Science as a way of knowing: A narrative about community and connectedness

Year: 2008

Author: Jane, Beverley

Type of paper: Refereed paper

In this paper the nature of science is examined through the narrative of unconventional scientist Barbara McClintock. Her initial groundbreaking work in maize cytogenetics earned her a place among the leaders in genetics and she was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 1944 and became the first woman President of the Genetics Society of America in 1945. Despite such recognition, her classic paper detailing the function of the nucleolar organizer region was in the main not registered by the biological community. For several reasons, as Barbara's discoveries became more complex, the scientific community lost interest in her papers. The reasons for her ineffectiveness at getting her new findings accepted by the scientific community are discussed. Though her research was often dismissed as wildly unorthodox, she pursued it, making discoveries that changed the map of modern genetics. In 1983 she was awarded the individual Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine. As a scientist Barbara treated the organisms she studied as her friends and she felt a connectedness to nature. She appreciated a naturalist's approach to research and predicted a paradigm shift that would emphasise relationship and connectedness. This paper was informed by socio-cultural-historical theory with the narrative of Barbara McClintock being generated by using Rogoff's three planes of analysis. On the individual plane, the personal lens enabled a description of the influences that shaped her personality in the early years, including interactions with family members. The interpersonal lens revealed her relationships with her peers in various institutions where she carried out her scientific endeavours. The community lens identified how the scientific community reacted to her scientific discoveries and radical theories. This narrative of Barbara, as a non-stereotypical scientist, is useful in the classroom because it helps students to understand that doing science is far more than an objective, dispassionate and disconnected process.