The Genes made him do it?

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DNA Day is a holiday celebrated on April 25. It commemorates the day in 1953 when James Watson,Francis CrickMaurice WilkinsRosalind Franklin and colleagues published papers in the journal Nature on the structure of DNA. In 1962 Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins receive the Nobel Prize for determining the molecular structure of DNA.

Ms. Franklin spent four years at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de L’Etat, in Paris. It was there that she learned the techniques of X-ray crystallography, the scientific method that would lead to the discovery of a lifetime and an image she named Photograph 51.

As historians of science have re-examineed the period during which this image was obtained, considerable controversy has arisen over both the significance of the contribution of this image to the work of Watson and Crick, as well as the methods by which they obtained the image. Franklin was hired independently of Maurice Wilkins, who, nonetheless, showed Photo 51 to Watson and Crick without her knowledge. Whether Franklin would have deduced the structure of DNA on her own, from her own data, had Watson and Crick not obtained her image, is a hotly debated topic, made more controversial by the negative caricature of Franklin presented in Watson’s history of the research on DNA structure, “The Double Helix.”

Watson later admitted his distortion of Franklin in his book, noting in a preface to a later edition: “Since my initial impressions about [Franklin], both scientific and personal (as recorded in the early pages of this book) were often wrong I want to say something here about her achievements.”

I say let’s blame his deceit on DNA.  His genes made him do it.

Just don’t go on Maury.


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One response »

  1. Alas, history (written by, you guessed it, men) has frequently short-changed the ladies. Bravo to Ms. Franklin and her contributions of which I was unaware until I read your most informative article.

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