Thursday, October 18, 2007

James Watson is not only a bigot, but he is a fraud who stole his biggest moment from the woman who deserved it.

Likely we all know by now that Nobel Laureate James Watson, who was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in biology for his 1953 paper published jointly with Francis Crick on the structure of DNA, once again stuck his foot in his mouth by saying that blacks were genetically inferior and less intelligent.

And this is hardly the first time that Watson has made such idiotic and prejudiced statements, among others suggesting that if there is a gene for homosexuality that women found to have a fetus with the gene should be 'allowed to have an abortion' (from which one can also infer that he feels that other women should not be allowed to have one) or suggesting that the idea of the 'Latin lover' is genetically based and that people of Hispanic descent have genetically based superior sexual prowess. In a British documentary, Watson suggested that there was a genetic basis for stupidity and it should be treated medically.

Well, I have one question for James Watson: Is dishonestly of the most horrifyingly immense proportion a genetic disease, or did he learn it from someone else? The discovery of the helical structure of DNA is rightly regarded as one of the two or three biggest scientific achievements ever. Only Mr. Watson is wrongly credited with it. Let me introduce you to the real genius behind the research, and one who has been stripped of the recognition which she so richly deserves and cast into historical obscurity by the betrayal of one of her closest colleagues, which in turn was paired with James Watson's basic dishonesty to change the face of scientific history, and perpetrate a great fraud:

The photo you see here is of Rosalind Franklin. It was Franklin, a trained chemist, who while working for Dr. Maurice Wilkins at King's College, took numerous x-ray photos of the DNA structure, and in particular one now known as 'photo 51', which clearly showed the structure and which she was quite close to figuring out on her own. According to an article written by Dr. Lynne Osman Elkin, a professor of biological sciences at California State University, Hayward,

NOVA: How close did Franklin actually come to deciphering the structure of DNA?

Elkin: She was very close. She had all the parameters of the helical backbone. She was the one who figured out that there were two forms of DNA, which made solving the whole structure possible. She had figured out that backbone of the A form is antiparallel. It wouldn't have been very long before she figured out that the B form backbone was antiparallel as well.

Only she couldn't have guessed the evil designs that lurked within her very lab. Her trusted partner and mentor, Maurice Wilkins, secretly and without her knowledge took photo 51 and showed it to James Watson. Wilkins then described in detail to Watson over dinner how research at the college was progressing and what he and Franklin were thinking.

Watson himself described the exact sequence of the betrayal, in his book, The Double Helix, where he writes,

Walking down the passage...[Wilkins] revealed that...he had quietly been duplicating some of Rosy's and Gosling's [Rosalind's assistant] X-ray work...Then the even more important cat was let out of the bag: Since the middle of the summer Rosy had had evidence for a new three-dimensional form of DNA...When I asked what the pattern was like, Maurice [Wilkins] went into an adjacent room to pick up a print of the new form they called the "B" structure. The instant I saw the picture my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race. The pattern was unbelievably simpler than those obtained previously...and Maurice told me he was now quite convinced she [Rosalind Franklin] was correct.

Wilkins got his thirty pieces of silver, sharing in the recognition by the Nobel committee with Watson and Crick. Franklin, who actually deserves to be credited with discovering the structure of DNA more than any of the other three, had died by then, and in fact it is quite likely that the price for her research was indeed her life-- she got ovarian cancer likely after exposure to the large number of x-rays her research entailed.

James Watson for his part, has acted the part of a man who actually knows he is guilty, that everything he has is based upon stolen research. He has missed few opportunities since then to attack Franklin's reputation and alternately described her using everything from 'frumpy and uncommunicative' to 'very intelligent' but off the track (which is utterly false-- Aaron Klug discovered a March 17, 1953 draft by Franklin written concurrently with Watson and Crick's paper which makes it clear that she was still able, despite the betrayal to figure it out at the same time as Watson and Crick-- and let Watson's own words quoted above about his meeting with Wilkins contradict his later denials.)

I first learned about Rosalind Franklin from a college biology instructor who had actually met James Watson. My biology instructor called him, 'a lech,' apparently having reason to believe that he was too horny for his own good. But having delved deeper into this, my own belief is that not only should James Watson refrain from making any more of the bigotted statements that he seems to be so famous for, but he should count his blessings that few have publically pointed at him as being a first magnitude fraud and thief.

In a just world, schoolkids would learn who the real discoverer of the structure of DNA was: Rosalind Franklin. But the world is rarely just.


shrimplate said...

That is one of the most telling passages in "The Double Helix."

Franklin did all the hard work of the real nut'n'bolts X-ray diffraction imagery. Watson and Crick were too busy playing around with models of molecules.

She is the hero who made that discovery happen.

Anonymous said...

I learned about Rosalind Franklin in Bio today, and I agree with you, she deserves all the credit for the photo of the DNA helix. I think its really unfair that James Watson took the credit.

Anonymous said...

i think we should exterminate all of watsons descendent to eradicate fraudulent gene from the gene pool

Anonymous said...

Was Watson actually in love with Rosalind and she rebuffed him?

Eli Blake said...

Most recent Anonymous:

There is no indication that anything like that ever happened.

Though I will say that when I was in college I had a biology teacher who was a thirty-ish woman (meaning that she probably met James Watson when she was in her early twenties and he was probably then in his forties) and she described him as 'a lech.' I didn't mention that in this post but since you bring it up I suppose something like that may have been possible, especially since there were at the time hardly any women working at that level of research science.

Regardless, he stole her discovery and continues to get credit for it. This bothers me.

Eli Blake said...

Oh, actually now I see I did mention it at the end of the post.

Regardless, he is certainly one of the most dishonorable individuals in the history of science.

Awilliams said...

Im a guy and I have felt this way for years. I even believe that they may have set up Franklin so that she could not receive the Nobel Prize especially since only three can accept the prize @ once.

Anonymous said...

They don't give the Nobel Prize posthumously. There's no way she could have received it. Also the full research of both hers and Crick/Watson was published in Nature at the same time. The Nobel board determined, as do 99% of molecular biologists, that Watson and Crick's research was more groundbreaking. Actually read their research papers to see what the award was for. Neither Watson nor Crick have ever been secretive about owning a debt of gratitude to Franklin for informing them the helix backbones should be on the outside. Watson says so in his own book, as you point out. Additionally, Watson and Franklin were dear friends and exchanged lengthy correspondences up until her death. He wrote the inscription on her dedication statue. And also in his book he stated "she faced enormous barriers as a woman in the field of science even though her work was superb". For you to suggest any malfeasance is beyond reprehensible. It is too bad Franklin is deceased, because she would definitely like to have a word with you and your ilk.

At least you make it painfully obvious your motivation for doing so stems from Watson's controversial comments on race later in his career. Which by the way are not especially controversial. It's now a cornerstone of evolutionary psychology. Steven Pinker of Harvard regularly publishes books/papers on it, and has been given awards from the American Psychological Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Institution of Great Britain for his trouble. Any 101 psychology textbook is going to mention the IQ gap. The witch hunt for Watson mentioning it is absolutely insane. Seek help.

Anonymous said...

You're the one that needs help. Do you recognize this quote:

"My own view, incidentally, is that in the case of the most discussed racial difference – the black-white IQ gap in the US – the current evidence does not call for a genetic explanation."

That's Pinker. He doesn't subscribe to your racist view.

And BTW, I'm black, and based on your comments, I'm almost certain that I'm smarter than you. If I was going to try to argue that Watson was right about there being a genetic IQ gap (which I wouldn't), I'd cite modern molecular geneticists, population geneticists, education researchers, etc. But evolutionary psychology? What is that? Do they hold sessions with fossils to figure out what they were feeling while being chased by dinosaurs?

So let's go down the list of some of the races that think they're genetically smarter than everyone else:

Ashkenazi Jews
Anglo Saxons
Asian Indians

Watson stole this from Franklin just like Einstein stole relativity from Poincare.

You're a joke.