RIP Francis Crick
July 29, 2004 9:41 AM   Subscribe

RIP Francis Crick. The man who helped discover the secret of life is dead.
posted by rushmc (31 comments total)

 
The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time, not DNA. At least that's what Otis Blackwell taught sang.
posted by billsaysthis at 9:52 AM on July 29, 2004


So central is DNA to biology that the names of Francis H. C. Crick and James D. Watson, his American colleague in the discovery, are thought likely to be remembered as long as those of Darwin and Mendel, the architects of the two pillars of modern biology — the theory of evolution and the laws of genetics.
posted by rushmc at 10:02 AM on July 29, 2004


Crick was an inspired scientist and thinker who didn't stop with the discovery of the structure of DNA but also elucidated the workings of protein synthesis and later moved onto a whole different area, neuroscience. As such, he's truly one of the great scientists of our age. I'm sad to hear that he's died; he won't be forgotten, though.
posted by adrianhon at 10:02 AM on July 29, 2004


I told you I was Crick.

*runs*

*slinks back*

I once heard his colleague James Watson speak. He was on a triple-bill with George H.W. and Barbara Bush. People in attendance pressed him, but GHWB didn't really want to talk about his sons, since at that point it still wasn't clear which one of them was going to run. Anyway, I was more interested in what Watson had to say, but the local town paper sent me to cover the Bush speech.

Wasn't there a third colleague? A woman? She deserved more credit, but didn't get it, or something?

That's a great lede on that story.
posted by emelenjr at 10:13 AM on July 29, 2004


emelenjr: You're thinking of Rosalind Franklin.

nitpick: the linked article is almost, but not quite, correct in saying that Nobel Prizes can only be awarded to the living. The awardee must be living when nominated, but if the person dies after being nominated, he or she can still be awarded a Nobel Prize. But the point that Franklin couldn't receive the Prize because she had died is correct.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:21 AM on July 29, 2004


"You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules."

- Francis Crick

Good riddance to bad "rubbish." Crick was for decades one of the main forces mistakenly arguing against the reality of lucid dreams. He should've stuck to DNA.
posted by soyjoy at 10:32 AM on July 29, 2004


Good riddance to bad "rubbish."

This seems unnecessarily hostile and dismissive. Scientists can be both good and wrong. And to be honest, anybody engaging in a criticism of psychoanalysis gets at least three points in my book.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:10 AM on July 29, 2004


soyjoy - WTF? You're dogging on the newly dead because they didn't believe in your stupid little area of pseudoscience? Get a fucking grip.
posted by bshort at 11:14 AM on July 29, 2004


Well, now Crick has learned the secret of death.
posted by troutfishing at 11:33 AM on July 29, 2004


The campaign to bring him back starts here.
posted by vbfg at 11:46 AM on July 29, 2004


WTF? You're dogging on the newly dead

Since Crick was nothing but a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules, I doubt he'd object to my dogging on him now.

because they didn't believe in your stupid little area

Stupid and little are awfully loaded terms, bshort. Let's ignore that and concentrate on the fact that it wasn't his not believing, but his wrongly stating that lucid dreaming was impossible, that I object to.

of pseudoscience?

Haven't been paying attention for the past 23 years? Lucid Dreaming has been proven scientifically. That's the point. Crick wasn't just narrow-minded, he was wrong. He was out of his depth. Great DNA researcher, terrible dream scientist. "Rubbish" was a reference to what Crick so famously declared dreams to be.
posted by soyjoy at 12:05 PM on July 29, 2004


Look, I just reread my original comment from an "objective" standpoint, and "Good riddance to bad rubbish" comes off as needlessly hateful. I want to withdraw that. I thought it was a cute play on words, but it was inappropriate. I still hold Crick responsible for his sloppy and damaging science, but I don't want to derail this thread. Apologies.
posted by soyjoy at 12:38 PM on July 29, 2004


Crick was for decades one of the main forces mistakenly arguing against the reality of lucid dreams.

Even the best scientists make mistakes.

All of them.
posted by rushmc at 12:56 PM on July 29, 2004


the secret of life is death... it doesnt let you in on it until its too late unfortunately
posted by Satapher at 1:02 PM on July 29, 2004


"It's not a sin to be wrong in science." -- eriko
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:07 PM on July 29, 2004


I met Francis Crick about eight years ago, he was visiting the research institute I was at for a week. I didn't have an excuse to talk much science with him. But he was a charming and very entertaining gentleman.

I particularly admire that he had moved on to working on the incredibly difficult problems of cognitive neuroscience.
posted by Nelson at 1:25 PM on July 29, 2004


I do media work for a mid-sized biotech firm, and somebody here hung up a huge banner that reads "Thanks Francis!" written in black marker.

When I saw it, the guy next to me said "Thanks for dying? How classy."
posted by rocketman at 1:42 PM on July 29, 2004


"It's not a sin to be wrong in science." -- eriko

In fact, it's a duty.
posted by freebird at 2:17 PM on July 29, 2004


...terrible dream scientist.

Yeah, that whole DNA thing just seems worthless when you compare it to the towering importance of lucid dreaming.
posted by bshort at 2:40 PM on July 29, 2004


I think I dreamt this thread, the creeping wackiness at the edges confirms it. Yeah I definitely dreamt it, you know how you start typing in dreams and it alk thht oufh rojapfj?
posted by chrid at 2:53 PM on July 29, 2004


Lucid Dreaming has been proven scientifically.

That sentence is meaningless. Do you mean that 'lucid dreaming' has been defined in terms of testable hypotheses, those hypotheses have been tested, and the results, which are reproducible, indicate that lucid dreaming is a real phenomenon?

If so, where are the research data? (Hint: the NYT magazine is not a refereed journal.)
posted by sennoma at 3:16 PM on July 29, 2004


Do you mean that 'lucid dreaming' has been defined in terms of testable hypotheses, those hypotheses have been tested, and the results, which are reproducible, indicate that lucid dreaming is a real phenomenon?

Actually, that is precisely what he means. See the work of LaBerge, Gackenbach, et al.
posted by rushmc at 5:15 PM on July 29, 2004


A great man, to be sure, and a sad passing.

But I think comparisons to Mendel and Darwin are reaching. For one thing, wasn't there another team competing with Watson & Crick for the "scoop," which they eventually got, but only barely? A lot of evidence pointed to the molecule, it was just a race to see who could document its existence first.

By contrast, Mendel and Darwin stood completely alone in a wilderness of ignorance and pulled world-transforming ideas out of their asses. Mendel in particular had no business being as smart as he was, given his monastic surroundings.

It's lame to compare these people anyway. Watson and Crick's discovery has had many more applications than all of Darwin's life work. Yet engineering a radiogram of a molecule hardly compares to the creative feat of re-framing our origins as species.

[ducks]
posted by scarabic at 5:28 PM on July 29, 2004


"You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules."

- Francis Crick

The point of which is not so much to diminish human consciousness, but to point out how amazing are the cells and molecules that create it.
posted by kindall at 5:46 PM on July 29, 2004


At least - and even though I was aware even as a sixteen year old high school student that the sort of severe reductionism that Crick espoused had already been undermined - by Quantum Physics, Godel, and lately also by PEAR - Crick's severe and likely wrongheaded, acidic dismissal of entire realms of experience and even realms of research does not - in my mind anyway - fatally degrade his standing in the pantheon of scientific greats.

No one is perfect - we all, in our time, play the buffoon - a few also play the sage and ring the clarion call as well.

DNA is much to ponder, and I hope humans have enough time to ponder it in it's fullest.
posted by troutfishing at 10:09 PM on July 29, 2004


The amazingly brief letter that started it all:

We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D.N.A.). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest....It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 12:14 AM on July 30, 2004


I wonder if we will ever see people like Crick do work like this again? It almost seems that there are no more huge discoveries to be made, that we are merely incrementally building on the knowledge we have.
posted by dg at 5:02 AM on July 30, 2004


It almost seems that there are no more huge discoveries to be made, that we are merely incrementally building on the knowledge we have.

Sounds a bit like the 'end of history'. And look how that turned out.
posted by Summer at 6:10 AM on July 30, 2004


Even Watson & Crick's seminal paper was more "incremental" than you might be led to believe. The chemical structure of a single strand of DNA was already known at that point--having a "backbone" of alternating ribose and phosphate units, and one of four "bases" (adenine, cytosine, guanine, or thymine) attached to each ribose. Even the fact that DNA was a helix was already known.

What was still in question at that point was how many DNA strands comprised the helix, and how those strands were situated within the helix. Most scientists of the time guessed that the constant backbone, and not the variable bases, had to be towards the center of the helix in order to coordinate with other strands. (How could the variable bases produce a constant helical structure, if they were on the inside?)

Watson & Crick's solution--that the DNA helix is composed of two strands, with the backbones on the outside and the bases in the center, always with adenine on one strand paired with thymine on the other, and cytosine and guanine similarly paired--not only suggested a possible copying mechanism, but also explained Chargaff's observation that the amount of adenine was always equal to the amount of thymine, and the same was true of cytosine and guanine. Also they noted that an adenine/thymine pair had virtually the same shape and size as a cytosine/guanine pair, explaining how the variable bases could produce a constant overall structure.

It's one of those things that, given the evidence, seems obvious in retrospect, but was brilliant at the time.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:16 AM on July 30, 2004


SCENE #19:

[INT. CSI - DNA LAB]

(GREG sits at his lab table listening to rock music blaring from his tape
machine. GRISSOM and NICK walk into the lab. GRISSOM turns the music off.
GREG looks up.)

GRISSOM: I just got a page from James Watson.

NICK: And I got one Francis Crick. What's going on, Greg?

GREG: Well, as you both know ... Watson and Crick are the grand-daddies of DNA.
Without their discoveries, I'd have nothing to do all day.

NICK: What have you been doing all day?

GREG: A tox report on your D.B., Ms. Pretty in pink. She died of carbon
monoxide poisoning. Blood saturation level of 46.2%. No surprise there.
Nicotine levels are high -- she was a smoker. And she popped a couple of
sleeping pills that night.

___________

one word:
GATTACA

no, seriously: a giant. pity the media is too fascinated these days by all kinds of bullshit. the NYT, in a rare moment of sanity, has it (tangentially) right -- the importance of Crick's work is something for the history books, unlike most of the stuff that gets published/broadcast these days

good obit in the Telegraph
here is Matt Ridley's tribute

and New Scientist is here
posted by matteo at 8:28 AM on July 30, 2004


the importance of Crick's work is something for the history books, unlike most of the stuff that gets published/broadcast these days
This was kind of my point - most "discoveries" these days seem to be half-baked, untested additions to fairly well-known science, released with the purpose of gaining funding, rather than anything significant in their own right.
posted by dg at 2:05 PM on July 30, 2004


« Older Roadside Online....  |  For almost ten years, independ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments