Professor G. J. V. Nossal, professor of medical biology at the University of Melbourne, posed the following question during the 1970 Melbourne Oration and Lecture Series: “In view of the massive problems of over-population, the threat of nuclear disaster, the continuance of racial misunderstanding, and the progressive deterioration of the environment, can anyone but a mindless fool be optimistic about man’s future?”

A good question. It is becoming increasingly obvious that man is doomed unless he solves some of his problems. He teeters on the brink of a nuclear precipice, holding in his hands the means of wiping out all human life. And through his pollution of the atmosphere and the waters he may kill himself off anyway, without waiting for a nuclear war.

Closely examined, most of man’s problems reduce to himself, and his insatiable desire to have more of the good things of life seems to be at their root. He pollutes his environment, for example, not because he likes to see it all messed up, but because it increases his business profits or in some way makes life easier for him.

If man can be reformed, of course, everything may change. That is why Professor Nossal, despite the gloomy picture he painted, is not in the least pessimistic. He thinks men will get better. Indeed, he cites Dr. J. Bronowski of the Salk Institute for the view that science has already made a start toward improvement: “Bronowski goes on to claim that the great ethical force of science has been the dissemination of the idea that truth is a thing which will, in some way, help us all.”

Nossal gives his own view in these words: “Science has shown that cheats do not prosper. There is only one way of achieving fame in science, and that is by adopting the most ...

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