James Watson

Banquet speech

James Watson’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1962

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins have asked me to reply for all three of us. But as it is difficult to convey the personal feeling of others, I must speak for myself. This evening is certainly the second most wonderful moment in my life. The first was our discovery of the structure of DNA. At that time we knew that a new world had been opened and that an old world which seemed rather mystical was gone. Our discovery was done using the methods of physics and chemistry to understand biology. I am a biologist while my friends Maurice and Francis are physicists. I am very much the junior one and my contribution to this work could have only happened with the help of Maurice and Francis. At that time some biologists were not very sympathetic with us because we wanted to solve a biological truth by physical means. But fortunately some physicists thought that through using the techniques of physics and chemistry a real contribution to biology could be made. The wisdom of these men in encouraging us was tremendously important in our success. Professor Bragg, our director at the Cavendish and Professor Niels Bohr often expressed their belief that physics would be a help in biology. The fact that these great men believed in this approach made it much easier for us to go forward. The last thing I would like to say is that good science as a way of life is sometimes difficult. It often is hard to have confidence that you really know where the future lies. We must thus believe strongly in our ideas, often to point where they may seem tiresome and bothersome and even arrogant to our colleagues. I knew many people, at least when I was young, who thought I was quite unbearable. Some also thought Maurice was very strange, and others, including myself, thought that Francis was at times difficult. Fortunately we were working among wise and tolerant people who understood the spirit of scientific discovery and the conditions necessary for its generation. I feel that it is very important, especially for us so singularly honored, to remember that science does not stand by itself, but is the creation of very human people. We must continue to work in the humane spirit in which we were fortunate to grow up. If so, we shall help insure that our science continues and that our civilization will prevail. Thank you very much for this very deep honor.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1962, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1963

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1962


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