Volume 28, Number 1 January 1999

Physics and Society newsletter

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 1999



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Volume 28, Number 1 January 1999


This year being the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Physical Society (the Centennial Meeting is being held March 20-26 in Atlanta, GA), it is appropriate to celebrate the past - and the future - of our publisher, the Forum on Physics and Society. The lead article is a history of the Forum, written just for this issue of P&S, by a long-time active member and leader. It is followed by two pieces celebrating another Centennial - the birth of one of the "pole stars" of the Forum. Taken from presentations at the 1998, Spring APS meeting: "Leo Szilard: A Symposium in Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of His Birth" Columbus, Ohio April 18th 1998, one is by a professional biographer, the other by a physicist-attorney Forum member. Finally, we turn to the future with a piece by another long-time Forum stalwart. (As usual, extensive footnotes have been relegated to the Web versions of the articles.)


History of the Forum on Physics and Societyt

David Hafemeister


Physics is a major component of many of society's difficult issues: nuclear arms and their proliferation, energy shortages and energy impacts, climate change and technical innovation. Because physics principles underlie so many of these societal issues and because physics offers a way to quantify some aspects of them, members of the American Physical Society (APS) should be encouraged to understand, analyze and debate them. That's precisely why APS members formed the Forum on Physics and Society (FPS). To those of us who have been long involved in FPS affairs, it seems but yesterday that we attended the organizing meeting at the 1972 APS San Francisco meeting. As the APS celebrates its centennial by looking back over its first hundred years, it is fitting that FPS also look back at its own accomplishments and look ahead at the direction of its future activities.

The Early Years

The FPS was born in the tumultuous 1960's and 70's. The issues of that era---the Vietnam War, the debate over the Anti-Ballistic Missile system, the energy crisis, the start of the environmental movement, the civil/human rights revolution---impelled that generation of physicists to consider their professional responsibilities. Many felt that the APS should have a division or forum in which appropriate science and society issues would be debated by informed participants before the APS membership. For a review of these early days of the Forum, see the article by Mike Casper in the May 1974 issue of Physics Today.

In its 27 years, FPS had too many excellent leaders to mention each by name. But I would like to describe briefly the four "founding fathers" pictured in Casper's article: Earl Callen (American University), Martin Perl (SLAC) , Mike Casper (Carleton College) and Brian Schwartz (then MIT, now CUNY). Callen was the founding chair of the Forum. Although his particular interest was international human rights of scientists, the major emphases of Callen's term was building membership, developing a reputation within the APS membership for quality and objectivity, and establishing an effective working relationships with the APS Council. Perl can only be described as a phenomenon. While acting as the second chair of the Forum in 1973-74, he discovered the tau meson, establishing the third family of leptons. (For this discovery he was awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in physics, shared with Frederick Reines for the discovery of the electron's anti- neutrino). And in his spare time Perl established and edited the forum's newsletter, Physics and Society, from 1972-79 and mobilized two Penn State Conferences on graduate physics education (1974, 1977). Casper, the Forum's third chair, established the two Forum Awards. Since then he has actively worked on arms control and as a senior advisor to Senator Paul Wellstone. Schwartz, the ninth chair of the FPS, served brilliantly and creatively in the crucial job of organizing the first Forum panels at APS meetings. While he might have been regarded as a "young Turk" by the APS establishment in the 1970s, he has gone on to be an APS insider, serving as the APS Education Officer and as APS Associate Executive Secretary (1991-94). He is currently one of those charged with planning the centennial activities.

The FPS was the first APS forum. Recognizing that the forum would attract members from across disciplinary lines, the APS waived the additional dues that are traditionally charge to members for joining a division, such as the division of biophysics or the division of condensed matter. Yet the APS still gives a certain amount based on the forum membership to help defray such costs as the printing and mailing of a newsletter. The success of that idea has induced our Society to create other fora--first the forum on history of physics (in 1980), then those on international physics (1985), on education (1991) and on industrial and applied physics (1995). Under the leadership of FPS Chair Tony Nero, a council of the APS fora was established in order to coordinate and enhance the work of all groups.

Winning respect

In its early days, the Forum was looked upon with suspicion by the APS leadership, which was concerned that the Forum would move issues too far and too fast. Because of this concern the APS council appointed a senior APS member to attend the Forum Executive Committee meetings to make sure that the Forum did not embarrass the APS. Embarrassment never happened.

I recall two examples in which the Forum was very even handed. The first concerns an amendment to the APS Constitution proposed by Robert March, which would have required the APS to "shun activities which contributed harmfully to the welfare of mankind." It was very difficult to obtain a speaker against the March amendment at an April 1972 FPS session. The first Forum Chair Earl Callen stepped forward and filled that role (in which he believed), which helped to defeat the March amendment. The second example concerns the publication of a very political cartoon by the editor of Physics and Society. That editor was warned not to run any more such one-sided cartoons, but he ignored that warning. Although in other respects, that person had been a good and tireless editor, the Forum Executive Committee was forced to adhere to the principle of objectivity and to fire him.

By now, the FPS has long since won the respect of the APS Council. They no longer appoint a representative to the Forum Executive Committee. The Forum is regarded as a source of manpower and ideas for the APS to utilizein preparing its public positions. Of the 24 chairs of the APS Panel on Public Affairs, four of these have been chairs of the FPS.

The membership of the Forum is 4500, about 11% of the APS's 40,000 membership. The vast majority of Forum members are active physics researchers and professors who are already overly committed to their professional careers. These FPS members are not actively publishing on the Forum issues of arms control, energy and environment. However, these members do want the FPS to hold debates, publish a viable Physics and Society newsletter, sponsor occasional studies, offer short courses and give awards. As in any division of the APS, the heavy lifting is carried out by the 1% of the membership who volunteer to be more heavily involved.

FPS Sessions

One of the most important activities of the FPS has been to sponsor sessions at APS meetings on topical science-and-society issues. Some FPS sessions have had more than 1,000 attendees. Over the past 27 years, the FPS has offered 197 sessions for an average of 7.3 +/- 1.7 per year. To provide more in-depth background on certain issues, the FPS has offered short courses on a number of topics. If one adds the 44 sessions from the two Penn State conferences and the five short courses, the total number of sessions rises to 241, for an average of 8.9 per year. The approximate break-out by topic of the 197 APS sessions is as follows: National security (51), science process (36), energy (26), FPS awards (25), education (20), miscellaneous (16), environment (14), contributed papers (9). Physics and Society has published many of these symposia which we briefly list below.

The goal of Forum sessions is to present both sides of an issue in a no-holds-barred debate. This is not always possible since there are occasionally heretical views that don't make sense and confuse the debate. For instance, at the spring 1986 APS meeting in Washington, DC, the Forum held a session on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and invited the representatives from the Reagan administration and from the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and some university professors. It never occurred to us to invite Lyndon LaRouche's Fusion Energy Foundation. However, since this group felt they should have been invited, they attempted to shut down the session. As Forum Chair at the time, it was my task to go head-to-head and threaten them with police action if they wouldn't be quiet and allow the session to continue. They did quiet down, and the details of lasers in space were quantified and debated. It is difficult to define when a position should be categorized as "unscientific;" luckily this issue doesn't come up very often.

AAPT Booklets

The American Association of Physics Teachers has often shown an interest in the FPS sessions and short courses. The AAPT published three of the FPS sessions as informative booklets for its members:
Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Weapons Proliferation and the Arms Race by Bernard Spinrad, John Holdren, Gene Rochlin and Herbert York, January 1982, 48 pages.
Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War by Philip Morrison, Hans Bethe and Wolfgang Panofsky, April 1982, 35 pages.
Acid Rain: How Serious and What to Do by Myron Uman, George Hidy, Michael Oppenheimer and Leonard Weiss, April 1985, 47 pages.

Physics and Society

This year 1999, P&S is in its 28th year. Martin Perln was founding editor (1972-79, SLAC). He was succeeded in 1980 by the late John Dowling (1980-86, Mansfield State University). Art Hobson (University of Arkansas) was editor from 1987 to 1995. The present editor, Al Saperstein (Wayne State University) took over the job in 1995. P&S fulfills an extremely important function by informing FPS members of current topics. It is much more than a newsletter. Since there are not many journals that cover the physics aspects of these issues, P&S provides a useful outlet for physicists who have some viable data or theory to publish. It has long been a goal of the FPS to convert P&S from a "quasi-journal" to a full-fledged subscription journal. The display at the Atlanta Centenary will show the evolution of the P&S masthead and front-page. With the passage of time the contents of P&S have shifted from more general commentary to the more technical aspects of physics and public policy issues.

Many of the FPS symposia are published in P&S. Examples include: SDI (September 1986), a forum-sponsored study of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (July 1988), energy research (July 1989), safeguards on plutonium and highly enriched uranium (July 1990), pseudoscience (July 1990), a forum-sponsored study of energy (October 1991), powerlines and public health (January 1992), climate change (October 1992), environmental physics (July 1993), physics and law (October 1993), risk and nuclear power (July 1994), theater ballistic missiles (October 1994), legacy of radiation from cold war (July 1995), sustainable technologies (October, 1995) and linear low dose radiation (January 1997). Among the talks in these various symposia, one of my favorites is the one by James Randi (October 1989) on "Fooling Some Scientists Some of the Time." The juxtaposition of Randi's talk and the big APS debate on "cold fusion" at the 1989 Baltimore APS meeting was indeed timely. The April 1991 issue of P&S contains a nice debate between Peter Zimmerman and Art Hobson on the use of high technology conventional weapons in the Gulf War. P&S also reviews recent books and describes recent events in physics and public policy. Over the years P&S has published a wide variety of letters on both popular and unpopular topics. Many times an editor (and the editorial board) has disagreed sharply with the contents of some of the letters to the editor, but openness has often dictated their publication as long as the view makes some logical points.

Forum Studies

Over the years the FPS has sponsored three studies which have been published by the AIP:
(1) Civil Defense: A Choice of Disasters, edited by John Dowling and Evans Harrell, 1986, 248 pages
(2) The Future of Land-Based Strategic Missiles, edited by Barbara Levi, Mark Sakitt and Art Hobson, 1989, 310 pages.
(3) The Energy Sourcebook: A Guide to Technology, Resources and Policy, edited by Ruth Howes and Anthony Fainberg, 1991, 550 pages.

Each of these studies contains the caveat: "This volume was prepared by a study group of the Forum on Physics and Society of the American Physical Society. The American Physical Society has neither reviewed nor approved this study." This disclaimer is only fair since the APS Council did not take an active role in the development of these studies. Time has eclipsed the large scale plans for civil defense structures and the evacuation of cities. If Russia ever ratifies START II, land-based missile will be confined to single warhead systems. The energy issue may have been forgotten in the press, but most FPS members think it will return in the next century. At that time, hopefully, many physicists will blow the dust from the Howes-Fainberg volume and use the timeless principles within to help solve the problem. These excellent studies have held up over the years and remain good references today.

Physics Jobs

The first "job crisis" for young PhD's took place in the early 1970s. The Forum responded by organizing two conferences at Penn State University (August 19-23, 1974 and August 1-3, 1977). Perl and Roland Good were the driving forces behind these conferences, which examined the data and possible responses by the physics academic community. Of course, there was no easy solution then, or now, to the vulnerability of young PhD's and postdocs to a tight job market, but the conference developed a number of partial solutions. The results of the first conference on "Technology Change in Physics Graduate Education" were published in the 64- page, February-1975 issue of Physics and Society. The results of the second conference on "Changing Career Opportunities for Physicists" was edited by Martin Perl and published in the AIP Conference Series (Physics Careers, Employment and Education, AIP 39, 1978, 340 pages). These studies were a precursor to the later studies by the APS Committee on Professional Concerns and the Young Scientists Network.

Congressional Science Fellows

In 1973, APS chose its first two APS Science Congressional Fellows in an AAAS program with different societies (IEEE, OSA, etc.) In 1973 Ben Cooper and Richard Werthamer were chosen as the first APS Congressional Science Fellows. Cooper served a long and distinguished career on the Senate Energy Committee, rising to the position of the majority staff director under Democratic Senator Bennett Johnston (and as a chair of FPS). Dick Werthamer served his congressional year with Republican Congressman Charles Mosher of Ohio and later served as Executive Secretary of the APS. Since then, over 95 physicists have served as Science Congressional Fellows, either as APS Fellows or as fellows from other scientific organizations. Forum members Mike Casper, Richard Scribner and Joel Primack played distinct and significant roles in the creation of the APS Congressional fellowship program which former FPS chair Scribner directed for many years at the AAAS.

Physics Education

Over the years, the Forum has organized 20 sessions on education issues. Former FPS chairs Ruth Howes and Ken Ford took an active role in organizing the Forum on Education in 1991. The Forum on Physics Society still maintains an active interest in physics education issues, but is now in a supportive role with the Forum on Education and the APS Committee on Education.

Short Courses

In order to study physics and society issues more deeply, the Forum has organized a series of short courses, which last for 2 to 3 days. For fees that have been around $100, the participants hear some 20 hours of lectures from 15 assorted experts; later they receive copies of the proceedings. The short courses are usually timed to precede or follow APS meetings so as to attract APS members who are already in attendance at those meetings. The Forum has offered 3 short courses on arms race matters (1982 at APS San Francisco, 1983 at APS Baltimore, 1988 at George Washington University), one short course on energy (1985 at the Office of Technology Assessment), and one on climate change (1991 at Georgetown University). The results have been published in the AIP Conference Series:
Physics Technology and the Nuclear Arms Race, edited by D. Hafemeister and D. Schroeer, AIP 104, 1983, 380 pages.
Energy Sources: Conservation and Renewables, edited by D. Hafemeister, H. Kelly and B. Levi, AIP 135, 1985, 676 pages.
Nuclear Arms Technologies in the 1990s, edited by D. Schroeer and D. Hafemeister, AIP 178,1988, 480 pages.
Global Warming: Physics and Facts, edited by B. Levi, D. Hafemeister and R. Scribner, AIP 247, 1992, 326 pages.

APS (Forum) Awards

The FPS presents nominees to APS Council for two APS awards, the Joseph A. Burton Forum Award and the Leo Szilard Award, for significant work on physics and society issues. The Burton-Forum Award "recognizes outstanding contributions to the public understanding or resolution of issues involving the interface of physics and society." The Szilard Lectureship Award "recognizes outstanding accomplishments by physicists in promoting the use of physics for the benefit of society in such areas as environment, arms control and science policy."

The Awards were first offered by the FPS (and not the entire APS) in 1974; David Inglis received the Szilard Award and Ralph Lapp earned the Forum Award. Initially a modest honorarium of $250 was given along with a handsomely scripted scroll. The honorarium became even more modest in 1985 when the Szilard Award had to be shared among the seven (!) dominant authors of the papers on the "Nuclear Winter" calculations. The embarrassingly small stipend led the FPS Executive Board to conclude that it was better to offer no honorarium rather than an amount that would (in this case) only buy one good dinner. In desperation, the FPS then moved from monetary awards to symbolic art. Two California artists created statues whose bases are engraved with the names of the awardees. The current winners keep the statues for one year after which they pass them to the next year's winners. The statue accompanying the Szilard Award, which was created by David Smith, is a dolphin, the symbol of Szilard's novella, The Voice of the Dolphins. The Forum Award statue is an abstract spherical model of the Earth created by Crissa Hewitt.

In the 1986, the two FPS Awards were promoted to awards of the entire APS, but this promotion in status came with some pressure to create a permanent endowment for the awards. In 1997, the Forum Award was endowed with $70,000 from the Apker Award Endowment, creating an annual honorarium of $3000, plus travel expenses to the April meeting. The Forum Award was renamed the Joseph A. Burton Forum Award in honor of Joe Burton, beloved former APS Treasurer and long-time FPS supporter. In 1998, the Szilard Award received an endowment of $70,000 from the MacArthur Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the Packard Foundation, the FPS and a number of individual donors. In order to create a climate for graduate students to consider careers in physics and society, the award was changed to a lectureship, and its name was changed accordingly to the Leo Szilard Lectureship Award. Starting in 1999, the recipient will receive $1000 honorarium and travel money to present talks at an APS meeting and at universities or research laboratories.

POPA/Forum Differences

There is often confusion on the roles of the two APS entities that deal with physics and society issues. The Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) was established in 1974, two years after the Forum was established. The major distinction is that POPA is an APS committee whose members are elected by the APS Council and whose role is to advise the APS council, whereas the FPS (and other forums) is a membership organization, whose executive board is elected by the members and whose roles include publishing a newsletter and sponsoring invited sessions at APS meetings. As a membership unit, the FPS is a responsible to the FPS membership and not the Council, much as the Division of Condensed Matter Physics is responsible to the condensed matter physicists. These distinctions become blurred in the sense that all divisions and fora are responsible to the Council if the actions of the APS units run counter to the goals of the APS. POPA has sponsored studies of certain issues, after receiving outside grants to pay the expenses of experts. POPA also prepares reports by POPA members, and gives advice to the Council on a wide variety of issues. The advice from POPA generates about 3 APS resolutions and 5-10 letters for the APS leadership per year.

On the other hand, the Forum organizes sessions to raise technical issues in a public arena, publishes a quasi-journal Physics and Society, carries out Forum studies, offers short courses, and organizes the presentation of two APS Prizes Awards each year. POPA's budget is about $25,000 per year, spent mostly on travel for three meetings each year. The Forum's budget is about $20,000 per year, spent mostly on the publication of Physics and Society and travel expenses for speakers who are non-APS-members.

POPA submits proposals for APS studies to the Council for its consideration. If the Council supports the proposal, POPA assists the APS Executive Director and the Council in selecting the study participants and obtaining funds. The most famous POPA study was the 1987 Directed Energy Weapons Study. The Forum also carries out studies, with modest budgets of about $5,000, as compared to POPA studies with budgets of about $600,000. POPA has helped organize some 9 APS studies and the Forum has produced 3 studies. In recent years, POPA has found it more difficult to obtain funding for the more lengthy studies, with the result that POPA has undertaken 3 POPA "reports" written by POPA members on electromagnetic fields of powerlines, helium conservation, and energy policy.

Forum Problems and Future

There has been an interesting trend in the make-up of the Forum leadership over the years. The early Forum leaders were essentially all from academia, but this is not true today. This year, the past chair, the chair, and the chair-elect all hail from outside a university setting (Sigma Xi, the National Academy of Sciences, ACDA). However, on average about one-half of the recent Forum leadership comes from universities and the other half from non-academic institutions. This mixture is very good since the non-university scholars add significant knowledge that professors do not have. At any rate, it is very important for the Forum to continue to present the issues and show young PhD students that there are career paths other than the academic route. Our task has been complicated by the shift of the April APS meeting from Washington, DC to other cities around the country. It is far, far easier and cheaper to organize a critical physics and society session in Washington than it is in the cities beyond the beltway. It is imperative that the Forum keep the candle of professional responsibility well lit. We cannot slip backwards to the old days when APS meetings had no sessions on physics and society issues. The FPS continues to be a way for physicists in all fields of endeavor to keep easily abreast of the technical aspects of problems facing society. At the personal level, the Forum's members have been a great source of friendship, knowledge and inspiration to me and the other members. A number of our members have moved on from forum activities to larger roles. Examples include former Executive Board members Vern Ehlers, who serves as a Republican Congressman from Michigan, and Rush Holt, whio has just been elected to that position as a Democrat from New Jersey. I like to think that the Forum's examination of the critical aspects of science and society issues not only helped send them on their way, but also shaped their approach to some of the issues that they deal with today. [The Cal Poly Physics Department library maintains a repository of FPS-BAPS abstracts, P&S, FPS books, and Physics Today articles.]

David Hafemeister
Physics Department
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407

Leo Szilard: Physics, Politics, and the Narrow Margin of Hope

William Lanouette


Leo Szilard was a "Martian", one of those brilliant Hungarians in the Manhattan Project who spoke an unearthly language and were clearly brighter than any mortals. Other Martians included Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, and Edward Teller.

Being a Martian, Szilard didn't know what you couldn't do as a human, so he tried some extraordinary things -- and often succeeded. For example, Szilard conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933; he co-designed with Enrico Fermi the world's first nuclear reactor in 1939; he told Albert Einstein about the reactor in 1939 and enlisted him to sign a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt that warned about German nuclear research and led to the Manhattan Project; he wrote to Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, and at a private meeting with Khrushchev in 1960 gained his assent to a Moscow-Washington Hot Line.

Szilard says he acquired his audacious attitude from a childhood experience that gave him the disposition to "save the world." At age 10, he read The Tragedy of Man, a Hungarian epic poem by Imre Madach in which humanity faces extinction from the dieing out of the sun yet continues to survive by maintaining a "narrow margin of hope." Being too young when he read the epic, Szilard recalled, "I grasped early in life that 'it is not necessary to succeed in order to persevere'."

And persevere Szilard did, living both sides of the nuclear arms race. First, from 1933 to 1939, he worked to forestall nuclear weapons development by keeping his chain-reaction concept a secret from German scientists; next, from 1939 to 1945, he helped create the Manhattan Project and became its chief physicist (at the Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago) in a race to beat Germany to the A-bomb; and finally, from 1945 until his death in 1964, he lobbied and plotted to outlaw nuclear weapons.

An ideal example of how Szilard pursued that "narrow margin of hope" is his effort in July 1945 to prevent the use of atomic bombs against Japanese cities by sending a petition to President Harry Truman. The petition was the last of several tries. Beginning that March, Szilard had drafted and sent a letter from Einstein to Franklin Roosevelt, this time urging the president to hear Szilard's ideas for post-war nuclear controls that might forestall a US-Soviet arms race. But FDR died in April, before receiving the letter. Next Szilard took the letter to the Truman White House, and was sent to incoming Secretary of State James Byrnes; their May meeting left Szilard discouraged because Byrnes saw the A-bomb as useful to make the Soviet Union "more manageable" in Eastern Europe. In June, Szilard helped draft the Franck Report by Manhattan Project scientists that urged demonstrating the bomb before using it on Japanese civilians. When this was rejected, Szilard finally tried his petition.

Szilard began circulating a draft on July 1st, still not knowing if -- or when -- the A-bomb might be tested. On July 2nd, Szilard's letter to fellow scientists in the Manhattan Project echoed his childhood lesson from The Tragedy of Man. "However small the chance might be that our petition may influence the course of events," Szilard wrote, "I personally feel that it would be a matter of importance if a large number of scientists who have worked in this field went clearly and unmistakably on record as to their opposition on moral grounds to the use of these bombs in the present phase of this war."

At Los Alamos, Szilard's friend and fellow Martian, Edward Teller, refused to sign the petition, and turned it over to lab director J. Robert Oppenheimer. Teller wrote Szilard that "actual combat use might even be the best thing" to educate the public about nuclear weapons. "The accident that we worked out this dreadful thing should not give us the responsibility of having a voice in how it is to be used." Oppenheimer agreed that the scientists deserved no say in "political" decisions, but used his own position as lab director to argue for dropping the bomb on Japanese cities.

On July 4th, from the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory (Met Lab) Szilard sent petitions to the secret Manhattan Project uranium plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, again pleading on "moral grounds" to oppose the bomb's use. There 67 scientists signed a petition urging an A-bomb demonstration.

By July 6th, Met Lab security agents knew that Szilard was circulating his petition and warned General Leslie Groves, the Manhattan Project's military head. On July 7th, the Army decreed that "Groves had no objection" to the petition, provided Szilard classified it "Secret" and sent it through official channels. On July 8th, intelligence officers handed over to General Groves copies of the petition and lists of the signers. And on July 9th, Groves received from censors copies of the Szilard-Teller letters, along with an intelligence officer's warning that "Szilard might attempt to get fellow scientist[s] to stop work."

For his part, Szilard had nothing so practical in mind. Still, by July 11th, an Army intelligence officer was newly alarmed that the petition, the transmittal letter, and the names of signers "are unclassified as the Subject [Szilard] did not classify them himself." On July 12th, to discredit the petition, Groves had a poll distributed to Met Lab scientists that posed five options, from military use of the bomb to no use at all. To the Army's surprise, Szilard's ideas had wide support: 127 of the 150 scientists polled (72%) favored a demonstration.

Before dawn on July 16th, the first A-bomb was tested at the "Trinity" site in the New Mexico desert. General Groves was elated, but a few hours later he phoned the Pentagon with a warning to "be alerted with particular vigilance on...Leo."

But in Chicago, Leo was toning down his petition in order to attract more signers. The final version, dated July 17th, did not call for an outright ban on the bomb, but said it should be used only after Japan received detailed surrender terms. Then the President's decision should be tempered "by all the other moral responsibilities which are involved."

Szilard's cover letter states that 67 Chicago scientists had signed his petition, although 70 names appear on the pages that ultimately reached the White House -- and are now in the National Archives. Another 85 signed amended versions at Oak Ridge. In all, 155 Manhattan Project scientists signed petitions that raised moral questions about dropping A-bombs on Japan's cities.

On July 17th, the same day Szilard sent off his petition, Oppenheimer reported to General Groves about Szilard's appeal for Los Alamos scientists to sign. And in Oak Ridge, Groves's assistant, Col. Kenneth Nichols, telephoned the General at the Pentagon to ask: "Why not get rid of the lion?" Groves answered we "can't do that at this time." But Groves did the next best thing by negotiating with Szilard's Met Lab superior, Arthur Compton, for a week about how he should forward the petition, and it was July 24th before the package went to Nichols at Oak Ridge.

On July 26th, Truman, Churchill, and Stalin issued their "Potsdam Declaration," which concluded: "We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces....The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction."

Meanwhile, Groves's assistant, Colonel Nichols, held Szilard's petition for another week, finally sending it by courier to Groves in the Pentagon on July 30th. On July 31st, after Groves had received a telex from Tinian Island in the Pacific that "Little Boy," the uranium bomb, was ready, he forwarded the petition to the Secretary of War's office.

On August 6th, the "Enola Gay" dropped the uranium bomb on Hiroshima, instantly killing 70,000 inhabitants. On August 8th, Russia declared war on Japan, an act Tokyo had long dreaded. On August 9th, "Bock's Car" dropped a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki, killing 40,000. Within five years, more than 200,000 Japanese would die from aftereffects of these two bombs.

On August 10th, Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, but with one condition: the emperor must be allowed to stay on the throne. President Truman ordered that a third A- bomb -- expected to be ready about August 20th -- should not be shipped, because, he said, he didn't like the idea of killing "all those kids." The United States accepted Japan's condition to keep the emperor, and on August 14th the war ended.

Beginning on August 6th, Szilard tried to publicize the petition, which, on purpose, he had not classified as "Secret". On August 16th, an Army intelligence officer agreed with Szilard that the petition could be declassified. Next, Szilard asked the President's secretary to concur with the petition's release, and offered Science magazine the chance to publish it -- once the White House approved. But before Truman could decide, General Groves intervened, and had the petition classified "Secret". Szilard first mentioned his petition publicly in a speech in December 1945, but it was not described in print until Arthur Compton's memoirs appeared in 1956. The petition was declassified beginning in 1957, but all the versions and the letters relating to it were only released in 1961. The anthology The Atomic Age was the first to publish a complete copy of Szilard's petition, in 1963. This year, the petition and a list of its signers appeared in Hiroshima's Shadow (Pamphleteer's Press 1998), an anthology of contemporary and current writings about the bomb.

Despite the shroud of military censorship, Szilard's idea that scientists become activists succeeded immediately. On September 9th 1945, physicist James Franck and 64 other Chicago faculty members signed a petition to President Truman urging him to share atomic secrets with other nations -- in order to create an international control scheme that would curb a nuclear arms race. The next day, Franck's petition was reported widely in the newspapers, and the day after that Secretary of War Stimson argued the scientists' viewpoint at a cabinet meeting. In the spring of 1946, the United States proposed an international control plan for the atom at the United Nations, although this was never achieved.

A second result of activism within the Manhattan Project was the establishment of the Atomic Scientists of Chicago in the fall of 1945. The group formed to debate nuclear policies, to work for civilian control of atomic energy at home and international control abroad, and to "educate public opinion." Since 1945, they have published the influential Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a magazine that uses as a logo the "doomsday clock" ticking off the minutes to midnight -- before nuclear Armageddon. As a Martian, Szilard may have failed to realize that, by earthly convention, scientists do not ordinarily write to the American President. But from the experience of sending his petition to President Truman, Szilard learned the difference between science and politics. This discovery he revealed in a December 1945 speech. "Politics," Szilard said, has been defined as "the art of the possible" while "science might be defined as the art of the impossible. The crisis which is upon us may not find its ultimate solution until the statesmen catch up with the scientists and politics, too, becomes the art of the impossible."

WILLIAM LANOUETTE is the author of Genius in the Shadows:A Biography of Leo Szilard, The Man Behind the Bomb (Chicago 1994).


Leo Szilard. Toward a Livable World

Edward Gerjuoy

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be speaking here today, at this session honoring Leo Szilard on the 100th anniversary of his birth. One of my major objectives is elucidating why the Forum has attached SzilardUs name to its Science in the Public Interest Award. Probably the best known reason the physics community associates SzilardUs name with science in the public interest is SzilardUs persistent though ultimately unsuccessful effort to prevent the atomic bombing of Japan, after he had successfully convinced President Franklin Roosevelt to initiate the enormous United States commitment needed to actually construct atomic bombs. But SzilardUs failure to forestall the use of atomic weapons against Japan did not discourage him from continuing his attempts to influence United States nuclear weapons policy. In particular, he devoted the remainder of his life to unceasing efforts to prevent any succeeding wartime use of nuclear weapons, a use which he feared might destroy Western civilization if not mankind.

In the course of this all-consuming endeavor, however, Szilard lavished his energies on many other notable causes. Some of these causes were obvious corollaries of his basic "no nuclear weapons use" objective, but others were quite independent of that basic objective and were undertaken primarily because of his abiding respect for the enduring values underlying this nationUs free democratic society. His efforts on behalf of these many other notable causes, all of which if not exactly "science in the public interest" surely fall under the rubric of policy concerns having great import for science as well as for the entire public, began even before World War II. Allow me to remind you of some of these other causes and of SzilardUs contributions to them, ordered by calendar date (of course I deliberately am omitting any mention of SzilardUs many scientific contributions):

1933: Prime initiator of the British Academic Assistance Council (AAC) to help find jobs for refugee scholars from Nazi Germany.
1945: Leader in successful struggle to prevent Congress from giving control of the postwar development of atomic energy to the military.
1945: Helped organize the Federation of Atomic Scientists and its "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists".
1945 and for years thereafter: Proposed initiatives to convene U.S. and Soviet scientists for arms control discussions.
1946: Prime initiator of "Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists" to raise money for public education on atomic energy.
1947: In a published article, and in talks, called for a "crusade for an organized world community"; suggested the U.S. should be no less willing to issue "peace bonds" than war bonds.
1947: Against State Dept. wishes, wrote an open "Letter to Stalin" urging Stalin to broadcast his ideas for world peace directly to the U.S. public.
1949: Leader in opposition to the proposal, endorsed by many scientific organizations, that applicants for AEC Fellowships must sign a non-Communist affidavit.
1957: Played an important role in initiating the first Pugwash Conference, and for years thereafter participated importantly in subsequent Pugwash Conferences.
1960: Had a private two hour conversation with Kruschev in New York; came up with idea for Soviet-American telephone hot line.
1961: Gave a series of talks titled, "Are We On the Road to War?" urging, inter alia, that the U.S. adopt a "no first use of nuclear weapons" policy.
1962: Formed the Council For A Livable World, the first political action committee for arms control and disarmament issues.

Time restrictions do not permit me to discuss more than a single one of these causes and/or SzilardUs contributions to them. Thus of the many Szilard public policy concerns that I have listed, I will elaborate only on his 1949 opposition to the requirement that applicants for AEC Fellowships sign a non-Communist affidavit. I have chosen this particular cause mainly because it so aptly illustrates the fact that SzilardUs dedication to securing a more livable world was not confined to nuclear policy issues. I emphasize that three of the institutions in whose creation Szilard played a prominent role, but which I do not have the time to discuss in this talk, namely the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Pugwash and the Council for a Livable World, are healthy still, and still battle for the causes Szilard espoused; there are very few men or women of any era whose legacies have similarly flourished for a full 34 years after their deaths. I also want to acknowledge that much of the immediately following discussion, indeed much of this talk, relies heavily on LanouetteUs admirable biography of Szilard[1], often even to the use of LanouetteUs own language, which I saw no reason to try to improve.

In 1947 President Truman, under pressure from the House Committee on Un-American Activities, had ordered an FBI security check of all Federal employees. In 1949 Congress was considering extending the security checks to all applicants for AEC Fellowships. A number of scientific organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences and the American Institute of Physics, issued statements expressing their belief that while FBI investigations of all applicants for AEC Fellowships was overkill, requiring a non-Communist affidavit was reasonable. I donUt know whether the American Physical Society took a stand on this issue, and have been afraid to find out. In any event, Szilard was appalled by these statements by scientific organizations he held dear, and published an article on the subject in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Here is part of what Szilard wrote:

" Are we scientists going to follow the principle of the lesser evil? Our colleagues in Germany have trodden that path.... A few months after the Hitler government was installed in office, it demanded that instructors of the Jewish faith be removed from their university positions. At the same time every assurance was given that professors who had tenure would remain secure in their jobs...The German learned societies did not raise their voices in protest against these early dismissals. They reasoned that there were not many Jewish instructors anyway, and so the issue was not one of importance. Those of the dismissed instructors who were any good, so they pointed out, were not much worse off, since they were offered jobs in England or America. The demand of the German government for the removal of these instructors did not seem altogether unreasonable, since they couldnUt very well be expected wholeheartedly to favor the nationalist revival which was then sweeping Germany. To the learned societies it seemed much more important at that moment to fight for the established rights of those who had tenure, and this could be done much more successfully, so they thought, if they made concessions on minor points.

In a sense the German government kept its word with respect to those who had tenure. It is true that before long most professors who were considered "undesirable" were retired, but they were given pensions adequate for their maintenance. And these pensions were faithfully paid to them until the very day they were put into concentration camps, beyond which time it did not seem practicable to pay them pensions...

The German scientists could not, of course, have saved academic freedom in Germany even if they had raised their voices in protest in the early days of the Nazi regime when they still could do so with impunity. They could not have changed the course of history, but theycould have kept their hands clean."

To this point in this talk I have concentrated on Szilard's many public policy concerns and have totally ignored his personality, which deserves to be recalled. I now proceed to remedy this oversight, starting with my own recollections of Szilard during my limited interactions with him, over a relatively short period toward the end of his life.

I first became acquainted with Szilard in about June 1958, when I joined the scientific staff at the General Atomic Laboratory in San Diego. Szilard was a consultant at General Atomic, and thatUs how I met him, via casually shared lunch tables and conversation in the cafeteria. Soon I began to go out of my way to spend time with him whenever he showed up at General Atomic, because I found his company unusually enjoyable. Mainly he was enjoyable because he so often had a good humored original way of looking at and describing the life situations, including the national and international news, into which he and I and all the other working U.S. scientists daily were being immersed. Moreover, although he unquestionably was genuinely witty, as his reputation had led me to expect, his wit often was self- deprecatory and typically not at some victimUs expense (as I had not expected). He maintained this good humor despite the fact that at the time (1958-1959) he had serious health problems, of which neither I nor anyone else I knew at General Atomic had any inkling. In particular, we now know, from a book by the Swedish biomedical scientist George Klein, that Szilard had not been feeling well, in fact had been observing blood inhis urine, for some six months before he was diagnosed with bladdercancer in the summer of 1959.

I wish I could recall for you some of the funny original remarks Iheard Szilard make, but unfortunately I canUt. Moreover, apart from the The Voice Of The Dolphins and other fictional ventures, SzilardUs published writings do not even begin to convey the flavor of his conversation, because those writings uniformly are deadly serious, though often strikingly unique in their viewpoints. Here and there the Szilard I knew does peek out from his "Recollections," dictated into a tape recorder in 1960 during SzilardUs bladder cancer hospitalization. For instance Szilard recounts a conversation with Hans Bethe in 1943, when Szilard was disturbed by what he thought was the inefficient administration of the Manhattan Project. Szilard writes:

"Bethe," I said, "I am going to write down all that is going onthese days in the project. I am just going to write down the facts--not for anyone to read, just for God." "Don't you think God knows the facts?" Bethe asked. "Maybe he does, " I said--"but not this version of the facts."

Also worth repeating here are SzilardUs recollected thoughts after his futile attempt, described by Bill Lanouette, to convince TrumanUs future Secretary of State James Byrnes that dropping the atomic bomb on Japan would be contrary to the best interests of the United States. Szilard says: "I was rarely as depressed as when we left ByrnesU house and walked toward the station. I thought to myself how much better off the world might be had I been born in America and become influential in American politics, and had Byrnes been born in Hungary and studied physics."

The conversational wittiness that first drew me to Szilard has been noted by Lanouette, as well as by Szilard interviewers who wrote articles about him during his lifetime. In particular, Lanouette writes that "Szilard is remembered by his friends for his wry and puckish humor"; Lanouette then illustrates SzilardUs wit with the anecdote that Szilard once proposed the National Science Foundation should pay second-rate scientists not to conduct research and publish articles, a suggestion that many of us would find more wry than humorous. A brief unsigned 1961 article about Szilard in Life Magazine quotes Szilard as saying, "IUm all in favor of the democratic principle that one idiot is as good as one genius, but I draw the line when someone takes the next step and concludes that two idiots are better than one genius."

One of Szilard's interviewers also has remarked on his "almost saintly freedom from any sense of grievance toward his detractors." This unwillingness of Szilard to bear a grudge is exemplified by his reaction to the AEC hearing which led to the revocation of OppenheimerUs clearance. Although Szilard disliked Oppenheimer personally, Szilard wrote to scientists who might be called to testify urging them to support Oppenheimer, and did his best to deter SzilardUs good friend and compatriot Edward Teller from testifying against Oppenheimer. In LanouetteUs words, this put Szilard in the position of "opposing someone he liked but disagreed with while supporting someone he agreed with but disliked."

This talkUs reminiscences about SzilardUs personality would be incomplete without some mention of SzilardUs famous originality, and of the equally famous generosity with which he shared his many original ideas, a generosity which undoubtedly contributed to the affectionate regard so many of his colleagues had for him. Eugene Wigner has praised Szilard with the words: "During a long life among scientists, I have met no one with more imagination and originality, with more independence of thought and opinion, than Leo Szilard." The Nobel Laureate French biologist Jacques Monod has written:

" Most scientists of course do not formulate any significant new idea of their own. The few that do are in general inordinately jealous of, and unduly faithful to, their own precious little ideas. Not so with Szilard: he was as generous with his ideas as a Maori chief withhis wives."

I now return to the objective of mine that I mentioned earlier, namely elucidating why the Forum has attached SzilardUs name to its Science in the Public Interest Award. Although I have searched, I could find no illumination of this question in the Minutes of the Forum or of APS Council; apparently the idea of giving SzilardUs name to the Award seemed so appropriate that no discussion of the idea was required. This search brought me to Barry Casper, who co-authored the Forum letter to APS Counci requesting approval of the Szilard Award. When I asked him why SzilardUs name had been chosen, his quite matter of fact reply was, "Szilard is my hero."

Beyond doubt the Forum decided to honor Szilard in 1974, just as we here today have decided to honor Szilard on his hundredth anniversary, for his unflagging lifetime endeavors to steer human society "Toward a Livable World"[2]. I am convinced, however, that our admiration of Szilard stems not only from the content and impact of those endeavors, but importantly also from the fact that his efforts to achieve a livable world always were conducted with humor, originality, generosity and stubborn integrity. On no other basis can I understand how Szilard could have so captured our hearts and imagination: that more than a few physicists would declare "Szilard is my hero"; or that as many as three biographies of Szilard have been published, the last in 1996[3]; or that a nonphysicist writer named Gene Dannen, who first heard about Szilard in 1981, has maintained a "Leo Szilard" Website for the past three years and is himself planning a book about Szilard.

Let me sum up. We unhesitatingly are honoring Szilard for his unceasing efforts to assure a livable world and for the admirable way he carried out those efforts, though we are well aware that such a world still lies in a very distant future. This awareness in no way diminishes our desire to honor Szilard because no sensible person, and certainly not Szilard himself, ever has believed that the hoped-for assuredly livable world, if attainable at all, would be attained in a mere thirty or so years after SzilardUs death. We recognize, as Szilard himself did, the importance of struggling for our ideals, even when there are good reasons to believe our struggles may not succeed. I cannot do better than to close this talk with SzilardUs own words in that regard, written at the end of the article I previously quoted, on the requirement that AEC Fellowship applicants be required to sign a non-Communist affidavit:

" [I]f we give battle, we cannot be sure that we shall win...But there are more important things for us to think about these days than our good public relations. There are more important considerations than our natural desire to win every battle. There is justice to think about, and freedom, and our integrity.

Justice and freedom have never been secure for very long in any one area of the world. None of us can say for sure what fate awaits them in the United States in the crisis through which we shall be going in the remainder of this century. Freedom and justice might survive this crisis; or they might not. They might perish and the efforts of scientists might be of little avail. What we scientists can do is to resolve that they shall not be allowed to perish without a fight."

We are honoring Leo Szilard for writing these words and living them.

1. William Lanouette, "Genius in the Shadows. A Biography of Leo Szilard" (University of Chicago 1992).
2. These four words, which constitute the title of this paper, obviously reflect the name of the "Council For A Livable World" that Szilard created. However H. S. Hawkins, G.A. Greb and G.W. Szilard, "Toward A Livable World: Leo Szilard and the Crusade for Nuclear Arms Control" (MIT 1987), already have incorporated the same four word phraseinto the title of their book.

3. In addition to Lanouette, ibid, these biographies are: Arnulf K. Esterer and Louise A. Esterer, "Prophet of the Atomic Age" (Julian Messner 1972), and David A. Grandy, "Leo Szilard. Science as a Mode of Being" (University Press of America 1996).

Edward Gerjuoy
Department of Physics, University of Pittsburgh

Some Thoughts on Planning for the Future for American Science


Caroline L. Herzenberg


A longer version of this article


The investment of time and effort in looking ahead and planning for the future can be a very important one for science and for scientists. Because accomplishing our work takes so long in comparison with that of most other individuals in our society, and because our work as a whole is a cumulative enterprise, it is important for us to examine science policies and future directions. We may also need to revisit past issues, as they may remain and present themselves in new and different frameworks in the future.

Concern for the role of science in society and the future of science has been with us and these topics have been examined in the past since the time of Francis Bacon, with some landmark contributions by J.B.S. Haldane, and, for the case of science in America, Vannevar Bush, whose ideas, presented in Science, the Endless Frontier, are currently being reexamined. This paper is intended as a contribution to the contemporary discussion of the redirection of American science policy from that of the post- Vannevar Bush era.

Science continues, in many respects, to be an endless frontier. Many of Vannevar Bush's ideas have stood the test of time and do not appear seriously flawed. However, the ideas that Vannevar Bush presented do need updating and in some cases significant modification. Most notably, a reconsideration of the broader social context in which science progresses would be desirable in reassessing science policy, particularly considering the enormous impact of science on our society and the critical ability of science and technology policy to leverage social action.

Science and reason

Science results and is constituted from the application of reason to the world around us. At present, science is the discipline in which reason has the freest play. Since the Enlightenment, there has been consideration that in the future this aspect of science may be expected to further rationalize other disciplines and areas of human activity. Science has greatly influenced public policies and programs in the United States, but has not led to the developments of the types anticipated by American progressive thinkers like John Dewey, who expressed the hope that the operation of cooperative intelligence as displayed in science could be a working model for the union of freedom and authority which might be applicable to political and other activities. Attempts to deploy the cooperative intelligence of science as a model for rationalizing the development of other areas of culture, economics, politics, and society have not achieved comparable success, and have elicited considerable antagonism. Science has not become the prototype for all human common action. However, use of scientific approaches and methodology within the present domain of the sciences continues to be widely accepted.

Problem solving with science

Science is of intrinsic importance in advancing our understanding of the natural worid. It is also a superb method for problem solving for society. In looking at the future of science, we therefore need to address questions such as those recently put to the scientific community by Rep. Vernon Ehlers:

What are the most important intellectual challenges rising over the scientific horizon in the next half century? What will be the biggest problems facing our nation and our planet in the future, and how can science and technology help overcome or avoid them? What should our scientific and technological enterprise strive to be 10, 20, or 50 years from now? And what changes do we need to make in our present system in order to get there?

The scope of the present paper, however,is much more limited. In the politically and socially conservative society in which we live at present, the possibility of immediate or radical restructuring of the research and development system seems unlikely and perhaps undesirable. In any consideration of the reorganization of science policy, we must be careful to avoid the danger of the reorganization destroying those very characteristics (such as originality and spontaneity, independence of thought, and the open sharing of knowledge) which are essential to the progress of science. However, there are modifications of the present system which could go a great deal of the way toward improving the scientific enterprise and t