cover of book

by Jonathan R. Beckwith
Harvard University Press, 2002
Cloth: 978-0-674-00928-8 | eISBN: 978-0-674-02067-2
Library of Congress Classification QH429.2.B38A3 2002
Dewey Decimal Classification 576.5092

In 1969, Jon Beckwith and his colleagues succeeded in isolating a gene from the chromosome of a living organism. Announcing this startling achievement at a press conference, Beckwith took the opportunity to issue a public warning about the dangers of genetic engineering. Jon Beckwith's book, the story of a scientific life on the front line, traces one remarkable man's dual commitment to scientific research and social responsibility over the course of a career spanning most of the postwar history of genetics and molecular biology.

A thoroughly engrossing memoir that recounts Beckwith's halting steps toward scientific triumphs--among them, the discovery of the genetic element that turns genes on--as well as his emergence as a world-class political activist, Making Genes, Making Waves is also a compelling history of the major controversies in genetics over the last thirty years. Presenting the science in easily understandable terms, Beckwith describes the dramatic changes that transformed biology between the late 1950s and our day, the growth of the radical science movement in the 1970s, and the personalities involved throughout. He brings to light the differing styles of scientists as well as the different ways in which science is presented within the scientific community and to the public at large. Ranging from the travails of Robert Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb to the Human Genome Project and recent "Science Wars," Beckwith's book provides a sweeping view of science and its social context in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Table of Contents:

1. The Quail Farmer and the Scientist
2. Becoming a Scientist
3. Becoming an Activist
4. On Which Side Are the Angels?
5. The Tarantella of the Living
6. Does Science Take a Back Seat to Politics?
7. Their Own Atomic History
8. The Myth of the Criminal Chromosome
9. It's the Devil in Your DNA
10. I'm Not Very Scary Anymore
11. Story-Telling in Science
12. Geneticists and the Two Cultures
13. The Scientist and the Quail Farmer


Reviews of this book:
In 1969, a Harvard Medical School group headed by Jon Beckwith accomplished a first in molecular biology--the isolation of a gene...When their paper appeared in Nature, they held an extraordinary press conference in which they described their work and warned of the danger that it might lead to...The press conference received international media coverage, and Beckwith found himself embarked on a double career--a continuing one in research and a new one of social activism in science. His Making Genes, Making Waves is an absorbing account of how these two strands in his life were woven into a durable braid. The prose is straightforward, and Beckwith is refreshingly frank, revealing the divagations and doubts that marked his course in research.
--Daniel J. Kevles, American Scientist

Reviews of this book:
In this beautifully written autobiography, Beckwith...vividly describes aspects of the 'cultural revolution in science that molecular biology brought with it,' epitomized by...major public controversies about genetics in the United States from the 1960s...Beckwith has portrayed a fascinating period in the history of modern biology and of the interaction of science and society in the Western world. Thanks to him and other activists, social injustices resulting from the application of genetics are now widely discussed and, in democracies, meet with legal measures and regulation. In this book Beckwith, a committed scientist...calls for greater humility about what science can and cannot accomplish. This is a call that scientists would do well to take seriously.
--Ute Deichmann, Nature

Reviews of this book:
Jon Beckwith in Making Genes, Making Waves reminds us that he first warned about the social impact of genetic engineering back in 1969. His autobiography shows what hard work it is to combine science and politics, to keep different networks of interests alive.
--New Scientist

Reviews of this book:
Making Genes, Making Waves consists of a generally chronological series of vignettes detailing Beckwith's role in raising the consciousness of the genetics community and the public ("making waves") interspersed with brief descriptions of his laboratory research problems at various times ("making genes"). The prose is crisp, the episodes engaging and, as a heuristic of a successful modern American scientist with a social conscience, the book is probably without peer.
--Jonathan Marks, The Nation

Reviews of this book:
This autobiography charts [Beckwith's] journey through both aspects of his life in the second half of the 20th century: the research of his professional career, and his personal crusade to inform society of biological developments and involve us all in deciding how the new knowledge should be applied. Since he has made a significant contribution in both areas, the book is a fascinating read. He provides a frank but kindly description of his collaborators and other researchers, and an insightful account of science as practiced in several very different laboratories...Society is very much the better for the efforts of those such as Beckwith who clearly enjoy the challenge of describing complex issues to non-specialists and participating in debates as to how new knowledge should be used.
--Ian Wilmut, Times Higher Education Supplement

Reviews of this book:
Making Genes, Making Waves is a compelling history of the controversies in genetics over the last half century.
--Carmen Chica, International Microbiology

This is a strikingly honest and sensitive self-appraisal of trying to integrate a life in science with an equally committed life of social activism. It has special credibility coming from one of America's most distinguished microbiologists. It is a must read for any young scientist who is concerned by the tension between the beautiful rationality of science and the sometimes ugly outcomes of its application. In particular, Beckwith grapples with the harmful fallout that genetic studies might generate.
--David Baltimore, President, California Institute of Technology, and Alice S. Huang, Senior Councilor for External Relations, California Institute of Technology

In this book, Beckwith produces a fine parallel to what he has accomplished in his life -- a balance between science and humanism that is both extraordinary and exemplary.
--Troy Duster, Professor of Sociology, New York University

The renowned scientist Jon Beckwith wrote Making Genes, Making Waves so that students could learn an oft-hidden truth: it is possible to become a successful scientist and still be a social activist within science. Now more than ever the doing of science is intricately connected to its social applications. It is imperative that we prepare the next generation of scientists not only to understand these connections but to be willing and able to act on these understandings. This book, a compelling personal account of how one scientist-activist learned these lessons on his own, over a life time of work and activism, should be used in every introductory biology and genetics course in the country. Let's give our students a chance to learn biology and think about the social responsibilities of their future careers at the same time.
--Anne Fausto-Sterling, Professor of Biology and Women's Studies, Brown University, and author of Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality

In Making Genes, Making Waves, Jon Beckwith lucidly describes the essence of his scientific research and social activism. There was not a dull chapter, and I hated to put the book down. It will provide inspiration and encouragement to any aspiring scientist who worries about giving up other interests and commitments in order to advance. And to those who pursue research single-mindedly, it will be a reminder that their accomplishments can seldom be taken out of social or political context. Beckwith's compelling message is that making advances only in science, no matter how prestigious the awards (of which he received several), cannot be fulfilling as long as social injustice persists.
--Neil A. Holtzman, M.D.,M.P.H., Professor Emeritus, Pediatrics, Health Policy, Epidemiology, The Johns Hopkins University

Jon Beckwith presents a candid and compelling story of his career-long attempt to integrate two roles, that of the research scientist and that of the social activist. Scientists and citizens alike should be grateful to him for his contributions in both aspects of his work and for a book that demonstrates the importance of attending to the sociopolitical consequences of science. With luck, his lucid narrative will inspire others to follow his example.
--Philip Kitcher, Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University

At a time when many academic scientists have turned their attention to private, self-serving commercial interests, it is refreshing to read Jon Beckwith's ssensitive and candid memoir that defines a role model of a biologist who combined his passion for research with public-interest science. His book provides valuable insights into the career of a politically and socially-conscious scientist and of the influential Science for the People during the gestation period of genetic technologies in the 1960s and 1970s. Whereas most scientists spend their entire lives oblivious to the socio-political aspects of their work, Beckwith emerged as a leading voice for exposing the myths of behavioral genetics and for alerting society of the perils of eugenics and genetic discrimination. His book is infused with the moral ideal that those with the specialized knowledge have a unique responsibility to warn society of the potential misuse of that knowledge.
--Sheldon Krimsky, Profess of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University

In this extraordinary memoir, Jon Beckwith shows us a species we thought was all but extinct - the engaged citizen-scholar. He has fought the good fights, at some considerable professional risk, but he has survived and flourished, his ideals unsullied; and in these cynical days he is a reason to take some honest pride in the Academy. It should be on every graduate student's reading list!
--Jonathan Marks, Deptartment of Sociology and Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Can one at the same time produce excellent science and be a social activist who questions aspects of science? Jon Beckwith describes in his autobiography his attempt to combine these two activities. Making Genes, Making Waves should be read by graduate students, postdocs and collegues: it is a revealing story.
--Prof. Benno M'ller-Hill, Institut f'r Genetik, Universit't zu K'ln

Jon Beckwith's Making Genes, Making Waves is a thoughtful autobiographical essay on his experiences as a social activist in science in the face of resentment--even hostility--from many of his colleagues. But more than a personal memoir, this book shows that the commitment to social responsibility is entirely compatible with commitment to science; that love of science can co-exist with serious qualms about its social consequences. Above all, Beckwith's experiences as an activist, in a context where "social responsibility" has often been looked upon as a threat, suggests that scientists must consider and communicate the social meaning of their work if they are to maintain the public trust.
--Dorothy Nelkin, Professor of Law and Sociology, New York University

It is rare to find a young and honest man describing how he became a first rate scientist while his hesitations and mixed feelings about the role and function of science turned him into an effective social activist. This book is an excellent account, by a participant, of the debates about science and society that occurred in the last 30 or 40 years. The special point is that the same man was producing the best of the science that raised so much passion.
--Fran'ois Jacob

See other books on: Geneticists | Political activists | Science & Technology | Social aspects | WAVES
See other titles from Harvard University Press
Nearby on shelf for Biology (General) / Genetics: