|Figments of Imagination
Not everyone, however, was entranced by Pauling's protein spirals. In February 1951,
the source of most of his research funds, Warren Weaver at the Rockefeller Foundation,
sent one of his officers to Pasadena to check on Pauling's latest work. The sober,
critical deputy, W. F. Loomis, did not fall under Pauling's spell. "He certainly is
imaginative, daring and brilliant," Loomis wrote in his diary. "But he has gone off
the deep end in some cases (such as the 'artificial antibody' story) and his many
stimulating pictures, models, etc. may be largely figments of his own imagination
rather than lasting and sound science."
In fact, Pauling, enthused by the positive reaction of the Caltech crowd, was preparing
to publish ideas that still fell far short of being proven. There was a chance that
the Courtaulds data might represent nothing more than a peculiarity related to synthetic
polypeptides. Perhaps it might mean little or nothing in the natural world. He still
had no good explanation for Astbury's recurring 5.4 angstrom repeat. By moving ahead
with his theoretical structures in the face of substantial conflicting data, Pauling
was taking a chance that most researchers of the day would not. Bragg's group, for
instance, never would consider tossing aside x-ray data.
But Pauling moved ahead anyway. Perhaps he felt it necessary to take chances. Bragg's
team was drawing ever-closer to finding the first detailed protein structures, and
although they hadn't gotten there yet, the British might at any moment. The protein
structure section of Pauling's laboratory was much smaller than Bragg's, Perutz's,
and Kendrew's combined operations, with less equipment and fewer crystallographers.
Pauling had Corey, of course, who was by himself an invaluable asset. But that might
not be enough. If Pauling wanted to be first, he would have to substitute daring and
intuition for laboratory muscle.
And his intuition told him he was right.