Steve Jones

Steve Jones a reader in genetics at University College London, gave the 1991 Reith Lectures: entitled The Language of Genes, they will soon appear in book from.

A slower kind of bang

Steve Jones, 22 April 1993

I have a friend, a fellow biologist, who lives in California. He once wrote (only half-jokingly) to the Sierra Club suggesting that to reach their conservationist goal they should change their rules. The first statute ought to oblige all members of the club never to go into the wilderness again, and to devote their time to persuading as many other people as possible to stay at home. By so doing they would preserve nature more effectively than could any conceivable Green initiative.


Steve Jones, 10 September 1992

It is fatally easy to read into the animal world what we would like to see in our own, to explain the human condition as an inevitable consequence of our biology. Even Charles Darwin was at fault. Hidden in his unpublished notebooks is the damning passage: ‘Origin of Man now proved – metaphysics must flourish – he who understands baboons will do more towards metaphysics than Locke.’ Darwin, at least, had the excuse of being nearly right nearly all the time. Most of his successors have no such defence. Herbert Spencer – who coined the phrase ‘the survival of the fittest’ – was in favour of arranging society on Darwinian lines. Not surprisingly, his ideas were popular with Andrew Carnegie and his fellow steel magnates. Konrad Lorenz saw humans as ‘killer apes’, which may have explained his own flirtation with the Nazis.’

Triumph of the Cockroach

Steve Jones, 23 April 1992

Time and chance, as the Good Book says, come to us all. We all know that each of us will soon disappear from the Earth. David Raup’s book compounds our pessimism by pointing out that – if humans are anything like other animals – the fate awaiting our species as a whole is also an almost certain annihilation. Very few creatures persist for long in evolutionary time. There are a few hardy survivors, like the cockroach (which has remained unchanged for tens of millions of years), but for most, extinction follows quite soon after origin. This sad fact has been neglected by biologists, who, being – in general – optimists, are far more interested in how new forms of life appear than in how they depart: a philosophy which, as Raup says, is rather like a demographer concentrating on births and forgetting about deaths. Raup is an obituarist. His book, like all good obituaries, tells us more about its subjects after their demise than could safely be revealed when they were alive. He asks a deeply theological question: is it their fault that people (or species) are damned – they have bad genes – or do they perish at random because of simple bad luck?’

Tens of thousands of years ago, the arrival of people in the Americas, and in Australia and New Zealand, was followed by a wave of extinctions, particularly of the largest species, which made the...

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In the introduction to Almost like a Whale, Steve Jones calls The Origin of Species ‘without doubt, the book of the millennium’. Jones is an evolutionary biologist, so this judgment...

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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...

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