F O R U M O N P H Y S I C S & S O C I E T Y
of The American Physical Society 
January 2005



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Session on “Einstein and Social Responsibility”

APS March meeting in Los Angeles

FPS is sponsoring an invited paper session dealing with Einstein’s efforts on behalf of social causes. The session will be held Thursday, March 24 at 11:15 am in the Los Angeles Convention Center. The four speakers will address the wide scope of his social concerns, as one can learn from the titles and abstracts below.

1. Ze’ev Rosenkranz of Caltech’s Einstein Papers Project will speak about “The Genius as National Icon: Albert Einstein’s involvement with the Zionist movement.”

This talk include discussion of Einstein’s induction into the Zionist movement; the interaction between his emerging fame and his involvement with the Zionist movement; his views on major Zionist issues and on Zionism’s role within the German-Jewish community; his intensive involvement in planning for and establishing the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his positions in the discussions and controversies regarding the University’s character and development; and his main actions on behalf of Zionism (such as trips to the US and Palestine).

2. Virginia Holmes of Caltech’s Einstein Papers Project has titled her talk “Was Einstein Really a Pacifist?  Einstein’s Independent, Forward-Thinking, Flexible, and Self-Defined Pacifism”. 

Skeptics sometimes question whether Einstein was really a pacifist. These critics cite Einstein’s dramatic contributions to physics, which made nuclear weapons possible, and his 1939 letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which urged the US development of such weapons, as examples of at least an inconsistent stance on pacifism. Holmes plans to show, however, that Einstein’s pacifism began early in his life; it was a deep-seated and repeated-expressed conviction; and it was an independent pacifism that flowed from his own responses to events around him and contained some original and impressively forward-thinking elements.  Moreover, Einstein defined pacifism in his own terms, not according to the standards of others. This self-defined pacifism included the flexibility to designate the Nazis as a special case that had to be opposed through the use of military violence. Holmes will trace specific actions Einstein took in opposition to war, such as the pacifist “Appeal to the Europeans” put out by Einstein and a handful of intellectuals in response to the militarist “Manifesto to the Civilized World” signed by 93 German intellectuals. Throughout the Weimar period of 1918 to 1933, Einstein continued to take public and private stances as a pacifist.  As did many pacifists, Einstein also linked his advocacy for peace with a concern for social justice, which included opposition to antisemitism and advocacy for Zionism. In the US, where Einstein lived from 1933 on, in the first ten years after World War II, and also in the last decade of his life, Einstein inspired American pacifists with his strong stances against war and nuclear weapons. 

3. Fred Jerome, author of The Einstein Files: J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War Against the World's Most Famous Scientist will report on “Einstein on Race and Racism.”

More than one hundred biographies and monographs of Einstein have been published, yet not one mentions the name Paul Robeson, let alone Einstein’s friendship with him, or the name W. E. B. Du Bois, let alone Einstein’s support for him. Nor is there any discussion of the many Civil Rights campaigns Einstein actively supported. Finally – or firstly – nowhere in the ocean of Einsteinia -- anthologies, biographies, articles, calendars, posters, tee-shirts -- will one find even an islet of information about Einstein’s visits and ties to the people in Princeton’s African American community.

One explanation for this historical amnesia is that Einstein’s biographers and others who shape public memories, felt that some of his “controversial” friends like, Robeson, and activities, like co-chairing the American Crusade to End Lynching, might somehow tarnish Einstein as an American icon. That icon, sanctified by Time magazine when it dubbed Einstein “person of the century,” is a myth, albeit a marvelous myth. In fact, as myths go, Einstein’s is hard to beat:

The world’s most brilliant scientist is also a kindly, lovably bumbling, grandfather figure: Professor Genius combined with Dr. Feelgood! Opinion-molders may have concluded that such an appealing icon would help the public feel better about science or about America. Politics, after all, is ugly, making teeth grind and fists clench, so why splash politics over Einstein’s icon?

Yet it is not so much the motive for the omission, but the consequence that should concern us: Americans and the millions of Einstein fans around this increasingly tribalized world are left unaware that he was an outspoken, passionate, committed anti-racist.

If racism in America depends for its survival in large part on the smothering of anti-racist voices, especially when those voices come from popular and widely respected individuals -- like Albert Einstein -- then this presentation aspires to play a small role in a grand un-smothering.

4. Patricia Rife, author of Lise Meitner and the Dawn of the Nuclear Age, will discuss “Einstein, Ethics and the Atomic Bomb.”

Her talk will discuss the letter Einstein to President Roosevelt  that Einstein signed in 1939, warning the US government about the danger that Nazi Germany might gain control of uranium in the Belgian-controlled Congo in order to develop atomic weapons. In 1945, he became a member of the Princeton-based “Emergency Committee for Atomic Scientists.” Rife will describe Einstein’s philosophic and ethical convictions about peace and his public stance against war (1914-1950). The talk will be illustrated by rare Einstein slides.


March 2005 Meeting, Invited Paper Session

[Editor’s note: The following titles, authors, and abstracts concern invited papers for a session at the March 2005 APS meeting.  The session number is as yet unknown, but the date and time of the session are tentatively scheduled for Tuesday at 8 a.m.     JJM]


Presiding: Myriam Sarachik, City University of New York

1. Nicholson Medal TalkPhysicists and Human Rights: Reflections on the Past and the Present.
JOEL L. LEBOWITZ, Departments of Mathematics and Physics, Rutgers University

The great success of science in promoting the wealth and military power of nations has fueled its growth from a hobby of few to a profession of many.  By the early decades of the twentieth century these included, particularly in Germany, a good number of Jews.  Thus, the official persecution of Jews there, following the coming to power of Hitler in 1933, directly affected many scientists, including some, like Einstein, who were world famous.  I will discuss some of the actions--and inactions--of physicists in response to this and to later events directly involving the human and professional rights of colleagues.  These include the McCarthy period in the United States, and the refusenik/dissident period, symbolized by Andrei Sakharov, in the Soviet Union.  I will also discuss the question of what, if any, are the special social responsibilities of scientists today.

2  Einstein, social responsibility of physicists, and human rights in China.
LI-ZHI FANG, Physics Department, University of Arizona, Tucson

Since Einstein first visited Shanghai on 1922, he was deeply and constantly concerned about the cases of injustice, suppression, and human rights abuses in China. The strong sense of social responsibility shown by Einstein is an illustrious role model for Chinese intellectuals, especially physicists, who advocate the universal principle of human rights. I will briefly review this history. I will also briefly report what has been done and is being done by Chinese physicists during the long and difficult journey toward democracy and human rights in China.

3. Physicists For Human rights in the Former Soviet Union.
YURI CHERNYAK, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In his 1940 paper ‘Freedom and Science’ Albert Einstein emphasized that "intellectual independence is a primary necessity for the scientific inquirer" and that "political liberty is also extraordinarily important for his work". Raised in the tradition of intellectual independence and dedicated to the scientific truth, physicists were among the first to stand up for freedom in the USSR. It is no coincidence that the founders of the first independent Human Rights Committee (1970) were physicists: Andrei Sakharov, Valery Chalidze and Andrei Tverdokhlebov. In 1973 a physicist, Alexander Voronel, founded a Moscow Sunday (refusenik) Seminar -- the first openly independent scientific body in the history of the USSR. In 1976 physicists Andrei Sakharov, Yuri Orlov and the mathematician Natan Sharansky were the leading force in founding the famous Moscow Helsinki Human Rights Watch group. This talk briefly describes the special position of physicists (often viewed as Einstein’s colleagues) in Soviet society, as well as their unique role in the struggle for human rights. It describes in some detail the Moscow Sunday Seminar, and extensions thereof such as International Conferences, the Computer School and the Computer Database of Refuseniks. The Soviet government considered such truly independent organizations as a challenge to Soviet authority and tried to destroy them. The Seminar’s success and its very existence owe much to the support of Western scientific organizations, who persuaded their members to attend the Seminar and visit scientist-refuseniks. The human rights struggle led by physicists contributed substantially to the demise of the Soviet system.

4. Human Rights in Iran after the 1978 Islamic Revolution.
HADI HADIZADEH YAZDI, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Ohio University

Iranians have been fighting for their rights since early 1900.   The history of this struggle will be reviewed with emphasis on what might be termed the modern era, which began with the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran in February 1979.  A brief summary of the modern Iranian Constitution also will be presented.  Although Iranians had been promised a democracy within the framework of Islam, in reality Ayatollah Khomeini instituted a theocratic regime dominated by himself as “Supreme Leader” with almost unlimited powers.  Surprisingly, these powers actually were expanded after Khomeini’s death.  For years now, many Iranian intellectuals, as well as a good portion of the nation, religious or not, have been challenging the absolute powers of the Supreme Leader through legal means, with sometimes tragic consequences to individuals.  Friction between the so called “reformists” and the fundamentalists” is on the rise, with no end in sight. International support shown by some nongovernmental organizations such as APS, and human rights institutions such as Amnesty International, have had substantial roles in easing these frictions. Frictions stemming from conflict between the “elected” and “non-elected” bodies in the political system will be discussed. The roles of political activists, reformists, and the “so-called” “religious nationalists” – and the consequences that they are facing – will also be discussed.

5.   The American Physical Society’s Involvement in the Defense of Human Rights.
EDWARD GERJUOY, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Pittsburgh

This session has been organized to remedy the possibility that many APS members do not fully appreciate how important and praiseworthy a role scientists in general, and physicists in particular, have played in the defense of human rights worldwide.  The preceding talks in this session have described the efforts, often at great personal risk, of physicists and other scientists residing in a few selected oppressive states (namely China, the former Soviet Union, and Iran), to defend their and their fellow citizens’ human rights.  The preceding talks also have made reference to the frequently crucial support these embattled foreign scientists have received from scientists in the United States; the ready availability of such support is another important aspect of the scientific community’s dedication to human rights.  In this talk I shall concentrate on the support activities of this sort undertaken by the U.S. physics community through the APS via the APS Committee on the International Freedom of Scientists (CIFS), of which activities the U.S. physics community can be justly proud.  More specifically, I will review the history of CIFS since its formation, including details of its more noteworthy efforts on behalf of human rights.  I also will very briefly summarize the important human rights efforts undertaken, independently of the APS,  by several other organizations of American scientists (e.g.,  the Committee of Concerned Scientists (CCS) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).


Report on POPA Activities

At its meeting on October 23, the APS Panel on Public Affairs approved a discussion paper prepared by its members on one issue—the proposed Moon-Mars program—and initiated studies on two additional topics—science advice to Congress and the link between nuclear power and nuclear proliferation.

Moon-Mars mission

The APS issued the Moon-Mars report along with a press release on November 22. (Both the press release and the report are on the POPA website, http://www.aps.org/public_affairs/.) The report addresses a proposal by President Bush on January 14, 2004, for a return of humans to the Moon by 2020, followed by human exploration of Mars and other destinations. The executive summary of the APS report asserts that “Very important science opportunities could be lost or delayed seriously as a consequence of shifting NASA priorities toward Moon-Mars. The scientific planning process based on National Academy consensus studies implemented by NASA roadmaps has led to many of NASA’s greatest scientific—and popular—successes. We urge the Federal Government to base priorities for NASA missions on the National Academy recommendations.”

The report also states that “extraordinary scientific and technological difficulties confront President’s Bush’s vision for a Moon-Mars initiative. The budget for the proposed program remains very imprecise and is expected to grow substantially. The constraints that inevitably will be imposed on other federal scientific programs are already evident, especially within NASA. Before the United States commits to President Bush’s proposal, an external review of the plans should be carried out by the National Academy of Sciences.”

The budget passed by Congress in November included a 5% increase in NASA’s budget. Sean O'Keefe, the NASA administrator, called the budget victory "as strong an endorsement as anyone could have hoped" for the national space policy outlined by the president in January.

Other initiatives

Ever since the demise of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, there have been concerns about the adequacy and quality of science advice given to Congress. Two Congressmen have recently drafted separate bills creating some form of technology assessment capability, but the bills have not met with much success. At its October meeting, POPA created a subcommittee to (1) assess the methods Congress has for obtaining scientific advice; (2) identify any gaps in those methods and (3) identify ways to fill any gaps. The subcommittee will report back to Congress at the January meeting.

On another front, there has been growing concern that the development and expansion of nuclear power is a significant proliferation threat. Congressional staffers have asked the APS for some guidance on this issue. As a result, POPA created a subcommittee to (1) frame the issue of proliferation resistance and fuel cycles; (2) identify general approaches for reducing proliferation risks; and (3) recommend technology pathways that can be applied to reduce proliferation risks at present, in the near term and in the long term. This subcommittee will also report in January.

Barbara Goss Levi
FPS representative to POPA



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