October 5, 2010

Dear students, colleagues, friends of Israel Gelfand and all who knew or did not know him,

Many of you are probably surprised by this announcement and have questions.
Indeed, Prof. Israel Gelfand was a famous and outstanding mathematician.

  • Why then is this fund for ethical bio-medicine? Why not for mathematics?
  • What is bio-medicine?
  • What is "ethical" bio-medicine?
  • Who or what is PCRM? And why is the fund created at PCRM?
Most likely, the only part that will not raise any questions is "Memorial Fund". But that is what I am going to start with before I answer other questions.
  • Why a Memorial Fund for Israel Gelfand?

Certainly, he does not need any fund now!

After Israel Gelfand passed away, many people everywhere suddenly started mentioning how kind and caring he was and how he always helped others. People expressed how much he affected their lives in a positive and transforming way and how grateful they are to him.

Unfortunately, people rarely openly mentioned this to Israel himself.

I thought that it would be great to use all this enthusiasm and gratitude to maintain the memory of Gelfand and to direct it onto "something good for all people", for mankind. What about establishing a Memorial fund devoted to support "good and kind people"? But then, of course, who is a "good" person? Who is going to decide that? Israel was never a judge of anyone, and this is not a proper task for any of us either. Yet, I still felt a deep need to establish something to distinguish Israel as the kind and sensitive person he was and not only as a mathematician.

Why not create a Fund for Mathematics?

First of all, Israel liked to say that one of the beauties and advantages of mathematics in comparison to other fields of knowledge is that "in order to do mathematics one does not need anything other than a pen or a pencil (well sharpened) and a piece of paper."

The second concern is again selection: who would have to judge and divide students into "possibly good future mathematicians" deserving a financial support or not? Gelfand always believed that any student is talented and can be encouraged to study mathematics, and this is what he was doing throughout his life.

Then PCRM came to my mind.

Who or what is PCRM?

PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) is a non-profit organization started 25 years ago by a physician and scientist Dr. Neal Barnard with a core belief that science cannot be separated from ethics. Started as a small group, PCRM consists currently of over 100,000 members including about 10,000 supporting doctors from different areas. PCRM is effectively combining two main directions: developing preventive medicine based on nutrition and bringing high ethical standards to advance medicine and science.

What is bio-medicine?

This is a short way of saying "biology and medicine". We follow Gelfand who did not like to make precise boundaries between different areas of knowledge. For example, he invited to his Biology Seminar in Moscow not only well-known biologists but also a number of doctors from a broad range of specialties.

What is ethical bio-medicine?

Ethics is one of the humanitarian values. According to Gelfand's sayings related to his Kyoto lecture, those have yet to be defined by mankind.

We all know deep inside when ethics is being violated!

In the context of research in biology and medicine, based on "First do no harm" principle, ethical means without harming and killing animals. Ethical research in biology is what Gelfand referred to as "doing biology first and foremost with clean hands."

Why is the fund in memory of Gelfand created at PCRM?

There are many parallels between Gelfand's beliefs and the principles of PCRM. Both have same values of combining science, ethics and helping people.

Israel and I have been supporting the work of PCRM for over 13 years. We often talked about PCRM and discussed what made them stand out among other similar organizations, such as:

  • their core beliefs of connecting science, medicine and ethics in research and education,
  • their passion for teaching and helping people,
  • globality of their goals of developing a preventive medicine based on research and studies obtained from the human populations,
  • a broad range of areas in which they achieve results,
  • their commitment to base their work on strict scientific facts and data,
  • as well as their style of combining efficiency and clarity.

Gelfand said to me numerous times that this kind of work of bringing ethics into different areas of human lives is of a major importance in our modern world.

Based on Gelfand's support of the work of PCRM and on the similarities I perceive in their core beliefs and their style of work, I decided that a fund in memory of Gelfand at PCRM would be fitting and appropriate. The Gelfand Memorial Fund has been established to support ethical research and ethical education in biology and medicine in the years to come.

I have one more thought about this fund. Maybe making this opportunity for people to express one's grtitude and appreciation of a person by supporting what he believed in and what he considered to be an important step in the progress of mankind can become a step in developing what Gelfand called an adequate language for humanitarian values?

I would be very grateful to all of you who like my idea and who will make a gift to the Gelfand Memorial Fund at PCRM (see details below).

If you cannot make a gift in memory of Gelfand but still support the idea of the Gelfand Memorial fund I would be glad to know about it from your message.

Tatiana V. Gelfand

To make a gift in memory of Israel Gelfand, please, write a check

To: The PCRM Foundation,
with the memo "Gelfand Memorial Fund",
and mail it to:

5100 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20016

For questions or credit card gifts contact:

P.J. Murphy, Director of Major Gifts to PCRM,

(202) 527-7372, pmurphy@pcrm.org

All donations to Gelfand Memorial Fund will be restricted to purposes that fall within PCRM's mission related to ethical research and ethical education in biology and medicine.