Photo 51

I don’t want to lose this anger. I don’t want to not feel anymore and shake my head dejectedly and cave in to being acquiescent of the status quo. I don’t want any of it.

What triggered this fury, this swooping white heat at the pit of my stomach?

When I came across this on PBS. And more importantly, this appalling interview, given by James Watson.

Basically it comes down to this. (And caveat lector. This post might get theoretical with a healthy dosage of scientific joo-joo. You stand warned)

Remember the Watson - Crick Model? If you are a Biology major or if you have taken courses in genetics, molecular biology, or at least dabbled in high school biology, this model would be mighty familiar to you. For the uninitiated, let me break it down for you, to the best of my ability at least.

In marginally simple terms, their model proposed that the structure of the DNA was a cross linked double helix with alternating links of deoxyribose and phosphate. The two strands of the double helix are cross linked by purine and pyrimidine bases which basically project inwards from the deoxyribose sugars. More importantly, the bases were held together by hydrogen bonds where a pyrimidine base on one strand always paired with a purine base on the other. And this was further demonstrated chemically, by exemplifying the fact that Adenine always paired with Thymine, and Cytosine with Guanine.

Now nobody wakes up and finds a profound and brilliant biological discovery knocking at their door. I am in no way undermining the indescribable amount of work put in by both Crick and Watson in their groundbreaking discovery. But as I said, nobody wakes up and fumblingly trips into a breakthrough of such magnitude. Obviously I do not know James Watson and Francis Crick personally, but I would surmise that there was a long and a painstakingly methodical process involved, where they used work previously done in their field of research to understand and expound on their theories or models before they came upon their breakthrough discovery.

Indeed, Watson and Crick used the work of Erwin Chargaff (Chargaff’s Rules, to be more specific), Linus Pauling (suggested that deoxyribonucleic acid may have a helical structure) and last but arguably the most important, one Rosalind Franklin; to expound on their ideas and extrapolate on their own theories about the structure of the DNA.

Who is this rank nobody, and a woman at that, while of course, everyone knows that there are no women in the upper echelons of science? * She was a British scientist (physical chemistry) and a highly gifted crystallographer who was given the task of researching and working on the X-ray diffraction of DNA and nucleic acids at King’s college, London. She was supposedly assigned to work with Maurice Wilkins, who was also the deputy director of the lab, but she, not being aware of this piece of information (as Wilkins was away on vacation when she arrived, and the information in her hiring letter was markedly ambiguous) and the DNA work being on hold in the biophysics lab in the recent past, almost all the work was assigned to Rosalind Franklin. When Wilkins arrived, given the not-so-subtle sexism at the time, he immediately assumed that Franklin was one of the technical assistants, a glorified lackey of sorts. And this set the stage for their strained relationship, from then on.

Now things got fairly drawn-out and convoluted when Watson attended a lecture in 1951 given by Franklin on her work on the DNA, thus far. She had taken excellent, hitherto unseen pictures using her expertise in X-ray diffraction techniques, and had come to the conclusion that DNA could exist in two forms, a ‘wet’ form and a ‘dry’ form, depending upon the relative humidity in the air. This led her to correctly deduce that the phosphates were on the outside, thus situating them in the backbone of the helix. Watson did not take any notes and equipped only with nebulous recollections, explained what he has seen and heard at her lecture to Crick. They then built an unsuccessful DNA model with a triple helix and invited Wilkins and Franklin to comment on it, whereupon Franklin straightforwardly pointed out the fallacies in their model. The head of their department immediately ordered them to stop their research, but as we all know, that really did not stop them.

To cut a long story short, Franklin started working on her X-ray diffractions alone, keeping her findings to herself and an assistant. Through her work, she came to realize that in the ‘wet’ form of the DNA, the water would be attracted to the phosphates in the backbone, leading her to of course, comprehend that the bases were inside. In 1952, she arguably took the best picture of the ‘wet’ form of the DNA through her X-ray diffractions (in other words the B form), which clearly illustrated all the marks of a double helix, and she suspected it as so, but she refused to release her work until she had further proof of her findings. She turned to the ‘dry’ form instead, which she knew, with persnickety and convoluted calculations and measurements, might lead her to work out the structure of the DNA. This sidetracked her completely, and this most likely turned out to be her downfall, in plain terms.

Meanwhile Watson and Crick, specifically Crick with his understanding of Chargaff’s Rules and Pauling’s ideas that proteins may have a helical structure, came to similar conclusions as Franklin, but he did not possess the type of data that Franklin had so painstakingly collected, to back his theory up.

All that changed, when in 1953, Raymond Gosling, a graduate student who had assisted Franklin in producing the then extraordinary photographs of the ‘wet’ form or the ‘B’ form of DNA in 1952, handed her results to Wilkins, without her consent. Through a curious turn of events and a set of uncanny circumstances, Wilkins handed over her groundbreaking work to Watson, again, without her knowledge or her consent. Watson and Crick also received a Medical Research Council report authored by Franklin in 1952 which contained almost all of her work on the DNA thus far. It was also meant to be strictly private. This particular report illustrated the Watson and Crick’s model’s basic mistake, where they had repeatedly put the bases on the outside. Through her work which was detailed in the MRC report, she had not only mentioned that the phosphates were on the outside but she had also mentioned the interphosphate distances. Watson and Crick immediately knew that they had all the information they needed to make a double helix model; indeed, Crick comprehended that her data pointed towards an antiparallel double helix DNA structure.

And the rest is history.

Rosalind finally came to realize that she might be left behind in the DNA race and produced a draft paper, where she had expounded on her anti- parallel double helix structure for the ‘A’ form on March 17th 1953. She did not pay attention to the fact that Crick and Watson were racing to publish their findings. For all she knew, their department head had forbade them from conducting any research on DNA, and she just did not bother to probe beyond that. Watson and Crick published their findings in Nature, in 1953 on March 18th, where they suggest a structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid, providing minimal experimental proof. In 1962, Watson, Crick and Wilkins (yes, Wilkins) accepted the Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine. Franklin had passed on by then. She succumbed to cancer in 1958. She was 38 years old.

Why am I doing this? Why am I indignant? Because Watson, in his portentous interview, states that,

He smiles.”Rosalind is my cross," he says slowly. "I'll bear it. I think she was partially autistic." He pauses for a while, before repeating the suggestion, as if to make it clear that this is no off-the-cuff insult, but a considered diagnosis. "I'd never really thought of scientists as autistic until this whole business of high-intelligence autism came up. There is probably no other explanation for Rosalind's behaviour.

Yes, because undermining a woman whose data you took and used without her knowledge or consent, by calling her autistic, is absolutely kind and gracious. ‘Considered diagnosis’, I’m sure. Now I do know that the term ‘autistic’ is not and should not be used disparagingly. But by Watson’s statement, it is clear that he was obviously trying to besmirch her and insult her memory by his usage of that term. And let’s not forget that Watson is also a racist bigot to boot.

And then there is this gem,

He adds: "Francis didn't think Rosalind was a great scientist. That was Francis at his most honest. The truth was she couldn't think in three dimensions very well."

Ah, but of course. Being a brilliant crystallographer, she must have been woefully incapable of thinking three-dimensionally. With her bumbling ignorance and her utter ineptitude to process anything with an extra plane, she perfected the art of X-ray diffraction and took the most extraordinary picture of the ‘B’ form of DNA (photo 51), for her time. Oh yes, it makes perfect sense.

Is there anything else left in Watson’s kitty of fantastical and desperate lies about Rosalind Franklin? I am astounded at his determination to frenetically try and insult and undermine her, even after all these years. She has passed on, hasn’t she? In Watson’s own words, he says,

No one thought about Rosalind [Franklin], because she was dead.

So why can’t he leave her alone? Is it because of the fact that none of the three: Watson, Crick or Wilkins, bothered to cite Rosalind Franklin at all in any of their Nobel lectures, while they managed to cite 98 other references? Is it a gnawing sense of guilt because of that? Or it is resentment at the scores of scientists (including Watson, who begrudgingly admitted that she deserved to win) who believe that Rosalind, had she been alive at the time, deserved the prize too?

What do you think? If she had been alive, do you think that Rosalind Franklin would have gotten the Nobel Prize for her work along with Watson and Crick in 1962, instead of Wilkins?

* For those of you who think that sexism has all but disappeared in the upper echelons of science today, I'm sorry, but you must be having a different grasp on reality than the rest of us. It has reduced, from Rosalind's time, but it has not disappeared. Oh no, it hasn't.


DufusMaximus said...

I don't claim to know any better about this issue, but wikipeda, for some reason (possibly because they weren't seething with white rage ;) ), takes a more balanced approach at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalind_Franklin#Controversies_after_death.

Not saying you are wrong or starting a flame, just to put the facts here - that Franklin did get to publish something in Nature, and Watson seems to be a blabbering idiot in general, who talks condescendingly of Crick himself, leave alone Rosalind Franklin.

It still is a sad issue that Science doesn't get to honor everybody who contributed to a final achievement.

Darwin's Mistress said...

The foot-in-the mouth disease isn't recent by any chance. There's ample evidence of 'scientific' attitudes in The double helix, published in 1968. Sounds more like anonymous comments on this blog rather than a scientist's opinion doesn't it?

"By choice she did not emphasize her feminine qualities. . . . There was never lipstick to contrast with her straight black hair, while at the age of thirty-one her dresses showed all the imagination of English blue-stocking adolescents. So it was quite easy to imagine her the product of an unsatisfied mother who unduly stressed the desirability of professional careers that could save bright girls from marriages to dull men. . . . Clearly Rosy had to go or be put in her place. The former was obviously preferable because, given her belligerent moods, it would be very difficult for Maurice [Wilkins] to maintain a dominant position that would allow him to think unhindered about DNA. . . . The thought could not be avoided that the best home for a feminist was in another person's lab."

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Dufus Maximus: Erm, how is my approach unbalanced? I never undermined Crick's or Watson's work. And I never said anywhere in the post that Franklin never got to publish any of her work. But she was beaten, in the DNA race, as Crick and Watson published first using her data without her knowledge or permission, while she got sidetracked and focused on the 'dry' or the 'A' form instead. I clearly mentioned that in the post. I don't know how that strikes you as 'unbalanced'.

@ Darwin's Mistress: it would be very difficult for Maurice [Wilkins] to maintain a dominant position that would allow him to think unhindered about DNA

Now isn't that a hoot.

GettingThereNow said...

"What do you think? If she had been alive, do you think that Rosalind Franklin would have gotten the Nobel Prize for her work along with Watson and Crick in 1962, instead of Wilkins?"

I say - NO, sad as it may sound.

cerebral non-matter said...

Ok this is beyond shocking. Especially considering Watson & Crick were depicted as pseudo-divine figures by our biology syllabus all through high school.

So allow me to state the obvious while I collect my thoughts. This is ridiculously fucked up.

Firstly, I cannot believe that there were no laws protecting Franklin's work from being misappropriated like that. Surely there must have been some rudimentary forms of intellectual property law back then?

As for your question, I doubt any of them would have been willing to give her even an ounce of credit. From Watson's remarks about her even today, it's apparent that he's still not done pretending her work was of little consequence to his findings. Or even sullying her credibility as a scientist for that matter.


the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Cee kay: Yup, I didn't think so either, depressing as it sounds. These men didn't even have the decency to cite her as a reference, for crying out loud. It seems improbable that they would have let her in on the award, had she been alive.

@ Sirisha: I'm not an expert on laws and such, but I think they applied only to published work, yes? Her work and her findings weren't published at the time of these happenings, so I don't really know if the laws applied in that particular instance. I may be completely wrong, of course.

Q said...

Go on lady, try to justify and take away credit for the great discovery in 100 years.Only you will say watson & Crick are idiots and find a women to give credit. but sorry, she did not deserve the prize or get it.
What else do you do anyway?How many women will you find to take away a mans hard work?
Today you will say Watson&Crick are thieves. Tomorrow you will call Newton a idiot and say Enstein was uneducated.
Accept the fact that women did not contribute even 2% to science.You will find peace.Work hard now to catch up to the men.Many women are doing that, without talking or complaining like you and they are becoming sucessful.Maybe you are just jealous?

Spunky Monkey said...

I had this huge problem about Rosalind not being recognized for her work back when I was in Plus One. Had read a rather obscure, but brilliantly written book (called "Cell" perhaps), and it was replete with references of Rosalind being sidelined, merely because these men thought a woman was incapable of analytical research.
This talk of high intelligence autism has always irritated me; despite that rather adorable "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime". I can't quite recollect any references to Franklin being autistic ever made. This, I am guessing, is a figment of Watson's rather weary imagination, or as the article suggests, his constant need to be provocative.

All that aside, what was that trash about black people being dumber than the whites all about eh? Watson again. Somebody should shut him up. And yes, I don't think the double helix was only their achievement. Like the world knows and he himself acknowledges, they were there at the right place at the right time.

This was nice, punkster.

Broom said...

I won't comment on the Rosalind issue (I'd like to read more about it before that.)
But even IF he did all the research and deserved the Nobel prize, Watson is a sexist, racist, homophobic asshole. If he had his way people like The Girl and me would be aborted for being gay.
His own words: "If you could find the gene which determines sexuality and a woman decides she doesn't want a homosexual child, well, let her"
Well at least he's pro-choice, eh?

@Q: given how women have historically lacked the opportunities that men have taken for granted - the contribution that women have still made to science is quite incredible.

DufusMaximus said...

@ Dufus Maximus: Erm, how is my approach unbalanced? ... I don't know how that strikes you as 'unbalanced'.

I didn't say you were unbalanced, just that wikipedia makes more balanced points. IMO, that there doesn't seem to be obvious sexism here. Maybe general opportunism on the part of Watson / Crick and maybe Wilkins was stupid to not take up the offer to publish jointly, resulting in King College in general getting unrepresented in the whole thing. The wikipedia article mentions that Watson / Crick were using not just Rosalind's data, but other unpublished data from King's. Maybe opportunistic, but not sexist.

And I don't see why you make a big deal about "without her permission". Yes, it has happened earlier, scientists are opportunistic too, but you somehow seem to think it is ultra important because a woman is getting a raw deal here?

roswitha said...

Considering how much women have contributed to science, given the historical propensity of men to tear them apart from limb to limb in public for being unapologetic about their intellect, it seems clear to me that 'taking credit' for the work of men is really the least of the Punkster's worries.

* ducks back into the kitchen *

anonymouse said...

q, possibly because they did not deserve the credit?

Watson, IMHO, is an idiot who got lucky.

And stop trying to insult Megha. Whatever my views of women may be*, your opinions are bigoted.

*I assume the intelligent commentators can figure it out. If you can't, ask.

Sue said...

In all technical fields women face discrimination. In the labs, on the sites, in the classrooms. This I state from my friends' experiences. (I was in a science class in school.)

So I really appreciate the women who fight on for their right to explore, to research and who show, time and again, that there is no 'smarter' sex. That there is no field of intelligence where gender decides ability.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Q: I suggest you STFU, seriously. I am hoping that you possess some sort of reading comprehension. If you do, please read.the.post. And then read the links I have provided.

@ Spunky Monkey: Oh, can you please sift through your memory and find out more about that book, please? And if you want to read more about Franklin, get a hold of 'Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA' by Brenda Maddox.

And finally, thanks. :)

@ Broom: For further reading, I will urge you to click on the PBS link at the top of the post. It has a ton of information and it also points you out to articles chronicling Rosalind's work and her contribution to the discovery of the DNA structure. If you are not put off by scientific joo-joo, then I suggest you read it all. :)

And Watson is a racist bigoted prick of the first order. In his own words he grudgingly admitted that Rosalind deserved to win along with him and Crick, AND he also attributed his success to 'being at the right place at the right time'. Sheesh, what a wank.

@ Dufus Maximus: I’m surprised that you don’t think there is sexism at play here. So for arguments sake, lets say that there was no sexism involved even though the reality of that time with respect to women even trying to get into the sciences blatantly shows otherwise. You say that it was common practice to use other people’s work without their permission or knowledge. It may be common practice, but that does not validate the practice or make it right, by any stretch of the imagination. If taking and using someone else’s work without giving them even a whit or the credit or a reference is glossed over as opportunistic does that make the action less underhanded or despicable?

Arguments aside, you cannot ignore the repressive sexism of the time, especially in the sciences. Franklin was an exception to the norm, with respect to the autonomy she was allowed in the lab, and that didn't go unnoticed by her colleagues. Women were not even considered to be as intelligent as men, and let’s not forget the societal and cultural conditioning at play in that time period, which actively frowned upon independent women, irrespective of the field they were in.

And finally, I don’t think you seem to understand the magnitude and the gravity of her work here. Through her brilliance in X-Ray crystallography, she managed to take the best picture of the B form of DNA at the time. Through her data in the MRC report, she was the only person to correctly deduce that the hydrophilic sugar phosphates resided on the outside, forming the backbone of the helix. She even went as far as to calculating the interphosphate distances. This was something which neither Crick nor Watson, not even Pauling suspected, let alone deduce. Crick and Watson were under the mistaken assumption that the bases were on the outside, resulting in one faulty model after another. All that changed when they came across her detailed MRC report, along with her excellent picture, and it was literally what they needed, in order to finally construct a successful model of DNA.

I think the brilliance and the sheer importance of her work speaks for herself, there is no necessity to insult her memory by putting her on some sort of pedestal for other things. And yes, it makes me upset and angry that yet another woman has her name and her work tarnished and demeaned (no thanks to Watson). Women have always always gotten the short end of the stick, especially in the sciences, and if my reaction seems unreasonable to you, then so be it. You are entitled to your own opinion.

@ Roswitha: No I'm just jealous, Q is absolutely right. My delicate feminine constitution, my vexatiously emotional brain and my propensity to indulge in hysterics, does come in the way of me being rational or sensible, which are as you know, exclusive to the domain of the patrician male. I think it is time for me to don my frilly apron and join you in the kitchen. Whats cooking, by the way?

@ A'mouse: Please, Q is just doing me a favor by saving me from damnation and showing me my rightful place. Heh.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Sue: Exactly. And thats one of the reasons why I was extremely distressed and incensed to see Watson's horrible interview. Again and again and again, women are discriminated against in science and in technical fields, and to me, it is even more upsetting as I chose to enter the murky field of pure sciences, as well.

Sue said...

Yes, I do understand why you are taking this so personally. That's partly why I love my own field (Liberal Arts).

I guess I'll just wait for you to justify our faith in your brains and then we'll make sure nobody forgets what you did, ok? If we can remember to consistently give honour where due we may be able to wipe this imbalance out yet.

mumbaigirl said...

I share the swooping white heat. The story of Rosalind Franklin always left me fuming and now these further idiocies springing from Watson's mouth...too angry to comment further.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Sue: Heh, I don't think you should bet on that, being the devil spawn of procrastination that I am. ;)

But in all seriousness, I think giving credit where it's due, as simple as it sounds, is basically the key. But not many people subscribe to our world view do they?

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Mumbaigirl: Join the club, MG. :(

DufusMaximus said...

lol, ok, so be it and I do see your pov. Just pick your battles well so reasonable guys (like me ;) ) who are all for gender-detachment in the work place do not start suspecting all feminism to be somehow off balance, even if only slightly.

That Armchair Philosopher said...

Hullo hullo. How've you been? Thanks - I hope the new look keeps up appearances :)

As for Watson and Crick - meh, if you haven't already checked it out, you should go watch the TED talk which Watson gave a few months ago.


Of course, as the first commenter mentioned - its a pity science hasn't always honored those whose work led to breakthroughs. But I'm sure that can be attributed to both men AND women.. Heck, thats true for a lot of other fields too - the peace prize, arguably, has been the most glaring omission due to it not being awarded to a certain MK Gandhi. But I ramble.

Oh. and your "delicate feminine constitution, vexatiously emotional brain and propensity to indulge in hysterics, *does* come in the way of rationality" [sic], doesn't it? :P

@Q - which planet did you land from, incidentally?

Confused & Baffled said...

god, how utterly complicated. i dont very often read feminist blogs, and i just wandered in here after quite a while.

so i read the post on chivalry and then this one. and i dont understand you. you dont want preferential treatment. you want chivalry gone. you want it to be the same. so why so much hue and cry over something that has happened in science, in sport, in war and in every competitive field since all the days of mankind? you want equality? this is it. everyone trying to get ahead of everyone else, by whatever means.

thats how it happens. and your post is very belligerently a post about a woman mistreated, rather than yet another scientist who lost out. there are hundreds of them. why no post before?

Confused & Baffled said...

hmm..after a 2nd perusal of the post, and comment section, i think i'd like to take my comment back. you already answered a similar question as mine. thanks.

Q said...

for all you ppl telling me that i should shut up, first see that this lady always writes posts like this.
Now punkster lady, you are sayin that women did not have the same jobs and oppurtinities as men.I will accept, maybe it was hard for women in the past. but nowadays, women have many oppurtunities and they are also taking seats which other ppl deserve.
Dont say that does not happen lady, with your circular logic. What is stopping you then from studying and becoming brilliant or famous. Women are welcomed in science today, if other women are taking the oppurtunities then why are you sitting and crying bout the past?Are you jealous? You know that you cant acheive even 0.0001% of women like Rosalind franklin, and thats why you act as if u are angry and say everythings because of sexism. Truth is, you dont have the stamina or strength to work hard and achieve success.So you hide behind anger.

Q said...

and I will STFU lady, but you answer my questions. I am waiting.

Drunken Master said...

Most Nobel Prize winners achieve a sort of untouchable status when they win and despite Watson's coming out party, he too is up there.

That there is plagiarism in academia and the sciences is not unknown - having borne witness to two blatant instances myself, but the fields are also steeped in reputation, which hardly diminishes over time as a person's achievements become lore and the realities slowly erode away even as Watson slowly but surely loses his marbles in the public eye.

I didn't know about the whole Franklin footnote, but it reminds me of the Marconi-Bose controversy which reeks of racism.

Your post provides an interesting take, but I think had Franklin been alive, she'd have been so in a different era, making it a lot harder for us to predict how things would have been. Not that sexism didn't exist then, but times were different either way. Maybe she'd have friends who'd influence her decisions. Maybe a better mentor. Maybe she wouldn't have kept her notes secret. We can never say. Anachronising events has too many holes.

Personally, I'd rather take the story away from here as opposed to the instant analysis, as I generally do with Nova (I'm not comparing you with the series) which goes over the top regularly. I am also not condoning sexism in that era, but just like Bose-Marconi, I think Franklin's works will be acknowledged only after that old fart Watson croaks.

Drunken Master said...

I like Q! I wish he were my friend. I wish more of my friends were like him. That way, hanging out with him (them) at the bar/club, more girls would pay attention to me...

Anonymous said...

As a scientist and a woman, I can vouch for the fact that there's still sexism in the field, but it's certainly not the norm, and it mostly comes from old men. Most young/middle aged men understand that intelligence does not equal maleness. I expect sexism to be a non-issue in a decade or so; at least in the sciences, as soon as the old, sexist, but nonetheless well meaning farts retire.

Allegations of sexism in academia are taken very seriously. Of course, we're still only talking about academia, where people are far more enlightened than the average man on the streets. But thankfully, it only takes small pockets of enlightenment. Take Ibsen's plays, for instance; they were considered scandalous in his time, but they eventually helped change Norwegian society.

I agree with Drunken Master, Franklin's lack of recognition was very likely not solely a result of her gender; it could have been her early death or just plain and simple plagiarism. Either way, it's unfair to hold up the Franklin controversy to modern standards. Society is constantly evolving, standards keep changing. Most young people take gay rights very seriously, yet we don't expect to see an openly gay head of state in the near future, at least not in any non-Scandinavian nation.

Watson's comments are stupid, but he's 79. It would be grossly unfair for his entire life's work to be shadowed by some ill-thought of comment he made in his senility, that he unreservedly apoligized for. He looks so old and fragile that I just can't take him seriously enough to find his statement offensive. I feel sorry for the man. He should just stop talking in public.


CW said...

Given the time and the lobbying that went on, I don't think she stood a chance of sharing the prize with them. And this is where sexism enters the picture- coz am certain that had she been a he, he would have been cited (albeit grudgingly) and been a co-winner. (Or is it just me?)
Yes, Watson should zip his mouth. Yes he is old. Yes he says inane things. So we forgive him. But the woman who gave the most critical contribution to the finding of the century, still gets slapped with various labels, dead and long gone though she is. My only question is, is it only women who wonder if the world would have treated her the same way had she been a man???

DotMom said...

I have some family (the XX variety) doing genetic research and from the talks I have with her from time to time, I have to concur with Raindrop. Sexism still exists, but is more prevalent in older men. Plagarim is rampant in research fields. As is backstabbing and all flavous of dirty politics. Will make Wash.DC. blush. Its a dirty business.

Southways said...

I dont know how people can even argue that there is no sexism at play here! When I was young (and naive) I thought academia and the scientific community would be free of the sexism that one has to undergo in the corporate community. But sadly there are so many Rosalinds out there. The whole world is fucking unfair! Imagine if she was black...

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??! said...

Girl, this isn't sexism. This is injustice.

This happens all the time in science, and in academia. Franklin was not the first, and isn't the last, scientist to have had her stuff stolen and not got recognition. It had nothing to do with her being a woman.

And yes, Watson may have tried to portray her negatively, but then that's because he's who he is.

Also, you say Women were not even considered to be as intelligent as men. Perhaps, but at the other end of the spectrum - Marie Curie. Who was recognised. Twice. On her own as well.

So let's not hijack a wider issue (theft of IPR) into a narrower issue (gender inequality).

Surya said...

you go girl!

Sakshi said...

Actually Franklin would not have received the Nobel for that discovery since she was not the lead investigator on it but Wilkins was (and Nobel limit is 3 people per investigation). Sadly she was not even acknowledged.
Cricks later admitted that Franklin would have deduced the structure by herself.

Its a pity that she died early for she would have won the Nobel for her work on viruses with Klug. And she died of cancer that most likely was a result of working with Xray in those days of no protection.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

Apologies for the extremely late replies. I got food poisoned two days ago and answering comments was the last thing on my mind when I was switching between bouts of vomiting and excruciating stomach pain. Ok, enough grotesque details. Lets crank up the reply-machine.

@ Dufus Maximus: Feminism is not off balance. However, I will say that people's perceptions of what feminism really stands for, is off kilter usually because of the stupendous job done by the media and popular culture shticks to sully its reputation. Just so you know. :)

@ TAP: Hullo! Back with a dapper new look, are we? :)

Oh, yes yes. Especially my propensity to indulge in hysterics. Don't you dare forget. Hee.

@ Confused and baffled: Oh, all right then. :D

@ Q: Sigh, what questions do you want me to answer? You are so tiresome, sheesh.

@ Drunken: Amen on the Watson croaking bit. And please take Q, please. You can gladly have him/her.

@ Raindrop: Two things,

I have never said anywhere in this post that Franklin’s treatment was solely because of her gender. I did make an allusion to the general sexism of the time, because I felt it would be daft and dismissive of me if I hadn’t mentioned the chauvinism and prejudice of the 1950’s especially in the sciences. That does not unequivocally mean that I said that sexism was the sole cause of Rosalind being shortchanged. We don’t exactly know as to the extent with which it occurred in this controversy, but considering the gender prejudices of the 50’s, which was particularly pronounced in the sciences, I think it will be uninformed on our part to pooh-pooh it away, and ignore its prevalence. I don’t know how that translates into holding ‘her controversy to today’s standards’.

As a woman firmly entrenched in the pure sciences myself, I cannot ignore the fact that the upper echelons of science today are populated by the sort of people who subscribe to the 50’s gender ethic (not all, but enough people do). And these happen to be older white men, so yes, once their generation ‘passes on’ then things will definitely get much better. I don’t know if it will become perfectly gender neutral, but at least it’ll be better than the status quo, I quite agree.

Second, I cannot indulgently wave away Watson’s statements as some ill thought out comment he made in his senility because, a) This is not the first time he has insulted and undermined Rosalind Franklin and her work and b) He has been doing it for a long enough time (about 39 years); well before ‘senility’ could be used as an excuse to cover up for his hateful diatribe. All you have to do is pick up a copy of Watson’s ‘The Double Helix’ which was written by Watson in 1968, in which he refers to Franklin as “Wilkin’s assistant” and makes a markedly disparaging statement about her presence in King’s as “the best home for a feminist was in another person's lab” or by his own candid admission (where he respectfully addresses Rosalind by the irksome ‘Rosy’), “Rosy, of course, did not directly give us her data. For that matter, no one at King’s realized they were in our hands.” Or this gem, “Clearly Rosy had to go or be put in her place […] Unfortunately Maurice could not see any decent way to give Rosy the boot”. These aren’t statements made by a man in his senility. These were statements made by a man who was well in his prime and he continues to make them, with no remorse or reason. That to me is unacceptable.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ CW: Yes, Watson should zip his mouth. Yes he is old. Yes he says inane things. So we forgive him. But the woman who gave the most critical contribution to the finding of the century, still gets slapped with various labels, dead and long gone though she is.

Amen. Amen. Amen. Someone who actually got the point of this post, finally.

@ Dotmom: Refer to my reply to Raindrop. :)

@ Southways: I know! I cannot even imagine the trials she must have gone through, had she been a woman of color. Seriously.

@ ??!: I do know that work gets plagiarized in academia. But how does that take away from my argument that Franklin's work was undermined? How does that negate my stance that having her work stolen and her not being credited for her work is wrong and despicable? Just because it happens, that doesn’t make it right. And as I tried to explain to Raindrop, I never said that she was undermined only because she was a woman. My statement was an allusion and an observation on the prevalent sexism of the time. It was my way of saying that the rampant gender prejudices of the 50’s may have played a part in this controversy, but to what extent, I’m not sure. It would be daft of me however, to leave it out considering the time and the place she was in.

And also, how does “Watson is just the way he is” absolve him of anything? That does not even qualify as a reason, let alone a good enough reason to give him a free pass on all the noxious crap he’s spewed about Franklin over the years.

Finally, Marie Curie has been an oft abused, and often the lone example used when anyone raises a not so comfortable question about women in the sciences. It is quite frankly dismal, that we cannot come up with other examples just as easily. Can you please come up with other Nobel Laureates for science who happen to be women, off the top of your head?

@ Surya: Erm, thanks?

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Sakshi: But it was Franklin's work. None of it was Wilkins's. He did try to take his own pictures of the 'wet' form or the 'B' form of DNA using X-ray crystallography, but his pictures were not good enough or successful enough as that of Franklin's. Also, her deductions that the phosphates were outside (along with her calculations of the interphosphate distances), was all her work. Wilkins's hand in this was absolutely minimal. He was just there, just like Watson said, at the right place and the right time. And Wilkins was not Franklin's boss. She was not hired as his inferior, she was hired to do his work and his team's work. He thought she was his inferior, but that was because of the mess created by their boss, a one Mr.Randall, who without informing Wilkins assigned the DNA studies to her. So the situation is a tad more convoluted than 'Wilkins was the lead investigator'.

And hello! Gosh, I always forget my manners, heh.

Sakshi said...

@ Punkster - Absolutely no arguements. I had blogged about this a long time ago and I always tell my students about her contribution :)
However, it is the lead investigator who is acknoledged fir the Nobel. And it was Wilkins project, even if he never got any data.
And hello to you too. I am a reader just never comment. Yes, a lurker. One of those :)

Sakshi said...

@ Punkster - Absolutely no arguements. I had blogged about this a long time ago and I always tell my students about her contribution :)
However, it is the lead investigator who is acknoledged fir the Nobel. And it was Wilkins project, even if he never got any data.
And hello to you too. I am a reader just never comment. Yes, a lurker. One of those :)

??! said...

How does that take away from my argument that Franklin's work was undermined
It doesn't..and I agreed with you on that. If you read my comment again, you will see I was arguing about the fact that you seemed to make it seem that the reason it happened was because she was a woman.

how does “Watson is just the way he is” absolve him of anything
It doesn't absolve him (and I don't) - but it does explain his remarks. Or his mental frame of mind. He doesn't really like anybody. Except himself, of course.

cram said...

Hi Megha

Something you would be interested in.


the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Sakshi: Another lurker? You? Better late than never to comment, I guess. :D

@ ??!: He does seem to lather on the pomposity, doesn't he? I guess insulting people and blatantly lying about them after their death, is not beneath him. It gives me the heebie jeebies. Ugh.

@ Cram: Thanks! I needed to see that.

prashant said...

I have been a lurker on your blog
But this article was so interesting that i couldn't help leaving a comment.
Insightful story about really happened; but one question - where did you get these facts from ? These don't sound like hearsay and i am guessing that since you are pursuing/have completed studies in the US, you have heard this from someone.
Would like to know your sources.

Krish Ashok said...

Pow. The Q-Magnet strikes again :)

Wendelin said...

Holy crap. Now I'm really fuming. This is not good for my heart rate, dammit.

Will check that book out asap. This Watson fellow really is the mimit, isn't he?

Suki said...

Am usually the first one to pipe up "But it was Franklin's work!" whenever people talk about Watson and Crick. :). Thanks for the detailed explanation.

Hopped here on a recommendation by Dotmom. We were talking about templates, and I was whining that you can't have tabbed templates in Blogger. How DID you get yours? Please tell - please post about it if you can, will be happy to check!

Seems like I came here just for the template, but will be hanging around for the content as well. :)

nevermind said...

Hi, apologies for the earlier disappearance. I've thought about this over and over for about 5 yrs now. First, some context.

The European scientific establishment and KCL have long acknowledged that Dr. Franklin's discoveries were fundamental to the discovery of the DNA. Thus, you have the Franklin-Wilkins building at KCL, the Rosalind Franklin room at the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society's Rosalind Franklin prize and the Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago. The UK school syllabus also reflects this, as does science museums, the National Portrait Gallery etc. She is part of the British (and perhaps European) public scientific consciousness.

But it was not always thus. And the irony is that it was Watson, in 1968, with his crude/grossly unwarranted caricature of her in 'The Double Helix' who triggered both Aaron Klug and Anne Sayre's rebuttals. Nature also took the issue up in a big way. Almost overnight, Rosalind Franklin became precisely as famous as Watson didn't ever wish her to be. One can only imagine the discomfiture this must have caused Watson.

Also, KCL itself was set up by London Anglicans expressly opposed to secular and non-discriminatory trends that were sweeping academia in 19th century London. This had to do with UCL being set up north of the river with help from wealthy Jews, as a counterpoint to Oxford and Cambridge which admitted only Anglicans those days. Rosalind Franklin was Jewish.

Besides, Franklin did not actually get a degree from Cambridge though she'd fulfilled the requirements for one, since Cambridge in those days did not deem women 'worthy' of being conferred degrees.

Now, some random and related points.

1) Photo 51 is impossibly famous. Say DNA to self-respecting natural scientist and they'll think of Photo 51, along with Franklin, Watson, Crick etc. Which is nice;

2) Plagiarism doesn't 'happen all the time' in really serious academia. It used to happen a lot more in the old days. These days, it happens a lot more with student projects and theses. It also happens more in countries where there is 'an academic free market', and in places where Research Governance and Ethics are still new ideas. In serious academia in countries with robust Research Governance, you borrow ideas, yes, but you always attribute and reference. In other words, you mind your manners or get fired. Despite this, some plagiarism still slips through the net, but with the advent of the web, this is becoming increasingly difficult. The key issue with Watson and Crick's work was that they neither attributed nor referenced anything significant to Dr. Franklin, despite the fact that the viability of their entire model hinged around Dr. Franklin's breakthrough intellectual insight. I stress on the intellectual, because it is her intellect that Watson has consistently attempted to rubbish over the years ("She couldn't think in 3 dimensions", Du..uh?)

3) If you go through Watson's interviews, there are some recurrent themes. He returns repeatedly to people and ideas that have told him to fuck off/run contrary to his particular worldview e.g. Prof. Rose who coolly dismembered his 'IQ and race' argument in the New Statesman, is dragged conveniently in when discussing his son's schizophrenia, where Watson misleadingly and subtly implies that social theories of schizophrenia are discredited and that they have something to do with Rose. They have nothing to do with Rose. And they are not discredited e.g. urbanicity and migration are both solid risk factors for Schizophrenia, not just higher parental age. But the former doesn't fit with Watson's limited scientific worldview, while the latter does. Also note his casual dismissal of social science as 'not a science'. I wonder what a John Maynard Keynes or an Amartya Sen would say to that;

4) Given Watson's preoccupation with 'pure science', to call someone 'partly autistic' is laughably unscientific pop-categorization. There's nothing called 'partly autistic'. You've either got Autism or you don't. 'The curious incident..' is about Asperger's, not Autism. The nosological validity of Asperger's itself is not proven. Period;

5) As for Watson's comments about IQ, none of the well-established IQ tests (WAIS, S-B etc.) have any meaningful cross-cultural validity. To illustrate by standing this on it's head, someone from a Japanese cultural background can assess Watson's long history of 'foot-in-mouth comments' and come to the perfectly culturally valid conclusion (given the Japanese context) that he has severe deficits in social intelligence;

5) A proportion of geneticists tend to have a 'our ( purely biological) science is science, the rest is rubbish' worldview. I have been to interviews where I have been met with singular hostility by geneticists, who ask impossibly idiotic questions like 'when you reviewed this genetic paper, did you deliver a social-cultural-anthropological critique of it's contents?'. The correct answer to this being 'No, you dickhead, that would have been completely out-of-context. Next.';

6) Academia is sexist and racist and homophobic in parts, and stupid old men of all colours are equally to blame. Not just white. Some of the most sexist Professors are African, Middle and Far Eastern. It is less so on all counts than in other areas, like say, business and law. I wouldn't say that everything's gonna be hunky dory in 20 yrs, because that's being over-optimistic. KCL is not institutionally sexist today, it's Principal is a woman (not that that proves anything). But many KCL Professors are sexist and racist, some openly, some subtly. So it's still there, despite KCL's preoccupation with Franklin.

And I don't think Dr. Franklin would have got the prize. I also recommend reading about Mary Seacole. And that's a long comment, sorry.

Kartik said...

Hmm - I posted this, but for some reason it didn't turn up.

This has a lot of resonance with the whole episode of Lise Meitner and the discovery of Nuclear Fission, whence the Nobel committee, in all its (admittedly limited) wisdom decided promptly to award Otto Hahn for that discovery.

Of course its different in that Hahn generously mentioned Meitner during his speech, and that all this happened in her lifetime - but still, Meitner had to undergo much of the same discrimination while progressing through her field that Franklin had to contend with.

I think being around research and research labs makes one see the sort of comments that Watson through a whole new spectrum of disgust.

Sriram said...

Oh can I just say I is back? :D

Now, I need some help with the template :D

deepa said...

Sexism in science exists in plenty. Surprisingly, I found it to be more true of academic departments in the U.S.( where I did my masters) then in a national engineering college of outstanding repute in southern India was back in the early nineties!

Nope, she wouldn't have. Not way back then definitely. The three stooges would've barked her down.

Feanor said...

Hiya. I saw your post some time ago and was prompted to write about it in my blog. Sadly, discrimination against women is a worldwide cultural phenomenon, and it's difficult therefore to say that scientists are immune to the usual prejudices. In mathematics, too, the very small number of active women have faced large odds at every turn. There are a few heartening stories, such as those of Kovalevskaya and Germain, but in general, women have been downplayed time after time...

Feanor said...

May I also point out the following paper by Gina Hamilton? It shows that in some fields (e.g. astronomy) there were on the whole positive attributions to work done by women.

Unmana said...

Hey, did you look at this?