Scientist, writer and Patron of Humanists UK
Steven Rose was born in 1938 to an orthodox Jewish family in north-west London. He went to Haberdashers’ Askes, a direct grant school, from where he won a major open scholarship to Kings College Cambridge. There he gained a double first degree in biochemistry, and then a PhD in neurochemistry from London. Following post-doc periods in Oxford, Rome and London, in 1969 he was appointed Professor of Biology and Director of the Brain and Behaviour Research Group at the Open University, where he is now Emeritus Professor. He has held visiting appointments at the Australian National University, Harvard, the University of Minnesota, the San Francisco Exploratorium, the Academica Sinica in Beijing and most recently at University College, London. For three years he was Joint Professor of Physick (medicine) at Gresham College, London with his partner, the feminist sociologist Hilary Rose. His research centres on the neurobiology of learning and memory and he is working on a potential therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease.
Throughout his career, and in collaboration with Hilary Rose, he has been actively concerned with the ethical, legal and social implications of developments in science, especially in the fields of genetics and neuroscience. His social and political concerns spring from his earliest political memories, in the 1940s, of standing behind a street corner platform in east London on which his ex-serviceman father was speaking against Mosley’s fascists. During the 1960s, like many others, he campaigned against the Vietnam war and the US uses of chemical weapons, and edited a book on chemical and biological warfare. In1969 he co-wrote with Hilary Rose the pioneering and best-selling penguin Science and Society. In 1969 they were co-founders of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. In 2002 they initiated a call for a moratorium on European research collaboration with Israel whilst that country was in breach of the EU Charter of Human Rights and until a just peace was negotiated with the Palestinians. This call led to the creation of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine. The Guardian has described him as a “polemicist on the left”, and his friend and collaborator Patrick Bateson wrote that Rose “may be the last of the Marxist radical scientists,” adding that “Steven is not always right; but he has been very brave in some of the things he has said.”
He has also been interested in the broader aspects of his discipline and in communicating science to a wider public. His first book The Chemistry of Life, published in 1966, became a foundation text for Open University students. The Conscious Brain was particularly successful in the US and The Making of Memory won the 1993 Rhone-Poulenc Science Book Prize. His other books include: The 21st Century Brain: explaining mending and manipulating the mind; Lifelines; The Conscious Brain; and Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology. Buy any of them at Amazon.co.uk through this linkand a small commission will go to Humanists UK. He has received a variety of medals and international awards, most recently the Biochemical Society’s special medal for science communication, the Edinburgh Medal and the silver medal of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts.
He is a regular broadcaster and reviewer/essayist for national newspapers and journals, and for five years was a regular panel member of Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. In July 2001 he was one of the signatories to a letter published in The Independent which urged the Government to reconsider its support for the expansion of maintained religious schools.