Letter from Christian B. and Florence Anfinsen to Martin Ottensen
Anfinsen wrote this letter to Ottensen shortly after returning from the 1972 Federation Meeting. In it he inquires as to
Ottensen's reactions to a recent article on Kaj Linderstrom-Lang that appeared in "Science." The article contained
a passage that many saw as a slight to Ottensen, who inherited his mentor's lab at the Copenhagen Institute.
We have all just returned from the annual mass frenzy -- the Federation Meeting -- to the relative peace of our own labs.
This year the meetings seemed a bit less exciting than usual (perhaps partly due to the increasing I've-seen-it-all-before
feeling that grows with age) and the equipment was even more expensive than usual. Also, for the first time, there was a
slight overtone of anxiety among some of the younger biochemists about job opportunities, etc. This is, of course, largely
a product of the enlightened attitudes of our sterling leader and his colleagues on Capitol Hill. Bombs on Hanoi seem to
attract them more than medical research and other such luxuries!
On a more sober note, I bumped into an old Carlsberg alumnus who had recently heard that you were quite disturbed, and perhaps
a bit angry, about the recent note in Science by Walsh. I hurried to reread that issue just to try and catch the nuances
that might be responsible for your feelings; I note particularly the part; "Lang died in 1959, and his successor, Martin
Ottesen, has interests of a more applied sort than Lang's; and it was inevitable, after all, that the heady days of proteins
chemistry in the 1950's would give way to an era of consolidating research."
As an old boy who's scientific career has been so heavily conditioned by exposure to that rascally genius, Linderstrom-Lang
(and I would guess what you include yourself in that category too), I must admit to having a sort of rose-colored view of
the old days. In talking to Walsh in my short conversation with him, I must admit that I made a strong point of Lang's
charismatic personality which it seemed to me mesmerized us all, but in a constructive way for the most part.
Anyhow, this romanticism is common among the graduates of the place from the middle thirties through to the time of Lang's
death and probably his best epitaph. I do hope to have a chance to see you and Gerda soon again -- certainly in 1973 during
the IUB migration to Scandinavia -- and sooner if you two happen to be coming through the eastern part of this country. I
am anxious to hear about what is actually going on at Carlsberg Laboratory planning sessions -- I gather vaguely that the
flavor of things is not to change so much after all. Let me hear from you when you have time, and please believe that my
very best wishes and personal regards go with this note. Love to you and yours,