Talk:Robert Olby

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=== Quotes by Robert Olby ==== (from the Oregon State University web site on Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA)


OLBY: ...One might say that the transforming concept in DNA is the idea of complementarity, a replication of the old-term basis. We have already mentioned that Pauling had suggested the essence of this idea, although he did not have the precise structural form. Nevertheless, the idea was around for some time, and I do not think that in itself it was so tremendously transforming. The earlier stages are far more important.

Plenary Sessions of the Conference on Transforming Conceptions of Modern Science, Bellagio, Italy. September 10-14, 1969.

OLBY: Most people believe that Wilkins could have done it, and they are sure that Pauling could have done it before Watson and Crick, had he been given the data. It is interesting that when Corey went to King's in 1952, Rosalind Franklin took him into a lab and projected the DNA pictures, but Corey was a gentleman and did not attempt to convey this information, or did not remember it precisely enough to give it to Pauling. HOLTON: Pauling says in his paper that he attempted to get photos and failed. What happened? When he wrote, Wilkins replied, 'I am working on it myself.' OLBY: Wilkins simply said that he had not reached the stage when he wished to show them. Pauling was refused a passport in 1951, at the last minute; he was going to a meeting, and was arranging to go to Wilkin's [sic] lab then. Of course, not much data was available then, but there was enough to have been quite helpful, and this would have changed things completely. I am sure that if he had gone, Wilkins would have had to show him something. A good example of what you are saying is the case of the alpha helix. Pauling had set up a group to do X-ray crystallography of the subunits of the proteins, and they got very precise data that enabled him to build up the whole molecule from the parameters of the subunits. As you know, he did this successfully in 1948 in London, but did nothing about it because his final picture of the alpha helix in 1948 did not agree with the X-ray diagram of the whole molecule, as taken by the Englishman, W. T. Astbury, on hair keratin. He then waited two years, until 1950, when the group at I.C.I. in London published the first X-ray pictures of synthetic polypeptides. These synthetic polypeptides did not have the anonymous reflection that Astbury's fixtures had had, and could be accommodated to the alpha helix; and he then published the paper. I think he was hoping to do the same thing with nucleic acids, because enough had been published on the subunits for him to do it, but he was misled by the erroneous pictures of the whole molecule.

Plenary Sessions of the Conference on Transforming Conceptions of Modern Science, Bellagio, Italy. September 10-14, 1969.

OLBY: ...The other point is about DNA. Pauling is very frank in telling why he did not succeed here. I thought this was an interesting example of how one's courage and willingness to put out an idea, even if you are not sure it is right, can sometimes lead to disaster. We were talking yesterday about physical sense and saying that it is a combination of a deep knowledge of the subject, an affinity with nature on the physical side, and just good sense -- not just common sense, but sense in terms of taking what to you, intuitively and without working it out very carefully, seems to be the correct answer to a problem. I would suggest that Pauling has this sense; it comes out beautifully in his work on sickle-cell anemia, and it is also present in his work on DNA. There is another aspect of the way Pauling works, although I do not know that he mentions it here: his 'capacitic method.' He starts with a few postulates about the parameters and the restrictions of orientation of the subunits in a giant molecule, and from there works out pure whole molecules. This worked beautifully with polypeptides, and gave him the correct answer to what the whole molecule is like. Whereas with DNA the same procedure -- using what he knew about the subunits there and building a model that fitted beautifully -- did not work out. Schumacher, who was involved in this work, told me that he did not believe in it, and I expressed my disbelief in it, but when they made it all fresh in one bond, and packed it, it was so beautiful it just had to exist. This, perhaps, is part of the essence of a physical sense, even though here, unfortunately, it did not quite work out.

Plenary Sessions of the Conference on Transforming Conceptions of Modern Science, Bellagio, Italy. September 10-14, 1969.

An interesting selection of quotes; the question being why just these and not others? Comments!


Is the Susan Blackmore article really relevant to the Robert Olby article? --JWSchmidt 20:12, 8 June 2006 (UTC)

Yes it is in my opinion, John; it demonstrates that 'consciousness' is still a contemporary scientific issue two years after Crick's death, and will no doubt be well covered in Olby's biography of him.

You might like to ask yourself and other Wikipedians (?) why all the references to both Olby's "The Path to The Double Helix" and Horace Freeland Judson's "The Eighth Day of Creation" 'disapeared' from the bibiliographical references for articles for Watson, Crick, Franklin, and Wilkins. I have recently re-instated the references to Olby's book; perhaps you can do the same for Freeland Judson's book?

Both are key texts for anyone wanting a full understanding of the history of molecular biology, but why would anyone remove them?

  • Horace Freeland Judson, "The Eighth Day of Creation. Makers of the Revolution in Biology"; Penguin Books 1995, first published by Jonathan Cape, 1977; ISBN: 13579108642.

Nitramrekcap 18:23, 29 June 2006 (UTC)