Saturday, 9 March 2013

Honest Jim

New Edition of The Double Helix

Reading this book again, after 45 years, I was struck by how fresh it still seems. No wonder it made such a strong impression on a graduate student. The new edition is an annotated version packed with documents and supplemented with the reminiscences of the protagonists.

Although Watson’s working title was Honest Jim, others involved in deciphering the structure of DNA found his account disingenuous. Francis Crick tried to dissuade him from going ahead with publication. The controversy is richly documented in an Appendix to the new edition.

Watson was rather dismissive of Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray diffraction images were the only solid evidence for the helical structure of DNA. The icy relations between Franklin and Maurice Wilkins at King’s College London, mentioned in the first edition, are well documented here. When Franklin decided to move to Birkbeck College, Sir John Randall forbade her to take the DNA work with her. Ultimately Wilkins profited since one of the best images of DNA, obtained by Franklin and Raymond Gosling, was then handed to him. Women have yet to achieve full equality in science as highlighted in the current issue of Nature.

Double Helix Sculpture at Clare College Cambridge

Watson was affiliated with Clare College Cambridge and donated this sculpture by Charles Jencks. Clare is the venue for the Annual Meeting of the Centre for Trophoblast Research in July.

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