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Theoretical vs experimental biology


What makes a good collaboration?
Francis Crick Scientist
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Well, it depends, of course, what it is. Of course, it’s rather different if you’re doing experiences because you may have a collaboration where one is an expert at one part of the technique and another at the other and you… you work together in that way, and so on and so… so… that’s one way. But, of course, if you’re… we’re talking about more ideas and things, yes, it is important to be candid and… and not to be afraid of saying some… something silly. And equally when whoever it is you are talking to says something, it’s your obligation to try and show what’s wrong with it as well as appreciating whether it’s a good idea or not, you see. So that… this… but this comes quite naturally to… to people, especially younger people. And, of course, it does help, the tradition that you have especially in America of not showing undue respect for your elders, which is a great handicap in Japanese science, for example, where… where it’s not polite to contradict the senior person.

[Q] But didn’t you expect respect?

I much prefer it when somebody contradicts me as long as it… in a reasonable number of instances they turn out to be right. If somebody contradicts me constantly and was constantly wrong I wouldn’t particularly enjoy that, but I don’t feel I’m getting anywhere in the discussion and this is getting more difficult as you get older because younger people are more reluctant to or don’t think it’s worth their while or things of that sort, so it is more difficult.

[Q] This… I mean, I suppose that your collaboration with Watson is one of the great… [sic] it’s difficult for, perhaps, you to put yourself outside it, but it is one of the great collaborations isn’t it, like Hardy and Littlewood or… or…?

Yes, except it didn’t go on for that… such a long time as Hardy and Littlewood, I think. I mean, it was mainly the two years that Jim was… was there the first time and then a little bit later when he came on a second visit and then when… when he went… when he went back and went… resumed his job at… at Harvard, it isn’t that we didn’t see each other and so on, but there wasn’t the close interchange. It does help very much if… if you’re together in the same place.

[Q] So your collaboration with Sydney Brenner would be more…?

Well, in that case, of course, we were… were sharing an office but of course Sydney was doing experiments a lot of the time so we weren’t in the office, you know, the whole working day together. I was usually in the office.

The late Francis Crick, one of Britain's most famous scientists, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. He is best known for his discovery, jointly with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, of the double helix structure of DNA, though he also made important contributions in understanding the genetic code and was exploring the basis of consciousness in the years leading up to his death in 2004.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: United States of America, Harvard University, James Watson, GH Hardy, John Edensor Littlewood, Sydney Brenner

Duration: 2 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: 1993

Date story went live: 24 January 2008