Race For The Double Helix: An Analysis
1. What were your first impressions of the main characters?
James Watson: He can be seen as someone who is quick to judge, somewhat condescending, yet intelligent, suave, and dedicated to his work.
Francis Crick: He does the same research with Watson and they are both teammates. He is also eager to know what is in DNA and the relationship of it with the double-helix, but at the same time is disorganised, and expected Watson to do a majority of work.
Rosalind Franklin: Seeing a woman as a scientist during this time is somewhat rare, so the fact that she has taken up this profession show that she is persistent, dedicated, and smart. The only problem is that she is undervalued because of her gender. She is also very quiet and reserved because she’s in a different country.
Maurice Wilkins: This scientist is seen as somewhat sexist, because he does not believe in the potential of Rosalind’s scientific abilities. At the same time, he seemed to be dedicated to work, but Rosalind seems to do a majority of the work.
2. Compare the research approaches/ styles/ attitudes of Watson and Crick with those of
Franklin does independent research and is doubted by others because of her gender, but Wilkins does not like this approach and is trying to get rid of her. Watson and Crick work together and are considered more credible.
3. Do you think Franklin should have shared her information more freely with the others? Why or why not?
No, I don’t think she should have shared her information more freely because the information she shared about the double helix structure was stolen by other scientists such as Watson and Crick. Even if it was originally hers, she got no credit by the scientific society.
Under what circumstances do you think scientists are justified in not sharing their
results with others before their research is completed?
Under no circumstances should a scientist feel uncomfortable sharing information and finding, because the purpose of their research is to benefit the world, and if the world does not know, it cannot be helped. On the other hand, the world is not perfect, and devious mind, like that of Watson, would be compelled to copy another’s research without giving credit to him/her.
4. Do you think Watson may have had a valid point when he told Rosalind that a
"fresh" look" at her work may be what was needed? Explain your reasoning.
Yes, he has a point in saying that her research is accurate and worthy, yet he was using this “fresh” look conversation to get more information out of her and manipulate her resources. Additionally, this second look did help her overall, because it helped her determine the order of the phosphates.
5. What important relationship between DNA nucleotides did Watson and Crick discover?
What methods did they use to accomplish this?
They discovered the attraction between the bases, in that purines are paired with Pyridines, as seen through the patterns A-T and G-C. The...
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Dr. Watson was no doubt well aware of the risks in describing what he really felt at the time. In an era of relentless self-promotion, few could understand that an author might choose to set down the exact truth even if it was unflattering. One set of critics felt the public image of science had been grievously damaged by this unvarnished portrayal of competitive instincts. Another group used his narrative to charge that Franklin had been unfairly robbed of the Nobel Prize.
The annotated edition of “The Double Helix,” prepared by two of Dr. Watson’s colleagues at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Alexander Gann and Jan Witkowski, provides several documents that bear on Franklin’s role in the discovery. One is the devious and destructive letter sent to her by John Randall, chairman of the physics department at King’s College, London.
Randall’s colleague Maurice H. F. Wilkins, the only English researcher officially working on the structure of DNA, had asked him for an assistant. Franklin was duly hired, but Randall, for reasons best known to him, implied in his letter that DNA would be her project alone. This naturally set up a poisonous state of affairs between Franklin and Wilkins. They barely communicated, and Franklin by herself made slow progress, opening up the strong possibility that the American chemist Linus Pauling would solve the problem first.
Because of his own work and an early X-ray photo of DNA taken by W. T. Astbury, Wilkins strongly believed that the molecule had a helical structure. For a long while Franklin doubted this. The annotated edition reproduces the black-bordered postcard in which she mockingly announced the death of the DNA helix. “It is hoped that Dr. M. H. F. Wilkins will speak in memory of the late helix,” she wrote.
The young Dr. Watson had no monopoly on contempt for his fellow scientists. Franklin, for example, wrote of her colleagues in a letter excerpted here, “The other middle and senior people are positively repulsive and it’s they who set the general tone.”
The first Watson-Crick attempt to build a model of the DNA structure was a disaster. Dr. Watson had misremembered the figure for the water content of DNA that Franklin announced in a lecture. He and Crick proudly invited her and Wilkins to Cambridge to view the model and were humiliated when she instantly pointed out the error. Lawrence Bragg, head of Crick’s department at Cambridge, was mortified by the failure and ordered him to get back to his studies on protein structure.
Despite his youth, Dr. Watson had developed a keen insight into the motivations of his older colleagues. He adroitly used Pauling’s first — mistaken — publication on DNA to persuade Bragg that the American chemist would triumph again unless Crick was allowed to resume his model building.
An appendix makes it clear how close “The Double Helix” came to being suppressed. Dr. Watson sent the manuscript to many of the central players, inviting their comments on its accuracy. Harvard University Press had accepted it for publication, but the Harvard authorities came to feel it was too hot a potato and dropped it.
Atheneum Publishers, which picked it up, requested a blander title — previous versions had included “Honest Jim” and “Base Pairs.” The latter — referring to the paired sets of chemical bases that form the steps in the double helix, and by extension to the two discoverers — gave particular offense to Crick, who failed to see why he should be considered base. Atheneum’s lawyers then tried to make the text inoffensive to the many possible litigants.
But Dr. Watson was able to resist many changes. He had cannily persuaded Bragg to write a foreword, and this endorsement from an establishment figure provided sufficient protection for the book to be published. It proceeded to sell more than a million copies.
Classic works of literature from Herodotus’s “Histories” to “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Waste Land” have received the honor of annotated editions. “The Double Helix” richly deserves admittance to this hall of fame. I have one cavil: The publisher, seemingly to economize on black ink, has printed the documents and photographs in such low-definition, smudgy gray that many are unreadable. That aside, the edition produces much of the raw material out of which a masterpiece was created.Continue reading the main story