Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement Narrative  
Home | Search | All Documents and Media | Linus Pauling Day-By-Day
Political Probability
<  20  >

Linus Pauling was a very stubborn man. All of the attacks on his character made in 1950 -- the press accusations, the Caltech investigation, the hate mail, and lost contracts -- only seemed to increase his political activism. Through the 1950s, he figured, he spent fully half his time on political work. It was not because he liked it that much. He later said that he would have greatly preferred thinking about scientific problems. But he stayed involved in peace work for several reasons. In part it was because he refused to be pushed around. In part it was because, as he put it, "I felt that it was my duty as a citizen of the United States of America and as a scientist to take part in politics." In part it was to keep the respect of his wife. Finally, at a very deep level, he simply felt that it was his birthright.

America, in his view, was built on the concept of free speech, so it was his duty to speak freely about what he thought was true. In his view, American politics could be considered a matter of statistics. "The principle upon which a true democratic system operates is that no single man is wise enough to make the correct decisions about the very complex problems that arise, and that the correct decisions are to be made by the process of averaging the opinions of all the citizens in the democracy," he told an investigatory committee. "These opinions will correspond to a probability distribution curve extending from far on the left to far on the right. If, now, we say that all of the opinions that extend too far to the right. . . are abnormal, and are to be excluded in taking the average, then the average that we obtain will be the wrong one. An understanding of the laws of probability would accordingly make it evident to the citizen that the operation of the democratic system requires that everyone have the right to express his opinion about political questions, no matter what that opinion might be." The free expression of political opinions, no matter what they were, was more than a right or a responsibility. It was a statistical necessity.

Previous Page Next Page

Video Clip  Video: Discoveries both Great and Terrible. 1958. (2:17) Transcript and More Information

Get the Flash Player to see this video.


See Also: "Science and the Constitution of the United States of America." February 25, 1959. 
See Also: No Title. [re: civil defense and surviving and nuclear war], 1959. 

Click images to enlarge 

Picture
Linus Pauling. 1940s.


Page 1
"Statement by Linus Pauling." April 5, 1951.

"It is not the job of the scientist to be primarily a politician, a sociologist, a military leader or a preacher... [But] the scientist or engineer -- like every other human being -- bears also the responsibility of being a useful member of his community...and should speak on issues which can be addressed with competence – including joining hands with other citizens when called to tasks of peace."

Home | Search | All Documents and Media | Linus Pauling Day-By-Day