Francis Crick, Race, and The Poetry of Richard Nixon


Josie Gill (University of Cambridge)

17 February, 5pm
Wolfson College, Gatsby Room

Amongst the hundreds of files which make up the Francis Crick archive is a file dedicated to Crick’s correspondence with Arthur Jensen, an American educational psychologist whose work focuses on proving a link between race and intelligence. The letters, which date from the early 1970s, provide an insight into Crick’s views on this controversial topic, and his role in galvanising support for a statement on academic freedom in the face of calls for the study of racial differences to be halted. However the file also contains two literary documents; a photocopy of The Poetry of Richard Nixon, a satirical collection of found poetry based on the Watergate tapes, and an essay on feminism by the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. What do these documents tell us about Crick’s thinking about race and why are they included in a file of his professional correspondence on the matter? In this paper I will suggest that the poems and essay reflect Crick’s ambivalent relationship to the political culture of the early 1970s which his participation in the debate over race exposes. Crick felt threatened by the questioning of traditional sources of authority such as science, yet embraced the more liberal movements of the time through an interest in beat poetry and drugs. Examining the authorship, production and content of the texts reveals a complex web of connections between Crick and the politically conservative, as well as countercultural, figures of the period, providing an alternative view of the relationship between literature and science in the second half of the twentieth century.

Part of the Countercultural Research Group, Lent 2012.

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