|A Dangerous Character
The British researchers wanted to talk to Pauling. There were too many loose ends,
too much conflicting data from the growing number of researchers in the protein field
to allow clear conclusions about the importance of Pauling's work. So they invited
him to England to explain himself, listen to alternative interpretations, and take
questions. A special London meeting held under the auspices of the Royal Society was
to be devoted to protein structures, with Pauling featured as first speaker, followed
by Corey, then a series of presentations from leading British protein scientists.
It would be a chance to examine and debate the validity of Pauling's structures. The
date was set for May 1, 1952.
Pauling was eager to go. Through the end of 1951 and into the early months of 1952
he and Corey rechecked, reconsidered, and refined their structures. Special attention
was paid to the disputed structures for muscle (which Pauling, after preparing hundreds
of samples of dried muscle, now concluded was mostly composed of alpha helixes, with
about 10 percent of some unknown structure) and collagen (Pauling and Corey decided
after an exhaustive review that their three-cable structure was probably right, despite
British doubts). Corey, meanwhile, mounted a full-scale assault on lysozyme, a globular
protein, hoping to become the first person to describe the structure one of these
tightly-packed, soluble molecules, so different from the fibrous proteins he and Pauling
had been analyzing. Lysozyme, however, proved too challenging; by the spring of 1952
Corey had little to show for his efforts.
Pauling began making plans not only to attend the Royal Society meeting, but also
to visit major British crystallography centers, tour Spanish universities, and take
a swing through France during which he would pick up an honorary degree from the University
Then all his plans came undone. On Valentine's Day 1952, Mrs. Ruth B. Shipley, head
of the US State Department's passport division, responded to Pauling's routine request
for a passport with a flat denial. Shipley, a died-in-the-wool anti-Communist, was delaying or denying visas and passports
to anyone she considered detrimental to the interests of the United States. Pauling,
she thought, at best was a bad spokesperson for America, and at worst was a likely
Communist. Allowing him to spread across Europe his anti-American ideas and criticism
of nuclear policies was unacceptable.
Pauling tried for weeks to get the decision reversed, writing everyone from the head
of the National Academy of Sciences to the President of the United States. In the
end, however, after a face-to-face meeting with Shipley and at the last possible minute,
he was denied his right to travel, forced to cancel his flight, and compelled to wire
his regrets to the Royal Society.
The British protein researchers were incredulous. Many of them learned the news the
day before the start of the meeting, at a formal tea that Pauling had been slated
to attend. One of them later recalled "the shock that it produced, the outrage at
the stupidity of the State Department at detaining the great man as if he were a dangerous