Friday, October 24, 2014

Lewontin prompt 2

Brooke Kihle

Professor Johns

Seminar in Composition


An organism, an environment, a relationship

                Throughout the entire book, “Biology as Ideology” Lewontin tries to explain the misconceptions of modern science. He is continually frustrated in how biologist especially modern day scientists view the world or more specifically organism. The main key points Lewontin expresses, are that an organism is formed through their environment and thus dependent upon each other; as well as the ever constant change of both-evolution. There are many misconceptions deemed scientifically factual that Lewontin tries to disprove. These misconceptions play out in the real world, for example with genetically modified insecticide and foods. From the New York Times, Andrew Pollack, wrote in his article Genetic Weapon Against Insects Raises Hope and Fear in Farming about the benefits and consequences of a new form of pesticide called RNA interference that zones in on specific harmful pests based off their RNA coding thus saving beneficiary insects. This supports Lewontin’s theories that nature and environment are dependently linked because of experiments like modifying an insects RNA directly modifies the insect’s environment, in this case corn growth. The common misconceptions of modern scientist- organisms are independent of their environment, are proven incorrect by Lewontin through experiments like the one in this article.

                First, in order to understand how and why Lewontin’s theories are scientifically correct you need to understand why the common misconceptions of scientists are wrong. There are 3 main misconceptions specifically on organisms and their correlation to environment that Lewontin detects. First that of Jean Baptiste Lamarck who believed that the environment an organism lived in would inevitable change and evolve it. This led us to believe that there were parts of our environment that we do not control, cannot influence. I think global warning in itself shuts Lamarck up pretty quickly. Next is Charles Darwin completely opposing Lamarck with the theory that organisms and environment are independent of one another. His famous theory of the “survival of the fittest” was based off this idea that an organisms was faced with an environment and had to adapt or would die, evolution therefore was caused from organisms adaption but not directly their environment’s factors. However this can be disproven just like Lamarck’s; how can global warming occur if we have no effect on our environment? Lastly, we have the theory of Lewontin’s. The idea of Darwin, beautifully put by Lewontin was “the first step and we have become frozen there” (Lewontin 109). He believes that there are 3 main bases of organisms and environmental relationship; summed up they are in fact dependent on each other.

                In addition, we need to evaluate Lewontin’s theory to fully understand what he’s trying to prove in “Ideology as Biology”. His 4 rules to organism-environment dependency can be stated as the following: “real relation between organisms and environment is that environments do not exist in the absence of organisms but are constructed by them out of bits and pieces of the external world” (Lewontin 113), “we cannot live without changing the environment” (Lewontin 115),  “Organisms determine the statistical nature of the environment at least as far as it has an influence on themselves” (Lewontin 115), and “organisms actually change the basic physical nature of signals that come to them from the external world” (Lewontin 116). The first rule can be explained through Lewontin’s example of a mosquito and human. Humans have an atmospheric layer covering our bodies that create a warm boundary layer for mosquitos when they feed on flesh. However, a major factor of evolution is an increase in size and as mosquitos get bigger they will eventually outgrow this layer and place them in an entirely “new world”. This shows that an environment is not made dependently from an organism but is in fact created by them. The second rule is shown through organism-organism relation. Every organism is constantly changing the world through consumption and production-our literal waste is another organism’s energy source. A quote from the book (my personal favorite) describes this process to be scientifically true, ‘Remember, no matter how cruel and nasty and evil you may be, every time you take a breath you make a flower happy’ (Mort Sahl- Lewontin 114). Next, the third rule is proven by “the way animals and plants store sunlight” for example potatoes and acorns are both storage capsules for their own reproduction and can also be used for other organisms like a squirrel storing away acorns in the winter. Lewontin is basically trying to state that these changes in the environment are directly transformed by organisms. Lastly and I feel most importantly the fourth rule can be proven just as simply as Lamarck can be disproven- global warming.

                Finally, the article Genetic Weapon Against Insects Raise Hope and Fear in Farmers is a great experimental example to support Lewontin. The use of RNA interference (RNAi) is to kill harmful pest that kill crops like corn while saving those that are beneficiary to the plant. The fear is that this new “pesticide” could also harm the beneficiary insects and inevitably humans. The science behind RNAi is that it creates a natural double stranded genetic code that acts as if the cell has encountered a virus- silencing the corresponding sequence and therefore deactivating it. This plays major roles in pest like the corn rootworm who have become impervious to pesticides by hopefully, naturally killing these pests and saving major crop supply. How this comes to play with Lewontin is specifically the corn rootworm and RNAi. The rootworm not only changes its environment- destroys corn growth but evolves from the environment to be immune to insecticide. While, the RNAi changes the environment by eliminating the corn rootworm and there increasing crop growth. This new environment will thrive in helpful growth stimulation producing more beneficiary pests and inevitably eliminating harmful insecticide and with it the insects. This gives insight to all of Lewotin’s theories and scientifically proves him correct which is what Lewontin has been shouting to us the entire time.

                In conclusion, there have been many misconceptions from scientist on the idea of relation between organisms and their environment. With the transformation from Lamarck to Darwin to Lewontin’s theories we can evolve from these modern biologist misconceptions and deem Lewontin scientifically correct. Based off his 4 main rules of dependent relation of an organisms and an environment and the experiment proof from research found in Pollack’s article, Lewontin’s thesis can be stated for once and all as fact.
Works Cited:
 Lewontin, Richard C. Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA. NY: Harper Perennial, 1992. Print.

 Pollack, Andrew. "Genetic Weapon Against Insects Raise Hope and Fear in Farmers". New York Times, NY. January 27, 2014.

1 comment:

  1. In your introduction your topic seems fine, although your actual argument is a little vaguely expressed. Also, your proofreading is horrific - some sentences are hard to understand there are so many mistakes.

    Your 2nd paragraph is an awful lot better. Your argument could still be clarified a little, but your tight focus on what is most signficant in Lewontin is genuinely good. With a slightly clearer thesis, you could have just touched this up and cut the 1st paragraph entirely.

    The third paragraph is overdone. I don't doubt that some of this material was necessary - and you certainly have a great grasp on a certain thread within Lewontin's thought. The problem is that you only hastily summarize your article, and don't say that much about how you interpret it through Lewontin. All of your previous material about how organisms shape their own environments seems almost pointless here. I mean, I understand what you're getting at, but the balance is off - you have good and details background information in service of a hasty and abbreviated argument, when the real argument (in this case, about the article) needed to be foregrounded to succeed.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.