The Science Of Free Speech

In 1951, at the height of anticommunist repression in the United States, a military review board demanded that Pauling explain his political views. The board's aim was to determine his fitness to review the classified government documents that were sometimes involved in Caltech grant requests.

Pauling replied with a long statement in which he made a scientific case for free speech. The way he saw it, American politics could be thought of as 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 a democracy. 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. And 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 opinions about political questions, no matter what that opinion might be."

Pauling was pointing out that no good scientist would lop off just one end of a set of findings, because the resulting average would be thrown off. In America, the attempt to lop off the views of those on the left wing of the political spectrum would have the same skewing effect—and so he concluded that the best system, the most scientific, democratic system, would be to allow free speech for all.

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truth about fallout, and started telling the world what he found.

And the world listened. Now in his mid-50s, Pauling was the world's foremost chemist. His ideas about the chemical bond had revolutionized the field; his chemistry textbooks were among the most popular and influential ever written; his ideas about protein structure and molecular disease had made history. He had been awarded honorary doctorates by the world's greatest universities and had won almost every significant honor available to chemists.

One great honor, however, had eluded him: the Nobel Prize. For years his colleagues and students had wondered why the prize was given to other, less prolific chemists— even, in 1951, to one of Pauling's former students—while the great man himself was overlooked. Pauling reasoned that he had been ignored because Alfred Nobel's will said specifically that the prizes were to be given for a single important discovery. Pauling instead had reshaped all of chemistry, creating an entire body of work, an edifice of structural chemistry composed of many parts. "That was the trouble," as he said. "What was the single great discovery I had made?"

So it came as a wonderful surprise when, on the afternoon of November 3, 1954, Pauling received a phone call from a newspaper reporter. "What is your reaction to winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry?" the reporter asked. Pauling asked what it was for. "Chemistry," the reporter replied. "No, what does the citation say?" Pauling wanted to know which of his many discoveries was being honored. "For research into the nature of the chemical bond," the reporter read, "and its application to the elucidation of complex substances." Pauling gave a wide grin. The Nobel was being given him for everything he had done in chemistry from 1928 to his work with the alpha helix. The Nobel officials had given him a lifetime award.

Winning the Nobel helped lift the clouds of suspicion that surrounded him at Caltech. He received hundreds of letters and telegrams from wellwishers, attended many parties in his honor, and was glad when old friends who had avoided him now clapped him on the back and gave him their congratulations.

Just before he left to receive his prize in Stockholm, the entire Caltech community threw him a lavish party with a catered dinner, speeches in his honor, and a hilarious series of skits and songs called "The Road to Stockholm," put together by his students and fellow faculty members. In one particularly funny sketch, Ava Helen was portrayed as a lovesick student singing to her teacher:

Dr. Linus Pauling is the man for me.

He makes violent changes in my chemistry.

Oh fie, when he rolls his eyes

All my atoms ionize.

When he's near blood molecules rush to my face,

And I couldn't tell an acid from first base.

Oh joy, you'll never see

Such affinity.

It was a joyous evening, full of warmth and laughter and generous high spirits. Pauling's happiness continued through the frosty days of early December, when he and his family arrived in Sweden to receive the Nobel. The U.S. Department of State, faced with the possibility of an international outcry if Pauling was again refused a passport, had reluctantly granted him the right to travel. He arrived to wide public acclaim in Scandinavia as a man who was not only a great researcher but a person of moral conviction whose voice would not be stilled. The Nobel ceremony itself, "one of the most impressive . . . held in the modern world," Pauling said, was held in the ornate Stockholm Concert Hall, where Sweden's King Gustavus VI handed Pauling the gold Nobel medal.

Afterward, Pauling was asked to give an address to a crowd of hundreds of cheering Swedish university students who had come to acclaim the new Nobelists. His words were reprinted in all the papers in the nation: "Perhaps as

■ Linus Pauling

A beaming Linus Pauling is surrounded by his family after receiving the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1954.

one of the older generation, I should preach a little sermon to you, but I do not propose to do so. I shall, instead, give you a word of advice about how to behave toward your elders," he said, his voice ringing clearly across the crowded square. "When an old and distinguished person speaks to you, listen to him carefully and with respect—but do not believe him. Never put your trust in anything but your own intellect. Your elder, no matter whether he has gray hair or has lost his hair, no matter whether he is a Nobel laureate, may be wrong. ... So you must always be skeptical—always think for yourself." The students cheered wildly.

After the ceremonies, the Paulings embarked on a triumphant four-month world tour, making stops and delivering political and scientific speeches in Israel, India (where they shared dinner with Prime Minister Nehru), Thailand, and Japan. The Japanese, whose long-standing concern over atomic weapons had been raised to new heights by the superbomb fallout, especially appreciated Pauling's heroic work against the development of nuclear weapons, and he was mobbed wherever he went. Japanese scientists were leading the world in the analysis of fallout, and as he talked with them Pauling grew more worried about how low levels of radiation exposure might affect human health.

He returned to America refreshed and reinvigorated. For six months, from the time his Nobel had been announced until he returned to Pasadena, Pauling had been honored and feted, applauded and attended. He had dined with kings and prime ministers. He had delivered more than 50 antibomb talks to enthusiastic audiences. And he had learned that his concerns—about fallout, the arms race, the cold war—were shared by the world. He returned home in 1955 secure in his beliefs and ready to continue his fight against the superbomb.

Through the late 1950s, Pauling still dabbled in science. He remained interested in the medical applications of his work and wrote pieces about sickle-cell anemia and the role of abnormal molecules in human disease. He toyed with the idea that perhaps misshapen molecules were the cause of mental diseases. But he had lost the passion and focus that had marked his earlier work.

In general, Pauling turned away from research and devoted most of his time to the antibomb movement. As Caltech's president, Lee DuBridge, put it, "For a while there he lost touch with science." Pauling's prime worry was fallout and the health effects of small increases in radiation exposure. Although U.S. government officials tried their best to reassure the public that fallout posed no danger, Pauling thought the scientific data indicated otherwise. There was in fact a growing body of evidence indicating that low-level radiation could damage the DNA in cells and cause mutations and disease.

Humans were exposed to naturally occurring "background radiation" of course, from sunlight, cosmic rays, and the decay of naturally occurring radioactive elements. Pauling agreed with most geneticists of the day that this background radiation caused a constant low level of disease and mutation.

And he agreed with the government ~that the testing of nuclear bombs through 1955 had increased the total background level of radiation by only about 1 percent. But he differed in interpreting what that small increase meant. Spokespeople for the Atomic Energy Commission said it was negligible for any individual, equivalent to the increase caused by wearing a watch with a radium dial or moving from sea level to Denver, where the higher altitude meant greater exposure to cosmic rays.

However, Pauling looked at the same numbers in a different way. Instead of calculating the increased risk to individuals, he used entire populations. If all of the 1.5 million birth defects around the world each year were caused by background radiation, he argued, then a 1 percent increase translated into an additional 15,000 defective babies each year, all caused by bomb testing. A minuscule increase in one individual's risk of cancer could look like a significant worldwide health problem when analyzed in this way. By extrapolating these population-based figures over many generations, in Pauling's analysis fallout began to look like a very serious health problem indeed.

Pauling took every opportunity to make his views public, speaking widely and publishing wherever he could. But it was a battle fought in the fog—both sides in the fallout debate were using sketchy data. And, as it was eventually shown, both were essentially correct in their estimates. It was simply a matter of how the estimates were framed. As Pauling said, "There is considerable uncertainty about estimated values in this field. But I think that we should consider the worst possible case rather than the best possible case."

Pauling's approach proved the more compelling. People began to listen seriously to his estimates. His case was made even stronger when it was found that fallout included strontium 90, a long-lived radioactive species with an unfor tunate chemical similarity to calcium. Researchers found that when strontium 90 fell to earth, it could be ingested by cattle and passed through their milk to humans, where it was deposited in bones. The growing bones of children were especially affected. Once in the bones, strontium 90 exposed the surrounding tissue to radiation. Pauling and other antibomb activists used the issue to sharply etch an image of radiation-poisoned children's milk in the minds of millions of families.

As the fallout debate heated up, so did the arms race. Soviet scientists rushed to create their own superbomb, and both sides felt compelled to test more and more weapons of ever-increasing power. As they did, more and more radioactive fallout spread around the world.

By 1957, thanks in part to Pauling's ceaseless warnings and the work of other activists and antibomb organizations, public opinion began to shift decisively toward stopping all testing of nuclear weapons. But this was not enough. Pauling wanted to show the world that many of the men and women who understood most intimately the dangers of nuclear fallout—the scientists—believed it should be stopped. Scientists had traditionally been silent on public issues, preferring instead to concentrate on their research. But Pauling felt that if they were simply asked to sign their names to a statement about the issue, they might make their feelings known. Accordingly, in 1957 he wrote and sent to thousands of American scientists a petition asking them to support a ban on all nuclear testing. Much of the mailing was done from the kitchen table of Pauling's Pasadena home, with Ava Helen and some of her friends stuffing envelopes and licking stamps.

The response was astounding. Within two weeks, Pauling got back more than 2,000 signatures, including some from Nobel Prize winners and many members of the National Academy of Sciences. Pauling released his results to the press and announced that he was expanding his petition drive to the entire world scientific community. Within a few months he had gathered 9,000 more signatures. In January 1958 he presented the entire list to the secretary-general of the United Nations.

Pauling's petitions made worldwide news. Scientists had not spoken with this degree of unanimity about a political issue since the days when they fought for civilian control of atomic bomb research just after World War II, and the number of petition signers impressed both the public and political leaders. Surely if these scientists believed that the fallout from nuclear testing was dangerous, then something was wrong with the government's efforts to convince the public that fallout was harmless.

These efforts got Pauling into hot water. He continued to be blasted by government officials and right-wing press columnists as a communist dupe. At Caltech, three members of the board of trustees resigned to protest Pauling's ceaseless antibomb activism. Lee DuBridge, Caltech's president, concerned both about Pauling's political notoriety and his neglect of scientific research, asked him in 1958 to resign as head of the chemistry division. Pauling was stung by the request but agreed to step down, both for the good of the school and to free more of his time for political activism. He was still a faculty member, still taught occasional classes and oversaw a large group of researchers. But the warm feelings that followed his Nobel Prize had evaporated. From this point on, Pauling became increasingly isolated and unhappy at Caltech and began looking for a new position.

But through it all he remained, on the surface, a joyful warrior for peace. Pauling made speech after speech before peace groups. On television he debated Edward Teller, the anticommunist physicist known as the father of the H-bomb, and Atomic Energy Commission scientific advisor Willard Libby. He wrote an antibomb book titled No More War! and traveled the world in support of other prominent antibomb leaders, such as the philosopher Bertrand Russell in England

In 1958, Pauling (left) appeared in a televised debate on the danger of fallout from atomic bombs with Ed ward Teller (center), a staunch anticommunist and defender of nuclear weapons.

and the Nobel Peace Prize—winning humanitarian physician Albert Schweitzer in Africa. He toured the Soviet Union, speaking to the people there about the need to stop testing bombs. Ava Helen, always by his side, always encouraging, was asked to speak about American women's attitudes toward peace. The Paulings were now true citizens of the world, and their thoughts about the dangers of fallout and the need for world government were reaching an ever-growing audience.

Pauling's speeches often started the same way. "We live in a wonderful world, a beautiful world! I like this world. I like everything in it: the stars, the mountains, the seas, lakes and rivers, the forests, the minerals, the molecules—and especially the human beings," he would say. But all these wonderful things, he continued, were threatened with disaster from nuclear war and bomb-test fallout.

"Why are these weapons of destruction being made? Are those weapons going to be used? Are the leaders of the great nations of the world going to sacrifice all of the people in the world because they are not willing to negotiate in a rational way with one another?" he asked. After painting a picture of the horrors of nuclear war and the deadly effects of fallout, he would ask his audiences to support a new way toward peace. "We need to have the spirit of science in international affairs to find the right solution, the just solution of international problems, not the effort by each nation to get the better of other nations, to do harm to them when possible. . . . The time has now come for morality to take its proper place in the conduct of world affairs; the time has now come for the nations of the world to submit to the just regulation of their conduct by international law."

Everywhere he and Ava Helen went, in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, Pauling's appeal to reason was heard by enthusiastic crowds. But at home he was still subjected to harassment. In 1960, a Senate investigative subcommittee subpoenaed him to explain how he had gotten so many signatures—especially ones from behind the Iron Curtain—on his test-ban petitions. The subcommittee chairman, Democratic Senator Thomas Dodd, was convinced that Pauling's effort was too big to have been mounted from his home; somehow, he thought, the Communist party must have been involved. Pauling cooperated with the inquiry up to the point when he was asked in a public session to provide the names of those who had helped him distribute his petitions in other nations. Pauling refused. "The circulation of petitions is an important part of our democratic process," he told the subcommittee. "If it is abolished or inhibited, it would be a step toward a police state. No matter what assurances the subcommittee might give me concerning the use of names, I am convinced the names would be used for reprisals against these enthusiastic, idealistic, high-minded workers for peace."

Pauling risked a contempt citation and a prison sentence by refusing to cooperate. But his stand was applauded by newspapers around the world, and when hundreds of letters of support deluged Dodd's office, the subcommittee backed down.

Pauling's antibomb energy seemed ceaseless. He organized a successful international scientific gathering in Oslo, Norway, to bring world attention to the proliferation of nuclear bombs.

Pauling protests nuclear testing outside the White House on the day before he was to attend a dinner there with President John F. Kennedy.

He accepted a dinner invitation from President John F. Kennedy in 1961— then picketed the White House the morning before, carrying a sign saying, "Mr. Kennedy . . . We Have No Right to Test." Everything he did was done to attract maximum attention and keep public pressure on the government to discontinue its bomb tests and stop the fallout.

Finally, in the summer of 1963, after years of wavering, stalled negotiations, and endless hesitation, the government appeared to be close to signing a test-ban treaty with the Soviet Union. President Kennedy had given the effort his full attention, and his negotiators had overcome a final hurdle by agreeing with the Soviets that underground bomb tests, which, after all, released almost no fallout, could continue, as long as there was a ban on testing in the atmosphere. A treaty banning atmospheric tests—the first nuclear treaty in history—was signed on August 5, 1963.

This treaty was not everything the Paulings had hoped for, not a complete ban on weapons development and testing. But it was a major step forward; it would stop the threat of fallout.

The test ban went into effect on October 10. The next morning, as the Paulings were eating breakfast with friends, a call came in from their daughter Linda. "Daddy, have you heard the news?" she asked her father.

"No," Pauling said, "What news?"

Pauling listened, then quietly put down the receiver. He turned to Ava Helen, a look of astonishment on his face. Linda had told him that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Pauling protests nuclear testing outside the White House on the day before he was to attend a dinner there with President John F. Kennedy.

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