One of the Most Egregious Ripoffs in the History of Science

Howard Markel explains what motivated him to write a new history of the race to crack the DNA code. “For a trained historian of science and medicine to look through all the details, laboratory results, X-rays, and manuscripts, to see who really did what, it was clear to me Rosalind Franklin deserved her day in court.”

Markel told me a big part of his inspiration for writing The Secret of Life were his two daughters, Samantha, 16, and Bess, 21, who had long been after him to write about Franklin. “They aren’t science-y kids,” Markel said, but were aware of Franklin. As they understood her story, Franklin was never taken seriously by her male lab mates, was constantly the subject of their sexist gossip, and had her work stolen by them. “I kept saying to them, ‘Well, wait kids. You’ve got to look at the data. You’ve got to look at the facts. You can’t assume. That’s not the way we do things,’” Markel said. “And then when I got deep into the research, it was startling. I was like, ‘Whoa, this is far worse than I thought in terms of the evidence.’”


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