear on this paper, the more credit I (or we) will receive for this glorious research. The less made of her contribution the more credit redounded to Watson and Crick.
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