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Ralph Brave, 1953-2007

September 11th, 2007

It was with great shock and sadness that we learned last week of the death of science writer, committed activist, and former CGS Fellow Ralph Brave. He was 54, and died just three weeks after being diagnosed with advanced stage lung cancer.

Ralph had a long history in progressive politics, including key roles with the Indochina Peace Campaign and Tom Hayden's Campaign for Economic Democracy during the 1970s. In the mid-1990s Ralph began researching and writing about the politics and policies of human biotechnology - the Human Genome Project, the history of eugenics in California and elsewhere in the U.S., the biotech industry's agenda in promoting questionable genetic technologies, and related topics. He was stunned by the alacrity with which leading figures in genetic science spoke of "re-engineering" the human species.

Ralph and CGS connected in 2001 and worked together closely over the years since then. In 2003 Ralph served for six months as the first CGS Fellow. He published extensively on the politics of genomics and the new eugenics in The Nation, Washington Post, Salon, Alternet, Sacramento News & Review, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore City Paper and elsewhere. We've posted a number of his pieces below.

Ralph accumulated a vast wealth of knowledge about developments and key players in the genetic and biomedical sciences, about the policies in place - and not in place - to regulate them, and about the cultural and political currents swirling around them. He interviewed James Watson and many other noted scientists, as well as bioethicists, policy makers, science fiction writers, and others. To all of this he applied his keen understanding of the ways of power, and his unfailing hopes for a better future.

In 2003 Ralph coordinated the visit of University of Virginia bioethicist and historian of eugenics Paul Lombardo to the California State Capitol, an effort that was instrumental in the resulting apologies by state officials for California's program of eugenic sterilizations. The story was carried by many national and international newspapers, and on television and radio.

In 2005 Ralph and his partner, UC Davis professor of design Kathryn Sylva, organized the exhibit The Hidden History of California Eugenics at Cal State Sacramento. It documented for the first time the sordid roles played by leading figures in California business, educational and scientific institutions in promoting eugenic policies, practices and ideologies in the early decades of the last century. Beginning then and into the 1970s, more than 20,000 Californians - many, if not most, mentally or physically disabled - were compulsorily sterilized under the banner of "sterilization for human betterment."

Ralph's second-to-last published article, which ran this past July in the Sacramento News & Review, was an exposť of a move by a powerful California land developer and the chair of the state's stem cell agency to promote a questionable human biotech research center in Yolo County.

We saw Ralph for the last time this past May, when CGS organized an event at UC Berkeley featuring Harvard professor of government Michael Sandel, who had just come out with his book on the dangers of human technological "enhancement," The Case Against Perfection. Ralph came down from Davis to interview Sandel before the talk. The photos on this page show the two of them together, with Ralph in true form, obviously pressing hard on some point of great consequence. These may be among the last photographs taken of Ralph engaged in the work he loved.


Ralph Brave, 1953-2007: Sacramento News & Review

Friends and colleagues of Ralph share their memories

Ralph Brave Supplemental Bibliography

Ralph in conversation with Michael Sandel, May 7, 2007:


Ralph Brave in print:


Ralph Brave Supplemental BibliographySeptember 13th, 2007
Life Itselfby Ralph BraveSacramento News & ReviewDecember 7th, 2006Scientists search for mastery over the molecular action inside cells at the UC Davis Genome Center.
Stem-Cell WonderlandWill cures be affordable to all?by Ralph BraveSacramento News & ReviewOctober 20th, 2005Ralph Brave reviews the tensions between the realities and promises of stem cell research and California's Proposition 71. In a sidebar, he touches on the importance of intellectual property rights.
Congratulations, it's a Viking!Eugenics past and futureby Ralph BraveSacramento News & ReviewSeptember 29th, 2005Ralph Brave warns that "marketing enticements and procreative choices [are] luring today's parents-to-be. While some people warn against the dangers of a new 'consumer eugenics,' such ads make it clear we are already considerably down that road."
Human Plants, Human HarvestThe Hidden History of California EugenicsSeptember 27th, 2005This 2005 exhibit was the first to be exclusively devoted to the history of eugenics in California.
Marylandís Stem-Cell Warsby Ralph BraveBaltimore City PaperSeptember 1st, 2004Ralph Brave takes us inside the battles over embryos, cloning, and the future of medicine.
DNA To GoLegislative Audit Reveals Troubling Problems With Maryland State Policeís Handling of DNA Databaseby Ralph BraveBaltimore City PaperJuly 28th, 2004On June 28, the Maryland Office of Legislative Audits released a blistering critique of the Department of State Policeís performance, including management of its forensic DNA database.
James Watson Wants to Build a Better Humanby Ralph BraveAlterNet.orgMay 28th, 2003Did you have a nice DNA Day? And how was your Human Genome Month? If you missed those Congressionally-designated celebrations last month due to minor distractions, like a war or being laid off from your job, don't worry: The media missed the real story anyway.
Human beings, as currently constituted, are good enoughby Ralph BraveSalonApril 30th, 2003An interview with Bill McKibben about his new book, "Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age."
Germline Warfareby Ralph BraveThe NationApril 7th, 2003Bill McKibben's "Enough" is reviewed by Ralph Brave at The Nation.
The Body Shopby Ralph BraveThe NationApril 22nd, 2002Ralph Brave discusses cloning-based stem cell research and other human biotechnologies in this review of "Our Posthuman Future" by Francis Fukuyama.
So Much For the Evidenceby Ralph BraveBaltimore City PaperApril 7th, 2002DNA profiling could revolutionize law enforcement in Maryland - if we let it.
Governing the Genomeby Ralph BraveThe NationDecember 10th, 2001Formulating a progressive position on governing the genome--one that defends basic scientific research, prevents the misuse of genetic technology and upholds the right of individuals to genetic justice and genetic privacy--will be difficult.
Decoding the Genomeby Ralph BraveSalonJanuary 9th, 2001Six new books tackle human biology's Holy Grail, but each fights its own crusade.
Building Better Humansby Ralph BraveSalonJune 27th, 2000The sci-fi possibilities of genetic tampering may soon become real. And there's no law against them.
The Great Gene Raceby Ralph BraveSalonJune 26th, 2000A tiny private company and the giant public genome project jointly crossed the finish line. But the upstart really won.
Unnatural Selectionby Ralph BraveBaltimore City PaperJune 21st, 2000Will unlocking the human genome create an evolution revolution?
The Novel Gene - Onlineby Ralph BraveBaltimore City PaperJune 21st, 2000It turns out that the genetic revolution may not be televised, but it is online, and as accessible as your nearest laptop.

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