If a famous novelist visited your lab, would you remember it?
Jeffrey Eugenides’ latest novel The Marriage Plot features a bipolar yeast geneticist. While writing the book, Eugenides, who lives down the road from several world-famous yeast genetics labs at Princeton, decided to do a little research. He visited David Botstein, one of the elder eminences of yeast genetics, got a tour of the lab, and nobody there seems to remember the visit. From the New York Times:
Dr. Botstein took his visitor into his lab and announced, “I have here a novelist.”
The lab manager, Sanford Silverman, introduced Mr. Eugenides to the scientists there, and they took him in hand. Mr. Eugenides asked how someone would ruin an experiment. By mixing up the specimens, they told him. So in the book, Leonard does just that.
In an interview, Dr. Botstein said he could not have spent much time with Mr. Eugenides, because the visit had made no impression on him.
“I never heard of the book, and I don’t remember talking to the guy,” Dr. Botstein said.
Dr. Silverman remembers Mr. Eugenides coming to the lab, but does not recall details of his visit.
C.P. Snow is turning in his grave.