Joshua Lederberg Interviews
Progressive Misrepresentation

This page collects transcripts of several interviews given by Joshua Lederberg between 1956 and 1998. It is instructive to read how Joshua Lederberg's portrayal of the facts, changes as time passes.

  1. Joshua Lederberg and Esther M. Lederberg, Interview for The Milwaukee Journal, May 18, 1956
         Reception of the Eli Lilly award in 1953
    "Joshua won the Eli Lilly award in 1953 in bacteriology and confided, 'Esther should have been in on that, too. I've collaborated with many.'"
  2. .
  3. Joshua Lederberg, Madison, Wisconsin Press Conference: October 31, 1958
         Reception of Nobel Prize
    "... upon whom I've relied, and whose ideas and work have been extremely important. First among these is my wife, who is my close associate in the laboratory."
  4. .
  5. "An Ache to Learn", Columbia Magazine: October, 1984
    "He produced a prodigious amount of research, particularly with geneticist Esther Zimmer Lederberg, his first wife."
  6. .
  7. Interview on April 1, 1991
    "My first wife Esther Lederberg has some lab notes but I'm not in the position to contact her. This is my first wife; we divorced twenty-five years ago. I've been hoping somebody would approach her with respect to ensure that they would be properly deposited somewhere. They may or may not be in the Stanford Archives; I've talked with the archivist there and she was making some noises last year that she might make some effort to do that. It would be very helpful in completing the picture and there are a few lapses for that reason."
  8. .
  9. University of Wisconsin Oral History Interview: 1998
    page 19, paragraph 354:
    "There were a number of things that JL stumbled onto in the process of this other more designed line of work. He has already mentioned the F factor, it turns out these mating types were controlled by a unique genetic element which was not in the chromosomes, but were floating around in the cytoplasm."
    .
    Esther Lederberg discovered fertility factor "F", not Joshua Lederberg nor Bill Hayes. In addition, "F" is an episome, not a plasmid, as claimed above.
    .
    page 19, paragraph 366:
    "Another thing they stumbled onto-which was the result of astute observation by JLís then wife Esther-was the presence of phage plaque appearing on plates of certain kinds of crosses. They had no idea where these were coming from. At first Esther thought it was a contamination. JL suggested following that up, and they found that standard strains of E. coli were carrying embodied within their genetic structure a bacterial virus, which they called lambda."
    .
    Esther Lederberg discovered "lambda". The 1950 publication does not list Joshua Lederberg because Joshua Lederberg was not a co-discoverer. Esther Lederberg named the bacteriophage she discovered "lambda". JL was not known as being especially good at experimental work, but Esther Lederberg was so known. (See page 26, paragraphs 68 and 89 where Bruce Stocker made another experimental observations that JL overlooked. Bruce Stocker was also superb with experimental work.)
    .
    page 29, paragraph 260:
    "Several people have asked JL about his wife Estherís role in this particular experiment. Esther, who was a superb experimentalist, was a co-author on the paper relating to replica plating."
    .
    Esther generously shared her invention of Replica Plating with her husband (not particularly adept at experimental work). However, several researchers observed Esther actually creating the replica plating technology, not Joshua.
    .
    page 29, paragraph 301:
    "Esther served more or less as JLís 'chief operating officer' and attended to many ofthe details in the lab—a function, JL notes, she performed extremely well."
    .
    This is another transparent attempt to make it appear that Esther Lederberg performed not as a research scientist.
    .
    page 48, paragraph 312:
    "In late 1957 he [JL] picked up the threads again, and Berkeley began to look. more and more attractive. There were several issues about laboratory space, but they were satisfactorily resolved. There was also a question raised about a position for his wife Esther relating to nepotism which appeared to be on its way to getting resolved."
    .
    This "red herring" (no evidence at all) about "nepotism" is created with the sole purpose of making it appear as if Esther Lederberg was not a highly respected genetics researcher. In all references to Esther Lederberg's work, her published papers are ignored, or claimed by Joshua Lederberg.

Conclusion

What these four interviews show is that as time progressed, Joshua Lederberg progressively de-emphasized the research work that Esther M. Lederberg did, and progressively claimed her work as his own. He further obscured (misinformed) people by conflating plasmids with episomes, fertility factor "F" with bacteriophage lambda, etc. Finally, references to papers are never provided, thus when there might be multiple authors including Joshua Lederberg, or even when Joshua Lederberg was NEVER an author, he made it appear as if the discoveries (papers) were soley his work. This is reinforced by the claim on his NLM "Profiles in Science" website that between 1946 and 1952 he "almost single-handedly reshaped the field of bacterial genetics".1

Joshua Lederberg further writes that he misappropriated research correspondence that did not belong to him, and when asked to return it to its rightful owner, said that the correspondence had been donated unconditionally to Stanford University. (The result of this act was to bury the documentation where it could not be easily accessed by others.) Compare this with Joahua Lederberg's words at the Madison Wisconsin, 1958 Press Conference where he reacted to being a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology:

"Well, I think the first thing I'd want to not just say but stress, is the cooperative nature of research these days. By this I mean not so much the fact that we work in teams in a single laboratory, although this is more and more true with the growing complexity of scientific work, but rather the mutual dependence of work that goes on in one laboratory; on the contributions that are made throughout the world. From this point of view, the Nobel awards, by focusing as they do so vehemently on individual accomplishments, fall short, I think, of creating the most accurate picture of the nature of scientific work as it goes on today. This — I wouldn't want to demean the contributions that Beadle and Tatum have made as individuals and my own work has followed very directly from the paths which they blazed — but beyond them there are dozens or hundreds of other workers who are putting the bricks into place for the development of the structure. This is true as to various degrees of relationships between one laboratory and another."


1 As the false claims of the NLM are discovered, the NLM is attempting to erase the record of these errors. However, this website continues maintain a record of the false claims made by the NLM.