Barbara Oakley, PhD, has been dubbed a female Indiana Jones — her writing combines worldwide adventure with solid research expertise. Among other adventures, she has worked as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers in the Bering Sea, served as radio operator at the South Pole Station in Antarctica, and risen from private to regular army captain in the U.S. Army. Currently an associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, Oakley is a recent vice president of the world’s largest bioengineering society and holds a doctorate in the integrative discipline of systems engineering. Her new book is Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hilter Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend.
In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Barbara Oakley shares her criticisms of the research of influential social scientists such as Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram, and explains why the biological sciences should be brought to bear on research about human evil. She addresses how her thesis in Evil Genes might be used as an excuse by some people in our society to do bad things, and details specifics from the life of her sister that serve as a window into her exploration of human evil. She also addresses the implications of her thesis for organized religion, arguing contra Christopher Hitchens that religion is not evil per se but that it might attract evil people to its institutions.