30 November 2014

Science enemies? Franklin and Crick

James Watson wants to sell his Nobel prize because he's all butthurt that he isn't given enough respect.

Any conversation involving Watson – or his late colleague, Francis Crick – invariably leads to a discussion about the role of Rosalind Franklin in cracking the structure of DNA. This go round, Paul Coxon tweeted:

Let's club together to buy Watson's Nobel medal, melt it, and have it recast with Rosalind Franklin's name. Who's in?

The narrative of Franklin's contribution being slighted is very powerful. Many, including family, have guessed about what she would have thought. But as far as I know, Franklin was never interviewed about her reaction to Watson and Crick publishing the DNA structure before her, or using some of her data to work out the structure. She died from cancer before the Nobel prize for DNA structure was awarded, in any case.

Maybe this little incident gives a sense of whether Franklin felt wronged or cheated by Watson and Crick. When she was diagnosed with cancer (which ultimately killed her), she recuperated from her first surgery as a house guest of... none other than Francis Crick.

I've found this anecdote in a couple of biographies (here and here; excerpts below).

It's certainly not definitive proof about what she thought of the whole thing, but it might suggest that Franklin didn't consider her former competitor to be her scientific enemy.

1 comment:

Schorsch said...

There's a strong push at this time to crush the old gods and wipe them out of history. Feynman was a womanizer; no one read "Surely You're Joking..." or the Feynman Lectures. Watson is sexist and bigotted; no one read "The Double Helix." Yes, these are deeply flawed men, who did wrong-headed things, but the person can, and should, be separated from the work. The above books, especially with the later addition of the mea culpa about Franklin to Watson's, are among the best about science. If I found out tomorrow that Dethier was anti-semitic or Tinbergen believed in homeopathy, I'd still love "To Know a Fly" and "Curious Naturalists."