Question Submission 9

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Morange argues that part of the success of genetics is attributable to its elegant models which yielded practical success (pg 17). Morange recognises the importance of Drosophila in the development of genetics (pg 16). Is the applicability of concepts of the transmutation theory to the practise of agriculture part of this theory's explanatory range? Or rather are industrial applications of scientific concepts outside the realm of explainable range? How were this concepts exported into the agricultural fields and to what extend where these successes properly explainable by the underlying theories? Was the adoption of simplified, albeit false, models in order to get both fruit flies (in the laboratory) and crops (in the filed) necessary for their success? If so, the belief that the explanatory range was larger than it actually was could result in the progress of these fields to generate more robust theories. How important were the ideas and theories regarding genetics in the exportation of these into agronomy?

In Morange's chapter 2, he states that "genetics could only really develop on condition that it separated, albeit arbitrarily, heredity and gene transmission from development and gene action." Likewise, he states earlier, in chapter 1, that the period before the rediscovery of Mendel "was necessary for heredity to become separated from embryology, a process that was essential for the birth of genetics." Does Morange claim this simply because the separation of genetics from other departments in universities allowed genetics, as a discipline, to thrive? Or does he think that there some underlying intellectual reason why genetics could not be understood properly if it was initially considered along with embryology/development? Either way, it seems like this is a controversial claim; I doubt every philosopher of science would agree that heredity and development were separated to the extent that Morange seems to think they were.

In chapter two of Morange's book, I stumbled upon a conflict that is being expressed about Jan Sapp's book. Morange is clearly mad at Sapp for not questioning the cooked data obtained by Moewus, but I am wondering what he is trying to do when he says, "There we have it: if science has no relation to reality, why bother giving a full and precise description of the facts" This seems like Morange is attacking Sapp for not mentioning the fact that Moewus had data that was to good to be true. What exactly is the cause of Jan Sapp being responsible for not reporting this information?

Morange introduced a new concept to me in the first chapter, evolutionary synthesis. In summary of Morange, it shares much of its inferences with Darwin's theory of evolution, although it rejects the inheritance of acquired characters, and implies that genotype does not depend on phenotype. If evolutionary synthesis is a refinement of the theory of evolution, why is it not more fully discussed in biology courses? (Or is it, and the theory of evolution has subsumed the refinements?) Is evolutionary synthesis simply a reunion of inheritance and development and not a theory in its own right? And if it is, does that mean it only has value to historians and philosophers? And, comparatively, has little relevance to scientists?

I was worried that Marange's History was going to be tough reading for a non-biologist but I have been pleasantly surprised. It is extremely clear. I don't really have any questions about it, but I would like to ask about what is controversial and what is not in his presentation? This is hard to glean for an outsider.

One observation of the history I made was this great quote, about the obstacles that had to be overcome in order for it to be considered that genes were formed of DNA -
"... even more that the geneticists, physicists saw genetics as information transfer, and the gene as a carrier of information. This insight in fact resulted from their lack of understanding and their despair when faced with the seemingly irrational complexity of biochemistry. The physicists were able to approach the problem from another angle and abstract the notion specificity from its biochemical and protein connotations. They separated the gene from its effects with the cell and made it possible to conceive the relations between genes and proteins apart from a direct protein-protein interaction. (p 37)"
This all leads me to wonder, where would we be if physicists didn't think they could solve problems that they have no real understanding of?

I found Morange's first few chapters to be clearly written. My question is based on the historiographical question that he posed in the introduction, as well as on how he chose to go about his first few chapters.

In his introduction, Morange warns against the writing of Whiggish history of science, proposing that one take unique vantage points when exploring a given episode or historical community in science. Specifically, Morange suggests that when we look at the trail of experiments in any given subfield, we not only take inventory of the successful experiments (or the 'stars'), but that we also pay attention to the experiments that were not deemed successful. I am sympathetic to this strategy, but I wonder what definitions of 'successful' one would have to come up with here, and how productive this strategy actually is in practice? I would have to know more of the background of the history of molecular biology to know whether or not Morange is writing from a unique vantage point in the way he encourages other historians of science. From the first few chapters, however, it does not seem that he has made a particular point of highlighting the history of science as seen from the 'less successful' experimental narrative.

One of the concepts that Morange seems to mention throughout the first few chapters is how information was received or what resulted because of it. It is a process of discovery and acceptance. On page 30, in reference to Oswald T. Avery’s study, “[…] his discovery was not understood nor its importance recognized at the time. In the words of H.V. Wyatt, everybody knew about Avery’s discovery, but the information did not “become knowledge.””

My question is: why was Avery’s study not well received? Why is it that after his findings it was not seen as “knowledge”? Morange discusses this on pages 32-33 explaining that it was how the paper was written that caused it to be so ill received. Morange says that 8 years after Avery’s, there was another study that produced the same results and is often given more credit for the findings. Is this simply because of how the papers were written? That Avery’s was hard to understand and follow? It seems to me to be too simple of an explanation. But it got me thinking, even in modern times, why is it that some results are accepted without argument and others are disputed?

Morange’s writing, although is a little bit heavy at times, is easy enough to understand for someone with even a scant background in science, i believe.I think it’s worth noting his ability to boil down what are complex and confusing concepts down to a tangible dosage.With that said, after reading the second section of Morange’s literature on molecular genetics I do have a question regarding how one scientist is credited with a discovery or theory when it was actually first conceived by another individual.The question: Is it enough to present an idea or theory, backed by evidence, without fully extrapolating its implications in a meaningful and interesting way to lodge the theory into the scientific community and discussion? Or does is the groundwork of selling a new theory to the scientific community also necessary?(What good is a theory, even if it points in the correct direction, if no one knows about it?)

On page 8 (the Introduction) of Morange's A History of Molecular Biology, he states, "Too great a distance from the material also explains the biased interpretation that some historians have made of David Bloor's principle of symmetry, which argues that historians should analyze success and failure in the same way; according to Bloor, the same analytical framework should be employed to account for a theory that succeeded and for the theory that failed. This is an excellent principle, because the natural tendency of scientists is to consider that the best theory was necessarily the one that triumphed, the one that history has remained. But it has sometimes been used to relativize science, to suggest that all theories are equal, and that 'lose' have been eliminated for 'extrascientific' reasons."

I really like this idea of the principle of symmetry. We can often learn a lot more from what are considered failures than successes. However, is it really possible to examine them to the same extent or in the same way? There is so much less information about what have been considered failures, how can we possible know as much about these failed experiments and failed theories?

Also, aside from learning from mistakes or possibly finding something of use in a failed experiment (a different potential theory from the failed results), is there anything else that can be gained from looking at these failures? If so, what?

On page 8 (the Introduction) of Morange's A History of Molecular Biology, he states, "Too great a distance from the material also explains the biased interpretation that some historians have made of David Bloor's principle of symmetry, which argues that historians should analyze success and failure in the same way; according to Bloor, the same analytical framework should be employed to account for a theory that succeeded and for the theory that failed. This is an excellent principle, because the natural tendency of scientists is to consider that the best theory was necessarily the one that triumphed, the one that history has remained. But it has sometimes been used to relativize science, to suggest that all theories are equal, and that 'lose' have been eliminated for 'extrascientific' reasons."

I really like this idea of the principle of symmetry. We can often learn a lot more from what are considered failures than successes. However, is it really possible to examine them to the same extent or in the same way? There is so much less information about what have been considered failures, how can we possible know as much about these failed experiments and failed theories?

Also, aside from learning from mistakes or possibly finding something of use in a failed experiment (a different potential theory from the failed results), is there anything else that can be gained from looking at these failures? If so, what?

In the introduction of Morange’s book he discusses the difficulties associated with trying to establish an accurate historical portrayal of modern science. He identifies two major hurdles, the first being an overabundance of source material to reconstruct the historical details, and the second being that “historians tend to interpret the past through the eyes of the present” (page 4). His explanation of these problems seemed to imply that piecing together a more recent past is more difficult than an older one. Morange writes, “This danger, intrinsic to any historical analysis, is all the greater when the words and techniques are the same as those used today” (page 4). This makes me think back to Griesemer’s lectures earlier in the class that discussed the difficulties that arose when trying to interpret Mendel’s work. Doesn’t it seem that having fewer resources (i.e. most of Mendel’s work being destroyed) and a greater amount of language interpretation (i.e. translations and varying uses of terminology) would lead historical representations to be more subjective? Addressing Morange’s second concern, why would it be easier to remove the contemporary world view bias for older scientific accounts?

The work of George Beadle and Edward Tatum in the early 1940’s implied that each step in a metabolic pathway is controlled by a single gene as well as a single enzyme – leading to the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis (Morange, pg. 27). This implication was reached by using “unmasked” mutations in Neurospora haploid chromosomes to show that each metabolically/nutritionally deficient strain (mutant) was the result of a mutation in a single gene. This gene’s mutation interfered with the relevant enzyme’s ability to metabolize a certain nutrient, thus providing support for the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis (pg. 25). These findings were scrutinized by members of the biochemical community, including Max Delbruck, who believed that multiple genes could control the synthesis of a given protein or enzyme (pg. 27). The genes that happened to be investigated by Beadle and Tatum were specific to a single enzyme, while those that were involved in the synthesis of multiple enzymes were not included in their procedure. “This implied that the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis was the consequence of an experimental artifact (pg. 27).”

While I understand that the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis may not have been applicable to all metabolic pathways, it held true for the systems analyzed by Beadle and Tatum. Therefore, is it more appropriate to consider the basis for these results as an “experimental artifact,” or simply as a limitation to the application of Beadle and Tatum’s work to other metabolic processes? If your answer is in support of the “artifact” view, would you consider all causal relationships that are only relevant within a certain context to possess experimental artifacts, or is the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis different from other explanations that only pertain to a certain frame within a larger context?

In Chapter 2 (The One Gene-One Enzyme Hypothesis), Morange discusses the importance of Beadle and Tatum's work. During Beadle's Harvey lecture he stated that his work led to the unification of biochemistry and genetics, by showing a link between genes and enzymes. More specifically that one gene was responsible for one enzyme. Their discoveries were not retained in history due to a couple of factors that down scaled the importance of their discovery. On page 29, it is stated that "Beadle and Tatum's great merit was that they obtained enough observations for the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis to take a quantitative and not merely a qualitative meaning." My question is: how is this so if one of the points that down scaled their discovery was that several enzymes and thus several genes are necessary for an enzyme to be synthesized?

I wonder with what criteria do we specify a scientific domain? Obviously there are non-arbitrary criteria for doing this such as asking with what basic theory did a given school operate, and with what investigative strategies. This bears directly on Prof. Waters account of the success of classical genetics.

That being said, I have been struggling with how to situate Luria, Delbruck and other phage group geneticists in the pre-double helix days of genetics. If we were to characterize the phage group as being in a different scientific domain than classical genetics, a rather confusing characterization of their domain emerges. According to Morange, Delbruck sought a fundamental theory: the secret of life. He hypothesized that self-replication was the key distinction between living and non-living things. I do not see any way of reconciling this into a basic theory like the modest transmission theory. In fact, it looks like the inaccurate pre-formationist characterization of the transmission theory. Moreover, the phage geneticists completely failed in terms of answering their fundamental question. Yet, they succeeded in another way. Luria and Delbruck discovered a constant mutation rate, which was used as an essential component of the bacterial genetics school of the 1940s, which is analogous in structure to the classical school. Delbruck was also successful with regard to his elegant statistical methods, and the group as a whole shed light on bacterial recombination (used as concrete information for the bacterial geneticists). But as a domain itself, the phage group did not seem to have any basic theory, and did not seem to intentionally use their phage knowledge or replication knowledge as a means to investigate other phenomena; they were just after self-replication. I wonder how this relates to Prof. Waters' epistemology. I think the phage group (if they are truly a different domain) is an exception in terms of the structure of their practice, yet viewing them from this vantage practical standpoint, you can see that they can be viewed as successful.

While reading Morange book it say that “Geneticist studied genes without apparently being interested either in the way they worked or in their chemical nature.” As a scientists I think you’re suppose to be interest in how things work from their most simple ways, so why the scientist of that time did not care about those thing? Or they were more busy trying to explain every theory that they have and know how they work instead of trying to figure our the chemical nature of genes? Or they were just trying to develop new techniques as they develop their new scientific field?

This is an interesting question and one I have had throughout the semster as well. It seems that with many of the cases we have studied, the scientists are more interested in proving a theory than actually proving scientific data/discovery. In the case of Morange, I beleive he says this to support his point that molecular biology (as we know it today) involves the incorporation of biochemistry. If biochemistry is highly incorporated in molecular biology, then close attention will be paid to the chemical nature of genes. By saying that attention was not paid to the chemical nature of genes, and that this is necessary in molecular biology, he can argue that what they were doing should not be considered molecular biology.

I think your question for this week is interesting for two reasons.

First, I agree with your statement that this book is an easy read for non-biologists.

Secondly, I think your question about where we would be without physicists... and specifically without physicists that think they know how to solve things they know nothing about. I think this is the most interesting part of your post.
This also relates to your view of the layered cake as you expressed, maybe not to your satisfaction, today in class.
In my mind, Physics undoubtedly has and will play an important role in discovery and establishing scientific knowledge. With that said, I think a lot of the success that comes from physicists is the way they learn to do what they do. I may be saying this due to my physics background but either way that is the way I see it. I am extremely biased in the thinking I have of the organization of scientific domains and the layers they make.
I do not view science as one thing. I think there are sciences in this day in our human age. I DO NOT think this is the way it should be but I do not see any way that this is not true. One SCIENCE would require a study along the line of complexity theory. I find myself at this point Ranting and Raving on a number of topics within myself so I will bring this to a close.


I think the most tragic affect of having separately functioning SCIENCES is that information is not always shared between these independent communities. This leads to human knowledge having a very false sense of fulfillment. What I mean is that each scientific community thinks they know a LOT about their subject matter, but all it would take is a small consideration of another's subject matter WITHIN one's own community to realize that the knowledge is more wHOLeY than a swiss cheese bible.

This is a serious frustration for me and in fact has lead me to believe, maybe falsely, in other methods for acquiring and advancing the knowledge of our "species".

Throughout the history of science, there are a number of “controversial” overlooked or understated scientific discoveries. Alfred Wallace is never as closely related to evolutionary theory as Darwin. Rosalind Franklin didn’t receive the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA because she passed away before it was awarded. Regardless of this fact, her contribution has often been understated, even by James D. Watson. I believe there are a number of factors that can lead to a scientist’s work being ignored. Obviously most importantly the work must be published to be known and to receive credit. If the overall sentiment in the scientific community leads to a lack of confidence in one’s work and publication, it can be difficult to push forward alone to convince the public without the support of scientific peers. If one’s work is disregarded as insignificant at the time, it would take a lot of perseverance to convince people otherwise. I think the moral of the story is to make sure you have support within the scientific community.

What good is a theory, even if it points in the correct direction, if no one knows about it?)

This is an interesting question. I think the importance of a theory is, in fact, dependent on who knows about it - that is to say a theory should only be considered important if it allows others to build off of it, a step which requires their knowing about it in the first place. But (relating this to the case of Avery), this isn't always in the hands of the scientist. After the scientist publishes his/her data, the extent to which it reaches the public is largely in the hands of a) the editorial board of a given journal and b) the media. However, the scientist can also contribute to the extent to which the data reaches the public (e.g. by giving lectures, presenting at conferences, writing books, etc.). However, in the case of Avery, it wasn't necessarily that people didn't know about the theory as much as it was that people didn't know what to do with the theory, which is an entirely different matter.

I thought this was an interesting suggestion as well, that it is more difficult to form a coherent story about what happened in the more recent past due to an overabundance of source material and many conflicting viewpoints. It seemed counterintuitive to me, too! Perhaps it is easier to "piece together" historical events from longer ago because there is less information. However, it seems as if important information may have been lost. It seems instead that while it may be more difficult to wade through so much information and consider so many conflicting viewpoints, the chance of formulating a story that is close to the true events is much higher for more recent events.

“…where would we be if physicists didn’t think they could solve problems they have no real understanding of?” I found this question interesting for the fact that I believe some would hesitate to clam, as Marange does, that a physicist’s insight put the discipline of genetics on the correct path (i.e., in Morrange’s words, “the gene as a carrier of information”). It could be that the physicist interpretation is actually responsible for driving the science in the wrong direction by claiming an unproven assumption as fact.

A great question. It stimulated a good discussion in lecture which brought in the layer cake concept; a concept leaving much to be desired. My own thoughts have the sciences arranged in analogous form to neural networks. The cell body houses the objectives and procedural knowledge. While the dendrites are background processes that input practical and theoretical knowledge into a specific science. And the axon forms the foregrounded information the science seeks and discovers, which it conveys to other sciences that background its substantive investigations. If we view the scientific domain from this perspective the domain becomes virtually universal in regards to inputs (any field of study can draw from any other), but the domain of outputs is filtered by the information the specific field wishes to foreground. This gives us a dynamic representation of the sciences rather than the static perspective offered by the layer cake. And I believe this is a more honest representation of how science functions and how different fields relate.

I had the exact same question that was posed here. Avery's study may not have well received because he was not well known and at the time, his discovery was not understood and it's importance wasn't recognized. His findings were not seen as knowledge also because the discovery was not understood nor was the important recognized. I think that the second paper wrote was wrote more clearly and the scientists may have been more well known. Another reason why the second paper was more accepted (and the same for modern science) is the ability of the scientists to "advertise" their findings and the ability of them to do a good job of convincing.

The statements you quoted from Morange, intrigued me when I read them. Morange probably has different reasons for making his claim of genetics developing from it's separation from other disciplines. Genetics definitely received a "boost" when it separated from other disciplines because the main focus was on genetics and not on the other disciplines, which allowed for it to thrive into what it is today. I'm not sure about Morange's ideas on the underlying intellectual reasons for the development of genetics if it were considered along with embryology/development, but it is an interesting question. Thinking about all the talk about the development of genetics makes me wonder whether separations are really needed.

It sounded to me that it wasn't the style of presentation but the context in which Avery's experiment occurred that prevented it from being accepted when his paper was published. At the time, the conviction was that proteins were the material makeup of genes, not DNA, so there were a slew of objections to Avery's proposal that he needed to deal with but could not. Specifically, Morange mentions the inability for transformation to be demonstrated in other bacteria and the inability to overcome the problem of how nucleic acid could control enzyme synthesis. In the years between Avery's experiment and Hershey and Chase, many of the questions about DNA control and structure had been answered, so a general demonstration of the phenomena was sufficient. This was not the case for Avery.

This brings up a dilemma for understanding history in general: Does it make sense to think of history as a science? Depending on how we answer this should inform us as to whether/how we can make claims to the "truth" of a given history. In this course we have been examining very nuanced and/or radical ideas as to how we "ought" to think of what science is or how it functions (whether heuristics, process tracking, practical application, theoretical approach, the list is quite extensive), but should we apply similar standards to history? It was pointed out that because Morange comes from a french school of thought that is "highly" aware of the critiques of historical inquiry, it seems to me that he slipped up when we said"historians tend to interpret the past through the eyes of the present." I think it is strongly implied from this sentence that it is somehow possible to access a "true" account of history that is in fact not interpreted through the eyes of the present. This is ridiculous, and Morange does try to surmount this problem when he says this danger is "intrinsic" to any historical analysis. But nonetheless, incorporating this idea into the analysis does not in itself surmount the problem. The question should be "do historians 'interpret' or do they 'tend to interpret'?" Perhaps if we applied a 'Watersian' view of science as practice or as an approach, to historical analysis, then historians could avoid much of the inflammatory language, and some of the consequences of omission. Furthermore, it seems to me that there is an often unspoken objective that is unavoidable by all historians: inherently, studying the "past" is an argument about the present moment; a fundamental delimitation on the present moment is that it is the accumulation of all past events that did in fact occur, whether we are aware of them or not. If the "past" is not an object (which it isn't), but a linguistic category (or an abstraction) then history should be understood not as something containing "truth", but as a toolkit for dissecting and obtaining (practical?) understanding the present (i.e. practice based, not theory based). In this light, the idea of a "past" (whether we know it or not) necessarily biases are view of the present.

"The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living" -Karl Marx

This is an interesting question you have brought up here, I suppose to answer it in my opinion I would say that just because A theory is recognized at a certain point in time, doesn't mean that that theory still has power of its own.

"In his introduction, Morange warns against the writing of Whiggish history of science, proposing that one take unique vantage points when exploring a given episode or historical community in science. Specifically, Morange suggests that when we look at the trail of experiments in any given subfield, we not only take inventory of the successful experiments (or the 'stars'), but that we also pay attention to the experiments that were not deemed successful. I am sympathetic to this strategy, but I wonder what definitions of 'successful' one would have to come up with here, and how productive this strategy actually is in practice? I would have to know more of the background of the history of molecular biology to know whether or not Morange is writing from a unique vantage point in the way he encourages other historians of science. From the first few chapters, however, it does not seem that he has made a particular point of highlighting the history of science as seen from the 'less successful' experimental narrative."

Responding to Molly's question... I think successful would be defined as correctly explaining a happening in the world- that is, considered correct until that very moment. I agree with Morange that we should learn about failed experiments as well, however I feel that he doesn't acknowledge the fact that indeed we DO learn about failed experiments/theories. Are we not taught about Galileo and his "smudged" telescope? I feel that of those theories/experiments that failed or were incorrect, those that are important, or can teach us a lesson for the future ARE taught to us.