Linus Pauling Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Peace Movement in Historical Perspective; Conversation with  Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling; 1/18/83 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Tom Rush

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Science and Morality

Do you feel that scientists have a special moral responsibility to make known these insights and mobilize public opinion?

Yes. I think that scientists have a special responsibility. All human beings, all citizens, have a responsibility for doing their part in the democratic process. But almost every issue has some scientific aspect to it, and this one of nuclear war, or war in general, is of course very much a matter of science. Scientists understand the problem somewhat better than their fellow citizens. I think that scientists who are able to do it, who are in the position to do it, and who have the ability to do it, should help their fellow citizens to understand what the issues are and how they look at it, and should go beyond that and express their own opinions for the benefit of their fellow citizens.

In your book No More War you discuss how science had become the handmaiden of war -- helped to think about war, to define new instruments of warfare, and to define new strategies. And you propose in that book that science more and more became a handmaiden of peace. That an international research organization for peace studies that would deal with many of the problems you just discussed should be instituted. I wonder if you might reflect on that now, because you probably know the University of California is going through a process of evaluating what it should do in the realm of peace studies.

There are a number of rather small peace research institutes, institutions that have been set up. Some contribute very little, like the Hoover Institution on War and Peace of Stanford, which doesn't pay much attention to world peace, it seems to me. Or the United States Government Arms Control and Disarmament Agency seems to me to contribute little directly to world peace. My idea that this could be a government function may not be very reasonable. It may be better to get it as far as possible from government. I envisaged a large place that would be essentially like a great university, a very great university, where the staff members would be interested in world peace and would devote part of their time to striving to solve the problem of eliminating war from the world and planning a better world. They would also be productive scholars working on problems, perhaps basic problems in fields of science or problems of applied science that would help in the question of overpopulation or damaged environment and all the others. Some of them would be futurists trying to plan the future. I think Harvard has a rather small group that might be described in this way. It would be fine if there were a large and effective group in the University of California. Here we have a university that I have from time to time, ever since 1948 when I was Eastman Professor at Oxford, described as the greatest university in the world. And I still think of it in this sense. The University of California needs to continue to lead the world. And what we need more than anything else is to lead the world toward peace.

Do you feel that in this postwar period science has been corrupted by its relationship to the government and to weapons programs?

No, I don't think so. There's misuse of science, in my opinion. All this weaponry stuff is a misuse of science. Individual scientists have been tempted into working for the government, working on weapons either directly or indirectly. I've seen a statement that half of American scientists are involved in such work. It would be better if most of them were working for the welfare of human beings in one way or another. There's plenty of work to be done. We haven't exhausted the scientific problems. I don't think that the scientists could get together, all of them, and decide that they would not work on weapons, that they would not work for the government. This would mean that we were instituting an oligarchy of scientists. I think that the country, the world, should be run by the people as a whole, not by any small group, not by an oligarchy of scientists.

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