Journal of Biosciences

, Volume 28, Issue 5, pp 539–546

J D Bernal (1901–1971) in perspective

  • Alan L. Mackay
Perspectives

Conclusion

We must conclude that the sub-title of Bernal’s “The Social Function of Science” — “What science does: what science could do” is still the relevant challenge and indicates Bernal’s chief contribution, besides the foundation of molecular biology to our civilization. It is manifest that resources spent on armaments are a monstrous pathological symptom of our social structure. The ancient problem of “what is property” and what may be “owned” and by whom or by what organs of society is awakening.

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Notes and references

  1. 1.
    If you are a scientist at an American research university like mine, you know what to do if you think you’ve hit on some technique or bit of knowledge that might have commercial potential. You go online to the university’s technology transfer office, download an invention and technology disclosure form, and fill in the details. You have to do that because all such intellectual property (IP) discovered by this university’s employees belongs to the university. If the local bureaucrats think there’s something in it, they will file a provisional patent and after formally offering it to any government agency that funded the research — which usually declines — they will start hawking the IP about to see if any entrepreneurs or companies want to license it. Priority in your IP is protected at this stage, and you can now go ahead and publish if you wish, but eventually you may proceed to full (or utility) patent, where property rights are wrapped up more securely, and, while IP lawyers make fortunes from litigation about who in fact owns the property, basically the matter is now in the domain of formal law. If the university does manage to license the IP, you will get perhaps 35% of the royalty stream. Or, if that’s not enough for you, you can cut yourself free from academia and take your chances with the venture capitalists as an independent entrepreneur. — Steven Shaplin, (University of California at San Diego), London Review of Books, 6 March 2003, p. 14.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Royal Society obituary by Dorothy Hodgkin is essential reading. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society,26, 17–84, (December 1980). Andrew Brown (biographer of Chadwick) has a new biography of Bernal in hand.Google Scholar
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    The roles of heredity and environment become ever more interrelated and questions of the genetic content of behaviour remains a vital issue. e.g. Ridley M “Genome. The autobiography of a species”, Fourth Estate, London, 1999. Wilson E O, “Sociobiology”, and “Consilience”.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Indian Academy of Sciences 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan L. Mackay
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Crystallography, Birkbeck CollegeUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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