If you’ve been on the Google home page today, you know that the Big G has seen fit to honor Rosalind Franklin with a doodle. (On a side note, I find it amusing that clicking on the doodle sends you to the Google results page, at the top of which are news articles about how Google did another doodle. The world is funny sometimes.)
Sadly, much of Franklin’s possible greatness was cut short by cancer—but her career was also cut short by sexism. For a more humorous rendering of this part of her story, check out Hark A Vagrant!. (Check it out for all the other stuff, too, it’s a great webcomic. The one on Charles Babbage is possibly my favorite.) The short version of the story is that Franklin made massive contributions to the discovery of DNA, while Watson and Crick got the credit. Wikipedia has a decent retelling of this story, though without the humor.
Of course, in recent years society has made strides in recognizing these systematic biases (and not just with regard to sexism—this year the UK formally recognized that it’s wrong to drive someone to suicide for being gay). And Women’s & Gender Studies programs, along with African-American, Latin-American, and other programs, abound at colleges and universities around the United States. These programs are crucial points in rediscovering and reassessing the contributions of the non-privileged throughout human history. (And, as a white man, I would stress that we should all be a part of this rediscovery, whether or not we share the same identity groups as those we study.)
But the sad fact remains that much of this knowledge will always remain unknown to us. Many non-white-males were denied the opportunity to show their talents to the world at a time when record of their work—or even of their life—would not have been kept for future generations.
And so, as you toast Rosalind Franklin’s contributions to science today, remember all those who came before—men and women, of all races, creeds, and sexual orientations—who made lasting contributions to the world we’ve inherited, and whose names & stories we’ll never know.