Steven Rose

Steven Rose is commemorating, together with Hilary Rose, the 50th anniversary of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science.

As​ a young researcher applying for a US visa to go to a conference in the mid-1960s, I presented myself at the fortress-like embassy in Grosvenor Square and ticked the boxes affirming that I was not nor ever had been a member of the Communist Party and did not intend to attempt to overthrow the US government by force. But then I was summoned backstage into a private office, where I faced a...

The issue​ of evolutionary inevitability was brought sharply into focus by the late Stephen Jay Gould in his book Wonderful Life (1989). Gould discussed the bizarre fossils uncovered by the Cambridge palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris in an outcrop of rock in the Canadian Rockies, known as the Burgess Shale. The shale was formed 511 million years ago, in the period when animal life was...

How to Get Another Thorax: Epigenetics

Steven Rose, 8 September 2016

Epigenetics seeks to explain how, starting from an identical set of genes, the contingencies of development can lead to different outcomes. To illustrate this, C.H. Waddington imagined what he called an ‘epigenetic landscape’ of rolling hills and valleys. Place a ball at the top of the hill and give it a little push. Which valley it rolls down depends on chance fluctuations; some valleys may converge on the same endpoint, others on different ones.

Never Mind the Bollocks: Brains and Gender

Hilary Rose and Steven Rose, 28 April 2011

Aristotle affirmed the essential difference between the sexes: men’s brains were bigger, women were more inconstant, emotional and compassionate, at least in part because they do not produce semen – whence men’s and women’s different behaviour and place in the social order. Symbolically, at least, biology’s long, continuing and often lamentable history of using...

Life in the Colonies

Steven Rose, 20 July 1995

Arriving at university from the shelter of a London suburban home, I was soon introduced to curry. Unaware that Indian cuisine is built around a wide range of spices, my ambition was simple: I would prove my sophistication by eating without flinching the hottest Madras or Vindaloo. Something of the same determinedly trivial desire to prove himself is revealed in Edward Wilson’s Naturalist. The great myrmecologist’s memoir is filled with references to scaling the highest mountains, collecting the most species, and above all to standing where no (white) man had ever stood before, finding organisms hitherto ‘unknown to science’ or hacking his way through trackless jungle.

Representing Grandma

Steven Rose, 7 July 1994

‘I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood.’ Thus James Watson opens his notorious account of the discovery of the structure of DNA which won him, Crick and Maurice Wilkins a Nobel Prize in 1962. Whichever other of Watson’s judgments have been controversial – notably his dismissal of Rosalind Franklin, from whom, courtesy of Wilkins, he and Crick were provided with the crucial X-ray photographs of DNA crystals – his assessment of Crick has scarcely been disputed. The subsequent history of the DNA quartet is instructive in this regard. Franklin, miserable in the unfriendly and sexist environment of King’s College, London, switched research topics from DNA to the structure of coal and moved to Birkbeck and the more welcoming lab of Desmond Bernal. Wilkins has remained at King’s for the subsequent forty years, refining the early DNA measurements, working on the tubule-forming proteins of the cell’s internal skeleton and quietly deploying the prestige of the Prize in his concerns over the social responsibility of science. Watson returned from Cambridge to the US and became director of a major research institute. His gift for the outrageously dismissive mauvais mot has never left him: its most recent manifestation a feud with the then director of the National Institutes of Health, Bernadine Healy, which resulted in his abrupt departure from his position as the head of the Human Genome Project.’


Unfair to Geneticists

7 September 2016

The distinguished geneticists Brian and Deborah Charlesworth charge me with overstating the reductionism of classical genetics and underestimating its contribution to the study of development (Letters, 20 October). They also dismiss the work of Needham, Waddington and the Cambridge Theoretical Biology Club (TBC), as ‘contributing nothing’. They correctly point out that one of the founders...
Mike Jay’s description of how, in Revolutionary France, psychiatry became part of the state apparatus, helps locate the origins of a continuing tradition of political psychiatry (LRB, 21 May). In 1971 I was able to smuggle into Moscow copies of the just published English-language translation of Zhores Medvedev and his historian brother Roy’s A Question of Madness, an account of the time...

Find Your Level

20 July 1995

Harold Dorn (Letters, 7 September) takes issue with comments I made on the scientific and political claims of sociobiology in my review of E.O. Wilson’s autobiography. His argument, as I understand it, is that: 1. neither Wilson nor any other sociobiologist offers reductionist explanations of social phenomena in terms of genetics or physics; 2. there is no metaphysical or philosophical analysis...
Apologies to Francis Crick for the psycho/typo gremlin which intervened between my brain, fingers and keyboard and transformed his Astonishing into an Astounding Hypothesis (LRB, 7 July)!

Selfish DNA

20 August 1992

Nicholas Wade’s review of The Code of Codes (LRB, 20 August) reveals a misconception unfortunately too common among those captivated by the power apparently offered by molecular biology to explain life. ‘Nature,’ he informs us, ‘requires only five million pieces of information, the units being the base pairs strung along the chemical backbone of DNA, to specify a bacterium …...


7 March 1991

It is a great pity that Edward Said tarnishes his excellent article about the criminal folly of Desert Storm (LRB, 7 March) by mentioning the unsustainable claim that the gassing of the Kurdish civilian population of Halabjah in March 1988, in which some five to six thousand people died, was an Iranian rather than an Iraqi atrocity. This piece of disinformation was propagated by the Pentagon at a time...

Steven Rose is a well-known public scientist who has dedicated his career to the study of brains. He has lived through the early days of the technical revolution that has involved increasingly...

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Learning to peck

Stuart Sutherland, 4 November 1993

Astronomers have penetrated billions of light-years into space, explained the changing states of stars from their birth to their death, postulated the existence of black holes in which matter...

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