What was it that initially separated us from other primates?
What was different about Homo sapiens 30,000 years ago that predicated our survival and the demise of our closest rivals, the Neanderthals?
Why are we obsessed with the notion that GDP is the only possible measure of progress?
If we are able to predict our own demise, why can we not do anything to stop it?
The Gilgamesh Gene is about the human condition, and in particular what it is in our make-up that has brought us, along with most other species on earth, to the brink of extinction. Ultimately it is a question about human psychology. The author draws on the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh to shed light on our predicament and offer a way out.
The epic is the oldest narrative in existence: it tells the story of a vainglorious king, Gilgamesh, who ruled the city of Uruk in Sumer about 2750 BC. He wished to leave a lasting memory of his feats by building great palaces out of cedar wood, killing the mythical guardian of the cedar forests so that he could “stamp his fame on the minds of men forever”. Dr Russell-Jones compares the different versions of the legend and traces their influence through Bronze Age civilisations to traditions that still dominate human thinking and world affairs today.
The Gilgamesh Gene incorporates the key scientific data that underlies the science of global warming, the decline of coral reefs, and the extreme vulnerability of ecosystems everywhere to global changes in the atmosphere and the oceans. His book is a warning that humanity’s demise is imminent, unless precautions are taken.
Lead Versus Health
The Biological Effects of Low Lead Exposure. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1983. Jointly edited with Michael Rutter, FRCP FRS, Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry.
Radiation And Health
The Biological Effects of Low Level Exposure to Ionising Radiation. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1987. Jointly edited with Professor Sir Richard Southwood, FRS, Chairman of the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) Former Chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and future Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University.
Health and Environmental Consequences. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1989. Jointly edited with Tom Wigley, Professor of Climatic Research at the University of East Anglia.
The Ozone Conference took place in 1988 at the Royal Institute of British Architects and was sponsored by FOE, Greenpeace and the Consumers Association, the first time that these three organisations had joined forces on an environmental/health issue.
The second conference was held at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in 1986. It was sponsored by Friends of the Earth and chaired by Professor Sir Richard Southwood FRS Chair of the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB).
Conference organiser Dr Robin Russell-Jones with Sir Richard Southwood (above right).
Below: Dr Robin Russell-Jones with three famous radiobiologists: Dr Alice Stewart, Professor Karl Morgan and Professor Ed Radford, Chair of the BEIR 111 Committee (BEIR = Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation Committee established by the US National Academy of Science).
The conference focused on the ICRP recommendations for exposure to ionising radiation and the observation of clusters of childhood leukemia around Sellafield and Dounreay, the two reprocessing facilities in the UK. The latest cancer statistics amongst the A-bomb survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki indicated that the ICRP cancer risk estimates were too low and subsequently the NRPB recommended that they should be tightened, a recommendation that was adopted by the UK government (and subsequently by the ICRP).
The issue of childhood leukemias around reprocessing facilities was never satisfactorily resolved. There were three competing theories: that the leukemias resulted from parental exposure to ionising radiation within the nuclear facility; that it resulted from exposure of the foetus/child to alpha-emitters released into the environment (particularly from discharges of Plutonium and Americium into the sea); and the Kinlen hypothesis which postulated that groups of workers migrating into a new location resulted in exposure to a hitherto unknown leukemogenic virus. Evidence for and against these various hypotheses were debated and discussed but no definite conclusions could be drawn. Perhaps the most powerful data against theory number 2 (exposure of the foetus/child to alpha emitters) came from the data presented by Sarah Darby and Richard Doll who found no increase in childhood leukemia following the above ground nuclear weapons tests in the 1950’s and 60’s. On the other hand, noone to date has been able to identify a leukemogenic virus amongst the workers or their offspring.
The first conference was entitled “Low Level Lead Exposure and Its Effects on Human Beings” and took place at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London from 10-12 May, 1982. It was organised and sponsored by the CLEAR Charitable Trust. The conference proceedings were edited by Michael Rutter FRS, Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry and Dr Robin Russell-Jones, Deputy Chairman of CLEAR, the Campaign for Lead Free Air. International experts attended from all over the world including Ellen Silbergeld, Chief Toxics Scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington DC, who had done ground-breaking work on the biochemical and neurotoxic effects of lead in animal models; Herb Needleman, Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Paediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, whose seminal study on the relationship between lead in shed milk, teeth and children’s intelligence and behaviour had revolutionised thinking on a causal link between lead and IQ; Continue reading