Double Helixes and Double Crosses (was: Favorite NON-fiction)

Tue Jan 28 08:19:17 PST 2003

> >This isn't to say that Franklins contributions are unfairly overlooked, 
> >but that is the nature of scientific celebrity.
>Is that are or aren't?

Aren't, of course.

>>I would also note that this sort of scientific in-fighting and backbiting 
>>is hardly limited to how male scientists treat female collegues.  Science, 
>>in practice, is often like this.  I can provide you plenty of examples at 
>>least as egregious where no women were involved.
>>If you want a better example of the mistreatment of women, in the 
>>sciences, I would use the example of how Marie Curie was viciously snubbed 
>>by the Academie des Sciences when she applied for membership to them.
>I don't think this is about the mistreatment of female scientists -

Well, Rachel did specify Women's Lib in her post, so I daresay that, in the 
context of the discussion, that is, in fact, what it was about.  This Isn't 
to say that the issues you raise aren't valid, as well.

>That the same would might have happened if she was a guy  (again we can't 
>tell if her gender had any bearing on the lack of acknowledgement but given 
>the timeframe it may well have done) doesn't affect the fact that she 
>mostly fell down the back of the great sofa of history.

I'll grant that, but, honestly, that's the nature of scientific celebrity.  
Most people can only name a handful of scientists and the public has a 
tendency to treat scientists who have gained the spotlight as lone geniuses 
who bequeth their noble discoveries upon mankind as though their 
contributions sprung Athena-like from their foreheads.

This is certainly not fair, and it is a reflection of an even larger 
problem: the general scientific illiteracy of the pubic at large.  As such, 
I am loath to identify this particular case as a women's issue, even though 
the subject at hand is a woman.  There are more then enough cases where 
women have gotten the short end of the stick *because* of their gender 
without bringing in cases where gender is not the obvious factor.

>That she was female qualifies her for inclusion in a course on Woman in 

Again, I didn't get the impression, from Rachel's post, that this was an 
example of a scientist, who just happened to be a women, being ignored by 
history, but rather I felt that the implication was that she was ignored 
because she was a woman.  In particular, I felt that Rachel's 
misidentification of her as the discoverer of the double-helix structure of 
DNA lent itself to that interpretation, since it would imply that she 
deserved recognition for the ultimate discovery and that such recognition 
was stolen from her by her male associates.  The fact is that she got 
*close*, but that Watson and Crick, however much they relied on her work, 
were the ones to actually grab the brass ring.

Franklin's treatment by her rivals, and by history, *is* unfair.  I don't 
think that there is any good reason to suppose, however, that the unfairness 
has any relation to her gender.

Now... if I misread Rachel's gist (and she can speak for herself), I will 
not hesitate to apologize to her, but, as I said, that is the impression 
that I drew from her post, nor do I think it an unreasonable one.

>Whether there should also be other courses on Grad Students in Science or 
>Men in Science or just People who Got Screwed by the System in Science is a 
>whole other question.

I think that a case could be made that more effort should be put into 
History of Science courses, and that such courses should emphasize that no 
discovery or idea stands in isolation but that the process of science is 
both cumulative and, in general, adversarial.  There is a great deal of 
drama in the sciences and I think that, if nothing else, such courses would 
go a long way towards dispelling the myth that science is a dry, emotionless 
field where individual geniuses make all the contributions worth noting.

>I think The People that Science Forget would make quite a catchy course 
>title though.

I would agree. :-)

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