Maria RojasMay 7, 2012The Heroic Narrative in Science:Watson and Franklin Unlike the scientific heroic journeys we have discussed thus far, the heroic quest offinding the structure of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) has more than one important characterinvolved. Its discovery was achieved through the combinational work of different people,including James Watson and Rosalind Franklin. Hence, there is more than one type of scientifichero involved. As seen in Catherine Milnes essay "Philosophically Correct Science Stories?Examining the Implications of Heroic Science Stories for School Science," there are three typesof scientific heroes: the cautious and deprecating scientist, the well-connected scientist markedby "blather, bluster, brilliance," and the listener of nature (Milne, pg. 185). While James Watsonseems to fall into the second category of scientific hero, Rosalind Franklin falls into the first.Thus, each influences the public perception on what a scientist is differently. To begin with, James Watsons character is brilliant, ambitious, and arrogant. At anextraordinary early age, he was accepted to the University of Chicago and then to the Universityof Indiana. Eventually, he got a fellowship from the National Research Council, and through hisgood connections, he ended up at the University of Cambridge. In other words, it was throughhis social networks and genius mind that Watson was able to obtained the position that changedhis life. He met Francis Crick, who shared his interest in finding the DNA, and began the race forthe double helix. As it can be seen in his autobiography, The Double Helix: A Personal Accountof the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, James Watson is quite ambitious and wanted to finish
the race so badly. He knew that whoever discovered the "secret of life" would obtain a NoblePrize, but in order to do so, he had to beat all the other contenders, including Linus Pauling.Unfortunately for him, Watson did not have the necessary tools or knowledge to discover thestructure of DNA by himself. Fortunately for him, however, he was around the "right"institution—Kings College. Watson, along with Crick, became the dangerous duo obsessed withglory. They gathered the necessary data and research from other scientists, including Franklins,and with their visionary intelligence, they unraveled the mystery of DNA. Hence, James Watson influences the public perception of what a scientist is as heembodies the brilliant enthusiastic scientist ready for adventure. At the other end, however, healso represents negative characteristics that are present in some scientists as well. He is verycompetitive, arrogant, and at times egotistical. In his candid autobiographical narrative, heconstantly criticizes his contemporaries, including Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin. Watsonis often seen as irritated by Cricks blathering and blustering style (when he himself has it too)and is impatient towards Franklins cautious work with X-ray diffraction crystallography. Thus,Watson seems to fit pretty well under the second type of scientific "hero": he is brilliantlyannoying. Rosalind Franklins character, however, is different. She falls into the second type ofscientist: she "presented [her] results with caution and [was] deprecating about [her]achievements" (Milne, pg.185). Although she was as brilliant as the rest of the characters in thisheroic narrative, she was not as boastful about it. Instead, she was ever so humble, reserved, andan introvert. Perhaps, this was due to the stereotypical roles held for women in her day. She didnot conform to them, thus faced sexism. Furthermore, unlike Watson and Crick, Franklin wascautious and patient with her work. Such can be seen in the movie The Race for the Double
Helix, where she is very careful and attentive, but does not want to show her work until figuringout what it means. Not only is she interested in what is happening in her X-ray diffractioncrystallography, but on why it is happening as well. Thus, she takes her time with her work,instead of rushing into figuring out the structure of DNA. Hence, Rosalind Franklin’s heroic type of scientist differs from that of Watson, whichhas different social implications: she embodies a different public perception of what a scientistis. In fact, she reminds me of a comment made by one of my psychology professors. Initially, myprofessor did not what to become an experimental psychologist working alone in a basementwith rats. Although she was not working with rats but with DNA, Franklin fits perfectly into thispublic perception of what a scientist is. She was constantly alone, working hard and meticulouswith DNA, detached from the world.Social Implication of DNA as a Science The social implications for finding the “secret of life” (DNA) are too numerous to count:this discovery has opened up to endless possibilities. To begin with, the Human Genome Projecthas been completed, but the data collected is still being analyzed. Genetic testing andengineering have been done in bacteria, animals, and in food, but it has generated the greatestcontroversy when it comes to humans. There are several societal concerns dealing with this newform of genetics, which includes the use of genetic information, the distribution and privacy ofthis information, and the selection of DNA in offspring. Part of the public supports this genetictesting and engineering; for it can help individuals detect and prevent diseases they may haveand cure other individuals with diseases already. Others, however, are concerned with scientistsgoing to far and playing God.
Works CitedMilne, 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.The Race for the Double Helix. Dir. Mick Jackson. Perf. Jeff Goldblum, Tim Pigott-Smith, Alan Howard, and Juliet Stevenson. BBC, 1987. Film.Watson, James. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Print.