Jennifer Lake's Blog

November 3, 2010

Molecular Vision: Rockefeller Science

During the 1930s a new biology came into being that by the late 1950s was to endow scientists with unprecendented power over life. These three decades culminated in…the cognitive foundations for genetic engineering. Scientists could now[by the '50s] manipulate genes on the most fundamental level and attempt to control the course of biological and social evolution; they laid claim to “the secret of life”. …As has been well documented, the Rockefeller Foundation served as the principal patron of molecular biology from the 1930s to the 1950s; Caltech [was] a primary site for implementing the Foundation’s project“…
>>These are the opening words in a book by Dr. Lily E. Kay called “The Molecular Vision of Life ; Caltech, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rise of the New Biology“, published in 1993 by Oxford University Press. Lily Kay’s book, her first of only two, is scarce and expensive. A used hardcover will cost you $300. Kay passed away in 2000 at age 53 and I wonder if her book is now appreciating like a piece of art. One suspects she was a consummate insider participating in the abstraction of scientific history. She wrote that the Rockefeller-created field of molecular biology was the incarnation of redirected eugenics which was “animated by a potent conjunction of Protestant values and technocratic visions” [p10] making clear that its purpose was “to control biological destiny” [p17]. To prove her point naming giants in the field with Protestant bona fides, still with great subtlety, however, like a code running through the text, Lily Kay coaxes a truer sense of ‘values’ from her subject than she perhaps intended. Her Protestants are tainted, weak, ‘old school’ and “not religious” (a “not religious” Protestant is no Protestant at all) and these leading personalities were beholden to their advisors and collaborators. Much in the way that Kay wrote “Scientists could now manipulate genes…they laid claim to ‘the secret of life’”, it was the scientists who were Lily Kay’s heroes. They were the creators and they made it all possible by devotedly navigating their special ideas through the turbulence of rough political times. The Molecular Vision’s retrospective abruptly ends for its readers in 1955, the year that polio vaccine set a precedent in public medicine.  
You may guess that the social and biological destiny of mankind was at hand.
They intended to create a new science of life [p6]…The new biology not only reflected the particular bias of its principal architects –physicist Max Mason and mathematician Warren Weaver– but the more general bias of a technocratic elite who had dominated American culture during the 1920s…
Conceived during the late 1920s, the new agenda was articulated in terms of the contemporary technocratic discourse of human engineering… the new biology (originally named “psychobiology”) was erected on the bedrock of the physical sciences in order to rigorously explain and eventually control the fundamental mechanisms governing human behavior”[p8]
A concerted physicochemical attack on the gene was initiated at the moment in history when it became unacceptable to advocate social control based on crude eugenic principles…
Time was seldom a deterrent for the visionaries of the Rockefeller Foundation..[which] had been the main force behind the development of the social sciences in America..[p9]
Programmatic statements, reports, and memoranda from the various Rockefeller divisions attest that on social and ideological levels there was no fundamental separation of purpose between the heads of corporations and the leadership of the Foundation.” [p10]
>> The Rockefeller method of building a science establishment depended upon creating a “hegemonic bloc” in the period between 1913, when the RF received a Congressional charter, and 1933, when the program goals were “fully articulated”. Despite what Kay called “echoes of minor dissent” [p28], we are told that “these voices of dissent..did not represent the majority of academic scientists who kept knocking on the foundations’ gates… The efforts of this group came to fruition after World War I“.  I’ve posted a sketch of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (RIMR) at  . “Fruition” entailed the significant marriage of the RIMR to the U.S. military, accomplished during the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 when the epidemiologic investigation centered in New York City. The RIMR, under the leadership of Simon Flexner,  earned its stripes as a flagship institution in the 1916 polio epidemic which spread widely across the states claiming 27,000 victims. One third of them, 9,000 cases, were reported in NYC. At that time, and for the next several decades, Simon Flexner and the RIMR were the principal researchers of polio. Polio is only superficially addressed in “The Molecular Vision”, appearing briefly as another pressing dilemna by mid-century, but in the wider context of Rockefeller science, it stands out like a red thread on a blue field. Its causes are acute radiation and chemical poisoning.
Look to the link for a list of RIMR staff presidents. See if you can find a Protestant. This was Rockefeller’s primary pool of “advisors and collaborators”. 
A cursory glance at Caltech during the 1930-1950s reveals that the Institute nutured some of the most important ‘founding fathers’ of American molecular biology [a]ll supported by the Rockefeller Foundation [p12]… Caltech, of course, was not the sole center for the new biology… A survey of the Foundation’s annual reports from 1930 to 1955 reveals that the Foundation supported molecular biology projects in scores of elite institutions but invested the largest sums in six… In accord with its long-standing policy of supporting the strong –”making the peaks higher”– the University of Chicago, Caltech, Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, and the University of Wisconsin most consistently received grants [p13]…
…the Foundation’s support of Chicago equaled that of Caltech [p14]… Chicago’s genetics [research] had a strong focus on populations..[with biology] under the leadership of Paul Weiss…[and] by the late 1920s, Caltech formed the hub of America’s scientific establishment” [p15]
“[T]he Rockefeller Foundation’s “Science of Man” agenda.. linked the particular forms of social control sought by that agenda with the specific kinds of control supplied by the new biology… Greatly influenced by Jacques Loeb’s project, which had adopted the engineering standpoint toward the control of life, the Rockefeller Foundation officers and their scientific advisors sought to develop a mechanistic biology as the central element of a new science of man whose goal was social engineering… The life sciences aimed to map the pathways in the molecular labyrinth of the human soma and psyche in order to control biological destiny.” [p17]
Not all branches of science were equally relevant to the pressing problem of social control, however. During the 1920s, under the leadership of Wickliffe Rose, the [RF] International Educational Board directed its resources to the physical sciences –grants for the rehabilitation of European research centers and travel fellowships for chemists, physicists, and mathematicians. Guided in part by Frederick Soddy’s fear of premature use of nuclear fission, [Raymond] Fosdick [future RF president] prophesied doom if the physical sciences proceeded unchecked and the savage was left unrestrained.
…Fosdick’s judgement that overinvestment in the physical sciences merely accelerated the pace of runaway technology and that underinvestment in the human sciences amplified the atavistic social response became the guiding principle in the Foundation’s singular commitment to support the human sciences durng the 1930s.” [p33]
>>Was the “fear of premature use of nuclear fission” a problem in the late1920s? Kay is suggestively framing around a hole in history. What else could be as imperative and demanding a driver for a “pressing problem of social control”? Is this a veiled way of discerning early and secretive achievements in nuclear power? It’s rarely brought to our attention that perceived boons to medicine like X-rays were also the first nuclear weapons, “biological” in application and essence.  The achievement of fission led to radiopharmaceuticals in the late 1920s, but did it also lead to controllable “chain reaction”? No new technology was required for this advance. Edward Teller wrote in his Memoirs that Enrico Fermi could have produced chain reaction in 1932, when Teller worked with him, if his theoretical equations had only been right.
 >>It was unequivocally in the name of medicine that nuclear proliferation erupted across the developing world.
Fosdick did not underestimate the opposing forces, however…He had no “illusions as to the speed or ease with which mankind can alter its way of life. There is no royal road to the millenium, no short cut to the Promised Land.” [p36]
>>Raymond Fosdick and his brother Harry Emerson Fosdick both represent what Lily Kay called the “Calvinist ethos”. These brothers were descriptive of “extreme evangelism”. Harry Fosdick was hired by John D. Rockefeller Jr. as the pastor of  the Riverside Church, founded by Rockefellers in Morningside Heights, NY, and opened in October 1930. Publicist Ivy Lee was hired to create a direct mailer promoting “The New Knowledge and the Christian Faith”. Ecumenism and Zionismwere central to the doctrine of the Rockefeller religion.
>>The conservative funding policies of the RF for New Biology were couched in terms of ‘stimulus’; money that kept programs afloat while their administrators sought ‘matching funds’ (an idea credited to Julius Rosenwald) and local business support. In the case of Caltech, Lily Kay recounts how the strategic witholding of RF funds prompted an energetic campaign among CIT leadership to creatively solicit support from a wide community of philanthropists and agribusiness. Caltech’s survival required the cooperative financial input of California agribusinesses seeking industry advantages but as Kay points out on page 214, “Caltech’s biology was never intended to play a service role to California’s agribusiness.” The PR spin was delivered in future terms as promises of medical advance for “the welfare of mankind throughout the world” [p219] and the solving of the “problems of medicine“. In the post-WWII era the problems were polio and cancer. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis became a generous benefactor to the immunochemistry project at Caltech.
“Gone was the rhetoric of biological improvements of the race… Gone also was Caltech’s connection to the old eugenics. With the death of E.S. Gosney in 1942, the trustees of the Human Betterment Foundation (including Millikan and a few Caltech trustees) agreed that the Foundation’s interests would be best served by transferring its activities to Caltech. In October 1943 an agreement was drawn up dissolving the Human Betterment Foundation as such and turning over its assets to the Institute. The Institute, in turn, agreed to use these resources “and the proceeds thereof to establish the Gosney Research Fund, the income from which will be devoted in perpetuity to the promotion of research into the biological bases of human qualities…”. Linguistically watered down from its eugenic potency, the Gosney Fund would support postdoctoral fellowships in “those branches of biological science basic to our understanding of human welfare.” The New York Times too refurbished its prose. The announcement emphasized the medical connection: “$700,000 to Trace Polio and Cancer –Rockefeller Grant is Made for California Institute Research in Molecular Biology”. [pp238-239]
In May 1946, physicist Lee DuBridge, protege of former RF president Max Mason, took the presidency of Caltech:
 “DuBridge had built up the ‘Rad Lab’ [at M.I.T.] into the largest single-purpose scientific research plan in history, larger even than the atomic bomb project.” [p235]
 “The Berkeley cyclotron project, financed by the Rockefeller Foundation, was diverted during the war years from its putative medical applications to the production of fissionable material… However, they [the RF] would have preferred to distance themselves from the dubious honor bestowed by Ernest O. Lawrence who unwittingly boasted that “if it hadn’t been for the RF, there would have been no atomic bomb.” [p219]
The Molecular Vision of Life is an insightful book for demonstrating the modus operandi of RF funding policies; conservative, witholding, nurturing, and rewardingly lavish when pleasing, what Lily Kay describes as “mixed”. Like a sociologist interpreting the mechanisms and benefits of Tough Love, Kay points to the collective negotiating endeavors of the scientists to earn their allowances from strict and demanding parents. There was, unspokenly, no reason to expect they would not be bankrolled in the end. Her exemplary choice of Linus Pauling (a flambuoyantly grandiose, nonreligious Protestant) who was harnessed and quartered at Caltech, is emblematic of not only the Rockefeller Foundation style of grooming, but is telling on herself as a visible process of concensus shaping in the creation of history, what I’d prefer to call “distory” for its characteristic distortion and negligence. Kay, no doubt, was keen to master a facility for presentation and reap lavish rewards herself. Interesting, isn’t it, that a daughter of Polish concentration camp survivors who migrated to Israel and then to the United States would posthumously attain the iconic status of the greatest science historian of her generation with so little to show for it? Somebody at the Wikipedia made this up: 
Her statements are powerful, however; the methods sound genuine. Perhaps she was balancing on a razor’s edge. I know nothing about her or the cancer that caused her death, except that she seemed eager and pleased by the spotlight, so much like the Protestants in her book. 
According to Charles E. Carlson who is exposing the roots of Christian Zionism, the Oxford University Press created a New York office expressly for selling bibles, in particular the Scofield Bible which was issued c. 1908.
“The North American branch was established in 1896 at 91 Fifth Avenue in New York City to facilitate the sale of Oxford Bibles in the United States. Subsequently, it took over marketing of all books of its parent from Macmillan. This office grew in sales between 1928 and 1936, eventually becoming one of the leading University Presses in the United States. It is focused on scholarly and reference books, Bibles, and college and medical textbooks. In the 1990s, this office moved from 200 Madison Avenue (a building it shared with Putnam Publishing) to 198 Madison Avenue, which was the former B. Altman Company headquarters.”
Caltech, or C.I.T., was founded in 1891 as “Throop Polytechnic University”. Pasadena’s Mount Wilson Observatory, est. 1904, was enfolded by its founder George Ellery Hale (U. Chicago) who joined the Board of Trustees. In 1921, the school was renamed the California Institute of Technology. The biology department was organized under the direction of Thomas Hunt Morgan in 1928. That same year, an endowment by Daniel Guggenheim established the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory (or GALCIT) which contracted Hungarian Theodore von Karman as its director. Caltech and von Karman went on to create the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) which came under co-management with NASA.
The focus of scientific research at the Institute under Millikan during the 1930s ranged from Drosophila genetics and the biochemistry of vitamins in biology, to the theory of turbulence and airplane wing design in aeronautics; from cancer therapy with radiation and the radioactivity of the light elements in nuclear physics, to soil erosion and the transmission of water from the Colorado River to Los Angeles in engineering; from the application of quantum mechanics to molecular structure in chemistry, to the introduction of the magnitude scale in seismology. An educational institution in name only during the war, Caltech had a war arsenal that included rockets, proximity fuses, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and $80 million in federal funds for war-related research and development.”


Creation of the Atom Bomb in the mid-20th century followed a forecast made in 1875 when  the Englishman Samuel Tolver Preston, scientist and theologian, published the equation that later became the foundation of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (1905). Many researchers speculate that Einstein was a fraud for laying (or accepting) a personal claim on the hard work and genius of his predecessors and peers which included his first wife. His complicity in military research has been veiled to support his public stance as a pacifist. Einstein’s zionism is downplayed by his mainstream biographers but there is no evidence that he was not idealogically complete and commited to the World Zionist cause. In 1921, Einstein made his first trip to the United States with Chaim Weizmann, president of the WZO, to promote the Jewish interests in Palestine and the building of Hebrew University. A legacy of that visit was the formation of a zionist “Physicians Committee” in New York.

   Einstein established a special relationship with Caltech between 1931 and 1933, prior to his permanent U.S. residency in Princeton, New Jersey, at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). The IAS was founded by Abraham Flexner and funded by the Bambergers in 1930. Co-incident with IAS’s founding was the construction of Rockefeller Center in NYC. The small town of Princeton was also home to Rockefeller’s Department of Animal Pathology (DAP). DAP infamously developed a human-swine bacterial mutant in 1937, intentionally infecting a herd at one of its experimental (open air) farms that may be the first genuine occurrance of “swine flu” involving human genes.

   Abraham Flexner was the younger brother of Simon Flexner, longtime director of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research(RIMR) in Manhattan and also Bernard Flexner who was well known as a leading American Zionist. Abraham Flexner presided over Rockefeller’s General Education Board and helped to co-found premier American medical colleges, such as the University of Rochester (essential to the Manhattan Project) and Vanderbilt medical schools.  He is widely known as the creator of the “Flexner Report” in 1910,  a medical school survey that was used to establish accreditation requirements thereafter. Abraham Flexner counted RF trustees Julius Rosenwald and son Lessing J. Rosenwald among his few lifelong associates, as is commonly found between the “associates”  in the Rockefeller/Carnegie foundation network. Julius Rosenwald specifically reserved a grant-making endowment in 1933 for “cultural” Jewish refugee academics who relocated to the U.S. when the 1933 headlines read “Jews Declare War on Germany”. The Rosenwald Fund was disseminated by the “Emergency Committee In Aid of Displaced Jewish Scholars”. Bernard Flexner was a top officer in this prominent organization, however, it was only one among hundreds of “rescue” operations, notable for its selectivity. A larger relocation effort was launched by the British Academic Assistance Council which was sponsored by governors of the London School of Economics, aided by physicist Leo Szilard (Einstein’s friend) and Churchill’s war counselor, Lord Cherwell, the physicist Frederick Lindemann (founder of Clarendon Lab, Oxford). For new readers, this is a taste of Rockefeller’s web-like infrastructure. The cooperation, hegemony, and concensus platform of the RF was in itself a compartment of a larger global network.

Albert Einstein, incidentally, makes a first appearance in Seymour Hersh’s The Samson Option in a footnote on page 25: “According to Shimon Peres, Weizmann approached Albert Einstein, then teaching at Princeton, and asked him to recommend one of his students to run the [Daniel Sieff] institute. Einstein instead suggested [Ernst] Bergmann, who didn’t get the job [at that time] for reasons not known.” On the following page Hersh writes, from an interview with Herman Mark, “Without Bergmann..there would have been no Israeli bomb:…He was the man who completely understood it [nuclear fission]“. Hersh further adds, on page 44, “Herman Mark explained years later why Ben-Gurion had picked the right man: ‘Bergman was one of the few scientists who saw the lamp and knew how to make a light bulb’…in 1979, Shimon Peres eulogized one of the seven founders of the State of Israel.” It may have gone unnoticed by The Samson Option readers that Hersh introduced Bergmann’s connection to Einstein buried in a footnote. Einstein, who originally “picked the right man”, surely, knew well of Bergmann’s capacity to build a nuclear arsenal for Israel. Between 1934 and 1936, Einstein’s “patent” partner, Leo Szilard, submitted a nuclear reactor design to the British Admiralty, requiring controlled fission and an earlier-than-advertized apprehension of nuclear power. The significant hole in history that is being skirted by all sources cited here, is that “nuclear options” were secretly tabled many years before the public was allowed to know, obtaining the announcements in the heat of WWII and the “race for the bomb” in which Einstein played a tremendously influential role.

Warren Weaver, who is named above as an ‘architect’ of the RF molecular biology program, became the Chairman of the Salk Institute after his retirement from active service as an RF division president. Popular books that trace the history of Jonas Salk never fail to remark upon the “anti-Semitism” of the Rockefeller Institute (RIMR) where Salk aspired to work in research after his MD residency at Mount Sinai Hospital. Salk was rejected (we can say “distanced”) for better “grooming” but was nevertheless taken well in hand. Salk’s mentor, Thomas Francis Jr., was personally close to the Rockefeller family. Together, Francis and Salk developed flu vaccine for the military under the auspices of the Army Epidemiological Board (AEB or AFEB) during WWII. The war-time AEB was dominated by Rockefeller alumni.

 It was Rockefeller that came to Salk, by appearances, in the late 1950s, providing the bedrock of Salk Institute staff and oversight.   

Rockefeller Foundation officers and trustees, 1913-1930
Lily Kay’s first printed words, under Acknowledgements read, “My interest in molecular biology, the science and its history, go back a decade and a half, to my days at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. This inspiring intellectual and physical space..initiated a search for answers beyond the scope of the laboratory. …A Smithsonian Fellowship contributed to this project… A grant from the National Science Foundation has aided the writing, and an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship provided an exposure to the wealth of manuscript the American Philosophical Society Library… I am indebted to the Rockefeller Archive Center for their research grants...”
From 1991 through 2001, much of what was learned about the use of anthrax as a bioweapon was investigated by Salk Institute fellows. 


One does not need to be a scientist to intuitively understand the potential of  “upward causation”; the molecular equivalent of the “butterfly effect” which posits that even the minutest ‘force’ of a change-agent can be magnified as it transmits a local effect “upward” into a greater sphere of complexity and force. Upward causation in biology is still not well understood according to Kay who wrote, “..the question of how much we can learn about life by examining its building blocks has not been resolved. Mechanisms of upward causation have been remarkably effective for a finite range of biological phenomena but have not effectively explained some of the primary characteristics of life.” [p17]. From the pen of a true-believer, Kay is telling us that Science must be allowed to progress. Kay’s patrons had narrowed their Vision in the past, choosing from the “multiplicity of biological realities..that could have been singled out and promoted by the Rockefeller Foundation during the 1930s.”  But this does not square with the multiplicity of Rockefeller realities. The primary characteristics of life were never to be found in petri dishes or between the sheets of one-inch-square glass. “Theoretical biology” was not to be indulged in on the Rockefeller dime.

On this, at least, the message is discernibly clear: “..a molecular vision of life…is embedded in the matrix that linked the particular forms of social control sought by that agenda with the specific kinds of control supplied by the new biology.”

For more on how the Rockefeller Foundation implemented its “fully articulated” program and staffed its institutions in 1933, and onward, read

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