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The influence of the press at the Asilomar conference 1975
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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I hadn't realised in America how much things had changed. What you... what people have to recall, and I recalled this just recently very much with the death of... with the recent death of Nixon, was that the press had actually got rid of a president of the United States. And organisations like The Washington Post were unbelievable in their... in their dreams of omnipotence. At that meeting, which had been sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, it had been agreed that certain speakers could ask for the recording to be turned off while they said something. And the National Academy would then turn off the record, so they could speak off the record. And the question was put to the audience, would the press turn off their machines at the same time? And we were asked to vote on this, that the press turn off their machines if someone asked that this be off the official record. And when they took a vote, I was the only one who voted for it. I think there was one other European. But everybody else didn't vote for it. And when at the press conference I was asked by the reporter from The Washington Post... how dare I come to this country, this is a free... you know, we have freedom of the press and so on, how dare do I come and suggest that the press should be turned off? I said well, look it was the only case where I was given an opportunity of commenting on the presence of the press and I voted this way because I'm dead against the press being here. Well, the man went berserk, you know. Sort of accused me as a fascist and so on, and then he said: ‘Why do you have to do this?’. I said because I believe in the inalienable right of adult scientists to make fools of themselves in private, you see. Eventually when talking to them, that whole atmosphere in America which we take as now given, that you don't do things without... without these concerns — as the Americans say — reaching you, was something that was totally... totally, you know, changed completely in the injection of this into the public... into the public atmosphere.

South African Sydney Brenner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. His joint discovery of messenger RNA, and, in more recent years, his development of gene cloning, sequencing and manipulation techniques along with his work for the Human Genome Project have led to his standing as a pioneer in the field of genetics and molecular biology.

Listeners: Lewis Wolpert

Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London. His research interests are in the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He was originally trained as a civil engineer in South Africa but changed to research in cell biology at King's College, London in 1955. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and awarded the CBE in 1990. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He has presented science on both radio and TV and for five years was Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.

 

 


Listen to Lewis Wolpert at Web of Stories

 

 

Tags: The Washington Post, National Academy of Sciences

Duration: 2 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 29 September 2010