Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

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Science and Politics: Conversation with Richard C. Lewontin, AlexanderAgassiz Research Professor, Harvard University, November 20, 2003 by Harry Kreisler

This interview is part of the Institute's "Conversations with History" series, and uses Internet technology to share with the public Berkeley's distinction as a global forum for ideas.

Welcome to a Conversation with History. I'm Harry Kreisler of the Institute of International Studies. Our guest today is Richard C. Lewontin, who is the Alexander Agassiz Research Professor at Harvard University. An evolutionary geneticist and social critic, his publications include Human Diversity, and most recently, The Triple Helix: Gene Organism and Environment. He is visiting the Berkeley campus to deliver the Charles M. and Martha Hitchcock lectures on the campus.

  1. Being an Evolutionary Geneticist ... mentors ... relationships among scientists ... evolutionary genetics ... laying the foundation for the field ... the marriage of a technique to a problem ... creativity in science ... importance of social interaction ... building a community ... designing workspace for collaboration ... not taking credit for others' work
  2. Scientist as Activist ... being political ... impact on scientific work ... doing science gives legitimacy ... importance of commitment to rational, logical analysis ... social debate of scientific issues ... decision to resign from the National Academy of Sciences
  3. Government and Science ... need public money to finance science ... avoiding "socialist" terminology ... birth of National Science Foundation ... "warfare" terminology, real or metaphorical ... impact of war on terrorism ... true impact of Cold War McCarthyism or WW II profiling
  4. Public Consciousness of Science ... discourse on genetic determinism ... incentive of public support ... cashing in on pain and fear of disease ... genes as metaphors for control ... importance of environment ... case studies: measles and tuberculosis ... social environment shapes health conditions ... lack of tools for public to understand and criticize science ... social and political pressures work against science reporting ... unintelligibility and illogic of science writing
  5. Advice to Students and the Public ... be a scientist first ... science should not be driven by social attitudes ... public decisions require elite knowledge held by a few ... no glib answers ... the world will change ... guiding change through political awareness ... organize

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