Matthew Meselson on Jim Watson, Writer: Is His Style Unique?
  Matthew Meselson     Biography    
Recorded: 17 Jul 2002

Not the textbooks, and not the scientific papers. His autobiographical books are a very special genre. Could I recognize him? I don’t know. I haven’t done the experiment to remove all traces of Jim from the book and compare it with a book by who? Samuel Peeps? I mean, what are you asking?

Oh, the textbook [The Molecular Biology of the Gene] is very clear. That’s multi-authored. All the big good textbooks in the field are written in a rather similar way. This style—I don’t know where it got started, but of having the titles of sections be in a way like headlines which would tell you something. So in fact even with a subject and a predicate.*

Well, that’s a very nice way to do things. Otherwise like you would say, “DNA replication.” All right, DNA replication. But if it says, “DNA replicates by separating the strands.” You learn something. You don’t even have to read the rest, if you’re in a hurry. That’s a wonderful way to put in headings. It seems to be infectious. One sees it many places.

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.