Luria never hesitated to take other scientists to task if he disagreed with their social commentary. Here, he dismissed Hans
Krebs' recent article for "Perspectives in Biology and Medicine" in which the Danish Nobel laureate linked biology
with certain human social conditions, such as war and crime, as "spurious biologizing."
Number of Image Pages:
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1972-09-26 (September 26, 1972)
Luria, Salvador E.
Krebs, Hans A.
University of Oxford
Original Repository: American Philosophical Society. Library. Salvador Luria Papers
Reproduced with permission of Daniel D. Luria.
Reproduced with permission of the American Philosophical Society.
Politics, Science, and Social Responsibility
Letter from Hans A. Krebs to Salvador E. Luria (November 3, 1972)
In the Sumner issue of Perspectives in Biology and Medicine I found your article entitled "Some Facts of Life -- Biology
and Politics." It is an interesting coincidence that a book of mine now in press has the tentative (not final) title
of "Some Facts of Life."
I hope you will forgive my writing you to express my deep concern about some of the positions you take in your article, especially
on the relation between biology and society. I also wish to state at the outset that I agree with many of your proposals
for action, especially as they concern community service and increased emphasis on quality performance.
I am sure you are aware that most of the statements you present on human biology are either anecdotic or the product of writers
who can hardly be considered as scientifically grounded. Suffice it to mention Wilfred Trotter's book, Instinct of the
Herd in Peace and War. I would consider Desmond Morris's books in the same category. I hardly see the value of quoting
Plato or Ovid or Schiller. As for Konrad Lorenz, it is sufficient to look at a passage quoted by Leon Eisenberg (Science
176: 123, 1972) (copy enclosed) to judge the extremes of support for Nazism and the Nazi approach to the Jewish question to
which Lorenz's ideas on human aggression inevitably led him.
More serious I find your discussion of "the beast in man". Apart from a series of irrelevant anecdotes, such as criminologists
have long since learned not to use as evidence but which yellow journalists use systematically, you bring in the story of
the XYY individuals which is anything but well established. Let me point out that to find a high incidence of a certain genotype
in American prisons usually indicates, not a correlation with criminality but a correlation with black skin.
From your discussion, especially in the section entitled "A Biological Approach to Social Problems," I derive the
impression that you are somewhat critical of the social sciences and optimistic about the biological approach. I believe
it is unfair to give the impression that biology today has anything to offer that is relevant to the serious problems which
you so thoughtfully discuss. The social sciences, for all their shortcomings, have at least the merit of having purged the
air of a spurious biologizing, which had led to the assumption of the existence of congenital criminals in a society that
creates by its workings a mass of socially and economically deprived.
I hope you will consider this letter, however critical, as a contribution to a useful dialogue. I would appreciate it if
in your reply you would tell me whether you have any objection to my sending my letter to the Perspectives. Possibly, my
letter and your reply could be published together.