Journal of Biosciences

, Volume 28, Issue 5, pp 539–546

J D Bernal (1901–1971) in perspective

  • Alan L. Mackay


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
  3. 4.
    Blackett P M S, (Nobel Prize, President of the Royal Society, etc.) who also played an important role in the war, found himself isolated from government from 1945 until 1964 because of his political views. R. Anderson, Notes and Record of the Royal Society,53 (2), 253–273, (1999) and53, (3), 345–360, (1999).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    Bernal J D “A Life in Science and Politics” ed. by Brenda Swann and Francis Aprahamian, with a preface (and chapter) by Eric Hobsbawm, Verso, London, 1999.Google Scholar
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    Brenda Maddox, “Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA”, Harper Collins, 2002.Google Scholar
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    “The lights are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them alight again in our generation”. Edward Grey, August 1914.Google Scholar
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    “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?/Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” T S Eliot, [Where is the information we have lost in data?/Where is the data we have lost in noise? — added 1980 A.L.M.].Google Scholar
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    Bernal J D and Carlisle C H “The Range of Generalised Crystallography”, Soviet Physics — Crystallography, 13, (5), 811–831, (March/April 1969).Google Scholar
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    John Ziman, (“Public Knowledge: the social dimension of science”, Cambridge, 1968), defines science as public knowledge but more in contrast to ‘knowledge’ by revelation or decree, rather than as a subject for ‘ownership’.Google Scholar
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    Voprosy Istorii estestvoznaniya i tekhniki, (6), 72–150, (1958).Google Scholar
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    John Peyton, “Solly Zuckerman: a scientist out of the ordinary”, John Murray, 2001.Google Scholar
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    see, for example,Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia. By Stephen F Cohen, New York: W. W. Norton, 2000, 320 pp.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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    Ashby E “Scientist in Russia”, Penguin, (1947). Enormously more information has become available since 1991. See books by Loren Graham, David Holloway and Paul Josephson, in particular.Google Scholar
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    Bukharin N I “Metodologiya i Planirovanie Nauki i Tekhniki” ed. P V Volobuev, Moscow, 1989.Google Scholar
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    Paul Josephson (Colby College, USA) has had access to the archives in Leningrad and has also written about Boris Hessen. The biographer of Bukharin, Stephen Cohen, was able, during a window of opportunity in the Gorbachev period, to recover very important manuscript material written by Bukharin in prison.Google Scholar

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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