Paul Doty on Jim Watson, Writer
  Paul Doty     Biography    
Recorded: 22 Jul 2003

There are two different parts to it; one is The Double Helix and his later autobiographical books. The Double Helix was a remarkable idea of trying to recreate how he felt at the age of 24 and 25 and he didn’t explain that in the introduction and therefore it has a lot of criticism for being immature. But it was how he felt.

Also he had all of the letters that he had rewritten to his mother which gave him a great chronological base and that is not revealed in the book. So that he was able to do this for these other reasons which help make it what a success it was.

On the scientific side, it was a matter of wonderful timing. Although initially he was a poor lecturer, he became better and enjoyed teaching. And he was seeing molecular biology being born and it needed a tribune and he was the tribune. And The Molecular Biology of the Gene now is coming out in a new form and it will perhaps go on forever.

… a wonderful sense of style and keeping it simple and throwing away the unnecessary background to get at the heart of the problem. To use phrases as introductions to sections instead of some dry nouns. He always had verbs in there. So it was almost a revolution in textbook writing as well as the beginning of the teaching basis of the age.

Paul Doty (1920-2011), biophysical chemist and activist was an emeritus professor at Harvard University in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and in the Kennedy School of Government. He was also founder of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. Experimenting with isotope separation as a graduate student at Columbia University, he became an advocate for nuclear war prevention. Subsequently, he served as a consultant to the President’s Science Advisory Committee and as a member of the President’s Arms Control Advisory Group.

Doty’s scientific research is focused on elucidating the structure and function of large molecules by optical methods. Responsible for hybridizing single strands of DNA to reform an active double-stranded molecule, his laboratory work helped provide the basis for DNA recombination.

Doty met Jim in 1952 in Cambridge. Four years later he had encouraged Jim to join the Harvard Faculty. Their combined insight and innovation was crucial in determining the fate of the newly created molecular biology department. Doty remained on the Harvard Faculty for over forty-two years.