Posts tagged: Genetics — Ethics

The Bernard D. Davis Papers are open for research

By , April 22, 2016

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce the opening of the Bernard D. Davis papers, 1909-1995 (inclusive), 1939-1994 (bulk). Davis (1916-1994) A.B., Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, M.D., Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, was the Chair of the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology from 1957-1968 and the Adele Lehman Professor of Bacterial Physiology from 1968-1984, both at Harvard Medical School. He was a microbiologist who focused throughout his career on biochemical and genetic mutations, microbial and bacterial physiology, and the impact of science on society and culture.

Davis is most known for his scientific research in microbiology and bacterial physiology, focusing on the ribosome cycle, streptomycin, protein secretion vesicles, studies of Escherichia coli, bacterial membrane transport systems, and mechanisms of drug resistance and chemotherapy. Early in his career, Davis created the penicillin enrichment method for obtaining nutritional mutants of Escherichia coli, as did Joshua Lederberg (1925-2008), independently. While at Harvard Medical School, his key scientific findings included the details of the ribosome cycle; protein secretion vesicles; the dominance of susceptibility to streptomycin (due to the misreading of the genetic code); and in 1987, with colleague P.C. Tai, a unified mechanism of streptomycin killing. His work with Werner Maas foreshadows later findings in genetics, as well, though he did not focus primarily on genetics. Davis authored or coauthored more than 200 scientific papers, most of which are included in the Bernard D. Davis Papers.

In the latter portion of his career, Davis became an advocate for the role of science in culture, the ethics of genetic engineering, evolution and human diversity, the implications of affirmative action, and the defense of fellow scientists accused of fraud and misconduct. Davis was also a passionate teacher, and co-authored multiple editions of a new textbook for medical students, Microbiology (first edition, 1967), along with R. Dulbecco, H. Eisen, H. Ginsberg, and initially W.B. Wood. In his role as advocate, he published a collection of essays concerning contemporary controversies facing science and scientists, entitled Storm Over Biology: Essays On Science, Sentiment, and Public Policy, in 1986. Many of the papers relate to these moral and ethical issues, including correspondence, articles, and manuscript and chapter drafts.

Overall, the papers include correspondence and subject files, administrative, teaching and professional records, unpublished writings and drafts, and reprints and volumes written by Davis, as well as the collected publications of colleagues and students. This includes the manuscript of an unpublished book on the topic of scientific fraud written late in his life, and several chapters of an unpublished autobiography.

The Maximizing Microbiology: Molecular Genetics, Cancer, and Virology, 1936-2000 project is funded by a Hidden Collections grant from the Harvard University Libraries. In addition to the Bernard D. Davis papers, the project will also open the collections of other scientists and professors whose work relates to the origins of molecular genetics, virology, and microbiology: the Luigi Gorini papers, 1922-1988; the Arthur B. Pardee papers, 1949-2001; the  Francesc Duran i Reynals papers, 1913-1960; the Myron Essex papers, 1949-1996; and the Harold Amos papers, 1949-2003. For more information on the project, please contact Emily Novak Gustainis, Head, Collections Services or Elizabeth Coup, Processing Assistant.

Center Opens Collections Related to Physicians of Social Conscience

By , June 17, 2015
Jonathan Beckwith.

Jonathan Beckwith, undated. Harvard Medical School Office of Public Affairs, M-AD06. Publication Visual Resource Records, Series 00297. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce that three collections related to physicians and social activism are now open to research, as part of the Center’s Access to Activism Project. These collections are the records of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (founded 1980), and the papers of Jonathan R. Beckwith (born 1935) and Sanford Gifford (1918-2013).

The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War is an association of national medical organizations that seek to educate the international community of the dangers of nuclear war and weaponry.  Founded in 1980 by physicians from the United States (Herbert L. Abrams, Eric Chivian, Bernard Lown, and James E. Muller) and Soviet Union (Evgueni Chazov, Leonid A. Ilyin, and Mikhail Kuzin), the organization was awarded the 1984 UNESCO Peace Education Prize and the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.  The records, 1957-1989 (inclusive), 1980-1987 (bulk), include administrative records, international congress records, petition campaign records, writings and publications, and audiovisual recordings of meetings and lectures, among other records.

Jonathan R. Beckwith is a microbiologist and geneticist at Harvard Medical School whose focus is on bacterial genetics; he is credited with isolating the first gene from a bacterial chromosome in 1969 with James Shapiro (born 1943) and Lawrence J. Eron (born 1944). He has advocated throughout his career for social responsibility in scientific and genetic research, and has also protested genetic, racial, and gender discrimination in science and society.  The papers, 1933-2011 (inclusive), 1965-2004 (bulk), include: Beckwith’s Harvard Medical School teaching and administrative records; research, lectures, and publications concerning the lac operon, disulfide bonds, membrane proteins, and other areas of bacterial genetics and microbiology; and administrative records of Science for the People and various other activist groups.

Finally, Sanford Gifford was a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, focusing on the psychiatry of twins, sleep deprivation, stress, psychophysiology, and the history of psychoanalysis, among other topics.  He was also a strong advocate against the Vietnam War, and was an early member of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Medical Aid for Indochina.  The papers, 1895-2013 (inclusive), 1950-2000 (bulk), include: Gifford’s psychiatric research records, lectures, and publications; oral histories and publications on the history of psychoanalysis; professional appointments records; and administrative and conference records for various professional and activist organizations.

The project, funded by a Hidden Collections grant by the Harvard University Libraries, sought to increase visibility and access to collections created by physicians of social conscience in order to reach a broad audience across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.  For more information on the project and these collections, please contact Emily R. Novak Gustainis, Head, Collections Services.

This post was updated to correct a previous statement regarding the founding and founders of the organization, 2018 April 03.

Staff Finds: Jonathan Beckwith’s Social Activism Records

By , January 26, 2015
Science for the People meeting announcement: "The Genetic Fix: Human Applications of New Genetic Technologies."

Science for the People meeting announcement: “The Genetic Fix: Human Applications of New Genetic Technologies,” circa 1978-1979, H MS c370. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

After successfully isolating a gene from a bacterial chromosome in 1969, geneticist and microbiologist Jonathan Beckwith began a career-long involvement in social activism movements, focusing on the intersection of genetics, science, and society, in which he is still involved today.  As an early member of Science for the People (SftP), and later as President of the organization’s Board of Directors, he worked to oppose genetic discrimination and the misuse of science, and to educate the public about current issues in scientific research.  While processing the Beckwith papers as part of the Center for the History of Medicine’s Access to Activism project, Center processing staff have discovered a large collection of Science for the People administrative, educational, and publishing records dated 1970-1989.  Included in the records are meeting minutes, conference-planning records, educational workshop and lecture records, position papers, editorials, and newsletters.  The collection also contains committee records of the organization’s Genetic Screening Study Group (formerly the Sociobiology Study Group) and the Science Teaching Group, both of which aimed to stay abreast of developments in scientific research and discourse, and to speak out against potentially erroneous or perceived socially harmful ideas.  Frequent topics include genetic discrimination, genetic determinism and eugenics, sexism and gender roles, racism, intelligence, behavior, and criminality and the XYY chromosome studies.  Please see the image gallery below for a few examples of the organization’s meeting and lecture announcements.

The Beckwith papers also contain numerous other examples of his social and political activism, including: records of the National Institutes of Health and Department of Energy Joint Working Group on Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of the Human Genome Project (ELSI), dated 1991-1995; and correspondence regarding his controversial donation to the Black Panthers his 1970 Eli Lilly Award money.  The papers also contain evidence of his activism closer to home at Harvard Medical School, including: committee records for improving educational and employment opportunities for minorities at the school; and petitions, pamphlets, protest buttons, and committee records for movements against a proposed expansion of HMS-affiliated hospitals into Harvard-owned residential areas in Roxbury (1969-1970), and against a research project on criminality and the XYY chromosome anomaly (1974-1975).

The papers are expected to be open to research in spring 2015.  The Access to Activism project is funded by a Hidden Collections grant from the Harvard University Libraries.  For more information on the project, please contact Emily R. Novak Gustainis, Head, Collections Services.

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