By Sheldon Krimsky

Ruth Hubbard will always be remembered as an "Enlightenment Spirit" within the scientific community. Self-reflection is not usually one of the virtues of natural scientists, but Professor Hubbard took the path less traveled. She dedicated a good portion of her career to examining the myopia, sexism, and social implications of scientific claims about what we are and who we are. She also was an unabashed critic of genetic reductionism. She wrote in the American Scientist in 1995: "Knowing my DNA sequence (my "blueprint") gives me no insight into how my metabolic function will be integrated into the complex shape of my specific life."

Even with so-called Mendelian (single-gene) conditions, she correctly noted, the disability varies significantly because of other factors in the individual's body and living environment that affect the penetrance of the genetic mutation. "Genomania" was the term she used for society's obsession with genetic causes ignoring proven public health contributions to wellness. In Profitable Promises: Essays on Women, Science and Health she wrote: "It is an enormous waste of talent and resources to try to foresee the potential health hazards that lurk in the genes of each of us while entire segments of the U.S. and world population are exposed to wholly visible threats to their health and well being."

Professor Hubbard had a profound influence on women in science. She gave women the confidence to lift their voice over the din of patriarchal hegemony that persisted in so many fields. She was a founding member of the Council for Responsible Genetics at its inaugural year of 1983 and continued to contribute as editor of GeneWatch and Board member well past her retirement as Professor Emerita of Biology at Harvard.  She was a signatory to the "Genetic Bill of Rights" issued by CRG in 2000. For reasons of logic, later she reformulated Right No. 10: "All people have the right to have been conceived, gestated, and born without genetic manipulation." She reframed it as: "All people have the right to the integrity of their genome and to refuse to participate in attempts to modify it for any reason or at any point in their lives."

Professor Hubbard, who at times used the name Ruth Hubbard Wald, loved her walks at Fresh Pond in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She also painted, and she wrote a book of poetry titled  Green Sky and Bright Red Grass which had not a trace of science. One poem titled "The Medium and the Message" speaks to the solipsism of technology. 

The Medium is the Message
Said Marshall McLuhan
He is wrong
The medium is
There is no message

cell phones
portable phones
wall phones
press one, press two
answering machines
with mailboxes
stamped mail
webbed wide world
talking superstores

world shrunk
people unreachable
leave a message
we'll get back to you
Who we?
Who you?
The medium
is all

   No we
   No you
   No message.


by Ruth Hubbard Wald  

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