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Genetics According to Biochemists and Ethical Philosophers

Mia Bartolotti

Writing 2

18 February 2020

For this project, I decided to conduct research on cancer caused by genetic abnormalities.

“Genetic abnormalities” can develop in a person’s DNA due to prolonged exposure to harmful

surroundings, or they can be passed on to a person hereditarily. Through my previous knowledge

from genetics and biology, I was aware that people can be susceptible to developing cancer

based on their family history. Unfortunately, my family has been greatly affected by this disease,

and it is continuously being passed on from generation to generation. Over the years, I became

increasingly interested in this pattern and decided to major in Biochemistry with the intention of

becoming a medical researcher. I want to be a part of my generation’s wave of scientific

innovation and find cures and effective treatments for cancer and other debilitating diseases. In

this project, I decided to explore this topic through the eyes of one in the Biochemistry

discipline, as well as one in Ethics. Articles from each discipline could bring me new knowledge

and tools that will be useful in my future studies and career. For this paper, I chose James Hower

and Daniel Calva’s “Basic Sciences and Genetics” from the Biochemistry discipline and Sumner

B. Twiss Jr. 's “Ethical Issues in Priority-Setting for the Utilization of Genetic Technologies”

from the Ethics discipline. The two articles showcase the differences between the Biochemistry

and Ethics disciplines by using different argumentation styles, use of evidence, and use of

unorthodox genre conventions, creating a divide in the scholarly community they would

otherwise share.
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One of the main ways the two articles exemplify their differences is through their theses

and methods of argumentation. For example, the Biochemistry article explains the difficulty of

distinguishing between different syndromes that cause polyps to grow in the gastrointestinal

system of the human body, and patients who are diagnosed with these syndromes are able to and

should be tested for specific ailments through the “discovery of several causative genes…

allowing for demarcation on a molecular basis” (Hower, Calva. 2010). This thesis and its

subsequent argument highlight how the literature from the Biochemistry discipline often aims to

present information about a scientific discovery or new research and show how and why

disciplinarians should use that information to help others. On the other hand, the purpose of

Twiss’s Jr’s article is to pose questions and suggest problems for future genetic researchers to

evaluate when genetic technologies advance, as well as argue against the views of some

researchers who merely understate the possibilities and potential problems that genetic

technologies can bring (Twiss Jr. 1976). In most cases with articles about Ethics, authors tend to

use their opinions on a topic in order to influence their readers’ opinions and take action. For

example, Twiss wrote that he could not “resist offering a priority schedule of some sort, no

matter how intuitive” and included a brief ranking of genetic technologies; “high priority”

technologies were genetic screening and various therapies, “lower priority” technologies

included environmental hygiene and population policies, and the “questionable priority” that was

not on the priority schedule was “cloning of ‘superior human genotypes’” (Twiss Jr. 1976). The

author followed the basic principle of embedding his own opinions on the topic but ultimately

based his argument about theoretical problems without going into great detail throughout the

piece. From these observations, the differences between the Biochemistry and Ethics disciplines

are found in the articles’ theses and argumentation; Biochemistry articles are theses-driven and
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offer vast amounts of detail on the topic of research while Ethics articles present moral conflicts

about a given subject and are often opinion-driven. These differences also translate to the

differences found between the disciplines’ respective scholarly communities, as community

members present their research and ideas according to their discipline’s expectations.

Although the authors of both articles use evidence to support their arguments throughout

their papers, the ways they utilize the information they gained effectively embodies the

differentiation between the two disciplines. Like with most articles from the Biochemistry

discipline, “Basic Sciences and Genetics” cites numerous studies conducted by other researchers

and uses them to compile a comprehensive analysis of hamartomatous polyposis syndromes and

the best ways to screen for and treat them (Hower, Calva. 2010). The author presents the

evidence through the implementation of both paraphrases and direct quotes without much

analysis. In this case, the presentation of evidence is clear and convincing because the results of

the studies are effectively summarized in a way that is easy for readers to comprehend. With

“Ethical Issues…,” the analysis outweighs the evidence used by the author. Many sources are

cited throughout the article, but the information is mainly used to reiterate the points the author

was trying to make about the dangers of genetic technology advancements and possible negative

implications (Twiss. 1976). Overall, the author’s presentation of the evidence was effective, but

due to the fact that it was published in 1976, readers may think that the article and its sources are

outdated. However, ethics and philosophy papers tend to postulate that moral issues are timeless

and can be applied to current and future situations. Twiss predicted that technological advances

would lead to new forms of genetic screening and replacement therapies that could lead to

questions as to how scientists can safely research and implement these discoveries (Twiss Jr.

1976). The problems and implications from these discoveries at the time the article was
Genetics According to Biochemists and Ethical Philosophers 4

published are still relevant today as related medicines and therapies are being tested for human

use. In comparison, the use of evidence in the articles effectively showcase the differences

between the disciplines and their scholarly communities. Biochemistry articles tend to be more

thesis-driven and do not leave room for interpretation by their community in the analysis of their

sources, but articles geared around Ethics do not rely heavily on the facts and encourage

community members to interpret the moral conflicts described and offer a way to do so.

Despite their dissimilarities in argumentation and use of evidence, the articles connect the

Biochemistry and Ethics disciplines together through similar discourse communities. According

to Karen Rosenburg, “Even though it may seem like a solitary, isolated activity, when you read a

scholarly work, you are participating in a conversation” (Rosenberg. 2011). That being said, the

authors of the articles facilitated a conversation between their discourse communities. In this

instance, the Biochemistry and Ethics disciplines share very similar audiences and intentions;

both are trying to convey information to the medical community but in different ways. However,

“Ethical Issues…” may not reach as vast an audience as “Basic Genetics and Science” because

of the stigma behind “outdated” articles; readers may not heavily consider the points made in

“Ethical Issues…” despite the timelessness of medical ethics and philosophy issues. hile Hower

and Calva wrote their piece to educate the medical community about the importance of correctly

diagnosing polyptic syndromes through genetic testing, Twiss wrote his piece to warn the

community of possible ethical dilemmas and backlash they could face during the next wave of

genetic innovation. Aside from any variation in topic or message, both articles contribute to their

take on ongoing discussions regarding their topics. When all is said and done, the authors’ pieces

fall under the same genre of an article, but certain aspects of each article hint at a divide between

the disciplines and their discourse communities.

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According to the basic definition of the genre, the articles are technically the same when

considering their use of common genre conventions of the article. However, the ways the authors

of both articles use unorthodox conventions sets them apart from each other and creates a rift in

the scholarly communities they create. Both articles are organized by sections that are relevant to

their premises, but “Basic Sciences and Genetics” embodies a more traditional scientific article.

It includes an abstract, introduction, sections related to subtopics, and an effective conclusion.

On the other hand, “Ethical Issues…” does not have a clear abstract like traditional scientific

pieces and borrows elements from opinion articles, creating a piece based on scientific opinion.

This also shifts the tone of the article from a standard objective to one that is foreboding, cynical,

and subjective. A change in tone, in this case, leads to a divide between the disciplines’ scholarly

communities. Despite their differences, both articles follow traditional citations, language use,

and visual materials commonly found in the genre. Nonetheless, the dissimilarities in portraying

information and inclusion of unorthodox elements brings forward the dissimilarities between the

Biochemistry and Ethics disciplines.

Genetics According to Biochemists and Ethical Philosophers 6

Works Cited

Hower, J. Calva, D. 2010. Basic sciences and genetics: hamartomatous polyposis. In:

Rodriguez-Bigas M., Cutait R., Lynch P., Tomlinson I., Vasen H. (eds) Hereditary

Colorectal Cancer. M.D. Anderson Solid Tumor Oncology Series. 5. Springer, Boston,


Rosenberg, K. 2011. Reading games: strategies for reading scholarly sources. Writing

Spaces: Readings on Writing. Writing Spaces. 2. Parlor Press, West Lafayette, IN.

Twiss Jr., S.B. 1976. Ethical issues in priority-setting for the utilization of genetic

technologies. In: Lappé, Marc, Robert S. Morison, and New York Academy of Sciences.

Ethical and Scientific Issues Posed by Human Uses of Molecular Genetics. Annals of the

New York Academy of Sciences. 265. New York Academy of Sciences, New York, NY.