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Scientist Obituary: Street Hustler Turned Sociologist

Before becoming a sociologist, Lewis Yablonsky carried a switchblade knife and cheated card games for money. “During this phase of my life I hung out with many individuals who I would, later on, after my formal education, characterize as sociopaths,” he said of his days on the streets of Newark.

Yablonsky became a prominent intellectual and sociologist in the 1960’s, studying many of the social problems that he experienced during his own troubled youth. He paid gangmembers in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City to participate in his research studies, and invited them to spend time in his office and home.

Dr. Lewis Yablonsky

Yablonsky also took LSD as part of a study on hippie culture, and used his own open-marriage in his 1979 book, “The Extra-Sex Factor: Why Over Half of America’s Married Men Play Around.”

Yablosnky credits his difficult childhood with helping him to understand humanity’s complexities.

“His wide-ranging work has improved organizational performance, made communities better, and elevated the field of sociology in the United States and abroad,” the American Sociological Association said in giving him a career achievement award in 2003.

Read more in his New York Times obituary.

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Seandor Szeles

    Seandor Szeles is the co-editor of the Secret Life Blog. He is most interested in the human side of science and providing take-away for educators.