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Letter to the Editor

Dear Judith,

I could not afford to go to Florence but I fully agree with all your comments concerning the election process. I am an ‘adopted’ citizen of the USA and I value tremendously the democratic ways of conduct. However sometimes it seems to me that what is loudly described as ‘a democratic process’ in reality reminds me of what we experienced under the totalitarian system where elections were ‘doctored’. By all means we should fight against any such trends. Also, nothing irritates me more personally than separate societies for women in science, special awards for female scientists, etc. Is it not the time to realize that there is no such thing as a second category in science? As in every profession the only divisions should be for GOOD and BAD which should have NOTHING to do with gender! In this respect I am reminded of a few facts from our own crystallographic background. The “...experimental determination of the structure of the benzene ring by X-ray diffraction, which showed that all the ring C-C bonds were of the same lengths and all the internal C-C-C bond angles were 120 degrees, had an enormous impact on organic chemistry” - this is a comment made by K.N. Trueblood about work done by Kathleen Yardley Lonsdale, who happened to be a female crystallographer. Needless to say the benzene ring is still depicted as three single and three double bonds in many textbooks and elsewhere. It was Rosalind Franklin and her ingenious mind and - first of all - her meticulous work that made possible the description of DNA structure. Let us not forget that it was Maurice Wilkins who, without her knowledge, showed her unpublished results to Watson (DNA form B), who in his own words described it as follows (“The Double Helix”): “ The instant I saw the picture my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race...the black cross of reflections which dominated the picture could arise only from a helical structure...mere inspection of the X-ray picture gave several of the vital helical parameters”. Let us not forget that it was also Rosalind Franklin who insisted that the base pairs are inside and the sugar-phosphate backbone is on the outside of the molecule. As Watson put it in his book “Her past uncompromising statements on this matter thus reflected first-rate science, not the outpourings of a misguided feminist.” And how about Dorothy Crowfoot-Hodgkin who single-handedly provided structures of vitamins, human hormones, penicillin and insulin - an enormous impact on medicine as we know it! She was a scientific role model for many young people who were lucky enough to get to know her (that includes me). Not too many scientists measure up to her in terms of being unpretentious, humble, unselfish, eager to help and always showing a truly deep and genuine interest in the work of others, including students in the infancy of their profession. Such personal qualities are extremely rare and once again let it be stressed that gender has nothing to do with it. She served on many committees (including Pugwash). I am sure she would be neither impressed with nor able to approve the way EC is acting. Thank you for speaking up.

Ewa Skrzypczak-Jankun