Watson Stoops to New Lows in Calling Franklin Autistic

Really. I am not making this up. As quoted in The Guardian:

He smiles. "Rosalind is my cross," he says slowly. "I'll bear it. I think she was partially autistic." He pauses for a while, before repeating the suggestion, as if to make it clear that this is no off-the-cuff insult, but a considered diagnosis. "I'd never really thought of scientists as autistic until this whole business of high-intelligence autism came up. There is probably no other explanation for Rosalind's behaviour.

Oh, yes, a considered diagnosis, I'm sure. He's been considering since 1953 what he'd like to preemptively tell the world about Rosalind Franklin. I'm sure he was thrilled to pieces to have a new piece of tripe to offer, as the old stories were getting a bit stale.

He goes on to tell us:

"She showed great insensitivity to Wilkins. It [DNA] was his problem and she just thought she could take it from him. She was clueless. John Randall [the British physicist who led the King's College team that included Wilkins and Franklin] told her DNA was going to be her thing and [she] took it from Maurice. But fair play should never have allowed Rosalind to do it. So she was either not a nice person, or just clueless. I think clueless. When you knew her, she wasn't nasty; just awkward.

He adds: "Francis didn't think Rosalind was a great scientist. That was Francis at his most honest. The truth was she couldn't think in three dimensions very well."

Yes, she just thought she could "take it" from him; maybe because she was told to work on it??? How could a journalist print this pack of mis-truths and outright lies without comment? But this is what we get: The sycophantic journalist opines, "The assessment is not meant to be as damning as it sounds. Rather, it is Watson just doing what he always does: telling it as he sees it..." Moron, interviewing a moron.

Yes, as he sees it. Not, of course, that how he sees it bears any relationship to reality. If Jim Watson has even the remotest idea of what the real Rosalind Franklin was actually like, he has never uttered a single word to indicate so.

Does Jim Watson really have nothing better to do with his time than to offer up constant desperate attacks on a dead woman in order to prove that he really, truly did deserve his Nobel and that it really, truly was okay that he stole Franklin's data and didn't give her credit for it? Apparently not. The only thing more pathetic than the sight of this miserable old man maligning a dead woman is the way journalists and scientists fawn over his every slimy word.

Now pardon me while I go off and hork up my lunch. Which, preferably, said horking would occur in the direction of Watson's shoes, but he isn't worth the gas money it would take to drive up to Cold Spring Harbor.

Hat tip to Strontium for pointing me to the Guardian article.

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Keep it classy, Watson.

Hmm. The bloggers here get very self-righteous about religious folk, woo promoters and right wing politicians making unsubstantiated assertions. But clearly the bloggers apply different rules to themselves.

You weren't even born when Rosalind Franklin died. You never knew her. Watson did. He worked with her. So from where do you derive the omniscience that allows you to slag off Watson with such confidence?

And my, you really lay into him. Watson's comments were nowhere near as obnoxious as your scummy, snivelling, sneering drivel.

I don't know whether Franklin was the life and soul of the party or a cold fish. Nor do you. But Watson did at least know her, and undoubtedly has been asked about her many times in the past, especially since the mysterious role of the "invisible" woman in the DNA story rightly aroused popular curiosity.

Shame on you. Is your scientific work of a higher standard than this or do you concoct that out of thin air too?

Having enjoyed The Double Helix, I took up a biography of Watson "Watson and DNA" by Victor McIlheny.

As I read I got a sinking feeling - instead of arousing my sympathy and understanding, the person at the heart of the book was thoroughly unlikeable.

I have read biographies of great scientists who were "difficult" - Newton, for example. At least he struggled against real obstacles - his father's death and his mother's abandonment of him to his grandparents when he was barely out of the cradle. Watson has no excuse.

I tend to agree with the post. Watson may be a great scientist, but he is also somewhat of a shit. So I am sure, were many great scientists.

One version of the story (from one or another of the various biographies of Franklin) is that Wilkins had put the DNA project on his back burner, so Randall re-assigned it to Franklin without telling Wilkins. Wilkins, in turn, was supposedly under the misconception that he was going to be Franklin's supervisor, not her peer or competitor; maybe he just assumed this was true because Franklin was female, or maybe Randall either intentionally or unintentionally misled one or both of them.

Watson's public personality hasn't exactly earned a warm and fuzzy reputation of its own, so maybe his snide remarks about Franklin's alleged social ineptitude are more about projection than anything else. Then again, it's old news that Watson and Franklin disliked each other. The sad thing is that the discovery of the structure of DNA was really a group effort fueled by a combination of different approaches and hypotheses, but it couldn't have been much fun in so toxic a workplace.

There is a wealth of published information about Franklin in those years. I commend 'The Eighth Day of Creation" as a superb one. Her notes are available. Stories of many people who worked with her are available. One thing stands out - many of Watson's stories about Franklin, such as this one, are outliers.

Several things are clear from that history. Franklin was a superb experimentalist, and at least a good enough theorist to absolutely understand what kind of improvements she needed in her experiments. Her analysis of her own data was clear, probing - she was willing to give up on wrong directions, but tenacious enough to make sure they were wrong. She had the theoretical skill to do solid analysis. She made the crucial experimental breakthrough, and simply got beat on the model.

She was also in the middle of an ugly political situation, working on the problem that she asked for and was given to her - she did not 'take it' or 'steal it.'

Franklin's data was not 'stolen' from her. She had spoken of her data at a public seminar some months before, and her supervisor, who showed the specific image to Watson, had legitimate access to her work.

However, for her supervisor to show that image without asking was at the least very shabby treatment on his part - it shows how badly she was being treated at the same time she was generating such superb data, sharing it in seminars,and doing a solid job of analyzing it.

It was probably legitimate for Watson and Crick to publish their initial letter without Franklin as coauthor, but with acknowledgement of her data - it was their insight and breakthrough. However, they should at the very least have included her as coauthor on the details paper with the coordinates - those coordinates came directly from her data.

Read '8th day of creation' for more.

BTW, I have had lunch with both Watson and Dr. Crick at different times in my life, invited by my graduate advisor in each case. Speaking with Dr. Crick - whom I could not bring myself to call by his given name - was a delight and an honor. I'll stop there.

Double ick for maligning a dead woman with the pop psych diagnosis du jour. Even though he knew her, I would take what he said a lot more seriously if he had just left it with "she was a very difficult person, and seemed oblivious to how people around her viewed their science". Going from that to an autism diagnosis is a huge logical stretch- combine that with the undertone of "she shouldn't have been working on it in the first place" that is so potentially self-serving... shady. Very shady.

Um, yeah Sam. Maybe you would be right if all of us hadn't heard Watson's excuse-du-jour about 4,000,000,000,000 times and if the majority of what he says hadn't already been reputably debunked. Methinks he doth protest too much.


I highly recommend the Franklin biography by Brenda Maddox, which suggests that Randall was partly to blame for that situation. After 50 years you'd think that Watson would have something more interesting to say about her. How dull. On the other hand, personally I am not at all offended by the autism comment, and I suspect that is probably the most insightful thing that Watson ever said about Franklin (and I know what I'm talking about).

Geez, a new low for Watson is hard to imagine... after "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great. And "Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you're not going to hire them." And "If you are really stupid, I would call that a disease." Lovely man. And, BTW, completely unqualified to say whether a woman he knew half a century ago had autism or not.

You know, whatever social dysfunction Rosalind Franklin may have had, if she'd lived she'd probably have had a cut of the Nobel Prize; after all, Watson and Crick couldn't have done what they did without her data. (I mean, look at Stanley Prusiner. He was kind of a jerk, but he got his Nobel. Being right makes up for an awful lot of bad behavior.) But it seems like Watson is determined to memory-hole Franklin's accomplishments. Just how bad have this guy's relationships with women been, anyway, that he wants to take away the accomplishments of a long-dead woman whose work his was based on?

I would take objection to the point that the term autistic is an insult (although undoubtedly it was in Watson's mind). If Rosalind Franklin was autistic it would put her in good company among scientists (Newton and Einstein for example)

One of the characteristics of being a high level functioning autistic (asperger's) is high spatial reasoning- i.e. being able to think in 3D well.

"Citation needed" on that last one, please. Einstein, at least, was personable and humorous in precisely the ways which by their own accounts autistic people have trouble processing.

I would agree with those of you who say that the term autistic is not and should not be an insult. It's a diagnostic term, a medical term, a description of a condition. Nevertheless, it's clear that Watson didn't use it in any charitable sense when he was talking about Franklin - he meant to be disparaging and so, by calling her autistic, he was simultaneously putting her down, AND insulting people with autism by implying that autism is an explanation for, or equivalent with, unpleasant and undesirable people.

I agree that calling someone autistic should be no different than calling them diabetic, but Watson appeared to mean it as an insult. That's ironic, when he's busy displaying his own lack of social skills and empathy. It's a pity he didn't have social skills training as a child, because he might have learned then which thoughts are best to keep to oneself. Oh, yes, and he himself can work well in 3D. Odd how these things seem to come together, isn't it?

There's often a problem when someone on the autistic spectrum becomes venerated, either as a scientist or as president (yes, I mean that - let's not forget that many ASD people trust their friends implicitly and will stand by them no matter how much evidence you provide to the contrary, and have trouble seeing the whole picture). Then we find ourselves taking statements at face value that we should be filtering as coming from a person whose ability to perceive the world is different from ours. I hate the things Watson is saying, but I also think they're neurologically based. Good thing we don't actually abort all babies with imperfect genes, I guess.

I agree that calling someone autistic should be no different than calling them diabetic...

And therein lies the real problem: I find the idea that autism should be 'cured' one of the most terrifying Orwellian PC pieces of garbage floating around today. Gee, let's only make babies who are 'normal' and who can 'socialise properly'! Oh, Brave New World, you asked for this yourselves.

How do you know if Watson is lying or not?
We all know he's keeping something from us?
Let's just keep that in mind.
Why is he always talkign about Franklin anyway?
Why is there a ping pong Table with Watson and Franklin on it, as an illusion.
We all know what Watson is like.
But maybe beating her in tryign to prove himself is only part of the whole story.

I have been reading Brenda Maddox's biography of Rosalind Franklin and the thought occurred to me that she must have had asperger's. So I searched the internet to see if anyone else had posed this idea. Of course, I was horrified to see that Jim Watson had made a comment about this. But I have to agree that if you look at her personality traits, she has many of the characteristics of a person with aspergers. I work with someone who has this so I am very familiar with some of the traits. Another link brought me to an explanation of why autistic people do not like being touched. They experience more heightened sensations than most of us. This explains Rosalind's fear of intimacy and her short life without ever marrying or even having a close physical relationship. Maddox's book implies that Watson was nicer to Franklin later on when they worked on the virus together. So I'm surprised that he would disparage her so long after her death. But everything I've heard about him confirms what people say, that he's a real jerk. Just remember that the jerk is also brilliant.

By Bonnie Daley (not verified) on 08 Apr 2009 #permalink

Just remember that the jerk is also brilliant.

Or, we could say, just remember that the brilliant guy is a jerk.

Me *coughs*: So Watson?
Watson: Yes.
Me: Are you a detective?
Watson: Uh, I'm-
Watson *sighs* :What?
Me: So does that mean you go dinosaur chasing?
Watson *looks at me weird* :I don't chase dinosaurs.
Me: So do you know where Pearls come from.
Watson: From under the Sea.
Me: Watson can I have some Ice Cream.
Watson: I don't have any?
Me: Darn! *Looks up at Mr. DNA Man*
Me: So DNA man
Watson: I'm Watson
Me: I know
Watson *gives me more weird looks* :Are you going to ever ask me some real questions now?
Me: No
Watson: Why not?
Me: You'll lie, again, again, and again.
Watson: What? I don't lie.
Me: Yeah you do cheater.
Watson: Hey.
Me ????

........To Be Continued...

By spunkanimedolphin (not verified) on 18 Apr 2009 #permalink

An Interview With Watson
Tab: Hi, and Welcome to today's show, with us today is the famous James D. Watson........from....CAMBRIDGE!
Audience *Silence*
Tab: And he brought his tiny DNA structure with him.
Audience *Starts laughing* *Laughing dies down*
Tab: Anyways, Konichiwa Watson San.
Watson: Did....Did you speak Japanese.
Tab: Notice? Good? Let's continue....So, first question. Watson, what are you views on... um Franklin?
Watson: Well to start off she is my cross and, i will bear it. I think she's partly autistic. She wasn't the easiest person to get along with.
Tab: Are you sure?
Watson: Yes
Tab: Are you sure, sure
Watson: Yes
Tab: Are you absolutely sure?
Watson: YES!
Tab: If you don't like her then why are you getting so wound up?
Watson: What? I'm not getting wound up.
Tab: Anyway, it's Franklin's Birthday coming up soon. (A/N: I don't know if it really is or not, just go along with it.) Are you gonna get her a present?
Watson: She's dead.
Tab: Just say yes or no.
Watson: Well, no.....
Tab: Aww... Why not?
Watson: I just told you. How could you give a dead person presents anyway?
Tab: But don't like her?
Watson: IT depends on what you man by the word like?
Tab: She likes you.
Watson: Really?
Tab: Why aren't you gonna get her a present?
Watson *sighs annoyed* :Are you kidding?
Tab: Seriously, she DOSE like you.
Watson >.> :How do you know?
Tab: You really wanna tell you the WHOLE story on how i know.
Watson: Well......
Tab: Remember when you wrote that book, when lied on how she was unattractive yet st-
Watson: be quiet.
Tab: st-
Watson: Be quiet.
Tab: Stunning.
Watson: Hey I told you be quiet.
Tab @_@
Me: Well, it's time for break, that was our interview with Watson.
Watson *looks like he's about to kill me*
Me *Runs and Hide far far away*

By spunkanimedolphin (not verified) on 18 Apr 2009 #permalink

I got the impression that Watson appeared to mean it as an insult. That's ironic, when he's busy displaying his own lack of social skills and empathy. It's a pity he didn't have social skills training as a child, because he might have learned then which thoughts are best to keep to oneself.