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# Gender and Science in the DNA Story

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Science  08 Nov 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5596, pp. 1177-1178
DOI: 10.1126/science.1078331

Rosalind Franklin

HarperCollins, London and New York, 2002. 400 pp. £20. ISBN 0-00-257149-8. $29.95, C$44.95. ISBN 0-06-018407-8.

The 1968 publication of James Watson's two-part thriller, The Double Helix, in The Atlantic Monthly left both the scientific and literary worlds atwitter. I still have my tattered copies, bought on my salary as a genetics graduate student. But neither then nor later did I twitter. Instead, I raged and wondered—as I sometimes, although far less frequently, still do some 34 years later—whether I or any woman would ever be welcome in the world of science. What I did not know at the time, but have since learned from reading Brenda Maddox's able, balanced, and well-researched biography Rosalind Franklin, was that Watson's account was a scandal even before publication. In fact, it seems that the Harvard Board of Overseers refused to publish it in book form because of its self-aggrandizement and scurrilous portraits of all of the principals in the story.

Franklin, however, was the only woman in on the discovery of DNA's double helix, and, having died of ovarian cancer a decade before Watson's account was published, she was no longer around to defend herself. Worse yet—as I suspected even as a scientific youngster, and as Maddox persuasively confirms—the ugly, distorted picture of a shrill, frumpy, unimaginative scientist was a construction essential to Watson's depiction of himself as a prototype of the scientist hero. It was not carelessness that led Watson to attack Franklin, even ignoring his own friendly scientific interactions with her in the years after the elucidation of DNA structure. Rather, the narrative structure demanded that he distort her in order to remake himself as the hero of modern science.