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THE HUMAN SIDE OF SCIENCE / Susan Allport THE HUMAN SIDE of science. It's a little like the Emperor's new clothes. It must exist. Science, after aU, is a thing made by humans, and its history is crowded with examples of how such human wrinkles as ambition, competition, personal likes and dislikes have punctuated its course. But whUe The Double Helix went far in dispelling any view of science as an impersonal, completely rational endeavor, many scientists are still of the opionion that the human side of science is best ignored, that it is, in the end, irrelevant to the progress of science itself. "Competition is just one of the things that keeps scientists going. It is not in itself important," is not an uncommon thing for a scientist to say. Or, "Competition and personaUties—that's the trivial side of science, the episcience. I'm just not interested in it." Sociologists of science are familiar with these kinds of remarks; so are science writers. They have the immediate effect of steering a conversation away from any discussion about the interactions of scientists, and taken individually, they give the very favorable impression that the investigators making them are far too absorbed in the business of discovering truths about the natural world to be bothered with the intricacies of human nature. With repetition, though, they acquire a different meaning and seem to be part of a pattern of resistance or denial, a pattern characterized by what sociologist of science Robert Merton has referred to as scientists' constantattempts to dismiss as trivial matters ofundeniable importance. Merton encountered this denial often in his work, so often that he developed a rule of thumb about how it can be used to predict a priority dispute. Whenever a book about a scientist announces that he or she had no interest in priority of discovery, Merton tells us to expect to find that scientist embroiled in a priority dispute not too many pages later. As a science writer, I also have heard many such protestations of disinterest; I really began to wonder about the reasons behind them when I found myself in the middle of what had been a weU-muted priority dispute and when one scientist's attitude towards discussing competition and priority threatened to prevent me from carrying out a project that I had embarked upon, that of writing a book about the research and interactions of a smaU, competitive field of neurobiology. The field I was interested in is the field of invertebrate learning. It THE MISSOURI REVIEW · 262 consists of those investigators who are using invertebrates—insects, snaUs and slugs—to study the ceUular basis of such higher mental processes as learning and memory. Eric Kandel, one of the highestranking professors at Columbia University and a senior investigator of the Columbia-based Howard Hughes Institute ofMolecular Biology, is the father of this field and a great popularizer of the idea that animals with simple nervous systems can be used to ask questions about the brain's higher functions. In the twenty-five years that Kandel has been experimenting with the large, shell-less sea snaU Aplysia (a creature not known for its learning capabilities but whose nervous system has the advantage of being built, as one neurobiologist has said, "Uke an old Philco radio, with simple circuits and large easUy identifiable parts"), he has been enormously successful in decoding what he calls Aplysia's "molecular alphabet of learning", the cellular and molecular basis of such fundamental forms of learning as habituation, sensitization, and, most recently, associative conditioning. In the process, Kandel has created a large research center and has won the prestigious Lasker Award, which could be called the New Hampshire primary of the scientific world because of the great percentage of its recipients who have gone on to win a Noble Prize. Kandel received the award not long after he and three of his colleagues discovered that a stunning biochemical mechanism seemed to be the basis for Aplysia's abUity to undergo associative conditioning, the process whereby an animal learns to associate two events or stimuli—Sigmund Freud's food and the ringing of a bell, for example. Since Kandel...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 161-167
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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