Friday, December 4, 2009

Thoughts on "Race for the Double Helix"

After viewing the video: "Race for the Double Helix" respond to:

1.) Watson and Crick clearly made use of the ideas and results of other scientists research in pursuing their goal, including work by Linus Pauling, Erwin Chargaff and Rosalind Franklin. Sharing of knowledge is a foundation of scientific investigation. It has been suggested that the use of Rosalind Franklin’s information without her permission or knowledge was unethical on the part of Watson and Crick. Do you agree or disagree? Was Pauling’s and Chargaff’s information also used improperly? Thoughts?

2.) Rosalind Franklin was a meticulous lab scientist who avoided any sort of speculation. She relied on hard evidence – the factual data – before drawing any conclusions. Watson and Crick on the other hand, did no labor-intensive research and merely postulated a possible structure for DNA. Was Watson and Crick’s approach to solving the problem “less scientific” than Franklin’s? Do you think there is value in scientific speculation? Here is a link to a nice blog post in the New York Times that might help you think about this issue.


  1. Under normal circumstances, using someone else's data with out their permission can be seen as steeling. Franklin worked very hard to obtain her highly valuable data, so if Franklin didn't give that data to Watson and Crick, they should not have used it. That being said, the movie suggests that Franklin held a seemingly public meeting at which she told a large group of scientists what she had been finding. Under these circumstances, it does not seem highly immoral to use the data, since she had announced it at a meeting. Still, it would have been courteous for Crick and Watson to have asked her permission first.

    Although the playful, joking approach that Crick and Watson are portrayed as taking in the movie can certainly been seen as less scientific, their methods were not inferior to Franklin's. Speculation and Experimentation are both very different and equally important parts of the scientific process. Without Franklin's meticulous experimentation, Crick and Watson, may never have figured out the true structure of DNA, but without Crick and Watson's creative guesswork, Franklin may very well not have ever figured out DNA's structure either. Creativity was needed to make such a radical discovery.

  2. I think that in essence the act of taking their information is little more than theft but that information was out there to build upon and to formulate ideas from. Whether Franklin’s work was copy-written is up to her and legally I think its alright but it is still stealing and that she should have been cited and acknowledged with permission but I think that people nowadays still recognize her work which is something. I think they should have worked on it with her supervision or permission but fundamentally it is alright.

    Having read the post, and the opinions presented in the video, I think that both are reasonable scientific approaches to coming to a conclusion. While Franklin’s work was extensive and time-consuming, a discovery cannot rely solely by facts, I think there needs a certain amount of creativity and innovation. Franklin tried to use her facts to support her predetermined idea and not the other way around.

  3. Olivia Judson reports that "The picture was shown to Watson without Franklin’s knowledge." I think that in this case, Watson and Crick are not unethical to use the data and information that they happened to come across. I think that it is not as though they are taking credit for Franklin's extensive work with x-ray diagrams, since, as Gina mentions, Franklin is still widely recognized for her data. (It's all for the advancement of science/knowledge.)The article seems to suggest that Franklin was stuck in a purely fact-based base of thought which prohibited her from "adopt(ing) a more intuitive, speculative approach", which, in all likelihood, would have yielded the correct conclusions that the more imaginative Watson and Crick surmised. I think there is a lot of value in scientific speculation; it is a way of freeing ourselves from the “facts, facts, facts” driven thought processes that scientists tend to get sucked into.

  4. 1. I do not entirely agree that the use of Rosalind Franklin's information without her permission is unethical. If the information is out there, under most circumstances it should be used. It is unfortunate for Franklin because she couldn't solve the mystery right before eyes, but Watson and Crick were the better scientists at solving the mystery; the genius of Watson and Crick definitely overshadows any unethical views.

    2. Watson and Crick proved that there is plenty value to speculating. Franklin was not willing to change and play with any of her ideas, while Watson and Crick were. In this case, Watson and crick's open, adoptive method was more affective in finding the result.

  5. I do not think it is unethical though I believe they should have given her much more credit. I think that what Crick and Watson did was very logical. It makes sense to piece together what everyone has come up with to make the final conclusions. Individuals working on an experiment need a second pair of eyes to look over what they have done and piece it with other information. It seems unfair in many ways because they simply ‘stole’ the work of Franklin though in a way it had to be done to figure out the larger picture.

    I definitely do not think Crick and Watson’s approach was less scientific. It actually seems more scientific in certain ways like the article quoted, “sometimes imagination is more important than knowledge” It doesn’t matter if you know all the little details because you have to go beyond that and discover something completely different in many cases. There is definitely value in scientific speculation because the answer will not always come through detailed research. What you are discovering could rely on evidence that has yet to be discovered therefore if you only rely on the facts you will never come up with the solution.

  6. I agree with the consensus that it wasn't unethical for Watson and Crick to use Rosalind's work. I do think that a huge amount of their work and ideas came from Rosalind's DNA images, and I think the three of them need to be acknowledge equally for discovery because without Rosalind's work I doubt Watson and Crick would have been able to make a breakthrough. But on the other hand I think it was perfectly fine for them to use Rosalind's work because as she herself said, scientists all stand on the shoulders of each other and without the support and data of other scientists we would hardly have anything. The only problem I have with Watson and Crick's use of other scientist's information is their secret manner of collecting it. They purposefully waited for Rosalind to leave her work before they attempted to look at her data and a similar patten was used to get the pairings of A-G and C-T.

    I think while Watson and Crick's method of discovery could be considered less scientific or labor intensive, it is equally as important as laboratory work. It is true that after spending hours and hours methodically researching DNA Rosalind was able to discovery quite a bit about its structure, yet there were basic pieces of the structure and evidence she was missing. In these cases, it takes scientists who are able to stand back and look at everything in perspective and as a whole and piece everything together in this way.

  7. Connor Townsend

    1)Yeah, I thought it was unethical for them to use her data. She had been working for months to collect all of her findings. They didn't even bother to ask her if she was alright with it. They took her work and made it their own. That's pretty much plagarism.

    2)I don't think their approach was any less scientific. They took a pile of broad ideas and filtered them until they had the one that works. They may not have put as much labor in, but I don't think guesswork and speculation could be called "not scientific.

  8. 1) Watson and Crick should have extended common courtesy to Franklin and asked her permission for her work before taking and using it. However, their motives were simply to improve science, which in effect is the goal of all research scientists, so it was not necessarily unethical for them to do so.
    However, the manner in which they obtained work from scientists, such as the one that speculated about the A-T, C-G base pairings, could be seen as being underhanded, and they probably should have given these scientists, especially Franklin, more credit for their work.

    2) I don't believe that Watson and Crick's scientific speculation method is any less scientific than Franklin's data centered science. Without Watson and Crick's ability to speculate and think outside of the box, they would never have discovered the structure of DNA, although statistically their method was less foolproof than that of Franklin's. I think that both methods are necessary to improve and further science.

  9. 1. I do not think Waton's and Crick's using of Franklin's data was necessarily unethical. At least throughout the film, none of the characters were claiming her data to be their own. That may be a result of the filmmaker's wanting to bestow Franklin with due credit, so perhaps we are understanding her data as having been accredited to her more than it actually was. However, she seemed more concerned with retrieving data than piecing it together. Collaboration is a vital part of scientific research, and the fact that Franklin is so recognized today as a factor in understanding DNA shows that enough credit must have been given to her to warrant her significant recognition in the scientific world.

    2. Both are vital in discovering accurate things, and neither more "scientific" Science and scientific research is without a doubt based on many hard facts, but at the same time, a countless number of very strong theories. Even though we may take many of these theories for granted, it still requires a certain amount of creativity and openness in discovering them. Darwin, for example, had an idea as radical as DNA (possibly even more so, as he had even fewer facts to prove it.) Science, especially a type that requires delving into new territory, requires a strong sense of ingenuity and hypothetical work to give research a direction. If facts can be used to provoke and sustain the subsequent theories, as in the case of Watson's and Crick's DNA model, it is almost the paradigm of scientific study.

  10. In the film, the idea of borrowing scientific information from others is heavily brought up. Rosalind herself admits that “we all stand on each others’ shoulders.” In short, she agrees that sharing information amongst the science community is okay. However it is also brought up that science is both universal yet territorial. Watson and Crick did borrow from Franklin, which under fair circumstances, would seem okay. If they had asked her permission to borrow her work and ideas and then build off of them, then it would be reasonable for them to use her knowledge. However, they borrowed her information for somewhat selfish reasons. Watson seems to be driven by competition and an uncanny desire to be ahead of his rivals. He then takes others’ information in attempts to be one step ahead. This is not an ethical reason to steal ideas. They steal ideas from Chargraff when Crick writes his theory on his hand. This borrowing of information is unethical and nothing short of intellectual plagiarism.

    Neither approach is more or less scientific than the other. Franklin used the experimental, Scientific method of science to come to her conclusion. She used experiments and calculations to gather information and then hypothesized what the data mean. Watson and Crick skipped right to the hypothetical side of science. Watson and Cricks’ methods are not less scientific, however they are less involved.

  11. I agree that it was unethical to use Rosalind Franklin’s research without her permission. I also think they misused Pauling’s and Chargaff’s information in the sense that if someone is going to borrow research and build off of it, they should at least have a conversation with the people they are borrowing it from and maybe share some of their research in return. I don’t think that a scientist needs to ask for information in order to use it b/c with this restriction there is the danger that everyone may selfishly keep their research to themselves and science would go nowhere. I think that if you borrowing someone’s research they at least deserve a conversation telling them of the borrowing which neither Franklin, Pauling or Chargaff got.
    I think there are positives and negative to both research techniques. Speculative research I think is the better method because I think great discoveries usually occur from taking information from other observations into account and then constantly reassessing the hypothesis. Even if you speculate and you are wrong, at least you learn something, but by taking very few risks, you are not learning as much about the topic and what might or might not work.

  12. 1. I agree that it was unethical for Watson and Crick to take Rosalind Franklin's information without her consent or knowledge. That said, the sharing of scientific information is essential to making new discoveries; as seen in this movie, data can be interpreted in a different way if viewed through a new perspective. I don't think Rosalind Franklin had a right to keep the information to herself for an indefinite amount of time, but as the scientist who came up with the data she should have had exclusive rights to come to a conclusion. So far, the movie's been unclear about whether Franklin received credit for her x-ray diagrams. If she did not, then Watson and Crick's conduct was absolutely unethical. But if Watson and Crick acknowledged where they got the data from, then while their methods would still be sketchy, I don't think situation would be as bad. It was slightly difficult to tell if Pauling's document had been published when Watson and Crick saw it, but considering they used the connection through Pauling's son it probably wasn't. Analyzing a scientist's findings, without their permission, before they are published is also unethical. But Chargaff volunteered his information. Yes it was at a party, which was hardly ideal, but he still directly told Crick. It would have been proper for this to be conducted in a scientific setting with the supporting data displayed, but at least the information was not taken without his knowledge. In general, though, I don't think Watson and Crick properly used the information from these three sources, but the level of severity strongly depends on whether they cited these scientists in their work.

    2. I think both methods (Franklin's and Watson and Crick's) had scientific value because they both had to be used to reach a conclusion. Rosalind Franklin's scientific process is more admirable, because she worked with the hard facts. If one believes that the journey is more important than the destination, her methods certainly have more scientific value. On the other hand, Franklin did not reach a conclusion; that was achieved by the speculative genius of Watson and Crick. What is not scientifically legitimate is that the credit was disproportionately given to Watson and Crick. Those who actually do the work play just as important a role.

  13. 1. I think that it is unethical to steal someone else's information without their permission, yet it was necessary for Watson and Crick to use Rosalind's information in discovering DNA. It does seem unfair that their names are the ones that are put in the history books and they are the ones that won the Noble Prize. If Watson and Crick properly cited Franklin then yes, it would have been okay. It just seems like Franklin does not receive enough credit for her meticulous research and long hours in the lab. But Franklin did not have the same innovation that Watson and Crick had, she was stuck in the lab, needing concrete factual evidence, so Watson and Crick's interpretation of her information was necessary in discovering DNA.
    2. I don't think that any one method that is "less scientific." Although Franklin was the one who devoted her time in the lab and did all of the tedious work, Watson and Crick interpreted her information. Franklin was stuck in the facts and she may have never arrived at the conclusion that Watson and Crick came to. It was their scientific speculation and their guess work that gave us our model of DNA. So although the two methods extremely differ, neither is superior to the other.

  14. 1. This is a strange conflict. While Watson and Crick did not make any advances towards asking Franklin to use any of her data, they certainly didn't claim it as their own, which, had they done so, would have definitely been branded as unethical. However, I do believe that it would have been more courteous had they asked Franklin to use her work. However, because her work was crucial towards the creation of the model of DNA's structure, I think that it was more helpful than harmful that they used her work (and, given Franklin's portrayal in the movie, I'm not sure she would have acquiesced to their request).

    2. Having read the post and reflected on scientific speculation, I come to the following conclusion: that Watson and Crick simply collected, to put it coarsely, parts of the puzzle and made them fit where other people were unable to. I don't believe it was necessarily "less scientific" - Watson, Crick, and Franklin all approached the matter with the same degree of seriousness, and, had Watson and Crick merely spent time in the laboratory, we perhaps would not have the model of DNA. No one method supersedes the other.

  15. Rosalind did a lot of work to achieve her findings on DNA, and while Watson and Crick didn't do the amount of work that she did, I don't think that they stole her data. Rosalind's ideas were somewhat out in the open; if she did not want someone to take her ideas, she should have published her findings. But Watson and Crick should have given her a lot of credit.

    I think that both of their processes were scientific, but they each did different parts. Rosalind filled in the key details about DNA, and Watson and Crick (with the aid of Rosie's data) established the overall details about the DNA, such as shape and bonds, etc. The scientific process takes both observations and a lot of guessing, so I feel that both sides did scientific work.

  16. 1) Although it may seem unethical and wrong to take someone's information and use it, Watson and Crick were justified in using Rosalind's evidence. The system of each scientist doing their own independent research without collaboration does not make and sense, and only holds back opportunities for new scientific discovery. By not following the faulty system of the time, and putting various information together, Crick and Watson were able to come up with a model of DNA.

    2)Speculation is extremely important for creating new ideas and theories of science. You must be able to hypothesize and think about what could be true in order to make progress. Even if some of these ideas are proven wrong, some of them could lead to new ideas. If Crick and Watson did not speculate, they would have never discovered the structure of DNA

  17. 1)I disagree with the idea that the use of Rosalind Franklin’s information without her permission was unethical. I feel like Watson and Crick owe her credit since she was responsible for the ideas they used. However, they made such advances in the scientific world that it was worth taking someone else’s information. I believe that eventually, Rosalind Franklin would have to allow others to use her information. Otherwise,it would be impossible to develop further ideas.

    2)Watson and Crick’s approach to solving the problem was not “less scientific” than Franklin’s. If anything, their method was more
    scientific since they were able to develop ideas faster than Rosalind was able to. They did not use a traditional approach. I agree with the
    blog post from the New York Times that discusses the amount of imagination and creativity it takes to come up with new ideas that will give scientists what they're looking for.

  18. I think that there is certainly an unethical aspect to the way that Watson and Crick went about gathering their information, especially regarding the information of Rosalind Franklin. The evidence and pictures were products of her hard work and she should have the right to control who views her results and when. That being said, however, I believe that Rosalind should have been more open in sharing her results because a HUGE part of science is collaboration with others to achieve some greater understanding of our planet. I think that the information that Watson and Crick used from Pauling and Chargaff was gathered in a more acceptable manner because they didn't sneek around behind the scientists backs to look at their results.

    I think that Rosalind's method of practicing science, a method based on hard facts and prior knowledge, is definitely important. I also think, however, that scientific speculation is an equally important way of discovering knew things and solving scientific problems. Sometimes you have to let go of what you know and try rearranging the facts to find answers. Watson and Crick were able to find the solution and then work backwards to see why it works out. The article in the New York Times makes a viable point that if science is solely built upon what we know, it is sometimes hard to move forward and make new discoveries. Sometimes you have to leap into the unknown in order to find new answers. Much of the discoveries that have shaped today's scientific world were built on part evidence and part speculation or educated guessing.

  19. 1. While I personally feel a little begrudged on Franklin's part, I don't think it is unethical for Watson and Crick to use information that they was out there for them to use--or at least, other scientists were aware that she had been closely documenting her results and findings in a journal. However, I do think that the discovery should be credited to her as well--not just acknowledged. True, Watson and Crick borrowed a lot of other scientist's ideas and data, but the movie suggested that their epiphany came about as a result of Franklin's data.

    2. Both Franklin's and Watson and Crick's methods were equally scientific--they represented the opposites of a spectrum. Neither method is more scientific than the other, however, both intensive lab work and Watson/Crick's "just bulid it" method are required in order to have the most productivity. Watson and Crick's creative genius was key to discovering the structure of DNA, but their prediction was dependent upon years and years of work by other scientists in the lab. Likewise, their method is necessary for science to continue to expand and come up with new ideas. Sometimes, the repetition of lab work confines a person and cuts off their ability to think outside the box.

  20. 1) I don't believe that Watson and Crick's actions qualify as plagiarism, because they made no claims to the discoveries themselves; instead, they tinkered with the information floating around on the academic scene and came to a logical conclusion regarding the structure of DNA. Although it was not wholly ethical to make use of Franklin's ideas without her knowledge and approval, one could say that Rosalind Franklin was in a sense behaving in a more unethical way than were Watson and Crick--she was deliberately witholding information that, if released, could significantly benefit society as a whole. Accurate understanding of DNA's structure has contributed greatly to the progress of science and medicine, and because of this, has saved many lives. If Watson and Crick had been content to sit idly by while other scientists endangered the future wellbeing of society by refusing to share their evidence, our world might be very different today.

    2) Yes, Rosalind Franklin's approach was more technical that Watson and Crick's, but there is much more to science than mere technicality. In order to progress in the field of science, we need both creative thinkers and producers of hard data. Creative thinkers would be completely useless were their hypotheses unsupported by any data, and lab scientists would make few new discoveries if they restricted themselves from drawing any new conclusions from their evidence.

  21. 1.) I think it was slightly unethical for Watson and Crick to use Rosalind Franklin’s information without her permission or knowledge only because what Watson and Crick were doing was not the normal way of finding answers in science and because it was not Rosalind Franklin who showed them her results. They went around talking to other scientists and taking their data and crossing it with other scientist’s data to see where there were overlaps. This was how they came up with the double helix idea. Rosalind Franklin had found good evidence and Watson and Crick sort of stole it. I think it would have been more acceptable had they asked Franklin. I don’t think Pauling and Chargaff’s information was used immorally because they gave them their research, Watson and Crick didn’t “steal” it.
    2.) Watson and Crick’s approach to solving the problem was not normally how scientists of their era would have come to conclusions about research they found but there is no value in scientific speculation. Watson and Crick used a fairly good method; they went around to the smartest people in their field and gathered the data they had discovered and put it all together to see where things overlapped and where there were holes that needed more research. I don’t think there is value is scientific speculation because they did combine all of the work they collected to form their own hypothesis.

  22. This is Nick

    1. I would disagree for the simple fact that they attempted to give credit to Franklin and recognized the importance of her role within the discovery. It was perhaps a bit discourteous that they used the results without her permission, though Watson had attempted to propose his speculative ideas to her (and been subsequently told off and dismissed). However, Franklin's work, along with that of Paulling and Chargoff, was, to some extent, public information, much of which had been published, and which was widely considered to be open for examination and "building upon". Thus, while I believe that while the two men may have owed Franklin an apology for using the information without approval, I do not view their use of the data as "stealing".
    2. I would not call it a "less scientific" approach-in fact, they're mode of work was tied heavily to the idea of the "scientific method". Their work involved previous knowledge of chemical properties and a series of hypotheses that they attempted to search for kinks in; speculative work, but speculative work that contained worthwhile thought. I believe that some of the greatest scientific discoveries have come from imagining a theory and taking a "jump" to test it out: if an idea sparks interest, pursue it rather than continue to go through each bit of data meticulously. Some of Einstein;s greatest breakthroughs were uncovered this way: preexisting knowledge drove him to make speculative hypotheses about physics and light and to test out kinks in these hypotheses, rather than examine lists of statistics and results like a catalogue.