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Daniel Kevles

Daniel Kevles is a professor of the history of science at the California Institute of Technology. He is the author of In the Name of Eugenics.

Flavr of the Month

Daniel Kevles, 19 August 1993

Nothing in contemporary science seems to trouble the public more than genetic engineering. Despite the cloying sentimentality that Steven Spielberg has introduced into Jurassic Park, the film expresses the sharp scepticism about the benefits of manipulating DNA that forms the moral core of the novel by Michael Crichton on which it is based. In the novel, Ian Malcolm, the conscience of the tale, remarks as he lies dying from a raptor attack (in the film he doesn’t die; only villains die on Spielberg’s screen): ‘Science, like other outmoded systems, is destroying itself. As it gains power, it proves itself incapable of handling the power.’ According to a recent poll, a substantial majority of Americans believe that the risks of genetic engineering outweigh the benefits.

Havens

Daniel Kevles, 17 August 1989

In 1944, the physicist Erwin Schrödinger, who had earned a Nobel Prize for his contributions to the invention of quantum mechanics, published What is life?, a remarkable book in which he argued that vital processes must obey the laws of physics but could probably not be reduced to them. In micro-physics, order tended to give way to disorder; the behaviour of single atoms could be predicted only in statistical terms. In living organisms, the genes governing heredity and development seemed to consist of a particular arrangement of atoms. Yet, in essential respects, offspring resembled parents; order produced order. The apparent disparity between atomic and life-cycle events led Schrödinger to contend that a ‘new type of physical law’ – not a ‘super-physical’ but a ‘genuinely physical’ type, consistent with known physical laws – must prevail in living matter.’

Fraud in the Lab

Steven Shapin, 4 March 1999

It is a contemporary American morality play. The leading roles are played by an alpha male and his junior female colleague; bad behaviour between them is alleged; accusations of lying fly about;...

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When big was beautiful

Nicholas Wade, 20 August 1992

Under the Reagan Administration the United States embarked on a fistful of big science projects, from the space station to the superconducting supercollider and the human genome project. The...

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Contra Galton

Michael Neve, 5 March 1987

This much-debated study of eugenics contains a love song to British science – indeed to British size – that has gone almost unnoticed as the Provost of King’s College,...

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