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James Watson in Russia: Days 2 and 3

Posted on 2017.07.19 at 19:19
On the second day (last Thursday) Dr. Watson and his wife Liz tried to visit Red Square (which, unfortunately, was closed), walked from the Metropol to St. Basil's Cathedral, had a car excursion around downtown Moscow, and, most importantly, were taken to the 31st floor of the Main Building of Lomonosov Moscow State University and had a chance to see much of Moscow from there. He had already been in the university, but during his earlier visits he never got to the top of the central tower.

Day three was more special: he gave a talk at the Shemyakin–Ovchinnikov Insitute of Bioorganic Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences. Naturally, lots of people came. The subject of the talk was 70 Never Boring Years in Science. Dr. Watson retold the story of his life and work.

At the end of the talk it was announced that those who would like to have an autograph could form a line along the right wall. And it seemed that most of the audience moved forward instead of toward the exits! The line was huge, and it was hard to believe that Dr. Watson would be able to satisfy everyone with an autograph. But eventually he did it. He later said that he never gave so many autographs and never saw such a cheerful young audience. It was an unexpected remark: we Russians are generally considered gloomy.

The talk was recorded, but I have taken notes, writing down some of the things he said, just in case. Here are some excerpts of his talk, and of his answers to questions from the audience after that:

[About his father, who hated Hitler from the start, because of Hitler's hatred of the Jewish people:] 'I've grown up to hate people that hate Jews. So I don't love my enemy.'

[About interactions between students and their supervisors:] 'It doesn't pay to fight your teacher.'

[About Schrödinger's book What Is Life?:] 'This is the book that changed my life.'

[Also about Schrödinger's book:] 'Schrödinger was excited by an article by Delbrück and Timofeev. It was Timofeev who was the idea person, and Delbrück was a product of Timofeev. And I am a product of Delbrück.'

[About the physicist Leo Szilard:] 'He was probably the brightest person I ever met. Most people disliked him. But I liked him.'

[About his famous one-time rival:] 'Her name was Rosalind Franklin. And she was difficult. She came from a really rich family. Very rich, banking.'

[About Trofim Lysenko:] 'You know, you can't overstate his evil. It's pure awfulness.'

[About the books that formed his worldview:] 'It used to be novels. Now I read history. I read three or four hours a day.'

[About his wife Liz:] 'She was very pretty and she liked me.'

[About medicine and capitalism:] 'There is one thing I can say about medicine: medicine is incompatible with capitalism. Capitalism is maybe good for hotels...'

[About leaders:] 'I have two heroes. One of them is the Pope. He is a great guy. And the other is Bernie Sanders.'

[About the way he is treated back in the United States:] 'At home they want to get rid of me. Because I criticize people.'

[About his home country:] 'America is fucked up.'

[About female chauvinism:] It's a hard time to be a man. In the United States.'

[About visiting this country with his wife yet again:] I hope that we will make yet another trip.'

[About the young people of today:] 'Everyone seems concerned with making money. I am not interested in people who make money.'

[About himself:] 'I am only happy when I have someone to talk to.'

[About his values:] 'The essence of good life is having fun.'

During his talk, Dr. Watson listed his earlier visits to Russia: the 1st (1961), 2nd (1985), 3rd (1994), 4th (1997), 5th (2008), 6th (2010), and 7th (2015). This visit is therefore probably the 8th. This time he has come invited by Vsevolod Belousov, Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, to participate in the EMBO Conference on Redox Biology.


ai_sur at 2017-07-20 03:41 (UTC) (Link)
lost him on the Pope and Sanders ((

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