This letter from Lederberg to Witkin followed a meeting of the two shortly before. Lederberg asked Witkin if she would share
some of her ideas about thinking on genetics in the 1940s for a manuscript he was writing at the time.
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1 (72,839 Bytes)
1972-11-17 (November 17, 1972)
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
History of Medicine
After the Discovery: The Transforming Principle's Reception by the Scientific Community
It was a treat to see you and Hy again and to discuss some of the "old times" at Columbia.
If you have the inclination and the time some rainy afternoon I wonder if you could be persuaded to dictate an informal account
of the intellectual atmosphere that characterized the turning points in genetics in the early 40's. Such documents are
very hard to come by and will be invaluable in future years in constructing the history of a revolutionary stage in science.
I do not know if you have seen Martin Pollack's account of Griffith in the Journal of General Microbiology a couple of
years ago. If you read this closely to try to examine what we really know you can see what a cloud there is over the history
of that stage in bacteriology.
Our chat reminded me what an important part the anxiety about the Lysenkoist issue had in shaping the conservatism of some
geneticists about the interpretation of new findings from bacteria. It helped explain why Dobzhansky was so preoccupied with
"directed mutation" that this was the only way he could see how to label the pneumococcus transformation, in spite
of the fact that looking on this as a genetic transfer would have given a much more parsimonious interpretation. I rather
think that unfortunate phrase befuddled a great many people.
But I certainly do not want to bias the structure of any account that you would put down to paper.
I would even ask you to do this if you were the least bit reticent about letting me see it, although I would appreciate the
opportunity as helpful background for some of my own writing. I will not attribute anything to you without your particular