July 17, 2024

[Good scientist != Good person]-Frankenstein

Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley in 1818, was one of the most influential classical novels that involved ‘science fiction.’ In short, the story follows an extremely intelligent scientist named Victor who was able to create life with his own research. However, he was horrified with the sight of the monster that he created and abandoned his work. The story follows the perspective of the monster, who is an intelligent being with humanistic qualities, and how the life of Victor changes when his creation finally kills those who were closest to him. In the end, we are left with a dilemma of how Victor’s own work of the monster actually reflected his own morals as a person and scientist. While it is easy for him to blame the monster for the murder, ¬†Victor does not acknowledge his own mistreatment of the life and science of his creation. Victor was both a bad scientist as well as a bad person in this novel. In the real world, there many examples of scientists who do not take responsibility for their own works or maintain integrity throughout their studies, which reflects poorly on their morals as well.

In Colby College laboratories, we always start the lab by putting on safety equipment such as googles, lab coats, or gloves. These precautionary measurements are not only used to protect the individual from corrosive chemicals or sharp objects, but to protect others from harm as well. Indeed, the experiment cannot even begin without thinking about the health and safety of humans. Another real-life example of how life is protected in the scientific community is through the use of IACUC. It is a committee that looks at the treatment of vertebrate animal testing in a laboratory setting and whether trials done to certain species are deemed ethical. The committee also gives recommendations in order to propose changes to original experimental procedures. We can see that the scientific community is not only based on discovery but is also a discursive community that has a moral oath to prioritize health, well-being, and safety above all. Victor violates this code by using science as a medium for discovery but fails to meet the previos moral obligations. He literally rejects the life he created and tries to forget the potential harm that it could cause others. Victor failed both as a scientist to follow through on his methods as well as a person choosing to violate these ethical rules.

A parallel example to Victor’s story was in the discovery of the structure of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA), possibly the most important discovery in the field of biology. This accomplishment is currently credited to James Watson and Francis Crick who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in Physiology or Medicine. However, the main contribution of their work was ¬†due to the X-ray photographic work of the female researcher named Rosalind Franklin who unfortunately died of ovarian cancer before she even knew of her contribution to the Nobel Peace Prize winners. The rules of this prestigious award state that one cannot receive the award if they are deceased and as a result, Rosalind Franklin was left out of history for many years– which probably had a huge butterfly effect on the integration of females in the scientific community. In a literal sense, James Watson and Francis Crick stole lab data from Rosalind Franklin. The two famous scientists broke one of the very important rules of science– giving credit to outside resources. The failure to do so shows that the researcher(s) lacked the effort and integrity it takes for others to produce significant lab results. As a result of their lack to ask consent of Rosalin Franklin, I would argue that James Watson and Francis Crick are both bad scientists and bad people. Similar to Victor, breaking a moral oath in society is often an indicator that one will indulge in malpractice in the field of science as well (and vice versa).

In conclusion, the field of science is not independent of the human moral discourse of respect, safety, and integrity. If research was just a race of who can produce the ‘most of x,’ I think there would be little scientific progress going on, as the community is structured on collaboration and holding each other to a high standard of integrity. Victor from Frankenstein was a prime example of an academic who was very invested into his own research without acknowledging how his work could have further impacted those around him. Although one could say Victor was brilliant (in terms of intelligence), he was morally evil and an even worse scientist.

sources:

http://www.dnaftb.org/19/bio-3.html

https://olaw.nih.gov/resources/tutorial/iacuc.htm

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