Friday, April 29, 2005

A scientist with conscience

I'm sorry to say I had not heard of Philip Morrison until I read a Boston Globe article following his death entitled, "Last of the Outspoken Scientists". He was a pioneer in atomic weapons who then spoke out against their use. Jennet Conant writes:

He belonged to a generation of outspoken citizen scientists who came of age before the nuclear transformation of warfare, the repressive politics of the Cold War, and the reliance of university research laboratories on military funding. The chastening example of Los Alamos's controversial director, J. Robert Oppenheimer -- who was investigated by the FBI for more than a decade before his opposition to the hydrogen bomb led to a humiliating hearing and his security clearance being revoked -- has stood for five decades as a lesson to scientists to keep their heads down and their mouths shut. Today it would be regarded as foolhardy for any ambitious young physicist to be an outspoken critic of US nuclear policy. Not surprisingly, few dissenting voices are heard.
Morrison's death, along with that of the other Los Alamos veterans, leaves not only a void but a troubling silence. Scientists have become a quiet, docile lot, and it has been left to the Los Alamos dragons like Morrison to have the temerity to say again and again what they first warned of as far back as August 1945.
Morrison remained convinced that the idealistic goal of Oppenheimer and Niels Bohr was still the only viable course of action: a comprehensive international control pact for nuclear weapons. He was not naive about the diplomatic challenges involved in achieving such an agreement, and he resolutely continued to fight an against-the-tide battle for disarmament. ''The task is not simple," he wrote, ''but was any international goal more important than securing the future against nuclear war?"

I am troubled by what seems to be the death of conscience among those who have power and influence in our world.

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