Tim Tully on Science and Politics: Is Intelligence Genetically Based?
  Tim Tully     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Aug 2003

Jerry Hirsch was my advisor and he invited me to participate on the program. My motivation was that it paid my salary. As I said, my specialty was to understand the scientific argument for the basis of I.Q., which was a highly charged argument back then. If you remember in 1968 Arthur Jensen published his book essentially claiming that there was a genetic basis to the difference between whites and blacks in educational achievements.

In the 1970’s that was a tremendous debate in science that caused a huge polarization of people and their scientific arguments. It was real interesting, actually, that one of the ways that the argument was fought scientifically, which I found strange, was that based on the nature of your scientific argument, you would be immediately labeled as either a political liberal or a political conservative. As somehow to discredit your scientific view. I was in the midst of all of that. I’ve published a couple of commentaries in scientific journals on Jensenism along with Jerry Hirsch. So I knew that extremely well.

Of course, in 1990’s when [Richard] Hernstein and [Charles] Murray published the book, The Bell Curve, I knew from study that that was just a rehashed argument from twenty years earlier during the Jensen-ism era. In fact, Hernstein, who co-authored The Bell Curve with Murray in the 1990’s, co-authored some of these position papers with Jensen in the early 1970s. It was a rehash of the same arguments. It never went anywhere because of this political polarization that was injected deliberately into the scientific argument. So, at that time, I actually walked away from that arena. I could have participated as a commenting scientist on this issue for the rest of my life, like did Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould. These people made careers out of talking about this issue. I could have done the same. But I saw that the argument was not advanced to any degree.

I thought that the best thing that I could do was to hunker down and try to collect some biological data on the subject that might someday lead us to a better understanding of these issues, rather than a continual debate over lack of information. That is what I did at the beginning of my career.

Tim Tully is a molecular geneticist, interested in finding the genetic and biological basis of memory in order to better identify pharmacological and behavioral treatments for memory loss. In 1981, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. Tully joined the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory staff in 1991 to work on discovering genes involved with memory. He became the St. Giles Foundation Professor of Neuroscience and led the Drosophila learning and memory program. In 1998 he founded Helicon Therapeutics, Inc., a development-stage biotechnology firm that works on new therapies for memory loss and other cognition disorders. In June, 2007, Tully left Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to become Helicon's Acting Chief Scientific Officer, and assume a key role in the Michigan-based Dart Foundation as it expands its interest in funding neuroscience research.

His work on the transcriptional factor CREB gave way to the first experimental demonstration of enhanced memory formation in genetically engineered animals. Tully works to identify genes involved with long-term memory formation. Tully has determined that by the regulation of gene expression, new, long-term memories can be formed due to the growth of new synapses.