Eric Wieschaus — Social Activism as a Professor

(Image from the UND archives: https://hesburghportal.nd.edu/story-dedication-protests)

LC: So there’s this footnote on your wikipedia page that says you signed the 2007 petition to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act. And I also know from your Nobel Prize Bio that you applied for conscientious objector status to the Vietnam War. It seems like you have a little bit of an eye for social issues as well. Can you tell me how you got involved with the petition to repeal the LSEA, and are there any other initiatives that you find of particular importance? 

EFW: Well it’s a hard thing. When you’re young and you don’t have any power, nobody cares what you think. You can demonstrate or you can build up petitions, and that was important for me, I think, to be able to do those things. It becomes a little bit more complicated if you are, say, a Nobel Laureate and you are conscious that maybe people pay more attention to your opinions. Maybe they don’t really, they probably don’t really. But at least it is a kind of a label or something like that and so I would say I am less politically active now. 

I have friends who are, you know the Nobel Laureates, there’s a whole bunch of them out there, and there’s a couple who are truly wonderful about getting us organized occasionally to do something that matters. And I’m very grateful to those people. And I trust them sometimes and then they can put me in a situation where I can say this is something that matters. I find political freedoms, journalistic freedoms, freedom of speech to be important things. I find the idea of torture… certain issues come to the fore, certain issues really matter. There’s this complicated problem of poverty and healthcare and how one deals with this in a society. Having lived in other countries, I don’t have an automatic sense that the way we do things here in the United States is the best solution. I do like to stir things up, but the truth of the matter is that I’m less active now. I live in the lab now and I teach. I’m a democrat, but I’m not politically active or willing to take on those responsibilities. Maybe that’s a bad thing, I think maybe I should. Certainly it would get me back to an earlier phase, an earlier me if you will. 

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