Letter from J. R. S. Fincham to Barbara McClintock
In this reply to McClintock, Finchman counseled her not to become too despondent over what she perceived to be a poor reception
of her life's work by the genetics community. He further offered several possible explanations for why some have not
easily accepted her research.
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1 (82,100 Bytes)
1973-07-08 (July 8, 1973)
Fincham, J. R. S.
Original Repository: American Philosophical Society. Library. Barbara McClintock Papers
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Letter from Barbara McClintock to J. R. S. Fincham (May 16, 1973)
Box Number: 1
Folder Number: 7
Dear Dr. McClintock,
I meant to reply some time ago to your letter of May 16, but I got distracted by other things. I was very sorry to hear that
you will not be able to come to our meeting in Leeds in September. However, I will try to let you know what goes on. I am
sure that your own results and ideas will be at the centre of things.
I think you are too despondent about the impact which your work has had. It's true that it took a long time for the implications
to begin to sink in. This wasn't, I think, due to lack of clarity in what you said and wrote -- it was rather that people
couldn't see how on earth it all related to anything else that they knew about. Something that can't be fitted into
any existing framework of knowledge and ideas tends to get pushed out of mind, even if it isn't actually disbelieved.
I think that genetics has now very nearly caught up and geneticists are now likely to be very much more receptive to what
you have been reporting all these years. Newer knowledge about chromatin structure and its plasticity has certainly helped,
and the whole new world of plasmids and mutagenic bacteriophages provides us with some very powerful analogies. So I think
the maize phenomena are no longer so difficult to comprehend in principle, though of course obtaining evidence on detailed
molecular mechanisms is a more formidable challenge than it is in a simpler prokaryotic system.
Some time ago I rather rashly agreed to contribute a review to Annual Reviews of Genetics on controlling elements in maize.
I shall be relying to a very large extent on your Carnegie Institute Reports, of which I have a complete set up to number
66. A little time ago you were kind enough to send me no. 70, but I still lack the intervening numbers 67, 68 and 69. If
you have copies of these to spare I would be most grateful if you could send them to me.