Untangling Rosalind Franklin’s Role in DNA Discovery, 70 Years On

But Dr. Perutz’s sharing of Dr. Franklin’s unpublished data is “slightly iffy,” she said. (In 1969, Dr. Perutz wrote that the report was not confidential but that he should have asked for permission to share it “as a matter of courtesy.”)

Still, other scientists and historians said they were puzzled by the arguments made in the Nature essay. Helen Berman, a structural biologist at Rutgers University, called them “sort of strange.” Of Dr. Franklin, she said, “If she was an equal member, then I don’t know that she was treated very well.”

Dr. Franklin and Dr. Wilkins each published their own results in the same issue of Nature that included Dr. Watson and Dr. Crick’s report, as part of a package of papers. But Dr. Berman wondered why the scientists did not collaborate on a single paper with shared authorship. And several scholars said that they thought the new essay minimized the wrongdoing by the Cambridge team.

Dr. Comfort said that he and Dr. Cobb were not “trying to exonerate” Dr. Watson and Dr. Crick, whom he said were “slow to fully acknowledge” Dr. Franklin’s contribution. Dr. Cobb said that the Cambridge scientists should have told Dr. Franklin that they were using her data. “They were ungallant,” he said. “They were not as open as they should have been.” But, he added, it wasn’t “theft.”

There is no evidence that Dr. Franklin felt aggrieved by what happened, historians said, and she became friendly with the Cambridge duo in the final years of her brief life. “As far as I can tell, there was no bad feeling,” Dr. Oshinksy said.

That might have changed had Dr. Franklin lived long enough to read “The Double Helix,” several scholars noted. “‘The Double Helix’ is just appalling,” Dr. Garman said. “It gives a very, very slanted view, and doesn’t give her the credit for the bits that they even used from her.”

Dr. Franklin’s early death also meant she missed out on the Nobel Prize, but the Nobel Assembly could have found other ways to acknowledge her contribution, said Nils Hansson, a historian of medicine at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, in Germany. Neither Dr. Watson nor Dr. Crick mentioned her when they accepted their awards, Dr. Hansson noted, although Dr. Wilkins, who also received the prize, did.

“She truly did get a raw deal,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a physician and historian of medicine at the University of Michigan and the author of “The Secret of Life,” a book about the discovery of the double helix. “Everyone likes to receive proper credit for their work. Everyone should care enough about their colleagues to ensure the process of fair play.”

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