Links o' the Day: Science and Medicine Today

These links are related to my Science and Medicine Today class (taught by Adrian Johns), which is arguably the most interesting class I've taken at U of C.

The first is a New York Times book review of Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics, which summarizes the numerous "neo-creo" arguments against Darwinism, beyond the literal reading of Genesis.

And similarly, Darwin v. Intelligent Design (Again) from the Boston Review.

Just because I like this class so much, I've included my weekly response paper in the extended text of this entry.

This weekly response for my Science and Medicine Today class is based on Max Weber's 1918 speech Science as a Vocation (which I very highly recommend to everybody) and Watson's controversial book The Double Helix.

Watson0ˆ9s conduct as a scientist contrasts Weber0ˆ9s description of science as a vocation. Weber says that scientists ought to engage in 0ˆ6science for science0ˆ9s sake0ˆ7, while Watson0ˆ9s primary motive is beating Pauling to a Nobel Prize. Weber talks about a scientist humbly resigning that 0ˆ6what he has accomplished will be antiquated in fifty years,0ˆ7 while Watson and his colleagues brag at a local pub that they0ˆ9ve found 0ˆ6the secret of life0ˆ7. Fame and prestige seem to be Watson0ˆ9s primary concerns, making an important contribution to science is only a proximate goal. This evaluation of Watson0ˆ9s priorities, however, is somewhat subjective, since one0ˆ9s reputation is built on one0ˆ9s contribution to science, and one0ˆ9s ability to contribute to science is in part based on one0ˆ9s reputation in the scientific community: the two are inextricably linked.

Rosalind Franklin was more similar to Weber0ˆ9s vocational and scholarly scientist. She was austere and disciplined, meticulously making hundreds of X-Ray pictures. According to Watson0ˆ9s sexist analysis, she preferred to 0ˆ6gather more data,0ˆ7 devoting her life to the serious pursuit of crystallography, rather than 0ˆ6doing something novel with her hair0ˆ7. In a sense, she did the difficult lab work necessary to verify any theory about the structure of DNA while Watson played with glorified tinker toys waiting for genius to strike.

From Watson0ˆ9s own portrayal of his personality, he emphasizes his more unrefined qualities; chasing undergraduate women at parties, watching risqu0—5 films, and being rude and condescending towards other scientists. He is arrogant and mischievous, taunting the reader to believe that such an uncouth person could make such an important discovery. Watson, by displaying some baser elements of human nature, reveals the idealism of Weber0ˆ9s 0ˆ6inward calling0ˆ7 of a scientist. Few scientists would devote their lives to meticulously gathering data just to make a small contribution to a narrow field of study that would soon be superceded. That seems more accurately to be the life of a graduate research assistant. Most professional research scientists are probably self-interested like Watson. They seek the prestige of making a lasting contribution, and the opportunity to goof off and play with glorified toys.

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