Activist Ralph Nader brought his view of American society to MIT Monday night in a talk sponsored by MIT Greens and the Green Party.
Mr. Nader, the Green Party's US presidential candidate, was introduced Monday night at Wong Auditorium by Professor Jonathan King of biology, who shares a common interest in biogenetics with Mr. Nader.
"Are we ready to have Monsanto own our future?" Mr. Nader asked, decrying the patenting by private companies of biological information and materials. He argued that corporate science is overwhelming science itself, skewing the priorities of pharmaceutical research, for example, toward "lifestyle" drugs rather than remedies for massive worldwide health problems like malaria. He warned against proprietary data agreements that restrict the free exchange of ideas.
Despite unprecedented prosperity, he said, many Americans work for years without accumulating wealth. "We have a government of the Exxons, by the General Motors, and for the DuPonts. The people who really produce anything are the least paid. Some day, we're going to hear from the poor in this country," he said.
Mr. Nader said his interest in consumerism and quest for social justice was sparked while a law school student in the 1950s, in reaction to what he perceived to be the contented outlook of his fellow students and professors. "The word justice was almost never used at Harvard Law School," he said.
He noted that Jay Leno and his partners in irony on TV and in journalism had created an unhealthy atmosphere where the public had developed "a protective detachment from politics."
About two-thirds of the 225 people in the audience identified themselves as members of the MIT community.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 17, 2000.