David Botstein on Jim Watson, Writer
  David Botstein     Biography    
Recorded: 28 May 2003

Well, there’s Jim the popular writer and then there’s Jim the textbook writer. And Jim the textbook writer was unparalleled; he created the field for most of the people in it. I think that it would be fair to say that in 1986—we’re back in 1986 when the room was full of molecular biologists; they all learned molecular biology from Jim’s book. And that was really a major accomplishment and achievement. And the writing of the book was part of what made it great. It was low on detail, high on principle, even when the principle wasn’t quite true yet. It was a great book. And it set forward both the agenda and the basic information that you needed to know in a way that you could assimilate in a relatively short period of time without a huge amount of background. Books like that don’t exist anymore. Its successor is, you know, one hundred pound monster just like all the other textbooks. And although it serves a useful purpose as a reference book, it isn’t what Jim’s book was. That was Jim’s book.

Jim as a popular writer is not—I am not a literary critic. It’s not greatly to my taste. I must say that I thought that The Double Helix and the other books in that mode were possibly great literature, but I think that they’re really idiosyncratic to Jim. They’re autobiography. They’re what Jim thought and I’m sure it’s all completely true. I think that as a representative of the average scientist, it’s not true. Most of us have motivations that are both different and in some ways more complex than Jim’s motivation.

David Botstein is a prominent geneticist whose advocacy for gene mapping was crucial in laying the groundwork for the Human Genome Project. Botstein received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan for his research on bacteriophage synthesis. As a member of the MIT faculty he continued working with phage P22 DNA and discovered many bacterial and yeast genes. He served as Vice President of Science at Genentech before becoming professor at the Stanford School of Medicine where he led in sequencing the first large eucaryotic genome.

On July 1, 2003 he was appointed as Director of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University. At Princeton he will continue to expound upon genome projects, explore the relationship between genes within the genome, and uncover how diseases like cancer alter the expression of genes.

Botstein researched at the CSHL while on sabbatical from 1974-1975. At the 1986 CSHL symposium on Human Genetics he played a crucial role in advocating for the Human Genome Project. While serving on the National Research Council Committee he emphasized that money be laid aside to fund the sequencing of other simpler organisms with which the human genome can be compared. Like Jim Watson, he has passionately supported the Human Genome Project since its inception.