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A Passion for DNA: Genes, Genomes and Society Hardcover – 13 Sep 2001
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Review from previous edition James D. Watson . . . has always been a man of passion and strong views . . . His writings on the important issues of the day, prepared over a period of more than thirty years and presented in the 25 essays of this wonderful book, are only slightly less provocative than his frequently startling spontaneous remarks. (Bruce Alberts, President, National Academy of Sciences)
In 1953, two young, unknown scientists sparked a worldwide revolution. Studying DNA for clues to the nature of genes, James Watson and Francis Crick deduced its molecular composition - two chains twisted into a double helix - and immediately realized that the structure implied how genes were copied and passed from one generation to the next. Their observation has had extraordinary consequences: the discovery of a genetic code that all living things share and the realization that the code translates into proteins; the ability to alter an organism's genetic make-up; recognition that diseases like cancer begin when genes go wrong; the foundations of a biotechnology industry and the means of cloning plants and animals; a start on cataloguing human genes; and the glimmer of a new kind of medicine that uses DNA therapeutically. In the midst of the ferment, its instigator Jim Watson has been tireless. A principal architect and visionary of the new biology, a Nobel Prize-winner at 34 and best-selling author at 40 (The Double Helix), he had the authority, flair, and courage to take an early and prominent role as commentator on the march of DNA science and its implications for society.In essays for publications large and small, and in lectures around the world, he delivered what were, in effect, dispatches from the front lines of the revolution. Outspoken and sparkling with ideas and opinions, a selection of them is collected for the first time in this volume. Their resonance with today's headlines is striking. As public concern about genetically modified food mounts, here is Watson's salutory reminder, from a previous era of DNA anxiety, that restrictions on potentially rewarding research are justifiable only if there is robust evidence of likely harm. Commenting on the 1970s War on Cancer, he warns that effective leadership of publicly funded research initiatives, such as the current search for an AIDS vaccine, demands the courage to support promising but risky new ideas and prune away anything less than the best. And as the first Director of the Human Genome Project, now approaching its climax, he acknowledges the past evils of eugenics but argues fiercely for the need to balance potential misuses of genetic data with the overwhelming benefits of a rational attack on the roots of disease.These combative pieces mingle with charming memoirs of distinguished former colleagues, advice for young scientist, and a pointed account of Germany's troubled historical relationship with genetics. They open with Watson's reflections on the family influence and values of his Chicago upbringing that helped shape his career. This collection of provocative, optimistic, and entertaining essays begins and ends with elegant commentaries from the distinguished molecular biologist and writer Walter Gratzer. They illuminate a volume that portrays the life and work of a scientist, educator, and author who is acknowledged as an intellectual leader of the twentieth century. See all Product description
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Very well done! Gives an appreciation for how the obvious can be overlooked, and how difficult it is to break out of old ways of thinking. And the man writes very well... and he shares my politics... hes obviously a genius.
Many insights about who did what, who succeded, who fell short. Good short pieces on Luria, Pauling and Hershey. Points out Caltech's shabby treatment of Pauling on his retirement... they didnt like HIS politics!
I hadn't realized that Alex Rich played an important role in studying the structure of DNA and RNA right at the beginning (the 50s) looking for DNA like structure in RNA, (with Watson at caltech) - they didnt find much and were stumped - though Alex later showed that copolymers of RNA can have double helical structure. And did you know that Francis Crick, in 1968, argued that RNA must have been the original genetic molecule... and that it might act as an enzyme catalyzing its own replication! How right he was. Shades of Ribozyme!
So am I making myself clear... buy this book...
However, with all respect, I must point out that Dr. Watson departs from his scientific principals when he promotes his positions in the "...ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of the new resulting genetic knowledge." [Genes and Politics, p.202]. Especially when he concludes "Thus I do not see genetic diseases in any way as an expression of the complex will of any supernatural authority, but rather as random tragedies that we should do everything in our power to prevent. There is, of course nothing pleasant about terminating the existence of a genetically disabled fetus. But doing so is incomparably more compassionate than allowing an infant to come into the world tragically impaired." [Good Gene, Bad Gene, p. 225]. Jim Watson then takes the position that since "terminating the existence of a genetically disabled fetus" is a "good," only "...the potential mother should have this authority.," never the government, ibid. p. 225.
I see no evidence that Dr. Watson has ever studied "ethics" and/or other philosophical positions that utilize principals and methodologies that "scientifically" examine questions concerning the possibility of the existence of "human souls," the possibility of their immortality, and the nature of their origin, i.e., the possibility of their Divine creation. By restricting himself exclusively to the possibility that all there is to human life is "physical" reality studied in his career as "biological reality," it is inevitable that Dr. Watson's ethical positions concerning the "good" for individuals, families and society be measured and evaluated exclusively in terms of the consequences of physical "evils" and other "random tragedies" generated by the "horrors of genetic disease." Ibid. pp. 224-225.
With no demonstrated knowledge of the existence, or proof of the lack of existence, of human souls, their origin and destinies, Dr. Watson is on very shaky ground "scientifically" to be suggesting this type of solution, i.e., termination of the existence of genetically disabled fetuses, for "victims of unlucky throws of the genetic dice." Ibid. p. 224-225.
For those of us who have established "scientifically" and thus have validly established that the human soul is immaterial and what is more, is immortal, and whose existence as an immortal soul is due to the efficient causality of an uncaused cause, i.e., God, our ethical principals support the "compassionate" caring for the genetically deformed by not only the individuals who they are born to but, also as an obligation of society since this care most often exceeds the resources of any one or two individuals. This position can only be understood by those who either have the knowledge of these truths arrived at by the use of reason and logic (philosophy) or by the tenets of a revealed "faith" (scripture and theology). Yes, Dr. Watson, you believe that the "evolutionary process operating under the Darwinian principles of natural selection" is the only explanation for the existence of "human as well as all other forms of life" Ethical Implications, p. 175, precisely because your scientific method is restricted strictly to the material, physical and hence measurable aspects of existence. But have you examined the arguments (including the starting points and methods) of those of us who do see "evidence for the sanctity (holiness) of life."? You certainly don't present and evidence in your essays of this book that you have, you only present a biased assertion.
I agree with Dr. Watson's principal on page 225, Good Gene, Bad Gene, "Working intelligently and wisely to see that good genes - not bad ones - dominate as many lives as possible is the truly moral way for us to proceed." But this principal does not support "terminating the existence of a genetically disabled fetus" but rather more humanly and Divinely supports the hard work of intelligent research and development of technologies that reduces the possibilities of future "unlucky throws of the genetic dice" happening or occurring before conception or that supports life supportive therapies during fetal growth and after birth resulting in the elimination of or the reduction of genetic disease. As Dr. Watson has said in another place, "Good luck with hard work." I second that!