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Molecular biology in the late 1940s


Social interactions among scientists
Francis Crick Scientist
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Oh yes, that was certainly true. This business about scientific human beings is extremely odd because all scientists know that other scientists are human beings. Scientists, if I may say so, are much more social creatures than… writers. Writers are somewhat solitary, when you think about it, when you look at their way of life there’s almost a reluctance that they go and mix with their fellow men although they obviously have to do it to get something to write about. But if you walk around one of the labs here or even in the theoretical things you’ll find people in groups all the time and they’re not just sitting there not talking to each other, I mean they may be not talking… they’re not talking all the time but they are interacting. And it’s well known in labs that some people can’t get on and nothing you can do… you just have to keep them in somewhere… somewhere separate because of some reasons of temperament, and for other reasons you find you have a group of people and perhaps two… two or perhaps three of them get on extremely well in a way you wouldn’t necessarily have predicted. So, these social interactions are very important and everybody… I mean, it’s part of… of the scientist's stock in trade to know about the character of other scientists, you see. I mean, how reliable they are and so forth, whether… whether they’re paranoid and all sorts of other qualities, whether they’re a good person to go out and have a drink with in the evening and so on, these are… that’s what you have to know about scientists and that’s why people go to meetings. They go to meetings not only to hear about new scientific results but to get an impression of the personality of the person who’s doing the work. It’s much easier to do that directly than actually reading the papers because the papers don’t… are written in this funny style which almost leaves the personality out and yet the personality is one of the most important things because some people, you learn, are very reliable and some people also… and others are not, and some people have bright ideas and some people always have crazy ideas and things of this type. And you’d be surprised just talking to a person for a few minutes how… easily you can assess all that kind of thing. So, scientists know that other scientists are human enough but the general public has this extraordinary picture and I don’t know where it came from, and I think it comes from over… overhearing scientists talk because they talk in this strange jargon, in this, sort of, inhuman, sort of way and therefore they must be inhuman, that’s what the… the thing is. Actually if you hear two scientists talking they don’t really talk like that much of the time. They may talk it when a layman overhears them but if you go to a… groups of scientists they’re usually quite jolly, I would say. They’re also very dedicated in what they do. Some, for example, are known to be over ambitious and… and some people are known to be rather quiet and retiring and… and so on. It’s… it’s very important to know these things if you work in an… an area, this is why it’s more difficult when you get… get people like, say, a number of Japanese scientists who you haven’t met because you don’t get any impression of their personality from the papers.

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: scientist, writer, social interaction, personality, ambition, Japanese

Duration: 3 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: 1993

Date story went live: 24 January 2008