Lost letters in a modern age

Alice McCarthy, October 14th, 2010 | Filed under
  • Handrawn image of the DNA helix by Francis Crick, ca 1953

    Source:Original Repository: Wellcome Library for the History
    and Understanding of Medicine. Francis Harry Compton Crick Papers

Reading about the discovery of the lost letters from DNA researcher Francis Crick to colleague Maurice Wilkins made me think about what kind of paper trail today’s leading scientists are leaving. (Wilkins shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Crick and James Watson for their work on the DNA model.)

A quick non-scientific survey of several offices here at the Broad revealed not much….literally. No large piles of papers or stuffed cabinets with file folders leaking out. Actually, the look is very sleek—laptop, monitor, phone, coffee cup, a few papers, and lots of leg room. No boxes of old discoveries waiting for the Smithsonian or for an errant office mate to trot away with.

Obviously, we’re all digital all the time now. Communication is via email and texting. Records are stored electronically. The actual written correspondence between Wilkins and Crick follows.  But what if they were making their discoveries today?

Wilkins: "This is to say how bloody browned off I am entirely, and how rotten I feel about it all…We are really between forces which may grind all of us into little pieces…"
Crick: “Cheer up, and take it from us that even if we kicked you in the pants, it was between friends. We hope our little burglary will at least produce a united front in your group!"

We imagine the modern-day email exchange going like this:

Crick: “Maurice! I think I have discovered the molecule explaining heritability. Look at the attached PPT slide.”
Wilkins: “OMG, Francis! I am so POed.”
Crick: “Chill Maurice. UR2 funny."
Wilkins: “That twisty thing is more than a great piece of eye candy. That’s our work!”
Crick: “SRY, dude. LJBF and TL8er P2P about it. Maybe this will help your team get your act together.”

Somehow, I don’t get the feeling today’s correspondence would make a great read.

BB4N. ☹.