By any measure, Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute, is one of the most important scientists in the world today. His science is groundbreaking, his institutional power is enormous, and his ethical reputation is sterling. Yet Lander now finds himself the target of immense criticism as a result of … trying to do history.
Lander's essay "The Heroes of Crispr," recently published in the journal Cell, has been attacked for its failure to disclose his research center's stake in a massive patent fight over the extraordinary genome-editing technology Crispr/Cas9, as well as for downplaying the roles of two female scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, who are on the other side of what's been called the biggest patent war in the history of biotech.
What went wrong? The lesson of this kerfuffle isn't only, as some have proposed, that critics are jealous of Lander's influence or opposed to his big-science ideology and accomplishments. It's something more subtle and more interesting: There's a huge difference between doing your job and trying to write the history of that job.