Everett Mendelsohn, Who Linked Science and Society, Dies at 91

Everett Mendelsohn, Who Linked Science and Society, Dies at 91

A group of physicians dispatched to South Vietnam the previous year by President Lyndon B. Johnson had reported finding only a few cases of civilians burned by napalm (“A greater number of burns appeared to be caused by the careless use of gasoline in stoves,” the group’s report said). But Professor Mendelsohn said he saw dozens of napalm victims at the hospital.

More recently, Professor Mendelsohn had devoted attention to encouraging dialogue that might lead to lasting peace in the Middle East. His family, in a prepared obituary, said that he considered the dearth of progress on that front “his greatest life failure.”

Everett Irwin Mendelsohn was born on Oct. 28, 1931, in New York and raised in the Bronx. His father, Morris, was a salesman for a company that imported candy from Europe, and his mother, May (Albert) Mendelsohn, was a secretary in the New York City public school system.

After graduating from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1949, Professor Mendelsohn studied both biology and history at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in 1953.

In 1955, while doing graduate work at Harvard, he studied for a time at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass., where he worked under the biologist Clifford Grobstein on a project that involved extracting hormones from the eye stalks of lobsters. That procedure left the lobster alive and well, and also edible.

“I had lots of friends,” Professor Mendelsohn said in a 2013 video interview for an archive devoted the history of the laboratory, “because they all wanted to come while we had to get rid of the lobsters, which meant cooking them on the beach.”

In 1968, Professor Mendelsohn founded the Journal of the History of Biology.

“Biology, in particular, must be studied in terms of its relationships with the other sciences and with the intellectual currents of its day,” he wrote in an introductory essay in the journal’s first issue. “It may be examined as well for its interaction with the institutions of the society which spawns it.”

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