Tuesday, October 30, 2007

James Dewey Watson's Scientific Wisdom of the Week

Jim Watson has been taking a lot of flak lately for talking beyond his expertise. So this feature will convey his wisdom on being a molecular biologist, a topic he should know a thing or two about.

"1. Two obsessions are one too many
Experiments, like many speculative enterprises, are likely to require at least five times more effort than you initially guess. Being a really good anything - be it university president, violinist, securities lawyer, or a scientist - requires a virtually obsessive devotion to ones' objective. Dividing one's attention will give the edge to competitors who have the same talent but greater focus. For this reason, highly successful bankers who also claim to be accomplished cellists are often neither. Their banking reputation likely rests on the labors of talented associates working day and night, and their cello playing as likely suffers from the time lost to even the pretense of being a banker."

James D. Watson, Avoid Boring (Other) People - Manners Required for Academic Civility


George Smiley said...

Name one important experiment that James Watson did. One. You can't, because he didn't.

Crick? Yes - great theorist, great experimentalist. Watson, though, was no experimentalist. He had ambition and the ability to identify and motivate his (much) more talented collaborators. And, of course, an unequalled talent for self-promotion.

Bayman said...

Name one important experiment that James Watson did. One. You can't, because he didn't.

Found some!

The Properties of X-Ray Inactivated Bacteriophage I. Inactivation by Direct Effect.

Here's another:

The structure of tobacco mosaic virus. I. X-ray evidence of a helical arrangement of sub-units around the longitudinal axis.

So Watson earned his experimental stripes. Overall I see your point however, he certainly didn't make his name on an uber-experiment. He also has a tremendous talent for self-promotion - in the process of doin so he's also done much to promote scientific research and build the modern field of molecular biology.