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Starting out: Then and now and interesting areas in science


Science: Nature or nurture?
Avrion Mitchison Scientist
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You are part of a dynasty of a pretty unusually deep family tradition in science that one suspects may not go on forever. What gives rise to a dynasty, how much do you think is genetic, how much do you think is environment?
I think- I know that the question of genes or environment is totally unanswerable in that context. People discuss- it's more often discussed in the context of- I think of musicians or mathematicians where somehow the quality of work seems more kind of separated from the rest of humanity, and I suppose rather reluctantly, I think, that the genetic component of being a great musician or being a great mathematician may be larger than it is in the biological sciences. In the biological sciences, I think environment is very important. I think to have had past- the previous generation committed to science and there as an example is tremendous, and I am extremely sceptical about any genetic component. I think- I think that there are probably other things besides- besides mathematics and music where genetics is important but I don't really know what they are.
So there are those musicians and artists and so on who would say, you know, you scientists aren't really being imaginative because all you are doing is kind of scraping and discovering what is already there, we are the creatives because we are creating what wasn't there before. Do you feel they have a point?
Not much of a point, no. It seems just a different sort of creativity that they have. It's almost a question about language, that, really, isn't it because what do you mean by creativity? And of course there is a sense in which you could use the term to describe what mathematicians or musicians do and experimentalists don't do, and you are welcome to use the term in that way, but I- I do think that that's more a linguistic question than a real one.

Avrion Mitchison, the British zoologist, is currently Professor Emeritus at University College London and is best known for his work demonstrating the role of lymphocytes in tumour rejection and for the separate and cooperative roles of T- and B-lymphocytes in this and other processes.

Listeners: Martin Raff

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 2 minutes, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010