Question Submission 10

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I am confused as to how Delbruck and Ellis saw the experimental results from their work with phages as "in complete opposition" to the sigmoidal growth curve model that was widely accepted (pg. 43) According to Morange extensive study of bacteriophages had already been done, and their size was known. Even though the growth curve leveled every thirty minutes, this was because the phages entered new cells and continued replication. The book claims there was a reliable method for counting phages. I guess my question is this; could phage be counted within the cell membrane of the infected bacterium? If they could, then growth is continuous and sigmoidal. If they could not, then wouldn't the number of phage actually decrease between cycles of infection, and how would this have been explained?

In Thursday's Lecture and Discussion we talked a little about the "advertising" aspect of science. More specifically Prof. Love noted that the level of acceptance of a theory &/or experimental results often is in direct correlation to the people presenting it.


On page 44 Morange writes:
"...Hershey and Chase's discovery was in fact merely a new proof of the results found by Avery and his coworkers. It was mainly because of the phage group's prestige that the Hershey-Chase experiment had such an impact."

So my question is:
How can we understand the word discovery in this context? Does the new proof provide us with enough insight to qualify as discovery in the more broad scientific sense? Because Morange states that the same results were already found, do we need a new proof to gain insight?
This leads to my second question portion...
How big of role does who you are and where you play in what you can contribute to scientific knowledge? If the role is significant, how can we be assured that we are still seeking the truth (opposed to a "master narrative" provided by the dominant school or study group of the days of discovery)? Additionally, how can we understand the role of "advertising" in this circumstance? (prestige, funding, group, experimental design, etc...)

I know this is a lot of questions but I think that is why the topic I am narrowing in on is so interesting. The impact of an event can be seen under retrospection but placing the exact sources of what made that event possible, for our consideration, is more or less what I am trying to touch on.

At the end of lecture on Thursday, Professor Love was going over some of the questions asked on the blog. He was saying that we are taught about the scientific method in the wrong manner from an early age, which has an effect on our ability to interpret the results of of studies.

My question is: How does this/what about the teaching has a negative effect on our ability to interpret results? What would be a better way of teaching the scientific method so that we are better able to interpret results? Or should the scientific method bet taught at all?

I am interested in what others make of the following distinction. Morange writes, "The techniques can be used with two rather different aims: an analytical objective...or a preparative objective..." (p.93) Robert Kohler in his book, Lords of the Fly, makes a related (though different) distinction when writing about the cytological mapping of the salivary gland chromosomes in Drosophila. He says, "...and what had been a tool suddenly became an object" (p. 154).

Both Morange and Kohler seem to acknowledge the dual nature of biological tools. But, only Kohler seems to acknowledge that a tool can also be the very object of investigation. And, this does not mean just answering the question of "how does the tool work?" but, "what is the tool itself as something in nature?". Though Morange acknowledges the dual nature of the biological techniques he describes, the analytical objective does not lend itself to the same distinction brought out by Kohler's designation that the tool can also be an object. Obviously, I do not mean to fault Morange for not taking on this project. But it brings up interesting questions. Is there any difference in the type of knowledge sought, obtained, or had in these different usages of biological tools? If so, how do we situate that knowledge in the overall structure of biological knowledge? Lastly, what can it, or what does it say about nature and our understanding of it? To me, it seems understanding the tool as object of investigation is helpful to understand the information the tool gives to the scientist.

Morange suggests that "the history of the installation of these machines [ultracentrifuges and centrifuges] has yet to be written", and goes on to say that such a history will "teach us a great deal about the diffusion of theoretical models and concepts" in molecular biology as well as biochemistry. I have several questions this claim, the first of which has to do with what exactly he means by theoretical models and theoretical concepts?

It seems that such models and concepts are somewhat related to the conceptual shifts that resulted (post-Rockefeller Foundation-funded machines?) in a type of mechanical language for biology, from the way in which the structure of molecules came to be seen as integral to understanding function, to synthesis reactions of polypeptide chains, to biochemical mechanisms. He goes on to suggest that there has been work done on the integration of electrophoresis in biology, enough to so to make the claim that the latter helped to "alter the nature of biological knowledge." I wonder then, can the questions that Morange suggests can be asked in the light of an informed history on the integration of ultracentrifuges and centrifuges be answered (at the very least, in a preliminary sense) by this known electrophoresis history? How should one understand this new epistemic nature of biology in relation to the 'old' nature?

I suppose that a more general way to ask this same question is how should one understanding the degree to which the type of knowledge that was generated in biology labs pre-1940s and post-1940s? Is Morange accurate in his claim that this transition constituted a "new world view"? Or is the reality much more subtle than his narrative leads the reader to believe?

I think that Avery's experiment supporting the theory that DNA is the inheritable material is a good way of exploring the transition between classical and molecular genetics. In many ways, it follows Water's ideal of a experiment that was only theory-informed, but produced many new avenues of research and practice that possibly helped lead to the work of Watson and Crick. Its theoretical implications were largely ignored, but it led to a new focus on DNA as the material that is transmitted. Could we consider molecular biology more practice-centric than classical genetics because it deals more in the specificity of biochemical manipulations. Does this allow for a more stringent focus on research? Did Avery help in this transition? Or, does molecular biology face the same theoretical challenges that other disciplines such as classical genetics do as Water's proposes in his epistemology?

When Morange is describing reasons why physicists found biology appealing during the 1940s, he states that "biology appeared as a new field, far from political concerns and sheltered from potential military uses." I found this to be a highly ironic statement, given how highly politicized many aspects of biology are today, not to mention the threat of biological warfare. My question is this: what do philosophers of science have to say about the politicization of different disciplines of science? Is this a characteristic of a "mature" science in Kuhn's sense, or is a science only politicized to the extent that it has practical implications for humans' day to day lives?

In chapter four or Morange's book we are introduced to the Phage group. Max Delbruck appears to the leader of this group, and while Morange appears to give this man a lot of respect, I question how he planned on understanding life. Was he trying to understand how everything works in the universe, or was he trying to understand the components of life such genes?

Morange states: “The supposed existence of privileged molecular masses turned out to be an artifact produced by the fact that very few proteins had been studied. The interest stimulated by these preliminary results showed that many biochemists hoped to discover simple rules that would explain the structure of proteins, and above all their formation”

This seems to be a common theme throughout many of the scientific discoveries we have discussed this semester. There is a strong desire to explain everything via a simple rule/law. Why is there such a strong desire within the scientific community to reduce all explanations down to a simple rule? As a result, it often seems the meaning or importance is lost in the process. Professor Love was discussing the scientific method, how it is taught, and how it affects the way we process and interpret scientific discovery. Does our strong desire to follow the scientific method, and use it as a means to scientific discovery, sometimes get in the way and force us to reduce scientific information/discovery down to one simple rule/law which may not be sufficient and miss the bigger picture?

Thursdays lecture got me thinking. I was surprised when Professor love said that the scientific method is taught to students incorrectly. I didn't even know there were other ways of teaching the scientific method. I thought the scientific method I have been taught in high school and in college was set in stone. Professor Love also spoke about how advertising is prevalent in science. Scientists that are more prominent to the public eye/have a lot of prestige are able to get their findings known to the world more than a scientist that isn't quite known. I assume there is a group of scientists that have high prestige in the scientific world that delegate what should and should not be taught to students. Why do they choose to advertise the scientific method incorrectly to students? From what I've gathered, the scientific method is quite important, so wouldn't it be of utmost importance to teach the scientific method correctly to young scientists so that in the future they will be able to continue scientific progress via correct methods?

In chapter 9 Morange gives a history of how the tools of centrifugation, electrophoresis, and the utilization of isotopes to purify and label macromolecules were developed and incorporated into biological research. Additionally, Morange explains some obstacles that had to be overcome to be able to refine these tools to the point that they were accurate as well as practical. My question: How did the developers of electrophoresis overcome the complications and confusion that would have arisen due to variations of protein conformation (i.e., secondary and tertiary protein structures) as well as from non-covalent protein-protein interactions (i.e., quaternary structures)? Did science understand these different protein conformations and how they would affect the results of electrophoresis during the period of its development?

I find all this talk about modern science and scientists today to be quite interesting because I myself am a molecular biology researcher here at the U. It is very strange to be looking at my job from a philosophical standpoint. We talked on Thursday about how scientists insert their theories into the community. My question is, at what point does an idea/theory become "knowledge"? I find in my career that a lab can put out a paper claiming whatever based on their results. But this is not immediately accepted by the scientific community let alone the public. Often papers are disputed or seen as false or incorrect. There can be a lot of disagreement. So how does the theory become accepted? Is it just a matter of time and a lack of dispute? Or does it have to have a certain amount of support from other researchers?

The discovery of DNA’s double-helix structure in 1953 by Watson and Crick (or Franklin, if you prefer) was without question an important finding in the history of not only molecular biology, but for science as a whole. However, providing the structure of DNA did not result in an immediate solution as to how the genetic code was organized or to how proteins were synthesized. At that point in time, the stereochemistry of cellular mechanisms – that is, the spatial distribution of atoms within molecules in the cellular environment – was heavily thought to contain the answers that molecular biologists were looking for. Linus Pauling, in regards to DNA and proteins, believed that ‘valid predictions could be made only if the stereochemical constraints of the molecules were rigorously respected (Morange, pg. 109).’

Alexander Dounce, however, took a different approach. In 1952, he proposed that enzymes (denoted P1 and P2) linked nucleotides to amino acids and formed the bonds that brought amino acids together, respectively. As Morange states, ‘[Dounce] was the first person to consider the relation between proteins and nucleic acids to be indirect and thus non-stereospecific and structurally arbitrary (pg. 127).’ Dounce’s propositions went against the majority of the biochemical community, which believed that biological macromolecules (e.g. proteins and DNA) formed due to their stereospecific interactions with other molecules. Although Dounce’s claims weren’t entirely accurate, they foreshadowed the discoveries of mRNA and tRNA; loose analogies to Dounce’s P1 and P2 enzymes. Thus, my question is this: was the shifting in points of view from stereospecific-centered mechanisms to non-stereospecific-centered mechanisms the true catalyst in modern molecular biology? Or would this be an over-simplification of the very complex trial-and-error process that was molecular biology in the mid-twentieth century?

Morange makes a claim in chapter four that struck me immediately. He says, in reference to the difference in reception between the experiments of Hershey and Chase and Avery: "This disparity shows that a scientific experiment does not have intrinsic value: it counts only to the extent that it forms part of a theoretical, experimental, and social framework." I had noted a similar statement earlier in the book regarding Avery's experiment not having "become knowledge" upon its publication. I understand that context is important in scientific experiment, and that a proper framework must exist to fully understand results, but I think that questions must be asked on the very strong statement that there is no intrinsic value.
First, does the reason why Avery conducted his experiment have no value? The existence of the experiment at all must have some import. And second, does the lack of explanatory power mean that the results and process are truly useless? Did Avery's experiment in particular have value in that, even though the results went unexplained for a time, they gave suggestions for new paths of inquiry in biology?

I agree and think you make a very good point. My guess is that the scientific method is part of a set curriculum that teachers must adhere to. Also, I wonder how many teachers are aware that they are teaching the scientific method incorrectly. I think that they aren't intentionally teaching it wrong, but that they just don't know any better.

I have had the same question in my mind for a while and now have it slightly better formulated after this week's reading.

What is scientific success and how does one measure it?

I ask this question partially looking for some clarification of what Morange writes on page 91 about Svedberg being embarrassed by receiving the Nobel Prize. It seemed to me that the reason for his embarrassment was that he did not yet accomplish what he had set out to in his experiment but this is not entirely clear to me. I would like some clarification on this point.

Clearly there is a distinction between the success of a scientific experiment and the success of a scientist; however, I wonder how strongly correlated they actually are. It seems that success of a scientific experiment would be judged on how whether or not the desired end result was achieved and future insight could be gained from the experiment. It is also clear that each individual scientist, being human, will judge his or her success by different standards. Nonetheless, I found it interesting that Svedberg Is seemed to not view himself worthy of a Nobel Prize because his work was unsuccessful. Would it be permissible to say that Svedberg would have considered himself successful because of his strong influence on Tiselius' work?

Nonetheless I thought it was an interesting topic to consider.

In chapter 9, Morange said that Svedberg handed over his failing electrophoresis project to his student Tiselius. Tiselius too struggled with developing a successful apparatus, until he received a Rockefeller foundation grant in 1936 that allowed him to construct the necessary apparatus. Construction of the apparatus allowed L.G. Longworth at the Rockefeller Institute to show that there were differences in the serum protein composition of healthy and sick subjects, opening the road to medical applications for new technology. By 1939, only 14 electrophoresis apparatuses were being used in the U.S., five of them in Rockefeller Institute laboratories, and the majority of the apparatuses had been bought with Rockefeller Foundation Money. Eventually the apparatus was made in a more affordable version, and these days electrophoresis is a common and essential tool in molecular biology.

While reading this section, I couldn’t help but notice how many times the name Rockefeller Foundation showed up! It is obvious that without the grant that Tiselius received from the Foundation, there would be no electrophoresis. One could also say that developing the apparatus was in the direct interest of the Rockefeller Foundation since they probably knew before and certainly did benefit from its creation. How does this change how we view successful and failed experiments? Can the success of scientists only be credited to the fact that they received the proper financial support? Should we fund our failing experiments even more since with more money the experiments could possibly lead to something promising?

I have had the same question in my mind for a while and now have it slightly better formulated after this week's reading.

What is scientific success and how does one measure it?

I ask this question partially looking for some clarification of what Morange writes on page 91 about Svedberg being embarrassed by receiving the Nobel Prize. It seemed to me that the reason for his embarrassment was that he did not yet accomplish what he had set out to in his experiment but this is not entirely clear to me. I would like some clarification on this point.

Clearly there is a distinction between the success of a scientific experiment and the success of a scientist; however, I wonder how strongly correlated they actually are. It seems that success of a scientific experiment would be judged on how whether or not the desired end result was achieved and future insight could be gained from the experiment. It is also clear that each individual scientist, being human, will judge his or her success by different standards. Nonetheless, I found it interesting that Svedberg Is seemed to not view himself worthy of a Nobel Prize because his work was unsuccessful. Would it be permissible to say that Svedberg would have considered himself successful because of his strong influence on Tiselius' work?

Nonetheless I thought it was an interesting topic to consider.

woops, I have no idea how that happened! Sorry for the double post.

In chapter 7, Morange discusses the importance physicists played in the development of molecular biology, specifically pointing at Schrodinger’s book “What is Life?” In chapter 11 as he tells the story of the discovery of the double helix structure, he mentions Crick and Wilkins came upon biology through Schrodinger’s lectures and book, further emphasizing the significance of physicists choosing to turn to the study of biology during the early 20th century. On page 78, Morange writes, “Today, very few physicists or mathematicians dare to study biological problems.” Morange attempts to back up this claim, to explain what made this particular time in history different than today. He indicates that the specialization of the sciences has decreased scientists’ interest in other areas of science besides their specialty. He also argues that there was a sentiment that in the early 20th century biology seemed to be “the new frontier of knowledge” which drew physicists into the field.

I have trouble with Morange’s claim. I feel despite scientific specialization, there is a significant desire for interdisciplinary work these days. The emerging area of synthetic biology is drawing in those with backgrounds in physics, engineering, and computer science. The field of bioinformatics applies statistics and computer science to molecular biology. Is this period of time in the early 20th century significant only because it was the first scientists from different fields collaborated in this manner? Or is my comparison of today’s interdisciplinary research to this example inaccurate? Also, what does Morange mean by saying only a “few” physicists or mathematicians? How is this quantified in comparison to the number of physicists and mathematicians studying biology in the early 20th century?

On page 116 Morange states, "the discovery of the double helix was both a motor and a brake on the later developments of molecular biology." This discovery was certainly a motor for future developments but how could it have possibly functioned as a brake?? (How could any major scientific discovery function as a brake for that matter?) Was it a brake because other individual's and groups spent their time and efforts in refuting or attempting to supplant it? Page 117 discusses how the double helix model generated a semiconservative model of DNA replication. Was it a brake because Delbruck and Stent argue for alternative models of replication; dispersive and conservative. Are their attempts of counter modeling interpreted by Morange as a decelerator of the development of molecular biology? I interpret these counter models as healthy skepticism. That they were necessary to thwart complaisance in the field. And as such, actually facilitated further development rather than hindered it. Is my interpretation lacking or poor in some respect unbeknownst to me?

On page 79, Morange opens the chapter "The Influence of the Rockefeller Foundation" with a serious question regarding the driving force of scientific development, namely, can scientific research "be oriented in a given direction from the outside"? Or is it primarily "independent of external influences"?

I personally think that Morange falls short in trying to answer this question specifically in relation to the Rockefeller Foundation, but nonetheless the question is something that anyone interested in science OUGHT to consider; this question at least partially exposes an ethical dynamic that science is not exempt from. Its quite interesting that the term "eugenics" is not used even once in this chapter given the views of the Rockefeller Foundation in the early half of the last century, and I can't tell if Morange is endorsing the ambitions of such a project or not (see the last paragraph on p80 and the quotation on p81). Taking this single example of "outside influence" on the sciences at face-value it does indeed seem that scientific research can be driven in certain directions; yet the falling out of eugenics as a logically and empirically sound "science" seems to suggest that their are limitations as to how far in a certain direction research can be guided. I don't want to reduce this dichotomy down to a suggestion that what scientific research needs is simply patience and money, but I'm not certain as to how we can construct a model to account for this, I mean both prescriptively and descriptively.

Reflecting on the discussion at the end of class on Tuesday regarding the scientific method, focusing primarily on the process forming a hypothesis, I have this nagging thought: Does the construction of a pre-experimental hypothesis provide any benefit to the experimenter? It seems to be a frivolous step during the pre-experimental setting as its purpose seems relevant only in a post-experimental setting as it helps orient one to the thinking patterns of the experimenter. Sure, by making an educated guess as to what that results of an experiment could be can aid the scientist in choosing what kind of observations to perform, but at the same time it could prevent her from making certain observations that could yield pertinent data, as such observations may have been mistakenly deemed unnecessary due to preconceptions of the results of an experiment. Therefore, I would argue that by hypothesizing on the results of a yet to be performed experiment can only serve to bias the experimenter’s expectations in such a way causing unexpected findings to be dismissed or overlooked resulting in an incomplete and unrealistic overall picture of the findings of said experiment.
Plus, don’t we sometimes mix a little bit of this with a little bit of that just to find out what will happen while not really giving a darn what we may think might happen?

I think your question is interesting because it brings the political structure of human knowledge into question with regard to the scientific communities. I think the "politicization" of different disciplines of science is the result of a combination of funding, research and the end goal of the project. Things become politically charged in science when a bunch of money is thrown towards these things. (ie: Human Genome Project) The political tension builds even more when the end goal is not reached as planned. (ie: Human Genome Project & cures for diseases far and wide) So I have to say that the politicization of different branches of science is a necessary thing to occur in order for science to progress, please note I say this solely because of the direct correlation that politics has with money and how it is used.

Now that the blog is up and running again, I'll post my question response from Week 10 as a formality.

'Does our strong desire to follow the scientific method, and use it as a means to scientific discovery, sometimes get in the way and force us to reduce scientific information/discovery down to one simple rule/law which may not be sufficient and miss the bigger picture?'

While the scientific method may have a role in the reduction of information down to simple rules, I think a large part of it has to do with human nature. When we set out to explain an observation (with or without a pre-planned hypothesis), our first instinct will be to explain what we see in terms of basic rules/descriptions. If the phenomena is too complex, not only will the basics not apply, but our limited knowledge may be too narrow to grasp the concept. A good example would be in the nervous system - there are many things in the brain that we have no idea as to how they operate. The mechanisms that we do know about we're able to summarize with reductionistic explanations. The mechanisms that we don't know are the result of our limited techniques and our limited pre-existing knowledge. Thus, I'm not sure how much of an effect the scientific method has on our limited scientific knowledge, compared to the limitations of our scientific techniques and our individual knowledge.

Additionally, the reduction of ideas down to simple rules may have more to do with communicative purposes than with the scientific method. Ideas which may be familiar to us as 'simple rules' may not have started out that way, but have been reduced down to these rules for communication's sake.

My question this week was very similar. Professor Love's view of the scientific method, and the role is plays in scientific discovery, goes against what I was taught during my years of learning scientific curriculum. While it goes against the conventional view, I think Prof Love presents a valid argument and has caused to me to examine closer the scientific method and its role in scientific discovery. I'm not sure of a better way to teach the method of scientific discovery, and I feel the scientific method should still be taught in science classes as it does play an important role in understanding science. You have to first understand the scientific method, before you can begin to question its value. The biggest concern I have with the scientific method is its ability to limit scientific understanding and simplify concepts too severely.

My question this week was very similar. Professor Love's view of the scientific method, and the role is plays in scientific discovery, goes against what I was taught during my years of learning scientific curriculum. While it goes against the conventional view, I think Prof Love presents a valid argument and has caused to me to examine closer the scientific method and its role in scientific discovery. I'm not sure of a better way to teach the method of scientific discovery, and I feel the scientific method should still be taught in science classes as it does play an important role in understanding science. You have to first understand the scientific method, before you can begin to question its value. The biggest concern I have with the scientific method is its ability to limit scientific understanding and simplify concepts too severely.