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Editor’s Note

June 6, 2022
by Pat Joseph
Top view of broken pencil, crumpled white piece of paper on the green surface.Empty space.Concept of worried and not able to make a decision

Generally speaking, we like things to be black and white. Give us heroes and villains, saints and sinners, good versus bad, and we’re happy. Give us grays—moral ambiguity, countervailing facts, good and bad swirled together—and the result is what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. We don’t like it. 

Well, sorry, but this issue serves up a fair amount of ambiguity. Take, for example, the case of Tom Jukes, the Berkeley biochemist and conservationist who made defending DDT from environmentalist attacks a personal crusade. You probably know DDT as the pesticide that was banned for killing songbirds and raptors and potentially causing cancer. Jukes insisted it was a godsend that helped feed the world and saved millions of lives from mosquito-borne diseases. Was he right or wrong? If you ask me, I’d say “yes.” But read the story and decide for yourself. “The Man Who Loved DDT” (p. 42) is by Berkeley journalism professor and public health historian Elena Conis, M.S. ’03, M.J. ’04, whose new book, How to Sell a Poison: The Rise, Fall, and Toxic Return of DDT, is out now from Bold Type Books.

Sometimes cognitive dissonance arises from historical revisionism, a term often used dismissively—like “fake news”—to suggest a willful misinterpretation of the facts. But historical revision is often a necessary corrective to coveted myths. One such myth is the idea of the Land-Grant College Act of 1862 as an unequivocal good. “Wronging nobody, it will prove a blessing to the whole people now and for ages to come,” is how Vermont Representative Justin Morrill, the abolitionist who authored the bill, put it. And where did the land the federal government so graciously bestowed upon the universities come from? As Morrill himself plainly acknowledged, it was “the soil we have acquired by the displacement of the red man.” Now, researchers like Berkeley Ph.D. Robert Lee are using the tools of big data to trace the origins and fate of that soil, parcel by parcel. Hayden Royster examines the impact of that work in his story, “This Land Is Their Land,” beginning on page 32. 

Finally, in our cover story, we wade into fraught territory as Executive Editor Laura Smith tries to untangle the history and politics behind the recent unnaming of Kroeber Hall while reassessing the legacy of Ishi, the Yahi man who walked out of the wilds of California and into so-called civilization in 1911. He spent most of the remaining four and a half years of his life in the UC Museum of Anthropology, in the care and custody of Alfred Kroeber. Among the many persistent questions still being argued over: Was Ishi used as a living exhibit by Kroeber, et al., or did he willingly exhibit Yahi ways to a curious public. Once again my answer would be “yes.” I look forward to hearing readers’ thoughts. “Into the Ishi Wilderness” begins on page 24. 

There’s more in the issue, of course, including a celebration of Berkeley record stores (“High Fidelity,” p. 9); my discussion with Berkeley’s favorite teacher, astrophysicist Alex Filippenko (“Look Up,” p. 49); a debut student column (“Point of View,” p. 55); and the second installment of the new section from University Development and Alumni Relations (UDAR), “Fiat Lux” (p. 59). For those of you who are not Cal Alumni Association (CAA) members and only recently began receiving the magazine, you have our friends at UDAR to thank. 

Incidentally, CAA celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2022. It was established as an independent alumni association in 1872 by the first graduating class of the University of California. The magazine followed in 1895 and has been published, in one form or another, ever since. We’re proud to continue that long tradition and hope you enjoy reading it. 

Wishing you all a great summer!

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