In Tom Siegfried’s article, “The Top 10
science news stories since time began”
(SN: 1/2/10, p. 2), No. 5 is “Watson and
Crick elucidate DNA’s double helix
structure, 1953.” I am annoyed that, as
usual in articles about the early understanding of DNA, Rosalind Franklin’s
name has been left off. Even Watson and
Crick admitted that without her work
they could not have been successful.
Ted Coskey, Seattle, Wash.
Tom Siegfried’s list of the Top 10 “
science news favorites from the dawn of
civilization” includes the comment
that “analyses of new science should be
undertaken with some caution, and a
sense of history.” Certainly, as Siegfried
notes, one can argue with the items he
chose for his list or the order in which
he placed them, but if this list is to be
presented with a proper sense of history, it should not repeat the mistakes
of the past in providing proper credit.
With regard to No. 10, nuclear fission:
History tells us that Lise Meitner (with
her nephew Otto Frisch) elucidated
nuclear fission (by explaining what
Hahn and Strassmann had observed,
but signally failed to explain). We know
this now (with the benefit of some history) despite the Nobel committee’s
overlooking both Meitner (
unconscionable) and Frisch (probably unfair).
Science News Letter’s publication of
Hahn and Strassmann’s “discovery” at
the time of the confirmation of Meitner’s
theory by Frisch is simply the error of
the contemporaries in not recognizing
Meitner’s pivotal role in establishing
the theoretical underpinnings of fission.
Moreover, it was Meitner who recognized the potential for a fission chain
reaction. Meitner’s name belongs there
with Hahn and Strassmann (and Frisch’s
arguably does too).
As to No. 5, DNA’s structure: Though
Watson and Crick never gave her any
credit (and, indeed, showed a lack of
class and intellectual honesty by disparaging her abilities and work), it is abundantly clear that Rosalind Franklin’s
X-ray diffraction images were critical in
guiding them to their proposed structure for the DNA helix. Her insightful
criticism of Watson and Crick’s first
proposed structure for DNA (which
had the base pairs on the outside rather
than the inside of the helix) is also a
historical fact. The Nobel committee
gets off on this one on the technicality
that Franklin was dead by the time the
award was made — and the Nobel Prize
is not awarded posthumously — but
there’s no evidence that the committee
would have included her if she had been
living. But, without question, Franklin
should be listed along with Watson and
Crick by anyone who claims to be listing
the discoverers of DNA’s structure with
a proper “sense of history.”
John M. Craig, Orem, Utah
I always enjoy your perspectives,
including your list of science news
favorites in the Jan. 2 Science News.
However, I was disappointed that for
item 10, the discovery of nuclear fission, you give the credit to Hahn and
Strassmann, and do not even mention
While it is true that the 1944 Nobel
Prize for this discovery went to Hahn,
hindsight reveals that Meitner was
unjustly excluded as the true discoverer of fission. Meitner had been working with Hahn from the early 1920s.
While, as a woman and a Jew, she could
not openly hold any important position in the lab, it was she who first
appreciated that an experiment Hahn
conducted at her urging after events
in 1938 forced her out of Germany was
in fact nuclear fission, a result Hahn
had not yet come to terms with. To add
insult to injury, Hahn was most ungra-cious to Meitner, giving her no credit
whatsoever, but jealously claiming
the discovery to himself. I feel history
should be kinder to the true deserver of
credit when the opportunity presents
itself. Keep up the great work you do.
David Clough, Weed, Calif.
My list did not attempt to credit all who
contributed to those major discoveries.
It is certainly true that Lise Meitner
played a major role in the discovery of
fission and in figuring out what Hahn
and Strassmann had done. Rosalind
Franklin’s work was important in
Watson and Crick’s elucidation of the
DNA double helix, but it is not correct
that they never credited her. At the end
of the paper reporting their discovery (in
Nature on April 25, 1953), they wrote:
“We have also been stimulated by a
knowledge of the general nature of the
unpublished experimental results and
ideas of Dr. M.H.F. Wilkins, Dr. R. E.
Franklin and their co-workers at King’s
College, London.” — Tom Siegfried
I’ve been following the arguments of
creationists, now intelligent designers, for years. Eugenie Scott makes
an important point about scientists
becoming engaged citizens in her commentary “Accept it: Talk about evolution needs to evolve” (SN: 8/1/09,
p. 32). She reflects on how creationists
have had to evolve in their arguments
in order to survive. Is it ironic that
they have become perfect examples
Patrick Dunn, Mishawaka, Ind.
In Ardi’s defense
Regarding “Partial skeleton gives
ancient hominids a new look” (SN:
10/24/09, p. 9), how did Ardipithecus
defend itself against predators when
on the ground? Ground-dwelling
baboons mount a formidable defense
by fighting in a cooperative manner
like a pack of dogs, using sharp canine
teeth in long snouts. In contrast, Ardi
could have carried tree limbs and rocks
in her strong arms. Standing firmly
on her legs, Ardi could have wielded
these weapons in a deadly manner.
Since teeth were not used for fighting,
the canine teeth of hominins became
smaller and the snout shorter.
A. Bjornson, Peabody, Mass.
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