H. Bentley Glass bigraphy, stories - American geneticist

H. Bentley Glass : biography

January 17, 1906 - January 16, 2005

Hiram Bentley Glass (January 17, 1906 – January 16, 2005) was an American geneticist and noted columnist. Born in China to missionary parents, he attended college at Baylor University in Texas. He then furthered his education at the University of Texas, where he received his Ph.D. degree under the mentorship of geneticist Hermann Joseph Muller. His first major academic appointment was at Johns Hopkins University, at which time he was also a regular columnist for the Baltimore Evening Sun newspaper.

Glass was a frequent attendee of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Symposia.

Dr. Glass' scientific papers were donated to and are available at the American Philosophical Society.

Throughout his long scientific career, he held many distinguished academic titles, including

  • Editor of The Quarterly Review of Biology, 1944-1986
  • Editor of Science, 1953
  • President of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), 1954-1956
  • President of the Maryland Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 1955-1965
  • President of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), 1958-1960
  • Chairman of the Board of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), 1959-1965
  • President of the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG), 1967
  • President of Phi Beta Kappa, 1967-1970
  • President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 1969
  • President of the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT), 1971

Glass on Genetic Determinism

Like his doctoral mentor H. J. Muller, Bentley Glass was deeply concerned about eugenics. In response to the destructive (consciously or unconsciously racist) views of Charles Davenport, Morris Steggerda and others, Glass wrote "Geneticists Embattled: Their Stand Against Rampant Eugenics and Racism in America During the 1920s and 1930s". The following excerpt is emblematic:

"Let us remember that the genes which are passed down in the egg and sperm from one generation to another are simply molecules of DNA, selected over eons as providing individuals to survive in a real world and to reproduce when mature. The genes control only the kinds of proteins that are actually made in the cell and tissues of the growing, developing individual, or control the turning on and turning off of these synthetic processes at appropriate times and in appropriate tissues during development. Their effects, whether fortunate or unfortunate, depend on the circumstances of the environment, biological, social cultural. Behavior reflects the changes in state and attitude assumed by a growing, developing being as its situation becomes altered. Darwinian evolution is based on the selection (read “preservation” or “perpetuation”) of whatever genetic differences promote survival and reproduction, although that may include even such forms of behavior as altruism if thereby genes like those of the self-sacrificing individual are preserved in the related beings saved from death or infertility. But the circumstances—-that is, the environment—-define what is a “good” gene and what is a “bad” one. The flaw in Social Darwinism, and likewise in the over-extended sociobiology, is to ignore the interdependency of genes and environment—-to think in absolute terms of good or bad genes, good or bad phenotypes."

(excerpt from "Geneticists Embattled," p. 148)

Selected bibliography

  • Bentley Glass Progress or Catastrophe: The Nature of Biological Science and Its Impact on Human Society (Praeger Publishers, 1985). ISBN 0-275-90107-6
  • Bentley Glass, Owsei Temkin, William L. Straus, Jr. Forerunners of Darwin, 1745-1859 (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968) ISBN 0-8018-0222-9
  • Bentley Glass "The Biology of Nuclear War," The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 24, No. 6 (Oct. 1962), pp. 407-425.
  • Bentley Glass "Ethical Basis of Science" (Haifa, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, 1969)
  • Bentley Glass "Science and ethical values" (Greenwood Press, 1981)
  • Bentley Glass "“Geneticists Embattled: Their Stand Against Rampant Eugenics and Racism in America During the 1920s and 1930s,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 130, No. 1 (1986) pp. 130–155
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