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SOME FACTS OF LIFE-BIOLOGY AND POLITICS* HANS A. KREBSi In choosing the subject matter of this discourse, 1 bore in mind that it was one of the original ideas of the Founders of the Royal Institution 'to create an institution in which instruction is given in the application of Science in all its forms to the common purposes of life.' I also had in mind the exhortation, frequently voiced these days, that it is the responsibility of research scientists, not only to bring to light new knowledge but also to draw attention to the implications of any new knowledge for society. So I propose to discuss the bearing of some general biological knowledge upon problems now facing society . Weaknesses and Sicknesses of Society What are the problems facing society? They are the weaknesses, if not sicknesses, summarised under such headings as ever-increasing criminality, increased senseless vandalism and hooliganism, increased drug addiction, student unrest, industrial unrest in the form of reckless unofficial strikes, excessive absenteeism (i.e. absence from work without good reason) the precarious position of the national economy, the irresponsible exploitation of natural resources causing pollution and destruction of amenities. This is a list of headings. To elaborate just a few details: as for criminality, almost every day we read in the newspapers about the increased violence which makes it risky to walk in darkness in lonely streets. We hear about the tremendous scale of pilfering, which in shops alone equals three 'great train robberies' a week. Pilfering by employees is estimated at about £.350,000,000 per year and shop- * Discourse given before the Royal Institution of Great Britain on February 5, 1971. Readers should note that the lecture was addressed to a British audience and referred primarily to circumstances in Britain. t Metabolic Research Laboratory, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, England.© 1971 by Hans A. Krebs. All rights reserved. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Summer 1972 | 491 lifting at about half this rate. We read about vandalism and hooliganism by football supporters who destroy railway carriages. At Oxford, and elsewhere, we see the work of the hooligans in the destruction of trees in streets, lamp-posts, signposts and of amenity seats. We read that at Bournemouth 500 car tyres were slashed on July 19th, 1970. A recent report of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise for 1969/70 tells us that the number of seizures of prohibited drugs was over 90% up on 1968/69 figures. As for industrial unrest, the harm done by the many recent strike waves is still fresh in our memory. The year 1970 has been the worst year for strikes since 1926—the year of the General Strike. Medically certified absenteeism has increased 15% in the last 15 years, and a disturbing feature is the fact that this increase almost entirely concerns persons under 45 where the number of spells of absence per person has increased by 80% and the average number of days off by 90% whilst there has been little change in people of over 45. One- and two-day absences (which as a rule are not medically certified) have increased even more than certified spells, especially among younger persons. These are but a few examples of the ailments besetting our society. Taken together they constitute, I think, a serious sickness of society. And it should be no consolation to us that this sickness also occurs abroad. Perhaps the most worrying aspect is the fact that, in spite of many attempts to halt the spread of the ailments, every one of them has grown rather than subsided. And a further extraordinary feature of this deterioration of human conduct and of this decreasing sense of personal responsibility towards society is the circumstance that people as individuals are better off than ever before. The standard of living in terms of good working conditions, short working hours, adequate incomes for the necessities of life and much to spare for luxuries and pleasure, as well as social security, have all enormously improved in the last thirty years. The contrast between these improvements and the deterioration in observing the law, and beyond this of giving service to the community, indicates...


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