Matthew Meselson on Jim Watson, Writer: “The Double Helix”
  Matthew Meselson     Biography    
Recorded: 17 Jul 2002

I didn’t like the book. I thought it set the wrong goals for young people. And I have some experimental evidence for this. My experimental evidence is that long before any young person would ever have heard about such things as a Nobel Prize or other glorious, social rewards, you can tell that they’re fascinated by science because at least for some young people, it’s just obvious when they ask questions. They want to know about the universe. They want to know about living things. Jim himself wanted to know about birds. So the instinct, curiosity of wonder precedes anything that you possibly could learn about the social rewards.

So I thought that it was—although a very nice, interesting book and fun to read—that if it would be read by young people if it had, in any sense, the effect of bringing people into science for the wrong reasons or worse, that would be okay. We can manage those people. But if it had the effect of discouraging any people who might be brought in because they are interested in the most fundamental things, that would be a pity. But that’s a pretty philosophical way of looking at a book, and it’s a very nice, lively book.

Matthew Meselson earned his Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago in 1951 and from the California Institute of Technology in 1957 under the tutelage of Linus Pauling.

In 1958 with Frank Stahl, Meselson experimentally showed the semi-conservative mechanism of DNA replication as predicted by Watson and Crick.

He is currently the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences in Harvard University's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. His laboratory studies sexual reproduction and genetic recombination, and how and why they are maintained in evolution.

Since 1963 Meselson has been interested in chemical and biological defense and arms control, has served as a consultant on this subject to various government agencies and is a member of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Meselson has received the Award in Molecular Biology from the National Academy of Sciences, the Public Service Award of the Federation of American Scientists, the Presidential Award of the New York Academy of Sciences, the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, and the 1995 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal of the Genetics Society of America. Dr. Meselson is presently a member of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.