Jonas Salk, Albert Szent Gyorgi and Erwin Chargaff were prominent scientists and humanists who warned us about the direction we’re heading in.
PUBLISHED: THE HILL: Changing America by Cyril Christo, Opinion Contributor November 5, 2020
“As Nature continues its game of biological mutation and selection of ideas and as Man plays his own games of biological mutation and selection and of cultural innovations, Nature will have the last word.” —Jonas Salk
Science is a pillar to our civilization and few scientists have been able to articulate that humanity’s morals are also becoming increasingly fragile and perilous to the life force of the planet. Three in particular wrote books, all written after the promise of the 1960s, in the 1970s, expressing great concern for the future of man, not for lack of technical wherewithal and knowledge but from a dearth of wisdom, and coherence for humanity’s foundation on Earth.
All three had a major scientific, biochemical or medical understanding of life and all were deeply concerned with man’s evolution.
All three were humanists and wary of mankind as a future species. Not just happy to earn wages, prizes or to make a name for themselves they were united in their common concern for what it means to be human and humanity’s long-term prospects on an increasingly tenuous Earth. Jonas Salk is a household name and came up with something called the polio vaccine. Erwin Chargaff’s research led to the discovery of DNA and Albert Szent Gyorgi won the Nobel Prize for isolating Vitamin C. They studied life up close, at the cellular level and were more anxious about civilization’s long-term prospects than the mere diseases afflicting mankind. In light of the pandemic, or allied viruses to come, which may challenge us for decades, the voice of scientists with a moral vision from decades past is more vital than ever. Those who hold a particular knowledge of how life works ought to be held in particular esteem, especially in our time of overweening indulgence in technology and industry. Few scientists have been as concerned with our moral agency as with our technical and scientific know how. Their words should serve a special warning to big science and the military industrial complex which seems to have lost all ballast in this very unstable time.
Photo: Medical researcher Jonas Salk studies slides in his laboratory, following the invention of his pioneering polio vaccine, circa 1957.