Honest Jim

I just finished my research paper and I thought my findings were so interesting that I could not help but share them with the class. I examined alternative accounts of the discovery of the structure of DNA and pinned them against Watson’s own. I had gone into the project expecting that Watson had made up a large amount of information, or at least seriously dramatized it for the sake of the novel. However, the more I read and found out, the less I believed this to be the case.

Particularly striking was his treatment of Rosalind. That no one ever called her “Rosy” to her face made me believe that Watson had just created a slew of lies. Yet my reading indicated otherwise. All indications are that she was a very brusque and forward person. She, according to her close friends, could be bossy and impatient, not because she was mean, but because she was so serious about science. One of her friends, Anne Sayre, pointed out that she could often come off as far more stubborn or opposed to an idea than she actually was. Watson’s account of her personality was confused and incorrect; he clearly didn’t fully understand her, as he admitted in the epilogue. But I think, generally speaking, he probably accurately described their initial interactions and first impressions, which was Watson’s stated goal. I’m sure that Watson exaggerated, but I don’t think as much as some have lead us to believe.

I also learned more about the question of stealing data. While we’ve already thoroughly discussed the ethics of it, some of the personal reactions were fascinating. Rosalind Franklin, according to Sayre, didn’t really care; she never really knew how much data of hers Watson and Crick actually used (because she never showed it to them, people showed them without her permission). Maurice Wilkins, however, was furious when Watson and Crick found the double helix first. He wrote in his autobiography that he angrily chastised Watson and Crick, which, perhaps out of courtesy, did not appear in Watson’s novel. Watson also felt very guilty that Maurice Wilkins would not get due credit and so offered him to opportunity to co-author the original paper, which Wilkins declined (Watson never made this offer to Rosalind Franklin).

Overall, I think Watson’s account of the events that took place were slightly exaggerated. At the very least, it seems likely that the novel felt much more dramatic than the actual events (since the novel was condensed and only included relevant details). On the whole, however, I think Watson’s account is probably fairly accurate. Honest Jim may be honest after all.

-Nick B.

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~ by nickmbrown on April 26, 2010.

One Response to “Honest Jim”

  1. This is so interesting that you researched the context of The Double Helix. All of this background information adds a lot to our class discussion. I’m intrigued by the fact that Rosalind supposedly didn’t care about “stealing” data, while Maurice got very upset. I wonder if Jim ever wanted to include that in the book, or if he decided to exclude it from the beginning. Cool project!

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