History of the Double Helix

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The History of the Double Helix

In our study of the sociology of science, reading James Watson's account of the discovery of the structure of DNA in The Double Helix gives us an insight into how science works as a "collective activity." To illustrate how the norms of science work through this description of events I chose specifically to look at the system of hierarchy among the scientists, how the scientists share information between labs, and how credit is allocated when the findings are published. By looking at these three topics and also comparing them to Robert Merton's Ethos of Science, I will be showing the inner trappings of how the society of scientists functions.

In the scientific community during the 1950's, there was a definite hierarchical system of power and prestige in place. The base of the structure is the lab where the scientists conduct their research and their experiments. Each lab has anywhere from one head scientists to a group of them who determine the direction that the lab is going to take. The head scientists are also the authorities on who may do research and on which topics; the other scientists working at the lab must gain the permission of the lab head in order to start working on or to continue working on a specific field or idea. The issue of attaining permission from the head of their lab was one that Watson and Crick faced time and time again. Crick, for instance had to gain and re-gain permission countless times from the head of his lab, Sir Lawrence Bragg, to work on the DNA model rather than on his thesis. On one such occasion, after an upset visit from the scientists from the King's lab, "the decision was thus passed on to Max that [Crick] and [Watson] must give up DNA." (61) The hierarchy is not only constrained to each individual lab but between labs as well. The more findings, discoveries, and publications the scientists at a particular lab acquire, the more notoriety that particular lab incurs. When one individual...
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