Knowsitall Award: James Watson on His 86th Birthday


Knowital-AwardToday we award the Knowsitall Award for Academic Arrogance to James Watson for his amazing success in taking credit for the work of Rosalind Franklin.

There is a general misunderstanding about the Nobel Prize.  The award os not given for the scientist, but for the discovery and only for a discovery that is attributable to no more than 3 people.  Many of our greatest scientists may never get the Nobel because the wok they did lacked the needed impact or the work was done with more than two other colleagues.  The Nobel award for the structure of DNA  was given to Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins.

Born  April 6, 1928, James Watson has engraved himself in history.  When I knew Watson at Harvard, just before he won the Nobel Prize, he was famous for his arrogance dissing others, especially the scientists at Cold Spring Harbor who were then developing the fundamental principles of embryology … Watson later became the Director of Cold Spring Harbor.  That arrogance has contaminated the man. even tainting the Nobel Prize.

Watson worked at the University of Cambridge‘s Cavendish Laboratory in England, where he first met his future collaborator and friend Francis Crick.   In 1952 Rosalind Franklin produced an  X ray image,  “Photograph 51.” of DNA while at King’s College in London working in the lab of Maurice Wilkins.  It is this photograph, acquired through 100 hours of X-ray exposure from a machine Dr. Franklin herself refined, that revealed the structure of DNA.   Rosalind Franklin died in 1958 of ovarian cancer, at age 37, perhaps from radiation exposure from her work. Francis Harry Compton Crick, James Dewey Watson and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins, used Photograph 51  for their famous model of DNA that culminated in their winning the Nobel Prize in 1062


After winning international fame and earning money off of his book Double Helix, listed by the Board of the Modern Library as number seven in their list of 100 Best Nonfiction books.  The book portrayed Watson as a towering entrepreneurial; figure, giving well deserved credit to Crick’s genius, but never acknowledging others whose work really created the breakthrough.  As a biologist, my admiration must include Avery who first proved that the genes were coded in DNA.  As for Franklin,  Watson took 40 years to admit he had stolen the image from Dr. Franklin.

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