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Science has helped to improve the lives of people around the world. Today, science has improved human health and medicine to help people live longer, and help people live with diseases people had little hope of living with a few decades ago, such as AIDS. While our scientific advances continue, ethical questions arise about how science should advance, such as stem cell research. Mary Shelley, author of the novel Frankenstein, and Michael Bishop, who wrote the article Enemies of Promise, have different views about how scientific knowledge affects humanity. Mary Shelley was born the daughter of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and political theorist William Godwin. While on vacation with her husband, she began to write the novel Frankenstein, about a scientist who created life. The scientists name was Victor Frankenstein. In a selection from the novel, Frankenstein says The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion (232).
Frankenstein is disgusted because he must go to a slaughter-house to get parts for his creation. Frankensteins disgust shows how horrible and demoralizing his scientific endeavors are, and he continues his experiment despite the negative affect his experiment has on his health. He realizes the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasure in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind (233). Frankenstein worked so hard to give life to his creation he thought of nothing else, and he was living his whole life to accomplish one goal. He realizes how much time he has been spending on his experiment and the effect his work is having on him, so he believes humans do not have the ability to deal with work in this manner. Therefore, scientific experimentation is not worth the negative effects the experiments have on the human mind. Eventually, Frankenstein accomplishes his goal, but his creation does not turn out like he expected. After giving his creation life, Frankenstein is horrified and leaves his home. Frankenstein concludes Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to be greater than his nature will allow (231).
Frankenstein wanted to have the knowledge to create life, and when he final had the knowledge to create life, he did. After he created life, he was miserable. Therefore, humans cannot be God and create life because their nature will not allow them to be like God, and those who try to create life will be miserable, unlike those who do not seek dangerous knowledge. Michael Bishop is a professor of microbiology at the University of California, San Francisco. In his article Enemies of Promise he warns about the misconceptions people may have about scientific advances. Bishop states science has sounded the alarm about acid rain and its principal origins in automobile emissions, but our society has not found the political will top bridle the internal combustion engine (239). Science has helped to improve the quality of life of people by discovering the cause of acid rain is from car emissions, and the reduction of acid rain could result from better emission standards. Science is not to blame for helping to create the internal combustion engine, but the lack of government funding to find other means to propel automobiles should be blamed. Bishop says Resistance to science is born of fear.
Fear, in turn is bred by ignorance. And it is ignorance that is our deepest malady (241). People fear science because they do not understand how science works, and the purpose of science is to better mankind, not to recombine DNA to create a deadly virus, or mutations. If people are educated, then they will have a better understanding of science, and will no longer fear science. Once all people understand science, and no longer fear science, mankind can move towards new goals, and improve the lives of all people. When scientists perform experiments, the scientists are trying to solve the mystery of something they do not understand, such as stem cells. Bishop believes scientists take things apart in order to understand the whole, to solve the mystery an enterprise that we regard as one of the great ennobling tasks of humankind (238). Scientists experiment to better understand the world around them, and all the things in the world, as well as the relationships between different parts of the world. Scientists do not take things apart just because they can, but scientists have a purpose for their actions. The experiments to understand the world around us, Bishop believes to be a noble task for mankind, and with scientific discoveries, our lives can be improved.
Comparing the claims of both Mary Shelley and Michael Bishop, I find Bishops claims that science is good for mankind, to be more persuasive than Mary Shelleys warning about the limitations of man and science. Bishop states Science has produced the vaccines required to control many childhood infections in the United States, but our nation has failed to deploy properly those vaccines (239). If mankind did not have the benefit of scientific knowledge, there would be no vaccine for illnesses such as small pox, or life threatening diseases. Humans have the ability to produce large amounts of vaccines beneficial to children in our country and other countries around the world. Science cannot pay for, and distribute vaccines for diseases throughout the world, but science is blamed because people in our world still suffer from curable diseases. Also, Bishop states that resistance to science is born of fear, which is the result of ignorance.
When the University of California, San Francisco wanted to perform biomedical research in a residential area, which they have not been allowed to do, Bishop noted that another [agitated citizen] declared on television her outrage that those people are bringing DNA into my neighborhood (241). The person who stated that the University was bringing DNA into their neighborhood does not understand what DNA is. By making the statement about bringing DNA in their neighborhood, the person is opposing having DNA in her neighborhood compared to the Universitys encroachment into their neighborhood. If the person who made the statement were simply opposed to the possibility of increased traffic in the neighborhood, then the person would have made that statement on television. The person made the statement about DNA instead, showing that they fear DNA because they do not want DNA in their neighborhood. Therefore, the opposition this person has to science stems from their misunderstanding of DNA. Bishop points out a possible reason for people not understanding science caused by a lack of education.
Bishop states In a recent international testing, U.S. high school students finished ninth in physics among the top twelve nations, eleventh in chemistry, and dead last in biology (241). If science is not learned by pupils in school, then the pupils will not understand science. Judging from the international testing, students in our country do not have an understanding of science, and the lack of understanding will breed ignorance, and will result in fear and resistance. Therefore, some people fear science because they were not properly educated when they were students and they do not understand how science can improve mankind as a whole. Bishop states The price of science seems large, but to reject science is to deny the future (242). Although science may not always give people one solid choice, and scientific endeavors may have ethical problems, we need to work out those ethical and moral dilemmas. Science will not go away, but will continue to explore the world around us. Science cannot be rejected because science will help to improve the quality of life, and rejecting science would result in the rejection of the improvement in quality of life. Other evidence Bishop should have examined was the overall decrease in respect for institutions by the public.
Alan H. McGowan is a program director for the Public Understanding of Science and Technology, as well as the Directorate for Education and Human Resources at American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). McGowan states although there seems to have been a decrease in the respect the public has for scientists, this is part of a general trend of decreasing trust in institutions of all kinds. While Bishop has stated that people have been attacking science, Bishop does not compare how much science is being attacked compared to other institutions, such as the press. If all other institutions are being attacked more fervently than science, then science is not in as bad a shape as Bishop believes science to be. Therefore, unless science is being attacked as much as every other institution, science is still be viewed by the public with more respect compared to the other institutions. While Mary Shelleys Frankenstein show the problems with mans thirst for knowledge, Michael Bishop puts science in a positive light, showing how science has help mankind. I believe Bishops claims about science to be more persuasive, and the positive effects of science to be well worth the effort of scientists. Although Bishops claims could have been improved with some more evidence about the publics view of science, science will continue to improve our lives.
Bishop, Michael J. Enemies of Promise. The Presence of Others. Eds. Andrea A. Lunsford, John J. Ruszkiewicz. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2000, 237 242.
McGowan, Alan H. The Bad Image of the Scientist: Fact or Fiction? American Association for the Advancement of Science Science and Technology Yearbook. 1999. http://www.aaas.org/spp/yearbook/chap24.htm (13 May 2002).
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. The Presence of Others. Eds. Andrea A. Lunsford, John J. Ruszkiewicz. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2000, 231 235.