Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Some of us might have assumed (I sure did!) that the discovery of DNA is a history of a singular, objective scientific breakthrough. Watson’s personal account of this experimental process, however, suggests a discovery story that involves as much politics and personalities as it does numerical data. How can Kuhn’s theory of incommensurability (attached) be applied to Watson’s account of the discovery of DNA? In what ways do Kuhn’s theory and the text itself, which both have implications of subjectivity, challenge The Scientific Method?

Standard empirical theory's, though transitory are usually built on what is available. It almost feels as though the Scientific Method is discounted due to the transmutibility of data and ideas over time. Science is built on this premise. Theories are what they are defined as. Data is as solid as what is defined within the given equations. It seems as though Kuhn is trying to make an argument that perception is the outlying factor on which theories take precedence at the time due to umbrella effect of whatever paradigm is in favor at that moment and that when the paradigm shifts so does the perceptions of 'good' theories. But this creates the idea of 'incommensurable; theories are comparable but not by common measures so different approaches have to be taken to view them together.

This being said with the DNA discovery, most of the commonalities between Kuhn's argument and the book are in regards to the political aspects and the paradigm/perception situation. The way the various 'sciences' came together or overlapped (such as biology, physics and chemistry) show an interesting problem that arose while the Watson and Co. raced to unravel DNA into a comprehensive theory. These schools incorporate both the idea of Methodological incommensurability and perception. Obviously perception differentiations are going to create non objective data. Perception is variable. The only specific aspect of this that truly matters is when it comes to the prevailing paradigm that is the ruling idea. Here perception can come in as a factor when it conflicts directly with the currently accepted "model". But for the various players within the DNA race they each brought methods that at times seemed not to share common measures or became an issue to the distinctions made by their perceptions. Rosy , Maurice, Watson and Francis were all studying similar xray crystallization patterns, yet they all approached it differently and their views and out comes, at times, were vastly different (helix vs non helix pattern for instance). This factor was a major component of the development of DNA. Further problems were created with the paradigm set by Bragg and at times the governing board that dictated what funds were going to be given to Watson. These political factors delayed and deterred both Francis and Watson.


  1. Interesting, you always make me think more than I believe is necessary at times.

  2. Great point. You express your ideas with great feeling. Cheers.

  3. Interesting ideas. Another good post my friend:)

  4. I'm sorry, but I'm a grammar Nazi... *theories.