August 02, 2004

Francis Crick, R.I.P.

I hadn't planned to comment on the death of Francis Crick, but I was browsing through his Telegraph obituary and found two anecdotes I just had to share:

One day he was chatting to some naval officers about recent advances in antibiotics and realised he knew almost nothing about the subject. There and then he invented a "gossip test", which holds that whatever you are interested in, you gossip about. Applying the test to himself, he discovered that there were two subjects that interested him most: the border between the living and non-living and the workings of the brain - molecular and neurobiology to give them their scientific names.

Although molecular biologists were regarded at the time as little more than cranks by many in the scientific community, Crick chose molecular biology as the more promising field and began reading round the subject.


In 1960 Crick accepted a fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge, on condition that no chapel was built in the college. When in 1963 a benefactor offered the money for one and the majority of college fellows voted to accept, Crick refused to be fobbed off with the argument that some members of the college would "appreciate" a place of worship; many more might "appreciate" the amenities of a harem, he countered, and offered to contribute financially. The offer was refused and he resigned his fellowship.

Later, as a member of the Cambridge Humanist Society, he suggested as the title for an essay competition "What can be done with the college chapels?" and provided 100 for the best essay. In 1965, however, he did accept an honorary fellowship at the college.

The New York Times obituary has more details on Crick's scientific career, but The Telegraph's account is more entertaining and tells you more about his personality.

Posted by Ed at August 2, 2004 06:30 PM


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