Edward Lewis on Differences in the Field of Molecular Biology over Time
  Edward Lewis     Biography    
Recorded: 04 Jun 2001

I think the difference is that now the sciences are funded by agencies that demand a lot of publications, and don’t fund anybody unless they have a list of publications whether good or not. There are a lot of incentives that have been developed by the federal agencies that are basically bad for science but they may be good for the government [to ensure that] they are not wasting money. So taxpayers may want this; they prove to the taxpayers that they are not wasting money and but it’s not good for science. There are other bad things that aren’t caused by federal agencies. [For example] too large a lab and it is true if you have a large lab, you can turn out a paper a month and the professor puts his name on it. In those days, you could publish something and not have to put the professor’s name on it. That’s because he didn’t have a grant from a federal agency. The Rockefeller Foundation supported our work [and] so did Carnegie for a while. Then the Rockefeller Foundation and finally the ONR, Office of Naval Research, gave us a lot of money without a lot of strings attached. They didn’t demand a lot of publications but now a large group will permit generating many papers. It’s not good because you can’t control a large group for fraud and that’s happened repeatedly in science because of these factors now, because professors don’t have to time to check on every detail that’s coming to them. You always have people who commit fraud; you can’t have courses on how to tell people to be honest. It’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard of.

Well, people didn’t travel the way they did now. A teacher and a good lecturer spends most of his time traveling and giving the lecture somewhere else, which neglects the students and so on. But it does promote science on a national scale but it means that the senior investigator is not working in the lab any more; he’s got too big a group to manage. I’m just old fashioned, you could sort of tell that. I’m sure I would make people with large groups mad, but...

Edward B. Lewis (1918-2004) was a renowned leader in genetics and Drosophila development research. He received his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1942. He served as captain of the United States Army Air Force from 1942-1945 as a meteorologist and an oceanographer in the Pacific Theatre. In 1946, he joined the Caltech faculty and was appointed Professor of Biology in 1956, earning a Thomas Hunt Morgan Professorship in 1966. In 1995, Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development” along with Christiane Nusslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus. Lewis is also a recipient of the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal (1983), the Gairdner Foundation International award (1987), the Wolf Foundation prize in medicine (1989), the Rosenstiel award (1990) and the National Medal of Science (1990).