Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Discovering the Double Helix was Overrated

Why does this one discovery have such an elevated status in pop culture? This list pegs it at #4 of the "Ten most important nobels prize winners." Vassar grad Caterina quotes Richard Ogle's Smart World to note that:
[T]hey had distinctly lackadaisical work habits. Watson played several sets of tennis every afternoon and spent his evenings alternately chasing 'popsies' at Cambridge parties and going to the movies. Crick, who rarely showed up at the lab before 10 AM and took a coffee break and hour later repeatedly appeared to lose interest in the problem of DNA. On more than one occasion, vital piece of information were obtained not through hard work but as a result of chance conversations in the tea line at the Cavendish laboratory.
This screams out, "Luck!" Plus, why does everyone care about the structure of the thing so much? Surely the fact that this thing is a helix is much less important than the discovery by Oswald Avery that DNA is the hereditary material. Otherwise nobody even cares about the structure. The discovery of the double helix is a classic example of how having a good narrative is more essential to fame than actually having done something very important. More reason to disregard fame, then.