Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Expensive biology papers

The NYT has an article on Craig Venter's purchase of a collection of scientific papers dealing with the early history of molecular biology for a few million dollars. The collection apparently includes a bunch of seminal papers from the first few years after the discovery of the famous "double helix", papers that laid the foundation for a lot of what was to come afterwards. The money quote from the article, in my opinion, though is:

"The only change [Venter] plans for the collection is to add his own papers and those of his colleague Hamilton O. Smith."

Hamilton Smith won the Nobel in '78, for work he did in the late 60's and early 70's, so I can see making the argument that his [early] work falls into the period covered by the collection, and that he's in the same class as the other folks in the collection. With Venter, I'd say the jury is still out a bit. He's certainly achieved a lot, but it's not clear to me how much of it is due to his personal prowess as a scientist versus having interesting ideas, the confidence to try them and the ability to assemble a set of people around him who are able to pull it off -- it's kind of like the difference between being a great frontline fighting man and being a great general [not that these two options are mutually exclusive].

In any case, one more instance of Venter being Venter.

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