Daniel Nathans’ speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1978
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I speak on behalf of the three Laureates in Medicine in expressing our deep appreciation to Your Majesty and to all those who have made of Alfred Nobel’s legacy a unique tribute to human achievement.
Scientific knowledge is cumulative; each individual builds on the accomplishments of others. Recent dramatic advances in genetics, the science of heredity, represent a striking example of this process. As a result of the efforts of many scientists, the hereditary material of every living organism is now open to detailed analysis. In time these studies are likely to lead to an understanding of complex genetic programs that regulate the growth, development, and specialized functions of higher organisms, including man. And based on historic precedent, it is probable that practical benefit will follow from such fundamental knowledge.
The “new genetics” of which I speak has also served as a point of interaction between science and society, initiated by scientists themselves. Questions related to benefits and risks of genetic research, the uses of scientific knowledge, and limits to scientific inquiry have been publicly debated in many countries. Out of this dialogue has come the realization that in a democratic society we must put our trust ultimately in the good sense of an informed people; that we – the scientists – must communicate more fully our knowledge, our judgments, and, yes, our human qualities to the public and its elected representatives; and that the press bears responsibility for mature and accurate reporting.
From some quarters has come fear of new knowledge. In our view, however, the future well-being of the human family depends on continuous creativity and new discovery. This is the faith we share with Alfred Nobel.