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Another, more nuanced, look at the Rosalind Franklin story


We’ve all heard the story, probably: That Rosalind Franklin (1920–1958) should have shared the Nobel Prize for the double helix with Francis Crick (1916–2004) and James Watson.

Science writer Nicholas Wade has gone into the story in considerable detail and finds to be much more complex:

In asserting that Franklin was “wrongfully denied authorship” on the Watson and Crick paper, the Lane group seems to believe that she was a junior member of Crick’s laboratory who had a claim on the team’s joint work. In fact, she was leader of a rival team at a different institution. Listing one’s competitors as coauthors on a discovery paper is hardly a common practice…

A problem with the feminist portrayal of Franklin as the robbed heroine is the complete lack of evidence that she viewed herself this way. She was a strong character, independently wealthy, and didn’t hesitate to raise her voice against things she thought unfair, such as being paid less than male researchers. Far from resenting Crick and Watson for their use of her data, she became close friends with Crick, spending her last remission from ovarian cancer in his house. She never once asserted that she had been denied proper credit for her work.

It was obvious that Crick had relied on her DNA data—no other source existed. It was also obvious that he had seen what it meant before she did. Crick told me in an interview in 2003 that Franklin never raised with him the use of her data; there was nothing to say. And she was less passionately interested in DNA than were Watson and Crick, who knew that they were pursuing the secret of life. “Our belief is that she didn’t realize until the structure came out how important DNA was. For her, it was just another problem,” Crick said.

Nicholas Wade, “The Myth of the Wronged Heroine” at City Journal (July 15, 2022)

The whole article is well worth the read for a picture of top tier lab life as it really was at that time. It’s shame that the pussyhats and Handmaids have gotten their talons into Franklin’s legacy but then just being themselves is a fitting punishment — though perhaps a bit too harsh even for them.

Another perspective and some great photos:

People not getting credit when they probably should have is nothing new. Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel prize for discovering insulin, even though Macleod’s only role was to make lab space available to Banting. Banting shared his award money with Best, the other researcher who the works now recognizes as the co-discoverer of insulin. JHolo
Off topic but on Nicholas Wade. Wade wrote a book on human genetic changes over the centuries, A Troublesome Inheritance, published in 2014. Because it wasn’t politically correct, it was excoriated. Just another example, where scientists have no inner moral compass and will go with the flow to make money and get prestige. jerry
Food for thought. kairosfocus

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