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"Fishing Is Good"

Janet Davison Rowley

Janet Davison Rowley

We last reported on Janet Davison Rowley, the geneticist whose work at home with "paper dolls"—actually, cutouts from photographs she made of chromosomes—led her to discover the relationship between the translocation of bits of chromosomal material and cancer, in April, when she was named a recipient of the 2013 Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research. Sadly, we are writing of her again to mark her death on 17 December, from complications of ovarian cancer. Rowley was 88.

Still active at the University of Chicago until recently, she spent 5 decades doing medical research, two of those decades working part time as she raised four sons. She earned her medical degree at the University of Chicago at the age of 23, even though, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, "she had to wait to enter" medical school because "the class of 65 had already filled its quota of three women." As we noted in our earlier piece, journals initially rejected the paper on her groundbreaking discovery because it seemed too strange to be true.

A career and, presumably, a discovery like hers would not be feasible at present, she told the New York Times in 2011, quoted in the Sun-Times article. "I was doing observationally driven research," she said at that time. "That's the kiss of death if you're looking for funding today. We're so fixated now on hypothesis-driven research that if you do what I did, it would be called a 'fishing expedition.' … [F]ishing is good. You're fishing because you want to know what's there."