Talk:The Double Helix

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Rewritten paragraph[edit]

I've removed the following and replaced it with a shorter paragraph. It should be obvious why, but in outline: (1) The author of this piece clearly takes Sayre's side against Watson and Crick (POV); (2) it is full of editorializing and snide comments (Watson's book reads like a novel; perhaps he is missing an ethics gene) and bizarre psychologizing ("aggressive and unfeminine . . .perfect stereotype of aggressive female subordinate . . ." What?) (3) Much of it makes no sense, since the background details are not provided; it presupposes having read one or both books; (4) Too much data: it is absurd that an article on Watson's book, containing only a five-line summary of it, should also have a three-paragraph expression of one claim by one detractor.

The Double Helix and Rosalind Franklin:[edit]

In the book "Rosalind Franklin and DNA", author Anne Sayre is very critical of the characterization presented by James D. Watson in The Double Helix. According to sayre, "Rosy" was less an individual than a character, in the exact sense, that is, of a character in a work of fiction" (Franklin and DNA, 18). Indeed, the "Rosy" character that Watson portrays and the Rosalind Franklin of Anne Sayre contrast sharply.

Watson describes "Rosy" as characteristically belligerent, aggressive, and unfeminine. She was su pposed to be the assistant of Maurice Wilkins at King's College, London, but Watson provides us with the perfect stereotype of an aggressive female subordinate. The real Rosalind Franklin, however, was not the assistant to Maurice Wilkins at all, but shared a research position equal in stature in the labratory. Throughout the novel, Watson consistently degrades Franklin and downplays her contributions to the discovery of the double helix. In spite of this, Watson's tone is almost blatantly sarcastic, so a close reading of the novel should not cause any reader to disregard Rosalind Franklin's scientific prowess. Rosalind Franklin was a brilliant experimentalist and excellent scientist; nothing will ever change that.

Watson and Crick’s publication of their model does not represent an attempt to steal the work of others, but it was not fair to at least one scientist—Rosalind Franklin. Collaboration has always helped advance man’s understanding of the world around him. When Watson talked to Wilkins about his ideas, it was understood that he could use any of Wilkins’ information that they had discussed in his paper. If Watson and Crick were nicer people, they might have talked to Wilkins more about using his information before they published, or at least given him more credit in their paper. Their actions with concern to Wilkins, however, were neither unethical nor unfair.

Watson and Crick crossed the line between ethical and unethical when they used Franklin’s photograph in their paper. Of course, as soon as Watson saw the picture he understood its importance. The picture’s significance could not be erased from his mind, or from the paper—that is how important it was to their understanding of the structure of DNA. Knowing how important the picture was to them, Watson and Crick should have made an effort to tell Franklin how indebted they were to her. If they were afraid she would stop them from publishing if they told her beforehand, they could have at least given her much more credit in the paper, and expressed their thanks after its publication. Watson had had an argument with Franklin just before he saw her picture—it was quite clear that she would not have shown her work to him herself. That the photograph was seen without her knowledge is a key point in determining the ethics of Watson’s behavior. Maybe a gene expressing ethical action was missing from the genetic make-up of Watson and Crick, brilliant scientists though they were.


This edit introduced the idea of Franklin as the assistant of Maurice Wilkins. This is a bogus idea, and I regret not having noticed it sooner. Wilkins anticipated that Franklin would be a collaborator. This is discussed in great detail in Wilkins' autobiography. --JWSchmidt 17:08, 13 August 2006 (UTC)


"with its author seemingly caring only about the glory of priority and willing to acquire data from other surrepticiously in order to get it." <-- I admit that it has been many years since I read the book, but I question if this is a fair statement of what the book is about. I This is more a statement of how some observers have interpreted the book, and as such it should be associated (by citations) with one or more specific critics. Is it spelled “surreptitiously”? --JWSchmidt 17:21, 13 August 2006 (UTC)

Crick's lawsuit[edit]

There should be a note about Crick's threatened lawsuit against Watson for libel in the criticisms section. Crick was, of course, a major player in the saga this book tells and thus his opposition to the book should be mentioned. It also eliminates the problem of having only one critic listed. I was prepared to do it, but for the life of me I can't figure out how to make citations on Wikipedia :P

The Race for the Double Helix[edit]

This was originally made for the BBC, and is called Life Story in the UK. As it was originally a British film, shouldn't we be using the British title here? 14:44, 11 June 2007 (UTC)

Dispute over publication[edit]

The article mentions that the publisher of The Double Helix had to be changed due to protests from Crick, Wilkins and others. It might be useful to include a citation to this: A pdf copy of a letter from Crick to Watson complaining about the contents of the book. The letter is in an online archive of Crick's papers. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:10, 18 October 2007 (UTC)

Reverted category edits[edit]

I reverted the recent category changes. The article does fit better in Category:Scientific controversies than in Category:Controversial books which doesn't even exist. Controversial books was deleted a long time ago as being too vague and broad a classification. See Wikipedia:Votes_for_deletion/Controversial_books#Category:Controversial_books -- JoannaSerah (talk) 02:25, 4 January 2012 (UTC)

An Annotated and Illustrated Edition[edit]

"An annotated and illustrated version of the book was published by Simon & Schuster in November 2012, in association with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. The edition was published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the award of the 1962 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine to Francis Crick, James D. Watson and Maurice Wilkins. It contains over three hundred annotations on the events and characters portrayed, with facsimile letters and contemporary photographs, many previously unpublished. Their sources include newly discovered correspondence from Crick, the papers of Franklin, Pauling, and Wilkins, and they include a chapter dropped from the original edition that described Watson's holiday in the Italian Alps in 1952. The edition was favorably reviewed in The New York Times by Nicholas Wade, who commented "Anyone seeking to understand modern biology and genomics could do much worse than start with the discovery of the structure of DNA, on which almost everything else is based. [1]. This edition includes the unsympathetic review by the late Erwin Chargaff from the March 29, 1968 issue of Science, which he previously declined permission to reprint in the 1980 Norton Critical Edition of The Double Helix edited by Gunther Stent."

One wonders whether the person who re-wrote the above has actually read the new book? The NYT review contains a very specific criticism of the 'grey' illustrations, not mentioned above:

(quote) "Classic works of literature from Herodotus’s “Histories” to “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Waste Land” have received the honor of annotated editions. “The Double Helix” richly deserves admittance to this hall of fame. I have one cavil: The publisher, seemingly to economize on black ink, has printed the documents and photographs in such low-definition, smudgy gray that many are unreadable. That aside, the edition produces much of the raw material out of which a masterpiece was created." [New York Times, November 12, 2012] (talk) 08:15, 20 November 2012 (UTC)

I finally printed off all six pages of Francis Crick's letter dated 13th April 1967, if anything I am even more amazed at the omission of pages 3/4/5 from the above! The other two main criticisms ['grey' illustrations/no 1953 press cuttings] are really insignificant by comparison. The letter is very, very critical of "The Double Helix".

I take the view that if something is available on the internet, then there is no excuse for not including it in a book; this letter should have been included in its entirety, and not cut in half by 3 pages. (talk) 20:24, 10 December 2012 (UTC)

Missing information[edit]

So would someone like to add a brief summary of the contents of the book? Lots of detail on the controversy around the text, but almost nothing about what's actually in it, such as events, places or descriptions of people. That would help the reader of this article immensely. -- llywrch (talk) 18:42, 24 May 2013 (UTC)


  1. ^ "New York Times". Retrieved 12 November 2011.