Summary of ID1 BioBio Writing Assignments

I. Reaction papers.

What are reaction papers?  The reaction papers are essays, written well with a thesis and logical arrangement of topics, as well as good writing mechanics.  They are to be only 1 page long, single spaced.  The audience is meant to be an informed lay person, such as one of your peers in this course.  The focus is on your reaction to an assigned reading.


Reaction paper 1.  Charles Darwin started life as a religious person but ended up as an agnostic.  Examine this progress and make and argument about how it may have affected his life and science; comment on how it affected his morale when his results were published.  Discuss your own feelings about these matters and compare with Darwin’s if you are comfortable doing so.

Reaction paper 2: Louis Pasteur was confronted with other scientists who believed in a different explanation for disease than Pasteur.  What was his strategy when faced with scientific opposition?  Compare/contrast with a strategy you might have used if faced with such opposition.

Reaction paper 3: What is the driving force for James Watson in science, as he portrays himself in The Double Helix? Explain what you think is his motivation, then illustrate with examples from the book, explaining how you think they show the characteristic you have chosen.

Discuss his writing style and how it affects our perceptions of his character.

Reaction paper 4: Watson and Franklin.  In examining how Watson describes Franklin and characterizes her and how Sayre describes Watson and writes about him, explain how writing can influence the reactions of the readers.  Discuss whether it is possible to know which one is the correct version of events.  Draw a conclusion about the correct version and support it to the extent possible with direct evidence and evidence about character of the two individuals.  Discuss whether or not it is ‘fair’ that McClintock is not a Nobel laureate.

Reaction paper 5.  Barbara McClintock.  McClintock became a scientist in spite of a lack of encouragement on the part of many she encountered.  What were the early experiences or influences that you think lead her to this career choice?  How did she deal with the mid-career treatment she encountered?  Compare/contrast with your own early experiences and their effect on your interest in science.

Reaction paper 6.  Francois Jacob was unusually thoughtful about the roots of his interest in science in his autobiography.  What kind of experiences did he have that were harbingers of his science interest and approach?  What kind of career planning did he do early on?  How did he react to the reality of a major war as a disrupting force?  Would you see your own reactions in any of his?

Reaction paper 7. Francois Jacob worked with different scientists at the Institut Pasteur and was introspective about their approaches to science.  Describe some of the approaches he notes, and then explain what you perceive to be his own approach. Compare/contrast with how you would approach scientific research.

Reaction paper 8.  David Baltimore has won the Nobel prize and arguably has conducted subsequent research that may result in another such recognition.  In his early life, can you see any events or thoughts he had, as reflected in the Crotty biography, that foreshadowed this great scientific success? Compare/contrast with your own life events if you wish.

Reaction paper 9.  David Baltimore was involved in two major ethical issues: the recombinant DNA debate and the controversy over Teresa Imanishi-Kari’s data.  Did he react similarly to the two different ethical situations?  Would you imagine that he had a consistent ethical stance about science from which both of these arose?  Compare and contrast with your own probable reactions, based on your character. 

Reaction paper 10. Peter and Rosemary Grant tried to test Darwin’s predictions about evolution by examining finches on the Galapagos.  They and their collaborators operated under rather severe field conditions.  What kinds of limitations would their conditions have presented to their ability to do research?  Reflect on how you might react if asked to conduct research under similar conditions.

Reaction paper 11. Lydia Villa-Komaroff  (working with Walter Gilbert) and the team of Art Riggs and Keichi Itakura had a race to clone human insulin for treatment of patients as described in Invisible Frontiers.  Discuss how being in such a race affected their behavior.  Would you find such a competition to be stimulating or discouraging?  Discuss how their characters interacted with their behavior in the race as described. 


II.  Long papers for ID1.

A. First long paper.    The paper is to be a 3 page paper developing the ideas in one or more of your reaction papers plus class discussions and your own reflections to date into a longer paper.  In this paper, you should start by proposing a thesis that will make for a strong paper.  It is possible but not necessary to use a thesis from one of your reaction papers.  In the paper, you will analyze the experiences or approaches of the biologists we have studied and if you wish, relate them to your own experience.  Make sure you have an inclusive, strong thesis, development that relates to and supports the thesis, and that your writing is clear and has good mechanics.  The Writing Fellows can assist you to make sure your paper is understandable and well written before you submit it.   This paper is due Thurs, Sept 25.  It will be graded, will receive peer reviews, and will be rewritten and regraded; both grades count.


B.  Second long paper.

Paper is due on Thursday, October 16 and will be graded, peer reviewed, returned for a rewrite, and regraded.  The collection of materials for this paper will begin with the visit to the library by the professor and students on Sept 18 during class time.  It will consist of a 5 page, well organized essay based on one of the topics below or another topic that is preapproved by the instructor.  Each of you will sign up in class for one of these  topics.  In your paper, you need to use (without plagiarism, please review rules for proper paraphrasing and citation of ideas) and cite with correct format, both in the text and in a list of references, 5 different references.  You will probably need to follow up the library visit with more research on your own.  This paper will be graded, submitted to peer review, revised, and regraded.  Both grades count.

Topic list for library research related to second paper

  1. Thomas Hunt Morgan was a geneticist who made many important discoveries.  He is credited with genetic mapping to show the arrangement of genes on chromosomes, which was first proposed by an undergraduate student working in his laboratory at Columbia University, Alfred Sturtevant.  Using the resources of the library (at least 5 sources), write a 5 page paper about the similarities and differences between these two scientists, both in their approaches to science and in prestige and other rewards of their career in science.  Include your own appraisal of how you might compare and contrast with the two. 


  1. Martha Chase, Daisy Roulland-Dussoix , and Esther Lederberg are women who participated in important discoveries in science.  Martha Chase showed that phage genetic material is DNA not protein, Daisy Dussoix discovered  restriction enzymes, and Esther Lederberg invented replica plating, yet each of these discoveries is often credited to the male member of the team (Al Hershey, Werner Arber, and Joshua Lederberg, respectively). Using the resources of the library (at least 5 sources), wirte a 5 page paper that examines how history of science has treated each discovery (generally by Hershey, Arber, and Josh Lederberg) and include your own appraisal of how you might have reacted to the reward struture in each case.  (This one is a challenge!  Feel free to reflect in your paper on why it might be so hard to find relevant information).


  1. Herb Boyer grew up in Latrobe, PA in the financially depressed economy of the area around Pittsburgh during the decline of the steel industry.  He later came to found Genentech, the oldest and on of the most financially stable of the gene technology firms.  Using the resources of the library (at least 5 sources), write a 5 page paper in which you examine how the ideas that later resulted in his ‘invention’ of genetic engineering came to his attention.  Was his huge success later a result of character traits that you can discern in his early life?  Compare his scientific and other qualities with your own and predict whether or not you have the potential to found a major corporation capitalizing on the fruits of science some time in the future.


  1. Lydia Villa-Komaroff went to a small liberal arts college (Goucher College, MD) and went on to participate at Harvard in the race to clone human insulin.  Later in life, she has become an administrator at Northwestern University.  Using the resources of the library (at least 5 sources), write a 5 page paper examining the reasons she went into science, the kind of a scientist she became, and the kind of Dean she has become subsequently.  Compare her career path with that of Barbara McClintock as explained in A Feeling for the Organism, and try to trace the roots of Villa-Komaroff’s decision to become an administrator.  If you wish, compare with your own ideas and feelings about career directions.


  1. James Watson ‘discovered’ the structure of DNA when he was quite young.  He has had a long and productive career following this initial breakthrough.  For example, it was Watson who discovered that all proteins begin with the amino acid methionine, and went on to figure out that methionine must be specified by the translation start codon. Using the library resources (at least 5 sources), write a 5 page paper analyzing  the roots of his governance of the human genome project and deciding how well he accomplished this major project.  Include the competition with Craig Ventor of The Institute for Human Genetics (TIGR).  Show how facets of Watson’s character are reflected in his reactions to this competition and reflect on how you would have reacted in similar circumstances.  You may not count Double Helixas one of your 5 sources, but you may use it as an extra source if you wish.


  1. Francois Jacob is a very introspective person, as shown by his autobiography The Statue Within.  Look for other evidence of his bent towards introspection, and try to discern where this trait came from in his life experiences.  You may refer to the book we read, and at least 5 other sources, to look for wellsprings of his character as a scientist.  In writing the 5 page paper, you may, if you wish, compare and contrast his inward thoughts with those you have or might have had if you had encountered similar experiences.


  1. Edward Just was unable to take for granted his progress as a scientist, because he was an African American and at that time few had become scientists in America.  What were the stages in his career where he faced obstacles based upon race and how did he react according to Black Apollo of Science and 4 other sources?  (Some of the sources can be concerned with duBois or others as a basis for comparison).  Compare/contrast with how you imagine you would have responded to similar obstacles and how a nearly contemporary black intellectual, WEB DuBois, responded. Explain the differences you detect and show whether or not they were necessary to Just’s scientific success.


  1. Seymour Benzer has changed fields many times during the course of his career.  His first experimental triumph was to show that many mutations within the T4 virus’ rII A and B genes could be arranged in a linear order, with multiple mutations at various sites along each gene; this is his classic experiment and the one most geneticists would cite if asked what Benzer did.  His later work on how such traits as aging, behavior, and learning are encoded genetically may turn out to be of much greater importance.  Why do you think he has received less scientific recognition for his later work, exemplified in the book Time, Love, Memory by Jonathan Weiner and 4 other sources?  If you with you can include a discussion on your own reactions: were you to encounter a similar lack of interest and enthusiasm on the part of your colleagues, how might you react?


  1. Nancy Wexler and her father organized many researchers to work productively, rather than competitively, on the nature of the gene defective in Huntington’s chorea.  Using the book Mapping Fate by Alice Wexler (Nancy’s sister) and 4 other sources, decide how this kind of research differed from the typical scientific research with possible medical applications, and how they achieved this kind of cooperation.  If you like, reflect on your own ideas about research: would you prefer competitive or cooperative interactions?  What character traits would make you choose this way?


  1. Rita Levi-Montalcini, trained as a medical doctor, performed a number of her important experiments leading to the discovery of Nerve Growth Factor under far less than ideal circumstances.  Using her autobiography, In Praise of Imperfection and four other sources, and considering her character as shown in your sources, decide why Levi-Montalcini continued to work on scientific experiments during Nazi persecution of Jewish people in Italy in her own bedroom.  If you wish, reflect on what your reaction might have been to the situations in which she found herself.


  1.  Craig Venter challenged the Human Genome Project started by the government to a race to sequence the genome, and many scientists think that without this challenge the genome sequence would still not be finished.  Read The Gene Masters by Ingrid Wiskelgren and 4 other sources and make an argument to support his positive or negative influence on the process.

12. Rosalind Franklin was involved in a good deal of productive research apart from her work on DNA.  Examine her other scientific contributions and decide whether or not she would have considered her work on the x-ray crystallography of DNA to be her most important work.  Argue that her character and scientific taste were or were not responsible for the view that Watson and Crick discovered DNA, using Rosalind Franklin, Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox and four other sources to obtain the facts and insights you need.  You may cite Sayre’s book on Franklin, but it may not be one of your 5 major sources.

C. Third long paper.

The third long paper will be a 7 page paper due on November 13 at the start of class.  In the third paper, you will prepare by interviewing a biologist from Pomona or another nearby institution, chosen from a list discussed in class on Oct 23.  The material you obtain from this interview will be documented as discussed in class and will be compared and contrasted with lives of other biologists you have encountered during the semester’s readings and paper preparations.  This paper is going to show me that you are a great writer, so don’t forget to have a clear thesis and organization, use supporting materials in sufficient quantity, well organized, and described in exciting rather than boring language, and write clearly with good mechanics.  As usual, you may consult the writing fellows for help in polishing your essay.  This paper will be graded before and after peer reviews as the others were.