James Watson: Rosalind Franklin Couldn’t Deal With People

The X-ray crystallographer contributed some crucial pieces of information to Watson and Crick’s search for the double helix. But because she likely had Asperger’s syndrome, she was almost impossible to collaborate with.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: What was Rosalind Franklin’s role in the discovery of DNA?

James Watson: She provided the... some crucial pieces of information.  Her great handicap, which I would now say we would use the term Asperger’s, she didn’t know how to deal with other people; didn’t know how to ask for help. And, if anything, probably paranoid about people stealing her data.  And if she’d come out to Cambridge and shown her data to Crick, she... Crick would have told her how to solve her problem.  She had a clue, but she didn’t know how to interpret it, and Francis would have immediately have told her what it was because his own work in Cambridge, just by accident, had let him deal with that problem.  So he could have told her, and she had gone back to London and he would have said, "You know, there are two chains and she said the phosphoruses were on the outside then they would have to be held together by the bases.  And once you say that, you are very close to the structure. 

So... I don’t think her name deserved to be on the paper, I mean, she really fought bitterly saying it was the helix, and didn’t collaborate.  And because of her... her failure to interact effectively, it was hard to know how bright she was, and why she was so strongly against it being a helix.  I don’t know.  You know, afterwards, I would never ask her those questions, we were not... afterwards we weren’t at all unpleasant to each other, we liked to talk to each other. I mean we could you know, talk to each other.  But I never asked her if she wanted to spontaneously say something, but she never did.

Recorded on September 28, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman