Recorded: 09 Sep 2003
Oh, no. I think Francis Crick is one of the great scientists of the 20th century. I suspect he’s the only biologist who can challenge Einstein for the scientist of the century prize. But that’s a silly way of looking at it, come on, you know, I’m sorry I don’t really mean that very seriously. But, you know there is no such prize nor should there be. But I think it emphasizes the point that Francis Crick role in the double helix story is obviously enormous, but his role in the whole genetic code story for the next ten years, etc., is equally enormous. And his role in neuroscience and consciousness is equally great. However you look at it, Francis Crick is really pushing the boundaries of knowledge throughout his career in a way that very few people can achieve. And he’s doing that, and he’s obviously highly intelligent, but he’s intelligent in an interesting and, I think, almost unique way scientifically. And that is, he combines mathematical ways of thinking with visual ways of thinking, and with verbal ways of thinking. And so, for example, you know, if you talk to him about the double helix; particularly the anti-parallel nature of the helices which was his insight, he can see if from an x-ray photograph what that means mathematically and therefore what that means in three dimensions. At the very beginning of the story, very early in the story, he’s making these kinds of leaps. Now I think there are people who can do the mathematics and people who can do the visualization and then people who can talk very volubly and articulately about it, but there aren’t very many people who can do all three. And that’s what he does again in the whole transfer RNA story, and in the triplet code story. You know, it really is an astonishing scientific achievement, Francis’s work there. And in some ways, as I’m implying, he has a bigger role than Jim after 1953. But, of course, he’s never had Jim’s ability to fundraise, to administer and to do all these other, inspire—whatever, Crick inspires people, but he’s never been quite the sort of public leader in science that Jim has, which is another and different skill. So it’s, you know, Jim and Francis is an incredible double act partly because they are so different.
Matt Ridley is a journalist and a leading science writer. He earned his Ph.D. in zoology from Oxford University in 1983. He worked as a correspondent and editor for The Economist, a columnist for Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph and as editor of The Best American Science Writing 2002.
His books include Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature; Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation; Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters ; Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human; and Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code. His books have been short-listed for many literary awards.
He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Ridley is the honorary life president of the International Centre for Life, Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s park devoted to life science that he founded in 1996. He is chairman of Northern Rock plc, and other financial services firms.
In 1996, Ridley first visited Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and made James D. Watson’s acquaintance. In 2006 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and is a visiting professor at the lab.