A Modern Greek Tragedy in Temperament

… and Gender.

The Fates can be cruel or kind, or both.  It seems so in this story.  This story is about discovery.  This story is about life and death.

She had worked hard all her life.  She had overcome her circumstance. Latin: Circum– to encircle, stance to take a position, to contend. Yes, it had been a man’s world, she was surrounded by her society and her family who discouraged her from her passion: science. Of course, other women had suffered discrimination before her: Marie Curie and Emmy Noether to name two, but they had their families to teach them, encourage and help them. Nobody had encouraged her, certainly not her family, and still was a man’s world in science in 1952.  She had to rely on herself, so she thought and acted.

He, of course, was hopelessly arrogant and smart.  He had been a precocious child; he even appear on Quiz Kids. And he had hooked up with an equally curious and brilliantly arrogant man, a man with a thousand ideas a minute.  They had formed an informal team: a Mastermind Rational, James Watson and a Inventor Rational, Frances Crick at the Cavendish Labs in Cambridge. Real Idea Men.

She was reluctant to show her x-ray pictures and data to Watson, in fact she refused.  He had to get them indirectly.  She was dismissive of Crick and Watson’s work – they were wrong – she had convinced them that their initial models couldn’t be right.  Rosalind Franklin, a Mastermind Rational, a Strategic Contender, knew her stuff.  She was a meticulous scientist, she did not speculate wildly beyond the scientific evidence on hand.  She had taught herself to be disciplined in science – rigorous deduction was the way not to get lost.  That way you don’t make mistakes, yourself.

Making mistakes is bad.  It is good to avoid them.  But on the otherhand, if you try to eliminate mistakes, you unfortunately, probably won’t make brilliant mistakes, either.

“Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself.”  — Vilfredo Pareto

Watson had Crick, Crick had Watson. They used wire models of the molecular radicals, and their imagination. Together they figured out the key to life: the Structure of DNA.  They had use their own unique talents, Temperament, and knowledge, but they worked as an Idea team. And they also had Rosy and her work, however reluctant, critical, and knowledgeable she was.

They published their findings in 1953, not acknowledging Rosalind Franklin as being key in the discovery.  For she was and wasn’t.  Without Franklin’s work it probably would have been others, not Watson and Crick who made the discovery, possibly years later by an iconoclast like Linus Pauling, or who knows.  The correct interpretation of Franklin’s x-ray diffraction data of crystaline DeoxyriboNucleic Acid, was Crick and Watson’s solely.  This interpretation has been described by some other biologists and Nobel laureates as the most important scientific discovery of the 20th century. They were rewarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962, five years after Franklin had died of ovarian cancer.

She did have her Science.  She knew herself — what she did.

A tragedy?  A comedy?  Or a Modern Greek Tale of Temperament and Gender.

6 thoughts on “A Modern Greek Tragedy in Temperament

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