168 12 JANUARY 2018 • VOL 359 ISSUE 6372 sciencemag.org SCIENCE
The tale of Victor Frankenstein and his monstrous creation has become a universal touchstone that encapsu- lates our visceral fears regarding the promises, perils, and pitfalls of count- less diverse areas of science and technology. This annotated volume of
Mary Shelley’s original work is
an effort to reintroduce the story
to new generations of researchers who, like many before them,
ought to take its lessons to heart.
story of science done poorly and
technology rashly applied—can
provide an easily accessible foundation for an education into the
broader social and ethical implications of one’s research. This
foundation is especially necessary
for young scientists faced with increasingly complicated and often
novel concerns relating to their
research and its applications.
This new edition is divided into
four principal parts: An introductory essay,
an annotated version of the original
Frankenstein, seven short essays prepared by various
scholars, and follow-up discussion questions.
Although many of the more than 100 anno-
LITERATURE AND SCIENCE
Revisit a cautionary classic
Lessons for scientists fill a newly annotated Frankenstein
By Dov Greenbaum
The reviewer is at the Zvi Meitar Institute for Legal Implications
of Emerging Technologies, Herzliya, Israel, and the Department
of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University,
New Haven, CT, USA. Email: email@example.com
BOOKS et al.
tations that accompany Shelley’s text—each
authored by one of a stable of impressive
commentators—are literary in nature, there
are a number that afford a broader commentary on science, both as practiced at the time
of the text’s writing and as practiced today.
The introductory essay, written by emeritus
English professor Charles E. Robinson, aims
to find a space for the humanities
to guide the natural sciences. Increasing interest by outsiders who
wish to engage in the scientific
process likely reflects a mounting
unease about the rapid and seemingly unchecked advancements in
scientific innovation, particularly
in the areas of genetic modification, human enhancement, and
artificial intelligence (AI).
Coincidentally, it is principally
innovation in these areas that
often earns the pejorative prefix
“Franken-” in the popular press.
Although conventional wisdom
holds that that this usage is a
misnomer—that pop culture has
conflated the monster with the
scientist—perhaps, as many of the essays
that appear in this volume emphasize, the
real fiend in the book is the scientist. These
essays explore timely lessons culled from
the story itself, each providing its own take
on the continued applicability of
Frankenstein as a cautionary tale in areas such as
genetic engineering and atomic energy.
Instructive to the budding-scientist audi-
ence, several of the essays set out to dem-
onstrate what particular research-related
characteristics make Victor Frankenstein
so loathsome. These essays focus on the in-
ventor’s impatience in following through on
the appropriate process of development, his
poor application of scientific methodology,
his lack of empathy, and his inability to fore-
see the consequences of his experiments.
Validating the editors’ efforts to use science
fiction as a learning tool, journalist Cory Doctorow’s essay describes how science fiction
not only predicts the future but often actually
influences it. Although Doctorow argues that
these anticipated technologies only come to
fruition when the right set of circumstances
arises, the existence of many technologies
that have uncanny resemblances to Star Trek
devices suggests that science fiction often
plays a very direct role in the actuation of
unprecedented and innovative technologies.
Whereas most of the essays focus on the
ethical, social, and responsibility components
of research, Jane Maienschein and Kate Mac-Cord delve into legal concerns, questioning
whether an unartfully created monster can
achieve personhood. The authors parley that
discussion into the politically charged area
of abortion, specifically discussing whether
the incomplete development of an embryo
withholds its legal rights of personhood. A
similarly informative discussion could have
focused on the nearly equally controversial
area of AI and personhood, an issue now under consideration by many governments (1).
In the final section of the book, the editors have provided thoughtful questions
inspired by each chapter of Frankenstein
and every essay, taking pains to elucidate
the relevance of each to the science student.
This relevance is suggested both broadly
(e.g., “How did the young Victor approach
reading, learning, and science?”) and more
specifically (e.g., “Are today’s scientists and
engineers who are involved in synthetic biology and other similar endeavors engaged
in motherless creation?”).
While overall a very beneficial project,
the book might have also considered the
relevance of the many derivative works that
have been inspired by the original
Frankenstein. This is especially important because
much of what popular culture attributes to
the original (and what can be relevant to science students) is not in the book itself, but
rather in its subsequent reanimations. j
1. M. Delvaux, Committee on Legal Affairs, Draft Report with
Recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules
on Robotics 2015/2103 (INL), 31 May 2016.
Many “reanimations” of the Frankenstein story, such
as the 1931 film adaptation, are themselves iconic.
and Creators of
Mary Shelley, author;
David H. Guston,
Ed Finn, and Jason
Scott Robert, Eds.
MIT Press, 2017. 315 pp.