What Science Can Do

What Science Can Do

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What Science Can Do


I argue that 'we' the public of the United States of America, do not have an exaggerated view of what science can do. To support this claim I have compared and contrasted two articles: Enemies of Promise and The Hazards of Science. Both articles cover the topic of scientific research. Both authors are accredited scientists in their own right, and are excellent examples to cite for my thesis which I believe very strongly in. Although, I disagree with some of the conclusions made in the articles, I neverless hold both authors in very high regard.

Professor of microbiology and Nobel Prize winner, J. Michael Bishop continually makes the statement in his article, Enemies of Promise, that the public has exaggerated and unrealistic expectations as to what science can do; Just as physician-author Lewis Thomas asks in his article, The Hazards of Science, "are there some things in science we should not be learning about?" (238). These men both have relevant opinions about science today. I can not say that they agree with each other because their articles are structured differently. Bishop makes arguments for science while stating it's limitations; and Thomas highlights some of sciences' achievements while questioning how far science should go. In discussing the topic of science, albeit from different frameworks, they touch upon some of the same topics.

Bishop alleges that, "Science, is not the exclusive source of knowledge about human existence." (256). Then sites Thomas as saying that science is "the best way to learn how the world works." As Bishop cites Thomas to make his point, they both obviously agree with this statement. However, Thomas questions the lengths that science should go to while Bishop does not.

Lewis Thomas asks the central question, "are there some kinds of information leading to some sorts of knowledge that human beings are really better off not having? Is there a limit to scientific inquiry not set by what is knowable but by what we ought to be knowing? Should we stop short of learning about some things, for fear of what we, or someone, will do with the knowledge?" (237). The author then answers his own questions: No, but he qualifies his answer by stating that it is an intuitive response that he is incapable of reasoning through. I too believe that we should not place limitations on science, while admitting that it is also an intuitive response.

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However, I still have concerns.

It all boils down to fear: "Should we stop short of learning about some things, for fear of what we, or someone, will do with the knowledge?" (237). On this point J. Michael Bishop is clear. He states that, "Resistance to science is born of fear. Fear, in turn, is bred by ignorance. And it is ignorance that is our deepest malady." (260). But, isn't fear something that should be considered when scientists are currently accomplishing things that not too long ago where considered science fiction? Lewis Thomas seems to question this.

Throughout, The Hazards of Science, Lewis Thomas returns to the issue of recombinant DNA, a technology that permits the stitching of one creature's genes into the DNA of another to make hybrids. He claims that, "It is hubris for man to manufacture a hybrid on his own." While he obviously questions whether or not 'we' should be doing this, he none-the-less comes to the conclusion that we should not limit human knowledge. Put in that context I would have to agree. However, I am still uncomfortable with this concept. And there lies the dilemma, there are things that most question the wisdom of, but how do we address those issues without putting restrictions on research?

Thomas listed many of the recent accomplishments of science including, psychosurgery, fetal research, heart transplants, and cloning. Bishop reveals that he was involved in the uncovering of the genes that are involved in the genesis of human cancer. Why than are the publics' expectations of what science can accomplish unrealistic? They may be unreasonable in the sense of the time that we believe things should be accomplished, but I do not believe that necessitates that these expectations are unrealistic.

We live in a world where life expectancy is almost twice what it was just a hundred years ago, and many ailments that were once fatal are mere annoyances to our daily living. These improvements to life have been accomplished through science. Virtually every night on the news one hears about some kind of scientific breakthrough or discovery. Why then are our expectations unrealistic? I do not believe that they are. J. Michael Bishop seems to want to accept the accomplishments of science without accepting any of the liabilities that those accomplishments may generate.

I can understand his frustration with the criticisms of science. After all he is a scientist. However, his use of inflammatory writing is unnecessary. The Hazards of Science is much more objective than that of Enemies of Promise. Bishop made many good points and strong arguments for the continuation of science without limitations, but his attempt to present opponents of science in a negative light through the use of word structure and negative implications makes the article weaker than it otherwise would have been.

Bishop presents Congressman George E. Brown, Jr.'s suggestion that Congress and the U.S. citizenry should take more of a hand in determining how science is conducted, and in what research gets funded, as something that is very negative. Why? Using the article as my information base, Brown has not suggested outlawing certain kinds of research. Rather, he states that the 'people' should have more say in what gets funded. Isn't that the basic ideal behind democracy? That is to say isn't it at the very heart of the American belief system, that the taxpayers should have a say in where their tax-dollars are going?

I have argued that I do not believe that our expectations of science are too high. However, I do accept that scientists are sometimes limited in the application of how their discoveries are used. Bishop asserts that while, "Science has produced the vaccines required to control many childhood infections in the United States, our nation has failed to deploy properly those vaccines." (237). This is a very valid point. In this regard, scientists can only do so much. Bishop and Thomas both agree that science must continue. Although stated by Bishop, I believe that Thomas would concur with the author's conclusion, "We offer hope for the future but also moral conflict and ambiguous choice. The price of science seems large, but to reject science is to deny the future." (257).

Works Cited

Bishop, J. Michael. "Enemies of Promise." chap. in The Presence of Others: Voices That Call for Response, edited by Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997

Thomas, Lewis. "The Hazards of Science." chap. in The Presence of Others: Voices That Call for Response, edited by Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997
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