Ruth Hubbard — prominent biologist, feminist scholar, multi-faceted social justice advocate, and critic of what she termed “the gene myth” — died on September 1 at the age of 92. Her scholarly and public interest efforts to track and shape the politics of human genetics were an important inspiration to many working on these matters today, including those of us who helped establish the Center for Genetics and Society.
In 1974, Ruth became the first woman to be awarded tenure in the Harvard University biology department. In 1983, she was a founding member of the Council for Responsible Genetics. She also served on the boards of directors of the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism and the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Her books include The Politics of Women’s Biology (1990), Exploding the Gene Myth: How Genetic Information is Produced and Manipulated by Scientists, Physicians, Employers, Insurance Companies, Educators, and Law Enforcers (with Elijah Wald, 1993), and Profitable Promises: Essays on Women, Science, and Health (2002).
Ruth took on a range of political and social challenges related to the politics of science, genetic determinism, race, and gender. Among these was human germline modification, which she strongly opposed. In 1999, she co-authored Human germline gene modification: a dissent with Stuart Newman and Paul Billings in The Lancet.
In 1993, she wrote in Exploding the Gene Myth:
Clearly, the eugenic implications of [human germline modification] are enormous. It brings us into a Brave New World in which scientists, or other self-appointed arbiters of human excellence, would be able to decide which are “bad” genes and when to replace them with “good” ones….We need to pay attention to the experiments that will be proposed for germ-line genetic manipulations, and to oppose the rationales that will be put forward to advance their implementation, wherever and whenever they are discussed.