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Scandals of Science: Passion of Love, War and Possibility

Science is notorious. It binds into every part of our being like a double helical DNA. Even when we try to avoid Science, it is always there, lurking in the corners of logic and love, Science always exists. The scandals of Science are hidden in the history we are taught. In classrooms, where half of our minds are sleeping, the scientific history is not something we take seriously. But why should we, right? Why does it matter at all? Isn’t it enough just to know the names that pop up in the quizzes and exams? Unfortunately, I had the same mind-frame. I always skipped the history and jumped into the mechanisms and the facts. I never tried to understand how these mechanisms came to be the mechanisms they were. I never tried to understand the lives of people who loved and lived Science; the people who made it their life’s mission to unravel the true secrets of life.

As notorious as Science is, it is also a story that intertwines beautifully and imperfectly where the contradictions fit and unfit to look like a giant scribble of an insolent child. The stories of the people who made the biggest contributions in science are not that big. In fact, they were normal people: dwindling in insecurities; failing and falling in anxiety; lonely and depressed. There were some who stood in top of their game; who laughed throughout the process; made life-long friends and yodeled in both their success and failure. Some were purely evil.

Mendel’s laws never escape the syllabus of biology if one is a Science student. Like all the students, I was taught how important these laws were as they governed the most essential features of gene when gene was not even discovered yet. However, nobody is ever told about Mendel’s life. How he failed exams after exams on physics, chemistry, geology, botany and zoology in the university in Vienna; how he was denied the position of a teacher in Znaim High School. He did not fail because he did not study. He failed because he was sick from anxiety. “Seized by an unconquerable timidity”, “uninspiring”, “too neurotic” , “arid, obscure and hazy” are some of the terms that have been used to describe Mendel by his colleagues and examiners. Despite all of this, Mendel was an excellent gardener. Siddhartha Mukharjee, the writer of an amazing book called “The Gene- An Intimate History” writes, “Mendel’s life seemed to be filled with the smallest of thoughts. Sow, pollinate, bloom, pluck, shell, count, repeat. The process was excruciatingly dull- but small thoughts, Mendel knew bloomed into large principles. Mendel’s garden plot may have been small- but he did not confuse its size with that of his scientific ambition.” From the small patch of garden, he collected heaps of statistical data, and made them into laws, that would be chunked by the students a day before exams after more than a century! In his time, his findings and data were blatantly ignored by scientists like Charles Darwin. He was discouraged by people he admired and he went on with his life neglecting the plants he loved. He died of kidney failure on January 6, 1884. Mendel’s paper on the laws of heredity disappeared for a long time marking the period as “the strangest silences in the history of biology” until William Bateson read the paper on his train ride to deliver a lecture on heredity at the Royal Horticultural Society in London. William Bateson was nicknamed “Mendel’s Bulldog” for he was fierce as one and had made his life’s mission to ensure that Mendel was never ignored. What followed after the discovery, disappearance and re-discovery of Mendelian laws was the blood curdling scream of Eugenics. The idea that only good, intelligent, beautiful and noble human beings should be present in the earth; only they should be allowed to live and mate; and the ghastly populations who were sick, deformed, ugly and foolish should be sterilized or worse expelled from the world, came from the faulty and unscientific statistical experiments carried out by Francis Galton, who was Charles Darwin’s cousin. This would form a base of the most hideous war in the history. This would fuel the malicious mind of Adolf Hitler who in his order for the Aktion T4 would say, “He who is bodily and mentally not sound and deserving may not perpetuate this misfortune in the bodies of his children. The people’s state has to perform the most gigantic rearing-task here. One day, however, it will appear as a deed greater than the most victorious wars of our present bourgeois era.” Proving that small knowledge is a dangerous thing, the so called “scientists” in this sinister era like Alfred Ploetz, Heinrich Poll and Joseph Mengele performed nasty and horrid experiments on innocent children and adults snatching away thousands of lives. This was the period where genetics was putrefied and used against humanity in the worst possible way. The war ended on September 2, 1945. With its end, the three fundamentals of science: physics, biology and chemistry, no longer were three different subjects.

The basic knowledge of science does not come from experimentation. In fact, it comes from imagination. The first person to imagine the structure of DNA was a quantum theorist named Erwin Schrödinger. Now I know Schrödinger only for his cat experiment that I never understood. But he was the one, who in his famous book called “What is life?” wrote what DNA could look like which was very similar to what DNA looked like!! His book would be later read by two rivals Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, who were responsible for what was called the “most beautiful X ray photographs of any substance (DNA) ever taken.” And by James Watson and Francis Crick, the two best friends who would later play with the models to unveil the structure of DNA. They basically laughed their way to DNA. This fact is to be applauded not appalled because Watson and Crick loved each other as much as they loved their work. Their success came in bits and pieces and they had their fair share of failures. They were scared that the structure of DNA would be first discovered by Linus Pauling who had much more knowledge and expertise and had already discovered the structure of protein. One of the most important things they had was their power of speech. In the history of scientific discoveries, most great scientists are deceived by their own speech. Mendel and Rosalind Franklin are two of the examples. Franklin played the most important role in the discovery of the structure of DNA and her name is not even mentioned in it. This is one of the greatest misfortune and unfairness in Science. According to Watson, “the fault lay in her dispassionate approach to her own data. She did not live DNA” , which is the most faulty assumption in the history of Science. Rosalind Franklin lived every bit of DNA. She was one of the most passionate scientists dark sided by the “Gentlemen’s Club” in King’s College, London. 

I think the most awful mistake we make in life is to not live before we leave. As Science students, if we are to have happy lives, we need to learn to live Science. The world has come a long way from establishing DNA as a stupid molecule to making it a center of life. In a classroom full of boring lectures, where we are fed facts after facts about facts, try to think about all that has happened to lead a way to make you what you are. Try to remember the discoveries you made in life that made you jump with joy. It doesn’t have to be something big. For example: My first discovery was when I accidentally, killed a snail at the age of 7 and later that evening I saw an army of ants eating it. I am not a bad person but discovering that ants could eat snails somehow made me really happy! What was your first discovery? Science is notorious as it can be but Science is also what you make of it. It can be stories and poems or analysis and experiments. It is up to you how you define Science. It is up to you how you use your knowledge to help erase the scornful deeds of humanity because you have got all the power in the world. Your genes have escaped a horror of eugenics, your genes have followed Mendelian laws which makes you so much closer to him, the particles of your genes could have been in that most beautiful X-ray photograph. So, go on and imagine the possibility where impossibility does not exist!

 

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2 thoughts on “Scandals of Science: Passion of Love, War and Possibility

  1. “The basic knowledge of science does not come from experimentation. In fact, it comes from imagination.” I thought this piece was brilliant! Informative, full of beautiful tributes to great minds, and a very lovely perspective on science and life. It reads like you put a lot of effort into this piece, and it shows. Good job!

    Like

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