This critical commentary by Paul Berg highlights the conflicting and sometimes contradictory attitudes towards the new technology
of genetic engineering among many scientists in the 1970s. In this letter, Berg criticizes Sinsheimer, who visibly campaigned
against recombinant DNA research as too dangerous, but also sought funds for a containment lab for that very research at his
own institution (the California Institute of Technology).
Number of Image Pages:
2 (107,174 Bytes)
1976-12-30 (December 30, 1976)
Stanford University Medical Center
Sinsheimer, Robert L.
California Institute of Technology
Original Repository: Library of Congress. Maxine Singer Papers
Reproduced with permission of Paul Berg.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Risk, Regulation, and Scientific Citizenship: The Controversy over Recombinant DNA Research
A Statement (December 20, 1976)
Letter from Maxine Singer to Robert L. Sinsheimer (January 7, 1977)
Thanks for sending me a copy of your SIPI testimony in Washington and for the "statement" regarding your activities
at Cal Tech concerning Recombinant DNA Research. You already know my position on the former (see enclosed TIBS editorial in
press) but I would like to comment on the latter.
Frankly, I'm astonished at your naivete. You must be the only person who thinks there is no contradiction between the
very strong position you've taken nationally and internationally against most forms of Recombinant DNA Research in University
research laboratories and your permissive policy for such research at Cal Tech. It is neither slander nor innuendo to raise
questions about the depth of your concern when one hears of the following inconsistencies: At the same time that you are testifying
before scientific, lay and governmental groups throughout the country that P3 - type work is too dangerous to be permitted
in anything but a few Federally supervised, impregnable laboratories, you have been reported to have taken an active role
in seeking and obtaining, funds for the construction of P3 facilities in Cal Tech Biology Division (How can you reconcile
your recommendation to the San Diego City Council's Recombinant DNA Study Panel not to permit construction of P3 facilities
at UCSD with your concurrence that such facilities can be built at Cal Tech?); your untiring efforts to persuade other institutions
city councils and the government to reconsider implementation of the guidelines, with what I have heard is conspicuous silence
in Pasadena and at Cal Tech; and, of course, there are the reports of recombinant DNA experiments in your own laboratory which,
though you feel are benign, are the very kind being railed against by your converts and allies.
No, Bob you can't have your cake and eat it! You can't argue - do as I say not as I do! At least not without provoking
questions about your sincerity from equally concerned people who have serious doubts about the validity of your judgment.
It seems to me that if you believe unswervingly in the inevitability of your analysis, then it is inconceivable for you to
abet and condone that work in your own laboratory or at Cal Tech. If you are unwilling to "unilaterally withdraw The
Division of Biology (at Cal Tech) from the community of molecular biologists with the inevitable cost to (their) research
and teaching programs" how can you be so aggressive in your attempts to force other institutions to do that?
Bob, you know I've been an admirer of yours for a long time. I have respected your concerns in this matter even if I personally
feel them to be exaggerated and unwarranted. But now, I think your actions are having serious and deleterious repercussions
on science without any compensating benefit. There is no one I've spoken to who is not puzzled by your apparent schizophrenic