Science Talk

Photograph 51: Rosalind Franklin and the Race For The Double Helix of DNA (Part 2 of 2)

Photograph 51 is a new play about Rosalind Franklin, Watson and Crick, and the race to determine the structure of DNA, at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City, running through November 21st. A panel discussion about the play on November 2nd featured crystallography expert Helen Berman, biologist and Franklin scholar Lynne Osman Elkin, science journalist Nicholas Wade, playwright Anna Ziegler and moderator Stuart Firestein

Photograph 51 is a new play about Rosalind Franklin, Watson and Crick, and the race to determine the structure of DNA, at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City, running through November 21st. A panel discussion about the play on November 2nd featured crystallography expert Helen Berman, biologist and Franklin scholar Lynne Osman Elkin, science journalist Nicholas Wade, playwright Anna Ziegler, and moderator Stuart Firestein. Web sites related to this episode include

Podcast Transcription

Steve:           Welcome back for part 2 of the panel discussion about the new play, Photograph 51. The play is about Rosalind Franklin, Watson and Crick in the race to figure out the structure of DNA. This production runs at the Ensemble Studio Theatre here in New York till November 21st. At the end of part 1 New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade had just been rebutted by biologist and Franklin scholar Lynne Osman Elkin. We'll pick it up with Wade's response to Elkin's rebuttal. The other voices you'll be hearing are playwright Anna Ziegler, crystallographer Helen Berman and moderator Stuart Firestein.

Wade:          You [know], I think the problem with saying Rosalind was ill-treated is that there's absolutely no evidence that she herself believed this to be the case.

Elkin:          She didn't know.

Wade:          She was definitely in a position to complain if she wished. She had just arranged a new job. She was leaving the King's College department to go to Birkbeck College. We know that she complained vociferously about things she thought were unfair, like being paid less by the MRC, being paid less than men [who] did the same job. But she never, ever, complained about this. Moreover, she became [very] close friends with Watson and with Crick, which is unlikely if, in fact, she felt they had stolen her discovery. She must have known that they were using her data because there were no other data. Her data are acknowledged in Crick's paper, and again, in the second paper he published in Nature a month later. What prevented Crick from giving a much fairer acknowledgment to Rosalind Franklin in the original Nature paper, which he wished to do, was that he had to negotiate this with Wilkins. So in his original draft, he says, "We thank Rosalind Franklin for her beautiful photo of DNA," which makes quite clear that this was what he was relying on. Now, at Wilkins' suggestion he crossed out the phrase "beautiful photo." So it was not an adequate acknowledgment, but it was a very different story than stealing her discovery, which is the way it has been portrayed.

Elkin:          Nicholas, you're absolutely right. There was an earlier, more accurate acknowledgment. It wasn't to Franklin, it was to Wilkins and Franklin and it did say "very beautiful photographs", which only meant Franklin's, and Wilkins was the one who crossed it out. There're actually six drafts. Very interesting to see that.

And also to see how weak, false, even the first two or three were, before Wilkins got it to decimate it more compared to the draft they wrote about that first model, where they very, very clearly acknowledged Franklin.

Wade:          So she isn't [doing] too badly in there. And I think I did want to point out that Crick, in his later papers, where he didn't have to, sort of, negotiate things with Wilkins, said quite plainly, in his paper in Proceedings to the Royal Society, that this discovery depended on results from King's'. I forget if he specifically mentioned Franklin, but he was quite clear that this data was the source of the discovery.

Elkin:                  I think it was included in the paper.

Wade:          Credit allocation is always a problem with science particularly if you have many people involved. But when you look back at all the historical circumstances surrounding this particular problem, although Franklin did not get exactly the recommendation which we all now think she deserved, she got a very big chunk of it. That at least, and I am sure it was her view, too, or she would have behaved very differently.

Firestein:          So, not to belabor this too much further—what's interesting about this, of course, is, this is really an important discovery. I mean, this was a critical discovery that had to be made. Now, it would've been made one way or the other. I kind of agree with you that Pauling was probably the odds-on favorite, and indeed, I would go so far as to say that had Watson and Crick not come into Rosalind's photograph by hook or crook whichever way it was, they would've lost the race entirely. All, both of the English labs. And it would now be called Pauling Helix, and Watson, Crick, Franklin, and Wilkins would be all unknowns to us today, or largely so. That's just my personal theory, mind you, about this. But I think one could make a case [for] that, because Pauling was quite close, and very smart, he knew where he was going. So the interesting thing, though, I think is, is this dynamic in the laboratory. And I'm assuming this is kind of what interested you in the writing, because it seems to become more and more a part of the play as the play goes on. The impossibility of it. I'm particularly struck by the one moment when Gosling says, "Here was a moment when it could have gone one way, but then that was gone." It was actually Rosalind's fault it seems, in your writing. Am I right?

Ziegler:          Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think at least what drew me to the material was the fact that I did not think that Rosalind Franklin was a, you know, sort of, wronged person. I mean, it seemed to me that there was so much that that came from her that, you know, interfered with the scientific process. So it's interesting to me that that the play felt to you like it was sort of continuing to mythologize her; or I mean, at least that was not my intention to show her in that light or as someone who, you know, was just a victim or ill-treated. I mean, I guess, I find what's so interesting about it, you know, the idea that if certain things had been different maybe, I mean, as you said, if someone hadn't seen the photograph or if there hadn't been the misunderstanding with Wilkins when she first got there, or with Randall, about whether she was supposed to be in charge. You know, those are the things that are, sort of, the seeds that then kind of sprouted with what ended up being the story. But there are so many other stories that could have happened, and that was what I thinking about a lot as I was writing this play.

Berman:          So when I saw the play, I thought that the way in which Rosalind was portrayed was perhaps harsher than I thought. I didn't think of her in quite that difficult personality. And on the other hand, I think it was important for the play, and I thought that what it was really to me, what it was showing is that she was in a terrible environment for her.I mean, it isn't that Wilkins was a terrible person [or Randall was a terrible person] or anything like that. It just was bad chemistry, which sort of, prevented her from thinking clearly and being, perhaps, as creative as she might've been. And I say that because not having known her and not being a Rosalind Franklin scholar, as you are, I look to what happened when she went to Birkbeck, where she just blossomed and she did incredible work and everyone who worked with her loved her and respected her and you hear only good things about; and she worked with Aaron Klug, she was his supervisor, and he subsequently won a Nobel Prize and always spoke well of her.

So I think what happened is that in King's she was in an environment that just didn't suit her. I don't think it was anyone's fault; it was bad chemistry, which gives you an inability to do your best work. And you go to a place where, and she obviously recognized it because she quit. And she went to Birkbeck and she flourished at Birkbeck and she did really well. So obviously she was capable of, and before, when she was in Paris, she did very well and everybody thought she was terrific.

So I think you did portray—although maybe you made her a much fiercer character than she really was; I don't know because I didn't know her—but I think it showed what happens when you're in a bad environment and how everything is misunderstood, and you can't really do the best work you might be able to do.

Firestein:          I'm looking for a quote here in a paper that was written by her sister, Jennifer. It's just a very interesting thing that says, "Her work on viruses was of lasting benefit to mankind." This is what is inscribed on her tombstone. There is no mention of DNA. Now granted, one could say well, one could revise that because in 1958 when she passed away perhaps we didn't really yet know how important DNA was. But I think it was pretty clear, and yet it was her work on the tobacco mosaic virus that was presumably what she determined should be on her tombstone. It's rather interesting. I have a question, maybe it's little bit of a "sciency" question, if you don't mind, about this book; but one of the things that comes out a bit here and there, and I think it could even come out even more perhaps, is this notion of the difference between an experimentalist and a theoretician, which we still have to some extent today. It's very common in physics and many of the people involved in this work were physicists. There's, sort of, a tension between experimentalists and theorists; the experimentalists have their data and the data is what speaks. They submerge their ego to the data and this is all that counts and theorists are little bit more like cowboys in a way, you know, they have ideas—is there, is somebody a theorist in the audience? (laughter) How many theorists, how many experimentalists? (laughter) And so but that seemed to be what the group, I mean, you could call the King's' group the experimentalists and the Cambridge group the theorists. I mean, I know it wasn't perfect in that way but was it actually, do you think, that way?

Berman:          This is like actually, in the kind of crystallography they were doing, and even in the kind of crystallography that we do—three-dimensional single-crystal crystallography—the dividing line between theory and experiment is not as clear as people would like to say. Even when you have a beautiful three-dimensional structure of hemoglobin, to do that you have to make a model and that's theory, okay. You don't actually see in macromolecular crystallography, you do not actually see every atom; in small molecule crystallography, say of, some very small sugar or salt, you will see every atom; but in large molecule, you absolutely have to make a model. And Rosalind would have had to make a model, a three-dimensional model from the data. I think, in her case it was when she decided it was the right time to do it, but she would have had to model it because how else are you going to get it? And I think what Watson and Crick were doing was doing modeling, but obviously they had data, it wasn't they had a little bit because they saw it one way or the other, they saw that diffraction pattern; but they also had the data about how the bases, where the hydrogens were in the bases of that Watson could figure out where the base [pairs] were, what the ratio was between AT and GC, that's all data. It's not diffraction data, but it's data. So this line, and it's becoming fuzzier now, again about the line between experiment and model. So when you get a three-dimensional structure of a protein, you are modeling it. So I think, I think, the sort of black and white is not there; there's shades of gray.

Firestein:          So you don't think that had anything to do with tension though?

Berman:          Well, I think the tension…

Firestein:          It might seem that Watson and Crick were a bit impatient with [Franklin's]…

Berman:          They were impatient because they wanted to get on with getting the model faster, before they ha[d] all the necessary data; but nobody had—neither she nor they had—the necessary data to get every single atom with that method, it couldn't happen.

Firestein:          I mean she at one point got very wrapped up in making measurements with this Patterson function, which I looked up and scared me today. I mean, I have to say (laughter). So I could see where, but you know, [you could spend endless hours doing this.]

Berman:          Well, you have to, you get your data and you do various kinds and back then, there were very limited number of things you could actually do with the limited amount of data they had or that she had; and ultimately she was going to have to and with fiber especially there were no, she really had to make a model and she probably was making a model and you have to that would be the result is a model.

Firestein:          Oh the Patterson function, really, are you sure?

Elkin:          No, no way [am I going to speak about the details of] the Patterson. Scares me, really, believe me.

Berman:          I can tell you.

Elkin:          (laughter from the audience) It is very, very difficult mathematics, doing Patterson; and what I did see at her archives were letters in response to her doing the first ever three-dimensional Patterson. [You have to] understand, she wasn't in Helen's lab where she had a computer to help. She used an adding machine doing not only a Patterson, but a three-dimensional Patterson. It was absolutely brilliant work and it was acknowledged as brilliant work and that's the kind of work that they were all [poo-pooing her for] being stuck on the A which incidentally [Randall assigned] to her and B to Wilkins. And it's also interesting that she then later talks about the anti-helical picture she got, which she analyzed in the three-dimensional Patterson as being a fortunate accident, because that's what got her to get the most accurate measurement[s] in the unit cell, which is how she described later in the MRC report—the same MRC Report that Crick commented was brilliant—and those measurements were essential for them for figuring it out.

Firestein:          So I wanted to ask a, sort of, question about that; [I have to think about how to] phrase this exactly. So [there's] some question about the historical value of this. So Franklin was busy making these measurements. I think there's a quote from Crick. I don't know if it's in the new correspondence or older bit of correspondence, but he was actually quite glad that he had never seen the A data.

Wade:          It's in the new ones actually.

Firestein:          It's in the new one. So I think it's very interesting. So for those of you—so many of you aren't familiar with it, but some [of you] may not be—quite recently a rather large trove of Francis Crick's papers thought to have been lost came to light. So it turned out [that he] shared an office for many years with Sydney Brenner, who worked with the MRC—and [is] still working actually, well into his 80s—and they shared an office and somehow or another their papers became mixed together and Crick thought his secretary had thrown them out or something like that and [lost] track of them and just recently Brenner gave 33 boxes of his papers to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory archivists and among them they found nine boxes, I think, or something of Frank's and Crick's letters that have been thought to have been lost. From this rather crucial period, if I'm not mistaken, there's a beautiful article in Nature of September 29th, which I think is even now available online, if I'm right—yes that's it, you can hold that if you would, it's worth a look at it; (laugher) it's actually quite easy to read, I mean, you don't have to be a scientist to read it and it's rather interesting and then Nicholas also wrote a piece in the Times on it—and one of the quotes was Wilkins saying then that he actually realized how fortunate he was never to have seen the A version, and it's the B photo that he saw, because the A version was quite confusing and would easily have thrown him off or given him [pause at least].

Elkin:          There is a reason why he said that; [it] goes back to the history of [Linus Pauling figuring out the alpha helix. Bragg] had been painstakingly pulling data and Linus Pauling got sick, he was [probably popping vitamin C pills and he played with models in bed and figured out the alpha helix.] (laugher)

Firestein:          Anybody doing a play on Linus Pauling? (more laugher)

Elkin:           And Crick repeatedly talked about how he learned from that and how Bragg learned from that not to worry about if you had some data that didn't quite help you out with [your] overall feeling of things; and [that's what] he's talking about, that if you have a big picture that [you really think is] accurate, if you find some information that points in a different direction, don't forget it but don't let it hold you back  [in] figuring out the complete picture. And Crick was the genius of all these people and nobody else can compare in his ability to visualize things, and he knew that this was a spurious piece of data and Franklin [turned] lemons into lemonade by analyzing it and coming out with such precise measurements of the unit cell. And, you know, it certainly wasn't the mythology 'that darn woman']—which [is how] Wilkins [would have described her]—didn't know what she had and she put it on her desk for several months. [Because if you] look at her notebook she analyzed it [with local interaction] theory and she started writing a B paper  about it, [you know even after] she had [her A] papers written up. So [she knew what she was doing,] she [could] figure it out; she did not see  a[n absolutely] critical piece of data, [that's] true. She didn't understand the [significance of the] space group, and I will tell you, you got to do a lot of data analysis to get to that space group and she did that. [I'm a Franklin fan.] (laugher)

Firstein:         That's obvious.

Elkin:                  I am also a fan of Wilkins and Watson and Crick. Crick was the most remarkable man I have ever met. I enjoyed Watson;[talking to him is a trip]. He doesn't censor anything he thinks.  And [his accomplishments are] brilliant, and the work he has done with his life has been phenomenal. He is a man worthy [of] respect; [they're all worthy of respect.] You don't have to trash anybody [to] give respect to anybody else in that [group].

Firestein:          I was going to read something, it's a little bit long and I [really] should have sort of cut it down a little bit, but I will just read two or three lines of it, this was from an article by [Anne Piper] who was a friend of Franklin, and [at] the very end of it she writes, setting the record straight, "in the last two paragraphs of the epilogue of The Double Helix, Watson speaks of those whom he had mentioned"—I will cut around this a little bit—"all of those people, should they so desire, can indicate events and details they remember differently, but there is one unfortunate exception. In 1958, Rosalind Franklin died at the early age of 37. Since my initial impressions of her both scientific and personal, as [recorded] in the early pages of this book, were often wrong, I want to say something here about her achievements. The x-ray work she did at King's is increasingly regarded as superb. The sorting out of the A and B forms by itself would have made her reputation; even better was her 1952 demonstration using Patterson's super-position methods that the phosphate loops must be on the outside of the DNA molecule. [Later] when she moved to [Bernau's] lab, she took up work from the tobacco mosaic virus and quickly extended"—etcetera, etcetera—"Because I was then teaching in the States I did not often see her as often as Francis to whom she frequently came for advice or when she had done something very pretty to be sure he agreed with her [reasoning]. By then all traces of our early bickering were forgotten and we both came to appreciate greatly her personal honesty and generosity, realizing years too late the struggles that the intelligent woman faces to be accepted by [a] scientific world which often regards women as mere diversions from serious thinking. Rosalind's exemplary courage and integrity were apparent [to] all [when], knowing she was mortally ill, she did not complain, but continued working on a high level until a few weeks before her death." So that's from Watson.

Elkin:          I [want to say something else] positive about Watson. When I was interviewing him and [I said, "The things you say in The Double Helix are rather misogynistic",] he said "Well [we were] all little boys in boys' school, that's the way it was. But if you talk to some of my [female] graduate students you'll find that they're okay by them." So I went to an AAAS meeting and I went to talk a bunch of [his female] graduate students, and they consistently said how helpful he was as an advisor, which is why a lot of people involved, they might have had rules then, people didn't mesh. But I think highly of all these people, and I do not think she was discriminated [against] because she was woman, and I do not think she was discriminated [against] because she was a Jew. Most people didn't know she was Jewish; most Jewish [people] did not know she was Jewish. Even [Don Caspar] didn't know that. People who she worked with at Berkeley. I interviewed one and he was just floored that she was Jewish. She was an incredibly complex person. I mean, it's very hard to capture that in the play, and I too would say it was a little bit harsh. She certainly wasn't harsh to Gosling, but she was horribly harsh to Wilkins and I have someone [some wonderful quotes from Gosling; maybe we'll have to ask him about it.]

Firestein:          I'm actually a little curious about [Gosling]. So we're actually left now with two living eye-witnesses to the whole time. One is Watson, of course, who we know is also opinionated and perhaps biased in some ways and not in other ways; and then there's Gosling, who we never seem to hear from.

Elkin:          I think that was Ann Sayre's second big mistake. She wrote off Gosling as a big [jock] and that is not true. He was a very, very intelligent observer of all of this, and he really tried to mediate [between the two] and between [Margaret Pratt Roth and] Gosling I got a much better feeling of what went on at the MRC.
Firestein:          I'd rather forgotten about him, to tell you the truth until he became a central character in your play or a fairly central character of the play. So how did you figure that out? What made you put so much of that?

Ziegler:          I needed a comic foil. (laughter) He was [the] grad student. I mean, to be honest, it was sort of, he was the person who witnessed everything, right? So it sort of made sense that he would be a narrator, and I think that in the play, he that's the function he serves right now. I think dramatically he's a narrator and he's a sort of a comic foil, which is what the play needed. But I gather that in reality he was also very jovial and very intelligent; and I mean, in fact, the actor playing him didn't want us to simplify him so much. I mean, he wanted to make sure he came up as really smart and really engaged. He said "Gosling was really, really smart," and I said "Yes, but make sure he also comes off as little weepy, just for the play."

Firestein:          So you want to make any final comments, would you take time; we could take maybe a couple of questions if there's time. Which would you prefer? Do you want to see what's on their minds, briefly?

[Elkin:          I have Gosling quotes, if anybody wants to hear them.]

Firestein:          Well if there are any juicy ones, [could you go through them?]

[Elkin]:          Very, very juicy. (laughter)

Firestein:          Give us a short, give us a sample.

Ziegler:          Well he talked about how "she had lovely dark eyes [that were] full [of] vitality [but they could [turn to] flint stones and [spit] fire [at you as] well, and [that's what] terrified Maurice. This was this young woman, half his height, spitting fire at [him with] every glance." And he said, "She did reserve her [most] dire glances for poor Maurice and they used to say to her, 'It's not fair, you're scaring the pants off this poor guy,' and she laughed about it and said, she said 'Oh, that's the effect he has on me, I can't help it, you know.' She was a bit naughty in that sense. I think she knew half the time what she was doing, [and the other half, she just couldn't help] herself." So she did, she scared him. (laughter)The other thing, is even according to Watson, [he says how the 'death of the helix' invitation showed that she was anti-helical.]And it was a joke, and I said it was a joke, and he said no, "It's serious." So here is what he said, "She was giggling like a school girl when she handed us this card that chastised those helically zesty chaps."(laughter)

Firestein:          That [that may sound juicy] to a scientist. (laughter) I don't think it makes the [grade] otherwise. (laughter)

Ziegler: She was making fun that they were saying that this ['death of the] helix' invitation was a serious thing that showed she did know that DNA was helical. And it was joke and Gosling was validating that it was a joke, and Wilkins and Watson and Crick were saying it's helical [before there] was evidence that there was a helix. And that really bothered her and that's why she was so nasty with Wilkins, and she didn't tell Wilkins about her helical data and in her final seminar where she really talked about this anti-helical stuff, Wilkins [finally got] the courage to say, "How do you reconcile [this with your photo 51,"] and she said, "Of course [the B] form is helical." She had always been talking about A form, even the invitation says DNA A crystalline. She knew what she was doing, and she couldn't quite get to the end of it.

Firestein:          [Well, we've all been there,] (laughter) I'm afraid to say. Maybe we'll take one or two questions. I just want to say we don't have a lot of time, so I really want questions not statements or things of that nature, so I'll cut you off if you start with that, okay? Just warning you. [Yes?]

Audience:          So, I['d] like [to ask a question to the playwright]. In the play, only Rosalind appears to be doing science; she was the only one in a lab [coat]. Is that an intention[al, the others just, sort of, looked like they were playing around. Is that a portrayal of what your perception of the reality was, or was that a theatrical device?]

Ziegler:          You mean, in the King's lab?

Audience member:          [You never see Watson and Crick doing any science. There's] no note book, no measurements, no calculations; she['s] [spending all this] time in the play writing in [a] book, doing calculations and Wilkins seems to be just sitting outside brooding, and you know, I mean I don't see any one else doing anything in the play [except for her]. (laughter)

Ziegler:          I mean, I think Watson and Crick were doing science in their way, which I was trying to convey was different than the way she was doing her science, where she was very focused on the data and the calculations, and they were—I mean, we had a much more interesting conversation about theory versus experimentalism and I think the play simplifies it a little bit, it clearly does. So in the world of the play she is, yes, sort of tied to her notebook, and they're more  theoretical and they don't, they're not relying on that sort of data in the same way or tied to the books.

[Audience member:]          But even theorists do lab work.

Ziegler:          I'm sure they do.

Firestein:          Yes.


Audience   How [were any of you influenced when Watson and Crick did their first papers about DNA, and how did that influence you in your research?]

Firestein:          Well, I was little young when those papers came out. It's hard to believe, but I was. I must say my view of the papers, I used [them]—I shouldn't admit this perhaps—so I often use these papers as examples. If you read the Watson and Crick paper and then you read, I skip the Wilkins one, but I often give the students the Watson and Crick paper followed by the Franklin and Gosling paper, and their tone and quality is remarkably different. The Watson and Crick paper is I have to say a work of scientific art. It brings out, it is, it's just absolutely magnificent. You see immediately what they saw, you know, it's understated where it needs to be understated and straight out where it [needs to be.] It just lets you into the whole process, it lets you into the beauty of the whole molecule. And Franklin's paper is extremely [informative], but if you're not a crystallographer, you're not going to get anywhere through this paper. It's just, you have no idea what's it's actually about unless you're a true expert, and I think that's at least part of the reason that things have come down historically the way they have. That one paper was just so communicative and the other two were just simply not, they were just plain old science business and I think it's a lesson in how science ought to be done by scientists as well; that they should think carefully about their audience.

Berman:          So I teach over the years I have coursed undergraduates, and I use the story of the double helix as a way of illustrating how science is done. And we actually analyze the papers, we analyze the story of the scientists, we try to figure out what the components are that lead to good science by studying the story, because this story has all the pieces. And so the original articles as well as all the things that led up to it. I use The Double Helix for—Watson's [first book]The Double Helix—as the first reading. This is for freshman. So they can dig into this and then we piece it apart, pull it apart and try to understand what this story is and how the discovery was made and what was important and what was not important. It's such a classic and important story in science, and by studying it we can learn the huge amount about how science is done and the actual science [involved].

Firestein:          I wanted to ask about your class actually. So I'm glad you worked that in. I've heard a lot of about it.

[Elkin]:          [I want to praise Watson and Crick more to answer this gentleman's question. I remember, I think it was Crick who said, "We weren't] just [goofing] off, we spent a lot of time thinking about it, reading papers, arguing about what the papers meant. They did a lot of work, it might not have been data collection, it was library information collection and then arguing about what it meant to help figure out. They put their minds in the frame of reference [so] that they could figure this out and that was a very brilliant contribution. It wasn't just [building models].

Berman:          I would like to comment on what you said about that in the play she appeared to be the only one doing science and the others were just sort of [puttering] around. I'll just remember a time when I was a postdoc and doing crystallography, which meant mostly sitting around and talking; because every experiment forever and every calculation took forever, and that was in 1969. And I remember a biochemist who was doing real science coming down and seeing a lot of us sitting around the table talking, and he says, "You guys are just a whole bunch of philosophers." So I think, but we weren't, but we filled the time when you were waiting for results talking, thinking, making models whatever—that is actually more realistic, especially back then.

Firestein:          That's a very good point. It's a very good point because sometimes it's very hard to see that science is getting done. I can tell you that. I walk into my lab sometime and ask, "Anybody working here?" (laughter) But then papers come out somehow or another. So I don't know. Nicholas do you want to say anything to that particular question? We'll take one more question.

Audience:  This question is for Mr. Wade. [You said that you didn't see a story in the play that described the truth.

Wade:          Well the play was very dexterous, [but] I think simply by having chosen to focus on Rosalind one is [almost inevitably] drawn away from the historic account into the mythological account. And so the suggestion of antifeminism, of anti-Semitism was, sort of, very lightly done and the play concentrates mostly on Rosalind's character and all the new stuff that has come out, so it was very refreshing in that sense. I think it did try and escape as much as possible from being stamped with [the mythological] perspective, but nonetheless it was there. There were suggestions of anti-Semitism, which I think [were] completely unfounded; there were suggestions of antifeminism, like not being taken by Wilkins into the dining club. So I don't know whether or not women were not allowed into the dining club at King's, but I do know from [Horace] Judson's research that there were a large number of women at King's, [about a third of the department] and all of them which Judson can reach said there was no antifeminism, that they were aware of and they would surely would've been aware if it had happened. So that's why I think even though the suggestions in the play to this effect are very slight, [they were] probably dramatically necessarily [and followed from]the decision to focus just on Rosalind and not on the whole picture.

Firestein:          Anna you wrote this—you want the last word? (laughter from the audience)

Ziegler:          Just come and see the play.(more laughter and applause)

Firestein:          Come see the play. Thank you everyone.

Steve:           Photograph 51 runs at the Ensemble Studio Theatre on West 52nd Street in Manhattan till November 21st. For Science Talk, the podcast of Scientific American, I'm Steve Mirsky. Thanks for clicking on us.

Photograph 51 is a new play about Rosalind Franklin, Watson and Crick, and the race to determine the structure of DNA, at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City, running through November 21st. A panel discussion about the play on November 2nd featured crystallography expert Helen Berman, biologist and Franklin scholar Lynne Osman Elkin, science journalist Nicholas Wade, playwright Anna Ziegler and moderator Stuart Firestein. Websites related to this episode include

Part of this podcast has been transcribed in Rosalind Franklin and DNA: How Wronged Was She?

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Email this Article