Giving Life a New Meaning: The Rise of the Molecular Biology Establishment

  • Edward Yoxen
Part of the Sociology of the Sciences a Yearbook book series (SOSC, volume 6)


1980 saw the appointment of the distinguished physiologist, Sir Andrew Huxley, to the Presidency of the Royal Society in Britain and the joint award of the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine to three molecular biologists, Frederick Sanger, Paul Berg and Walter Gilbert for their various contributions to the practice of genetic manipulation. Huxley’s selection as the titular head of the British scientific establishment is evidence of its deep conservatism (1). The Nobel award illustrates where the newer fields of biology are now moving, towards lucrative and contentious industrial involvement, and the ruthless competition of corporate research. Even amongst this tiny group of rewarded scientists there are some striking contrasts. Huxley comes from an older discipline than molecular biology and is the scion of an established intellectual family. As a pure scientist at the head of an elite institution, he can draw upon a rich cultural vocabulary to reaffirm a traditional, seemingly autonomous role for science in resolute opposition to the economic imperative for change. Sanger, a Cambridge biochemist without a public identity except as the winner of a second Nobel prize, epitomizes productive research in a patrician academic context. On the other hand, Berg has shown more Zivilcourage and innovative skill in the politics of science by organizing an unprecedented moratorium on their new research field as an exercise in the management of public concern.


Molecular Biology Vital Process Living Matter Elite Institution Rockefeller Institute 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward Yoxen
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ManchesterUK

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