Opinion | Rosalind Franklin and Unsung Women in Science

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To the Editor:

Re “Essay Extends Debate Over DNA Discovery” (Science Times, May 2):

Determining the role that Rosalind Franklin played in the discovery of the structure of DNA remains a contentious issue.

Lamentably, Dr. Franklin is often one of the few female scientists people can name as one who deserved more credit than she received during her lifetime. There are hundreds — if not thousands — of such unsung women throughout history.

Their discoveries built the very foundations of modern chemistry, physics, astronomy, psychiatry and more. This has become increasingly evident to us as we work our way through our ever-increasing database of 250 deceased women of science.

It might be true that today’s women are less likely to be shortchanged when it comes to receiving credit — and for that we are grateful. But on behalf of those who can no longer speak for themselves, we will continue our work to snatch them from the jaws of historical obscurity.

We applaud the light being trained on Rosalind Franklin and the issues of credit for women in science. It’s time to broaden the beam.

Amy Scharf
Katie Hafner
The writers are co-executive producers of the Lost Women of Science Initiative, an educational nonprofit. Ms. Hafner is a former reporter for The New York Times.

To the Editor:

As an aging female biologist, I have long been aware of the controversy about the lack of acknowledgment of the contribution of the work of Rosalind Franklin to the discovery of the structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick.

I believe that everyone (including Dr. Watson and Dr. Crick) agrees that they would not have come up with the structure of DNA without data from Dr. Franklin. But I believe that it is also generally agreed that Dr. Franklin had not come up with the structure of DNA even though she, of course, was aware of her own X-ray data.

Credit should, of course, always be given to everyone who deserves it. Sometimes, even with good intentions, it is difficult to allocate credit. Sometimes there are not “good intentions” because personalities and egos intervene.

But part of the problem here is the prize mentality. When the scientific community uses prizes as a way to give credit, it has to decide what achievements are significant enough to deserve a prize and then which people have been responsible for those achievements.

And then, with the Nobel Prize in particular, the people responsible for the achievements have to remain alive. (Dr. Franklin died of cancer at 37, before the Nobel was awarded for the DNA discovery.)

If we can forget about the prize mentality, it is true that Rosalind Franklin has been given some credit for her achievements. I am sure we will long continue to question whether she has been given enough. I am not sure that there is an answer to that question.

Alice L. Givan

The Laments of Alumni of New College of Florida

To the Editor:

Re “This Is What the Right-Wing Takeover of a Progressive College Looks Like,” by Michelle Goldberg (column, nytimes.com, April 29):

I have followed news accounts of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign to restrict and influence education in Florida at all levels. But I have a personal reaction to the takeover of New College of Florida to make it into something it was never meant to be.

New College is my alma mater. I was a member of the first class, in 1964. I and the small number of students in that class knew that we were pioneers. I followed the school from afar in the intervening years as it continued to have a well-deserved reputation for educational excellence.

I am heartbroken (not too strong a word) that New College of Florida will soon no longer be the one-of-a-kind and inspired educational experience that I and so many other students were privileged to have.

Carol Braginsky Davis
Bostic, N.C.

To the Editor:

When I enrolled at New College in 1969, I was challenged by its curriculum: take seminars of one’s choosing and then construct a program of study. I grew interested in the sciences, and independent study was required. I secured a job as a research assistant in a medical research laboratory. Spurred on by interaction with classmates and teachers, I became a physician and remain a practicing cardiologist.

My path is the rule, not the exception. New College challenges students to work at defining what kind of life they want to lead and become critical thinkers — open to ideas in the humanities, arts and sciences. It is a college of inclusion and equity for students and faculty whose lifestyle, religious beliefs and politics are diverse, reflecting those of the nation.

Michelle Goldberg’s column makes it clear that Gov. Ron DeSantis, after launching an attack on Disney, is attempting to destroy the mission of one of Florida’s premier institutions. Unlike Disney, there does not appear to be a way of fighting back.

David Z. Young
Sudbury, Mass.

Black Unemployment

To the Editor:

Re “Unemployment Gap Between Black and White New Yorkers Widening, Data Finds” (news article, April 29):

It was devastating to read that Black New Yorkers are more than nine times as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts, but not surprising. While the disparity is not as extreme everywhere, it is indicative of continuing economic disenfranchisement among Black Americans.

The criminal justice system is a driving force behind this inequality. To understand why Black people struggle in the labor market, we must understand the unequal burden that a prior conviction places on Black job seekers.

Without fixing our long-failing probation and parole systems, both economic and public safety conditions will not improve.

Compared with white people, Black people are more than twice as likely to be on probation and nearly four times as likely to be on parole, and compared with the general population, people on probation or parole are almost three times more likely to be unemployed and almost twice as likely to be poor.

Reforming the system to create real pathways to work and well-being is one of the best things we can do to advance economic mobility not just in New York, but across the country as well.

As the C.E.O. of an organization that promotes second-chance hiring and convenes job fairs focused on people with records, I understand well the challenges and opportunities. Until we address the economic opportunity gap, we will not achieve the lasting public safety reforms that our communities deserve.

Robert Rooks
New York
The writer is chief executive of the Reform Alliance, a national organization dedicated to probation and parole reform.

Home and Office: Be Creative

To the Editor:

Re “Office Market in Dire Straits in Manhattan” (front page, April 26):

Recent Times articles highlight the glut of office space and the persistence of work from home. We need creative solutions.

Many commentators say conversion of excess office space to residential is prohibitively expensive. I doubt it, if the buildings become hybrid. Merely take a slice of each floor with exterior windows and make relatively shallow apartments that conform to building codes. The remainder of each floor can stay as office space.

Doubt this can be done? Well, what about the innumerable existing hotel/conference centers with a mix of housing (albeit transient) and internal meeting rooms/ballrooms/offices?

Time to be creative, Wall Street. Also, offer the new units first to your employees, who would have the shortest commute ever.

David Hellerstein
New York

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