Dr. Jerry Hirsch

05/11/2008 – Dr. Jerry Hirsch, Behavior Geneticist and Outspoken Critic of the Misuse and Abuse of Genetics, Dies at 85.

Jerry Hirsch died May 3, 2008, at home, age 85, a resident of Urbana, Illinois since 1960. Dr. Hirsch was born Sep 20, 1922 in New York City, New York to Molly (Barnett) and Samuel ("S.M.") Hirsch, and raised in NYC with older sister Ruth. He attended Columbia Grammar and Prep School in NYC (1934-38), Johns Hopkins Univ (1938-40), worked in the family textile business (1940-48), and served in the USA Army Air Corps (1942-43). He attended the Univ of Paris, France (1949-50) and while there met Marjorie Barrie, also an American studying at the Sorbonne. Jerry and Marjorie married in Paris, 1950. In 1956 their son Wesley was born. Surviving are his wife Marjorie and son Wesley. Jerry Hirsch honored life with his integrity, perseverance, joy, appreciation of others, kindness, and a terrific sense of humor.

Dr. Hirsch, credited as "Founder and Pioneer of Behavior-Genetic Analysis,. was internationally recognized as an outspoken critic of the misuse and abuse of genetics, particularly as applied to "intelligence" and racist dogma. "While others made cavalier claims about the .heritability' of intelligence and vaguely defined character traits, Hirsch spent five decades looking for genes correlated to behaviors in the fruit fly. His opposition to racist claims in science was not motivated by ideology. His critiques were focused squarely on flaws in their science. Hirsch believed that behavior genetics was the search for genes and the analysis how those genes actually effected the behavior. (ISAR 2008). Further information can be found at UIUC Archives at www.library.uiuc.edu/archives, and Institute for the Study of Academic Racism (ISAR) at www.ferris.edu/isar.

Hirsch received his B.A., highest honors, in 1952; Ph.D. in Psychology in 1955, Univ of California, Berkeley; a student of R. C. Tryon, L. J. Postman, E. C. Tolman in Psych and Curt Stern in Genetics. He became Asst Prof, Psych at Columbia Univ (1956-60), and was a colleague in Psych, lab assoc in Zoology of Th. Dobzhansky, L. C. Dunn and H. Levene. He was NIH Fellow, Ctr for Adv Study of Behav Sci, Stanford Univ (1960-61), Soc Sci Res Council Aux Res Award recipient (1962), British Sci Council visiting res scholar, Dept of Zoology, Univ of Edinburgh (1968). In 1960 he joined the Univ of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Depts of Psychology and Zoology (EEE, Animal Bio); full Prof in Psych (1963) and Zoology (1966); Active Emeritus from 1993-2004.

At UIUC Dr. Hirsch taught Comparative Psych and Behav Genetic Analysis, researched the behavior-genetic component and comparative analyses of Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly), trained researchers through the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Biopsychology Res Training Prog (1966-78), and created and co-directed the NIMH interdisciplinary Institutional Racism Program (IRP) (1977-86).

The IRP developed minority researchers and trained social, behavioral and biological scientists as well as educators to understand and conduct research on both institutional and scientific racism in relation to mental health in Behav Sciences/Social Behav Sciences, Genetics/Behav Genetics, and Psych.

Dr. Hirsch debated on college campuses during the 1970s and 80s, providing direction, stability, and leadership to counter a racist movement based on race and intelligence which Dr. Hirsch referred to as, "science without scholarship." In 1994 Dr. Hirsch headed a group of scholars, black coaches, and politicians to expose and end the use of racially biased and educationally unjustified SAT and ACT cutoff scores by the Natl Collegiate Athletic Assoc (NCAA).

In 2002 emerging cDNA microarray technology directed at genetic sites identified earlier by Hirsch research resulted in the successful identification of three genes involved in Drosophila melanogaster geotaxis behavior. In 2003 Dr. Hirsch re-evaluated his earlier genetic study interpretation and revealed a possible new benchmark for human genetic uniqueness, diversity, similarity, and repeatability and illustrated misuses of the concept of heritability.

Dr. Hirsch held office, participated in professional organizations including: Animal Behavior Soc, Behavior Genetics Assoc, Intl Ethological Conf, Natl Res Council, Psychonomic Soc, American Psych Assoc, Intl Congress of Psych, Intl Soc for Comparative Psych, American Assoc for the Adv of Sci. He was also a member and past president of the UIUC Philosophy Club beginning in 1972.

Dr. Hirsch served as Editor of Animal Behaviour (1968-1972), Behavior Genetics Editorial Advisory Bd (1971-92), Editor for Am Psych Assoc Journal of Comparative Psychology (1983-88), and Guest Editor for Genetica Special Issue: "Uses and Abuses of Genetics,. (1997).

Dr. Hirsch received the Honorary degree Doctorat Honoris Causa, U. Rene Descartes (Paris V), France (1987), the Award Officier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques, Embassy of France to USA (1994), and the Behavior Genetics Assoc Dobzhansky Award for outstanding senior research in behavior genetics (2006).

"A Memorial of Statements of Remembrance. will be hosted by Barry Mehler, at the ISAR website, www.ferris.edu/isar. A Memorial Fund will be set up at the Univ of Illinois Foundation for gifts of appreciation and support, 1305 W. Green Street, Urbana, IL, 61801-2962, USA, Attention: "Jerry Hirsch Memorial Fund."


Published in The News-Gazette on 5/11/2008.
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