Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

“The Scientist as Educator and Public Citizen: Linus Pauling and His Era.”

October 29 - 30, 2007

Video: Session Chair, "The Scientist as Public Citizen” Chris Petersen

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10:30 - Abstract | Biography | More Videos from Session 3: The Scientist as Public Citizen

Transcript

Chris Petersen: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to Day 2, Session 3 of our conference, "The Scientist as Educator and Public Citizen: Linus Pauling and His Era," sponsored by the OSU Libraries and the OSU Department of History. My name is Chris Petersen and I am the Faculty Research Assistant at the OSU Libraries Special Collections where for 11 years now it has been my good fortune to work very closely with the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers.

The topic for this session, "The Scientist as Public Citizen," is particularly apt considering that, at this time fifty years ago, Linus and Ava Helen Pauling were nearing the completion of their historic "Appeal by Scientists to the Governments and People of the World." This most public of efforts, in which the signatures of over 11,000 scientists were gathered in protest of above-ground nuclear testing programs, marked the crescendo of the Paulings' lives as activists for peace and civil liberties. Six years later Linus Pauling would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his and his wife's efforts to marshal scientific opinion against above-ground nuclear testing. So as with our marking yesterday of the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of Pauling's landmark textbook General Chemistry, today we are proud to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations Bomb Test Petition. [1:24]

In 1977 Linus Pauling was asked by a documentary film crew, a NOVA film crew, to speak to the notion that we'll be discussing today "The Scientist as Public Citizen." Upon first listening, his response is striking in how generic it seems, and if you will allow me to indulge for a moment in the Halloween spirit, I'll try and channel Linus real quick, while I read this. Quote, "I think that scientists have a special responsibility. I think, of course, that scientists should be citizens -- do their job as citizens in the way that other citizens do. But there are so many questions that come up now that are of importance to the world -- social, political, economic questions, even the matter of voting on issues such as controlling nuclear power plants -- in which science plays a very important part that it is, I believe, important that scientists express their opinions. That...scientists tell their fellow citizens what the facts are, as they understand them, but also express their own opinions, after having thought about the questions," unquote. Hat off.

To my ears, anyway, this doesn't exactly come across as the type of rhetoric that might inspire a legion of followers to run through brick walls at Pauling's behest. But imbued within the words – which, by 1977, Pauling had likely uttered thousands of times before – lies a remarkable story of courage and sacrifice, of huge opportunity costs endured by a once apolitical man motivated to fulfill the special responsibilities of the scientist as public citizen. Three moments in time serve well to illustrate the impact and consequences that Pauling faced as a result of his efforts to educate the world about practices that he found barbaric. [3:10]

February 9, 1931. Pasadena, California. Linus Pauling is twenty-nine years old and married. His second child will be born tomorrow. He has just turned down a full professorship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, two years after rejecting a similar offer from Harvard. He holds the scientific world within the palm of his hand. In two months the first of his seminal papers describing the nature of the chemical bond will be published. The papers will be collected into a book – first edition published in 1939, second edition published in 1940 – that is quickly recognized as a classic, a touchstone of twentieth-century science.

He will be elected the youngest member of the National Academy of Sciences, receive his first honorary doctorate at age 32 and will chair the Caltech Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at age 36. The grant money flows in and construction on the Caltech campus is booming. The future could not be brighter. A.A. Noyes is quoted as saying, "Were all the rest of the chemistry department wiped away except Pauling, it would still be one of the most important departments of chemistry in the world." [4:15]

September 4, 1945. A train traveling from Chicago to Boston. Nearly one month has passed since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Linus sends a letter to Ava Helen in which is contained the first written record of his reaction to nuclear warfare. Quote, "I think that Union Now with Russia is the only hope for the world," unquote. By his own later accounts, Pauling is deeply shaken by the detonations of Fat Man and Little Boy. Shortly after the end of World War II, and prompted considerably by Ava Helen, Linus begins to study the ramifications of this new nuclear age. His scientific acumen is such that he is able to discern, from data published in the professional literature, the mechanics by which nuclear weapons operate and their terrible explosive force. He is troubled by the conclusions that he reaches and grows increasingly concerned as ever larger weapons are tested, and fragments of scientific nomenclature, like Carbon-14 and Strontium-90, flow into the popular lexicon. He begins to speak out more forcefully and in 1947 makes a pledge to mention the need for world peace in every public lecture that he delivers. Pauling is exemplifying the notion of the scientist as public citizen. A heavy price will be paid. [5:30]

June 22, 1960. Pasadena, California. Linus Pauling dictates the following note to self. Quote, "When my wife and I arrived in Los Angeles from Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, 22 June 1960, after I had testified before the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary of the U.S. Senate on the previous day and the newspapers carried accounts of the hearing, our daughter-in-law, Mrs. Crellin Pauling, said that she had received a phone call. A man said to her, 'Is this Mrs. Pauling? I want to tell you that your husband is a Communist and we are going to kill him.' The speaker was, of course, referring to me," unquote.

Pauling's years of peace work have taken their toll. Though by now he is widely accepted as among the greatest scientific minds that the nation has ever produced, mainstream America is in no mood for his increasingly strident activism. In 1952, Pauling's plans for overseas travel are deemed not to be "in the best interests of the United States," and his passport is revoked. Numerous publications declare Pauling to be a dangerous subversive – statements which ultimately lead to Pauling's filing of seven separate libel lawsuits in an effort to clear his name. Consultancy contracts are cancelled and grant funds are harder to come by. Pauling is called to testify before state and federal congressional committees. The House Un-American Activities Committee declares that, quote, "Dr. Linus Pauling is primarily engrossed in placing his scientific attainments at the service of a host of organizations which have in common their complete subservience to the Communist Party of the United States of America and the Soviet Union," unquote. [7:03]

Members of the Caltech Board of Trustees grow increasingly uneasy – particularly one businessman who warns Pauling not to, quote, "get too far out on a limb with some of these 'questionable' groups. Some of us have saws and can use them," unquote.

Pauling does have his allies though, particularly overseas. In a confidential meeting on November 13, 1962, Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Gunnar Jahn tells Pauling that if his committee refuses to award Pauling the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize, then, quote, "there won't be any peace prize this year," unquote. This is indeed what happens. Eleven months later, October 10, 1963, Pauling receives word that he has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – the prize for 1962, that is.

Pauling is elated. He and his family travel to Oslo. Their arrival is boycotted by the United States Embassy. Life magazine editorializes that Pauling's receipt of the award constitutes "a weird insult from Norway." Caltech arranges no formal recognition of the honor and, after a forty-one year association, Pauling resigns from the Institute.

We return to 1977. Quote, "I think that scientists have a special responsibility. I think, of course, that scientists should be citizens -- do their job as citizens in the way that other citizens do. But there are so many questions that come up now that are of importance to the world -- social, political, economic questions, even the matter of voting on issues such as controlling nuclear power plants -- in which science plays a very important part that it is, I believe, important that scientists express their opinions. That...scientists tell their fellow citizens what the facts are, as they understand them, but also express their own opinions, after having thought about the questions," unquote. It is clear that, coming from Linus Pauling, these words mean a lot. [8:50]

Today we are lucky to have with us four people – two historians and two scientists – who will shed ample light on Linus Pauling, his era and the on-going legacy of scientists acting out as public citizens.

Tom Hager, author of the definitive Pauling biography Force of Nature, will discuss the mechanics of Pauling's peace activism and further delve into the consequences that Pauling faced as a result of his very public efforts. Dr. Lawrence Badash, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, will shed light on the times in which Pauling worked in his discussion of science in the McCarthy Era. Dr. Warren Washington, head of the Climate Change Research Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, will move the conversation to a more contemporary subject of very pressing concern – global warming. And Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Valley Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State University, will close our session with her thoughts on the role of academic environmental scientists as advocates for science.

As with yesterday, all of our speakers will talk for approximately 25 minutes, and we'll try to get in 5 or so minutes of Q and A after each presentation. After the second speaker, Dr. Badash, we'll have our coffee break, about 15 or 20 minutes long, and at the very end we'll hope to have some time for the whole panel to answer questions as well. Also as with yesterday, this clock is still 5 minutes fast. I'm actually told by my colleague Ryan Wick, who is a very technical person, that this clock once upon a time was fairly advanced technology, and the signal for what time it is is actually fed into it by the same line that gives it electricity, but apparently the technology has lapsed a bit. [10:31]

 

Watch Other Videos

Session 1: Scientists and Textbooks

Session 2: Popular and Public Science

Session 3: The Scientist as Public Citizen

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