Daniel Koshland Jr.; Biochemist Led Journal Science

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 26, 2007

Daniel E. Koshland Jr., 87, former editor of the journal Science, a biochemist known for his work on proteins and enzymes and the benefactor behind a D.C. science museum, died July 23 at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Walnut Creek, Calif., after a stroke.

At Science from 1985 to 1995, Dr. Koshland introduced special editions, streamlined the system of reviewing manuscripts and expanded news coverage.

His witty editorials addressed topics including get-rich-quick science and faked results. He once suggested that scientists could become charismatic if they wore lab coats of any color but white.

An heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, he endowed the National Academy of Sciences with a $25 million gift to establish the Marian Koshland Science Museum, named for his late wife, an immunologist who did groundbreaking work on a cholera vaccine and the behavior of antibodies. The 6,000-square-foot niche museum opened in 2004 at Sixth and E streets NW.

His main work, as a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley, centered on the catalytic activity of enzymes, or how they speed up chemical reactions in the body. One of his first papers overturned the 100-year-old theory of how enzymes work.

He later studied how bacteria respond to their environment and discovered that bacteria have a rudimentary type of memory that allows them to compare past and present. Bacteria detect the chemicals in their environment via receptors on their exterior, he learned, and the receptors are linked to molecules inside that transmit the signal and change the bacteria's behavior.

While continuing his scientific research at Berkeley, Dr. Koshland led the journal Science into becoming a major influence on public policy.

He editorialized, often with humor, in favor of increased funding for small-scale research, even to the detriment of big-science projects. He speculated that courts might soon have to better educate judges and juries on matters of science or establish special scientific courts to handle an increasing number of lawsuits in which science and technology play a central role. He also introduced a character in his editorials, "Dr. Noitall," to lampoon self-satisfied scientists.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the scientific establishment was rocked by a series of fraudulent experiments and conclusions, which professional journals, including Science, failed to catch before publication. When Dr. Koshland wrote that "99.9999 percent of reports are accurate and truthful," he was widely criticized for using a specific figure when little data existed.

"There is no evidence that the small number of cases that have surfaced required a fundamental change in procedures that have produced so much good science," he said.

In the end, he revised Science's procedures for peer review. The role of a general scientific journal, Dr. Koshland said, should be to "encourage heresy but discourage fantasy."

Born in New York, Dr. Koshland was the son of a banker who joined Levi Strauss & Co. in 1922 and moved his family west to San Francisco. His father eventually became board chairman, remaining with the clothing manufacturer for 57 years.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company