1 Maria RojasFebruary 26, 2012The Heroic Narrative in Science: Gregor Mendel In “Philosophically Correct Science Stories? Examining the Implications of HeroicScience Stories for School Science,” Catherine Milne describes three types of scientific heroes.The first type of scientist is an experimenter who presents his work with caution and is humbleabout his own achievements. The second type is well connected and has influence within hisdisciplinary field. Lastly, the third type of hero is one that “listen[s] to the material” and developsa “feeling for the organism” (Milne, pg. 182). According to these descriptions, Gregor Mendelseems to fall within the third category. Born in 1822 to a peasant parents, young Gregor Mendel was an unlikely candidate tobecome the famous and heroic scientist he is know for today. Since early childhood, his parentshad difficulties with providing him with education (obviously he is not the second type ofscientist). Nevertheless, Mendel, as good heroic scientist, had an inner calling for learning.Although he met with economic hardships at first, he became a monk at the Brunn Monastery,escaping from poverty while gaining education. As he himself put it, “His circumstances decidedhis vocational choice” (“Gregor Mendel’s Autobiography,” pg. 234). While at the BrunnMonastery, he began to develop a special interest in the natural science. This developed interestbecame stronger as he went to the University of Vienna. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately,Mendel failed to pass his teacher’s examinations at Vienna, forcing him into going back to themonastery, were he begins to experiment with pea plants.
2 During 1856-1865, Mendel becomes quite obsessed with artificial pollination andselective breeding with Pisum sativum, growing thousands of plants to closely examine theoutcomes (which we now know as heredity). As he began his work, he did not know exactlywhat to expect. Yet, he did notice that there was a strange pattern going on and was curious tofind out what is causing it. After years of deep analysis, he listened to what nature had to tell himthrough statistics, and finally discovered the nature of genetics. He distinguished the ratio ofdominant against recessive genes (3:1 respectively), and established the law of Segregation ofCharacteristics and law of Independent Assortment. In other words, it is the brilliant moment thatGregor Mendel achieved his status as a heroic scientist: he became the Father of ModernGenetics. Unlike the first type of heroic scientist, soon after his discovery, Mendel became eagerabout his work and wanted to present it to the rest of the scientific community. He reported hisexperiments to the Brunn Natural Science Society and soon afterwards published Experiment inPlant Hybridization. Unfortunately, he was thirty years ahead of his contemporaries, thus hiswork was not well received. It was not until 1900, when the significance of genetics and hereditywere acknowledged. Although Gregor Mendel’s discovery in itself does not seem to propose a deep orcomplex social message (it just explains the observations we have noticed for centuries), theexpansion of modern genetics does. Not only do we understand the significance of genetics, butour modern technology has enabled us to do things that were unthinkable back then! The HumanGenome Project has been conducted, we know that we have over 3 billion pairs of nucleotidesbases, and we can even predict inherited abnormalities and diseases! Yet the problem is, orethical question is, should we know all this? And if we do, should we manipulate it?
3 Such questions are presented in Mendel’s Dwarf, were the protagonist, the dwarfgeneticist Benedict Lambert, is struggling with the ethics of his profession. Due to hisabnormality, he has lived a hard life, desperately searching for someone who would care for him.When he finally does (sort of), the love of his life, Jean, proposes to have a child—not like him.He is well aware that it is the only opportunity he’ll ever have to continue his lineage, to pass onhis genes, AND that he can choose them. Thus, this presents an internal-conflict, for he has threeoptions: 1) choose a normal child, 2) choose a dwarf child, or 3) let chance decide. All of theseoptions are conflicting in their own way because on one hand, if Benedict chooses a dwarf child,he is accepting his own reality, yet the child will be prone to live his own hardships. On the otherhand, if he choses a normal child, the child will be spared from a difficult life. Although this book is centered on the main character, its ethical issues could be appliedto society overall. The ability of genetic testing and selection can be very beneficial, but alsotroubling. We can predict and prevent diseases, but also become obsessed with creating “perfect”children. Hence, the question of whether modern genetics are really ethical is still up to debate!
4 Works Cited“Gregor Mendel’s Autobiography.” Journal of Heredity 45.5 (1954): 231-234.Mawer, Simon. Mendel’s Dwarf. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. Print.Milne, Catherine. “Philosophically Correct Science Stories? Examining the Implications of Heroic Science Stories for School Science.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 35.2 (1998): 175-187. Web. 27 Feb 2010.