On Irked Scientists
In the May 25 edition of The Crimson, Laurie Hays cites the charges of unnamed Harvard scientists "that because Cambridge opponents delayed construction of a P-3 facility, used to contain hazardous experimentation, a team of researchers from the University of California was able to create insulin though recombinant DNA experimentation before the Harvard researchers could do so." The title of the article perhaps best sums up the attitude of these scientists who wish to remain unidentified: "DNA Results Irk Harvard Scientists."
Before the Cambridge City Council is unfairly convicted for delaying the P-3 facility. I would like to set the record straight. The Cambridge City Council did not at any time stop or delay construction of the P-3 lab at Harvard. A building permit for the proposed labs was issued within 24 hours of the request by the University. The simple fact is that Harvard had not received internal clearance or approval from the National Institutes of Health prior to the issue being raised before the Cambridge City Council. Even if Mayor Alfred Vellucci had never raised the issue of recombinant DNA research, the P-3 laboratory at Harvard would still be unfinished. Harvard scientists have no one to blame but Harvard for their lack of a modern, safe laboratory facility.
But this belies the important issue that is implicit in the article. Rather than applaud the advance in knowledge or the contribution to humankind made by the California scientists, the unnamed Harvard scientists choose to bemoan the fact that they did not get there first. The pursuit of knowledge still plays second fiddle to the competitive nature of science. No doubt we will someday see. The Double Helix--Part II. Biological research in our society is a big business; it is fiercely competitive. All competitive ventures require rules and the Cambridge City Council voted to insure fair play.
I am sorry Harvard did not make the insulin breakthrough. The scientists are part of our community and we are proud of their accomplishments. But M.I.T. is part of our community, too, and a 20 minute bus ride will take any Harvard scientist to the P-3 lab at M.I.T. Let's hope M.I.T. will share their facility in order to contribute to knowledge. And let's not forget that the larger community is footing the bill for this research and not only has the right to know what is going on, it has the right to say no if it deems the risk to public health too great.
The article by Laurie Hays convinced me that the Council did the right thing in setting reasonable rules for conducting recombinant DNA research in Cambridge. David E. Clem City Councillor