BBC web pages‎ > ‎

Steven Rose: A Profile

MONDAY 20th January 2003

When Steven Rose was planning his doctorate at Cambridge University, his only problem was what to study. With the supreme confidence of a 20-year-old graduate, he asked, "What's left to discover?"

Science and socialism

Since then, his groundbreaking work on the brain has made him a favourite both in and beyond the laboratory community. His speciality is the human memory, but he is also a seasoned political campaigner.

The joint passions of science and socialism run through Rose like a piece of rock. He was given his first chemistry set when he was eight but, as the grandson of four Jewish immigrants to North London, he encountered hostility, too.

His father was an ardent anti-Fascist campaigner, and one of Rose's earliest memories is of Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts stoning a local meeting. If science is his vocation, pride, poverty and anti-Semitism have all shaped his outlook.

Open University

Rose enjoyed the fertile scientists' breeding ground of Cambridge in the 1950s but, worried that his Nobel prize-winning peers would leave him stranded, went on the more unusual quest of the brain.

He wrote his first book in 1966 and was soon the first academic appointment to be made by the Open University, where he has been ever since.

His studies have brought him a high profile and catalogue of awards. Rose's work has found practical application in the study of dementia, and thus has the potential to ease an enormous amount of suffering.

Campaigning couple

Despite his successful career, Rose has never neglected his political ideas. With his wife Hilary, a sociologist and his frequent co-author, he is a founder member of the Society for Social Responsibility in Science. The couple can be less than gentle with their more conservative opponents.

They campaigned against the Vietnam war in the 1960s and, despite Rose's upbringing, have recently supported an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Rose says, "I don't go looking for combat. It finds me."

The breadth of Rose's study is breathtaking, and he has just been rewarded for his ability to communicate his ideas. His sometimes ferocious sharing of his opinions and descriptions of a better world illustrate that, for Steven Rose, the scientific will always be personal and political.