Conversation with Sophie Shulman, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sci. – Director, CFI-Victoria

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Sophie Shulman, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sci. is the Director of CFI-Victoria. I wrote two articles based on two petitions by and for CFI-Victoria. I reached out to Dr. Shulman for an interview. She agreed. By the way, she is retired.

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like? I want to touch on the language in the home, the culture of the community, the religion of the area, and expectations for women time.

Sophie Shulman, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sci.: I was born in pre-WWII Stalin’s purposefully pauperized Russia when ‘steel and guns replaced shoes and butter’ as the official goal TO CATCH UP WITH AMERICA at all costs. The costs for the population had been grand, but so was the ultimate reward: the victory over Nazism.

My parents (both MD), my nanny and myself as a child, all lived in one room of a communal apartment (7 rooms, 7 unrelated families of all walks of life, one shared kitchen with two electric ovens with 8 hot-plates, one communal bathroom (each family had their day of a week for family bathing and by-hand laundry; clotheslines crisscrossed the air under high kitchen ceiling) and a telephone on the corridor wall); all families struggled to make the ends meet. Our next door neighbor was a known lawyer with his wife, an aspiring concert-singer, the next one – a single seamstress, then a factory worker with his family, an accountant with wife, etc.

Russian culture and Russian language exclusively. The Soviet Union was officially a secular state; my parents were secular, no religion in my childhood.
Feminism was ‘in the air’ and I had been sensitive to it: as a pre-schooler, I objected that my last name was my father’s name: “unfair, it should be both, hyphenated father’s and mother’s names!”.

Jacobsen: You are a retired medical doctor. Why did you pursue this professional training? Why did you pursue this career? How much did medical quackery, as it sometimes called in a derisive tone – sometimes meanly, factor into the medical community at the time?
Shulman: I had always liked medicine as a branch of science; my parents were both MD (an internist and a pediatrician). Quackery was not on the radar.

Jacobsen: How did you come into contact with the skeptical community?
Shulman: I searched for them, volunteered: it is so encouraging and comforting to be among those who think alike with you.

Jacobsen: What values do you take away from the skeptical movement as well as worldview or methodology for investigation of the world?
Shulman: SAPERE AUDE or DARE TO THINK FOR YOURSELF. I agree with Kant that this is the [noblest] motto of the entire Enlightenment and as such – the major guiding light for me too.

Jacobsen: What advice would you have for young people entering into the medical disciplines?
Shulman: Well chosen, good luck! But do not just pursue ‘big’ money, there is so immeasurably much more in medicine!

Jacobsen: Center for Inquiry is typically secular humanist in orientation. How does this influence you if at all?
Shulman:  It suits me well: I’m a secular humanist, have always been.

Jacobsen: What is your favorite book? Who is your favorite thinker?

Shulman: Too many to be listed: they differed at various periods of my life. As for historical figures – Marquis de Condorcet, the Gracchi brothers.

Jacobsen: What medical problem do you consider the most difficult to solve within the medical community, having entire career to observe this?
Shulman: Dissociation between the need and availability, such as in organ transplantation (who get it and who equally needs but doesn’t).

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Sophie.
 
Shulman: Thank you, Scott.

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