Francis Crick, cross-worlds influencer: A narrative model to historicize big bioscience
30.04.2021 Christine Aicardi
Francis Crick

The essay is an empirical case study of famed British scientist Francis Crick. Viewing him as a ‘cross-worlds influencer’ who was moreover dedicated to a cause, I have tried to understand how these two characteristics influenced the trajectory of his long career and how they shaped his contributions to the diverse research fields in which he was active, and concluded that these characteristics reconfigure Crick's career into a coherent whole. First, I identify a major thread running through Crick's career: helping organise ‘un-disciplined’ new research fields, and show that his successive choices were not serendipitous but motivated by what he construed as a crusade against ‘vitalism’: anti-vitalism was a defining driver of his career. 

I then examine how Crick put his skills as a crossworlds influencer to the service of his cause, by helping organise his chosen fields of intervention. I argue that his activities as a cross-worlds influencer were an integral part of his way of ‘doing science’ and that his contributions to science, neuroscience in particular, should be re-evaluated in this light. This leads me to advance a possible strategy for historians to investigate big bioscience fields. Following Abir-Am, I propose to trace their genealogies back to the fluctuating semi-institutional gatherings and the institutional structures that sustained them. My research on Crick supports the view that such studies can bring insights into the question of why the contours of contemporary big bioscience endeavours have come to be shaped the way they are. Further, the essay provides a heuristic device for approaching these enquiries: ‘follow the cross-worlds influencers’ who worked to build and organise these semi-institutional gatherings and institutional structures.

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