Recorded: 25 Jul 2003
Writing the—The Double Helix was fun because no one had ever quite done anything like that and there was a real educational aim in it if you read it carefully. You know, I wasn’t just saying things to piss people off or something like that. It was really this. This is what it was like and there was—
Cause it was a good story—because some people liked it. You know, if everyone had disliked it then you would have thought, but some people were, you know, all in favor of it. Even Genes and Girls, like Benno Muller-Hill—he liked it! So, you know, you just have to have some people that, now he wasn’t involved in the story. The people who were involved in the story had very different reactions to it so you can’t—shouldn’t really care about what the people—you know that Francis didn’t want it published. It didn’t bother me in the slightest. Why should he want it published? But on the other hand, you know, he was very famous and the discovery was very important so that was the price, you know, that people want to know what happened. And so saying you shouldn’t know what happened, you know, that was an unreasonable way to look at it. This sort of, you know, court decision, that is if you’re a public figure you’re a public figure and people kind of write about you. And, you know, once you get the Nobel Prize they can say almost anything you want to. If you’re, you know, running a restaurant in Cold Spring Harbor you can’t do that to someone because, well, why pick him out? Because he hasn’t tried to be a public figure except in as so far as you were writing a review of the cooking in his restaurant and say it’s lousy. ______________. But you can’t—so I just think—so I never—I just thought the story should be told. But if it wasn’t a good book, I’d be harmed. Why had the—
A member of the Time 100 ‘Century’s Greatest Minds’, Dr. James Watson’s life in science has taken him from the revolutionary discovery of the structure of DNA to the head of the National Institute of Health’s Human Genome Project, and places between.
Dr. Watson was born in 1928 in Chicago, and enrolled at the University of Chicago when he was just 15. His graduate studies in genetics with Salvador Luria took him to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for the first time in 1948. His graduate work would eventually bring him to the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, where, together with fellow scientists Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, Francis Crick and Dr. Watson would discover how the four-nucleotide bases arrange themselves to create the unique identities of each living organism. Their account of the structure of DNA, published in Nature, would win them the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology. Watson's bestselling account of his time at Cavendish, The Double Helix, was named the No. 7 best work of nonfiction by the Modern Library.
Watson spent two decades at Harvard University, where he penned the revolutionary biology textbook, Molecular Biology of the Gene in 1965. Dr. Watson's distinguished academic career led him to the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1968, where he has pushed the lab towards important steps in cancer research and the causes of mental disease. From 1988 to 1992, Dr. Watson was appointed to head the National Institute of Health in the Human Genome Project. Dr. Watons's genome was the first to be decoded and was made public as part of the project in 2007. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, he has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. After forty years as a brilliant educator and administrator, Dr. Watson retired as Chancellor of the laboratory in 2007.