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12/17/1999 08:00:00

Caltech Humanities Professor Daniel J. Kevles Honored by the History of Science Society

PASADENA—California Institute of Technology humanities professor Daniel J. Kevles was awarded the History of Science Society's 1999 Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize for his book The Baltimore Case: A Trial of Politics, Science, and Character. This prize, named in honor of the longtime director of Science Service and his wife, is awarded annually to the author of a book that promotes public understanding of the history of science.

The Baltimore Case delves into the details of the decade-long scandal surrounding biologist, Nobel laureate, and current Caltech president David Baltimore, who defended colleague Thereza Imanishi-Kari when she was falsely accused of fraudulent research. These accusations were taken to the Congress, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Health and Human Services, where, without the benefit of due process, Imanishi-Kari was found guilty of scientific misconduct.

"Imanishi-Kari had not had a fair trial," writes Kevles in his book. "She had been convicted in the court of public opinion and nowhere else." Imanishi-Kari later appealed, and 10 years after the accusations began, she was exonerated. Kevles stresses in the preface, "At its core, this book is the story of how a great injustice was perpetrated in the name of scientific integrity and the public trust, and how it then came to be remedied, or remedied as much as it could be after its weight had been endured for a decade."

The prize citation applauds Kevles's story for being both "a morality tale of personal courage under the most trying of circumstances and an object lesson in how difficult it is to preserve the independence and integrity of science in an age when [the] government pays billions of dollars for research and demands accountability." The citation continues, "In light of the high significance and undeniable resonance of such issues for a broad and non-academic public, we are pleased to award . . . Kevles for his unforgettable portrayal of the Baltimore Case."

Founded 75 years ago, the History of Science Society (HSS) is a national organization of learning dedicated to understanding science, technology, medicine, and their interactions with society over time. The Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize itself was established in 1985 through a long-term grant from the Davis family. Kevles was honored at the HSS semi-sesquicentennial anniversary meeting, held in Pittsburgh in November, where he received a certificate commemorating his achievement and a $1,000 prize.

Kevles, the J. O. and Juliette Koepfli Professor of the Humanities, has been a member of the Caltech faculty since 1964. His research interests include the history of modern science, science and society, and modern American history. His other books include In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (Alfred A. Knopf, 1985) and The Physicists: The History of a Scientific Community in Modern America (Alfred A. Knopf, 1978). The Baltimore Case (W. W. Norton, 1998) was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and will be available in paperback this January.

Contact: Mohi Kumar (626) 395-8733 mohi@its.caltech.edu