The three April 25 Nature papers on DNA would significantly change the history of science. Linus Pauling's
efforts would become a footnote only. He missed his chance for two basic reasons:
hurry and hubris. He rushed because he realized late that DNA was the biggest prize
around and if he did not crack it, someone else-probably someone in England-soon would.
Although he later denied he was competing with the British researchers for the DNA
structure - "I did not feel that I was in a race with Watson and Crick," he said.
"They felt that they were in a race with me" - the fact was that he was in a race,
perhaps not with the unknown Watson and Crick but certainly with Wilkins and Franklin
and, above all, with his oldest rival, Sir William Lawrence Bragg. Pauling wanted
to publish his DNA structure quickly in order to beat Bragg's group, and Wilkins,
too, and he took a chance doing it without having done his homework.
He rushed, and he thought he could get away with it because of his pride in his own
ability. He wanted the prize, he gambled, and he lost.
The race for DNA would become the stuff of scientific legend. Watson and Crick would
take center stage, with Pauling assuming the smaller part of an offstage voice, a
legendary Goliath in a far land felled by two unlikely Davids. A year would rarely
go by after 1953 without someone, a scientist or writer, asking Pauling where he had
gone wrong. His wife, Ava Helen, finally tired of it. After hearing the questions
and explanations over and again, she cut through the excuses with a simple question.
"If that was such an important problem," she asked her husband, "why didn't you work
harder on it?"