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Article
August 5, 1988

Medical Science, Infectious Disease, and the Unity of Humankind

Author Affiliations

From the Office of the President, The Rockefeller University, New York. Dr Lederberg won the Nobel prize in physiology and medicine in 1958. This article was adapted from a presentation at a conference of Nobel laureates sponsored by François Mitterand and Elie Wiesel, Paris, January 1988.

From the Office of the President, The Rockefeller University, New York. Dr Lederberg won the Nobel prize in physiology and medicine in 1958. This article was adapted from a presentation at a conference of Nobel laureates sponsored by François Mitterand and Elie Wiesel, Paris, January 1988.

JAMA. 1988;260(5):684-685. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03410050104039
Abstract

The ravaging epidemic of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome has shocked the world. It is still not comprehended widely that it is a natural, almost predictable, phenomenon. We will face similar catastrophes again, and will be ever more confounded in dealing with them, if we do not come to grips with the realities of the place of our species in nature. A large measure of humanistic progress is dedicated to the subordination of human nature to our ideals of individual perfectability and autonomy. Human intelligence, culture, and technology have left all other plant and animal species out of the competition. We also may legislate human behavior. But we have too many illusions that we can, by writ, govern the remaining vital kingdoms, the microbes, that remain our competitors of last resort for dominion of the planet. The bacteria and viruses know nothing of national sovereignties. In that natural evolutionary competition, there is

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