Oral History Transcript — Drs. Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman
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Interview with Drs. Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman
Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman; August 12, 1983
ABSTRACT: Session two is a joint interview with Robert Herman. Family background and early education, work at Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, studies at George Washington University, wartime employment and studies, work with Navy on detection of mines; graduate studies with George Gamow while working at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, early universe theory, first encounter and later work with Robert Herman, interaction with physics community. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and L. R. Henrich, neglect of Alpher and Herman work by astronomical community; General Electric projects: supersonic flow, re-entry physics, the Talaria project; the Penzias/Wilson observations; honors, marriage. Miscellaneous recollections about youth in Washington, D.C., service on scientific committees, public education efforts, work at General Electric. Meeting of Alpher and Herman, their collaboration, cosmological theory, work with George Gamow, Edward Teller, Hans Bethe, Edward Condon, cosmic background radiation, controversy with steady-state adherents and others; systematic neglect of their work, nucleosynthesis in stars, reactions to awards, discussions with Arno A. Penzias at the time of Nobel Prize award (with Robert W. Wilson), correspondence with S. Pasternack about P. James Peeble's cosmology papers, Alpher paper on neutrino and photon background calculation, James Follin, C. Hayashi, Steven Weinberg's presentation in his book The First Three Minutes; current cosmological efforts, A. Zee's papers on cosmology, views on the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, Fred Hoyle's recent writings. Also prominently mentioned are: Niels Henrik David Bohr, Albert Einstein, Richard Phillips Feynman, Lawrence Randolph Hafstad, Robert Hofstadter, Huntington, and H. P. Robertson.
TranscriptSession I | Session II
Harwit:Now, Dr. Alpher, let me start out with you because yesterday we didn't finish all the different questions I should have asked you, and you remembered some things that ought to have been said later on. So why don't we finish those off first, and go on and talk jointly with Dr. Herman afterwards.
Alpher:All right, fine. There were some things associated with my early years which may be of some interest, certainly of interest to me, to have in my records. First of all, I was an Eagle Scout with Troop 73 in Washington, D. C. and spent several summers working as a lifeguard in the boy scout camp -- so that's certainly a part of my background. In high school I did play varsity football for a short time, until I injured my foot. At that point since one had to either be in sports or in the high school ROTC, I went into the ROTC, and in my senior year was a major in the high school ROTC, replete with uniform, sword, and all the good things that go with that.
Alpher:I participated in war games, interscholastic war games, which was the thing one did with the high school ROTC, marching exhibitions and all that sort of stuff -- competitions for going through the manual of arms...
Harwit:Did that have anything to do with the impending war in Europe?
Alpher:No, I don't think so. I think that was something that had gone on in the city of Washington for a long time. I don It know whether it still goes on or not. But I had a cousin, for example, who had gone through the high school system in Washington, who became colonel in his senior year, and that was the highest officer's position in the city, and there were a number of high schools each of which had the ROTC. So he had achieved the highest spot. I was only a major; I was second in command at our high school. They served, I suppose, a useful function. They marched in inaugural parades and other such things. One thing that was interesting about being an Eagle Scout, by the way, was that I had the opportunity of serving on the Honor Guard for Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural parade, and stood in his box as the parade went by -- actually met the great man and shook his hand.
Harwit:That must have been a thrill.
Alpher:Which was a thrill, particularly at that early an age.
Harwit:You were what, 14 or so?
Alpher:No, I wasn't even 14. I was a very young Eagle Scout; I was between 12 and 13.
Alpher:Everything seemed to have been accelerated because I was really barely 16 when I finished high school. Okay, I think that's enough of that period. Then going on to my working years, among other things I have participated in, which I failed to mention earlier -- aside from the four awards shared with Dr. Herman was the Naval Ordnance Award which we each received independently for our work during World War II. When I got out of high school, and things were rough, and I worked first as a secretary and then went to the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, there was a period in between when I was at Wilson Teacher's College in which I played varsity table tennis – which seems absurd -- but I was third ranked in the District of Columbia, and even had the opportunity later, while attending a Physical Society meeting in New York City ... there used to be a Table tennis Center at 52nd Street and Broadway, and I went in there one day. You played pick-up games, and I played a gentleman who spotted me 15 points and beat me 21 to 15. It turned out that he was the national champion.
Alpher:Being third ranked in the District of Columbia is not all that great. Well, anyway, during my time at General Electric, there were a few things I really want to mention: One is that for some years I was an adjunct professor in the Department of Aeronautical Engineering at RPI.
Harwit:Did you teach then? A1pher: I did not teach, but served on curriculum planning committees and on Ph.D. committees. RPI was trying to upgrade their Aeronautical Engineering Department in an attempt to recognize that the gases aircraft flew in were in fact real, rather than ideal gases. Particularly at high speeds things could happen to them that were not traditionally considered in aerodynamics. That lasted five or six years; we parted mutually. I found it not particularly profitable for me so I stepped out. Let's see, in the professional track, about five years ago, somewhat to my surprise, I was asked to run for office in the American Physical Society for the council. Prior to that I had begun to get involved in Physical Society activities at the invitation Milan Fiske, who invited me to join a group at the Physical Society of the American Institute of Physics that was concerned with manpower questions -- supply and demand for physicists – what the future employment market might be like and what the physics institutions might do to better prepare people for the real job market. I was still serving on that panel when I was asked to run for the council of the Physical Society; and much to my surprise, I was elected, and I served four years on the council, two years on the Executive Committee of the Physical Society. During that period, I was continuously a member of the Panel on Public Affairs, and helped to reestablish a committee that had died some years earlier when it was called the Committee on Professional Concerns. We reconstituted the Committee on Opportunities in Physics, and I was chairman of that for the time that I was on the Council of the Physical Society.
Harwit:What were the most challenging problems that came up during that time?
Alpher:In the counci1?
Harwit:Well, in any of the activities that you had in the Physical Society?
Alpher:It will be colored by my personal concern; namely, that more and more physicists emerging with Ph.D.'s were not finding academic positions, and that was the traditional route. And the question is what one could do for these people, and my view point which I tried to argue in these various committees was that the classical physics training, that is all the usual things that one does in working toward a Ph.D., including the research, were absolutely fine for later industrial employment, because there is no such thing as industrial physics; I mean, the world is the same whether you are working for an industry or working in a university. The emphasis that you bring to the problems may be different, but the problems are frequently the same. The depth to which you pursue them may be different in industry, but again, they have to be pursued in much the same manner. What I tried to bring to these discussions was a feeling that the world was the same everywhere, and that there were rewards for physicists working in industry, which while not the same as those in the academic world, were in themselves not all that unpleasant. Aside from the usual things one says about differences in income, there are intellectual rewards which go with industry as well. For example, I was very active in a detailed statistical survey of physicists working in industry. It was an attitudinal study of how they felt their education had prepared them for industrial work and what kind of rewards they felt they were getting. Were they satisfied, were they happy, were they unhappy in a variety of ways? That turned out to be a very satisfying study because I suppose it agreed with my prejudices which were that it wasn't all that bad. At any rate, at the end of last year, [I] went off the council, and I decided that I would take a rest...
Harwit:Was this at the end of '82?
Alpher:Yes, basically, I am out of that, and the only professional society activity I’m engaged in is The American Association for the Advancement of Science, where several years ago I was elected to the governing committee of Section B, which is physics.
Harwit:Have there been problems there that are particularly interesting?
Alpher:I can't say I find that a very exciting chore. Being a committeeman one has two jobs, and that is to nominate a number of people each year to become fellows of AAAS. And the other part of one's job is to help arrange sessions for the annual meeting of AAAS. The former is a ridiculous job because over the years among those who are members of Section B are literally hundreds of people who should be fellows, so you almost have to throw a dart at a dart board to pick five or ten that you are willing to nominate for the next go-around. For some reason or other they just have never caught up. As far as the sessions are concerned, I have a personal problem. The society or the American Association for the Advancement of Science now meets over Memorial Day Weekend and I found it a personal chore to get speakers to speak at that time, and to go myself to the meeting over the Memorial Day Weekend. So I don't know what's going to happen next year. There is a lot of ferment about changing the meeting time, and I haven't got involved yet in trying to arrange any sessions for the next meeting. Those are basically the two things one does as a committeeman.
Alpher:I have served on a few NSF committees, most recently, probably as an outgrowth of my interest in manpower studies, on the committee (chaired by Dal Wolfle) which reviewed the work of the Division of Science Resource Studies, and that was an interesting task that ran over a period of five or six months with several meetings in Washington -- a lot of manuscripts to look at, and a report was submitted and I hope was useful. Somewhere along the line, some years ago, in the early days of the Physics of Fluids, I was on the editorial board. This was when Frenkel was the editor. I was particularly active in the area of magneto-hydrodynamics and electro-hydrodynamics -- papers that were in those fields, all seemed to come my way. Let's see, finally, I've had a long-term interest in public broadcasting.
Alpher:And I have been a member of the Board of the Channel 17 and WMHT-FM in Schenectady for nearly a dozen years. I served as president for two years, and am still active on the board.
Harwit:Do you influence it in the direction of broadcast that might be of scientific interest? Or do you...
Alpher:As a matter of fact, I have tried nudging things in that direction, trying to get some local programming done in science. It's very difficult because of the financial constraints in public broadcasting. Now we had a ... I had a notion that one might do a half-hour program weekly, patterned something after the "Washington Week in Review," in which one had a panel of distinguished scientists and a moderator who would review the week's science news.
Alpher:And a gentleman at Channel 17 worked up a little scenario on how this show might go. We began to look around, and it turned out that WETA, the Public Broadcasting Station in Washington, D.C., had had much the same idea; had developed the show much further, had actually produced a pilot program, and were at that time trying to market it, that is, to find someone who would finance the program, and I must admit that at the moment I don't know whether they found anyone. Certainly, it isn't on the air now.
Harwit:It would be interesting to have something like that.
Alpher:I thought so. It's a little hard to know just how to bring science to the public on television. "Nova," by and large, is a good medium. But somehow it can't be that current. I mean, those shows are produced months, years, after events, and sometimes are in the nature of reviews; whereas a weekly show, I think, has a good deal of merit. I hope someday there'll be something like that. Okay, I think I've caught up basically on everything I overlooked earlier.
Harwit:Let me just ask you, have you ever written anything popular yourself or been on, popular radio shows in some way to further science?
Alpher:To a small extent. First of all, and maybe we'll get to this later, Bob Herman, George Gamow and I worked very hard doing a television show called the "Johns Hopkins Science Review" back in the early '50s.
Harwit:Let me interrupt here and perhaps put Dr. Herman on also, and then we could initiate our...
Alpher:... work our way into the other. Fine.
Dr. Herman joined the discussion at this point.
Harwit:You were just saying Dr. Alpher...
Alpher:You asked about whether I'd ever participated in radio or television for the public. First, starting more recently with my activities here in Schenectady, I have been on a number of interview shows at Channel 17, having to do with science and various aspects, and also having to do with educational problems in the sciences. I’ve been on a few interview shows on local commercial television, a particularly gratifying one was at Channel 6 with a moderator Ed Day, who was also their anchorman on the news show; he happens to be an amateur astronomer, and we spent an hour discussing modern astronomy on a show which I thought went rather well. It was on another radio show, again on that same station with the radio outlet, having to do with ethical problems in science. That was an interesting two-hour period. It was also a call-in show. I had a particularly interesting call-in show on a Nashville, Tennessee radio station. I fielded calls for an hour by phone from Schenectady. I anticipated problems with religious fundamentalists; surprisingly there were no problems. Then going back to the early days when Bob Herman, George Gamow and I were still together, in those days Johns Hopkins University had a periodic science review on television which was broadcast on WBAL-TV in Baltimore, as I recall.
Herman:There was a man by the name of Lynn Poole who produced this show.
Alpher:The three of us did a show on the Big Bang theory on that series. And that was interesting because we basically wrote the script and provided the illustrative material, and so on. We have had that exposure, nothing particularly since.
Alpher:I had exposure, excuse me, on the other minor point. I had some scientists and engineers from New York State went to Washington to protest the invasion of Cambodia. For some reason or other I ended up being the spokesman for this group in an interview for CBS National TV News.
Harwit:Did G.E. have anything to say about that?
Alpher:Only that if I identified myself as working at G.E., it was clear that I was acting as an individual, and this had nothing to do with my employment. We had people from Xerox, IBM, G.E. and other industries in New York State; something like 200 people went down. That was in the early ‘70s.
Herman:I might mention that when I was in Washington during the APL days, I did a half-hour children’s program on scientific matters. That was an interesting experience. I’ve had very little contact in that arena. And later, I suppose, we’ll talk about our joint experiences with a “Nova” program that we were asked to participate in; but in general, I have not been involved, although I have done a great deal of lecturing in scientific matters at all kinds of levels, in elementary schools, and I have given general-public lectures on science.
Harwit:Can you name some places? Would these be school systems or...
Herman:... private schools: I have given lectures at Cranbrook Institute in Michigan.
Harwit:What is the Cranbrook Institute?
Herman:That is a high school, and basically a high school that is devoted to the arts.
Alpher:Well, if one wants to consider those live been involved in science series at the junior-high level here Schenectady, sort of a frontiers of science series, oh boy, there was something on the tip of my tongue, a series that I was particularly interested in, and I'm not going to remember it right at the moment. Maybe it'll come to me. I'm sorry I don't remember it. I think over the years I, too, have had opportunities to talk about cosmology at various levels.
Harwit:All right. Yesterday, Dr. Alpher, you told us about how you got into thesis work with Gamow on the synthesis of chemical elements in the early universe, and you also had talked about how you had met Dr. Herman at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University. Perhaps you could now tell us how the two of you started working, and, here the two of you should spell each other off, giving impressions, and correcting each other. I’ll just let you do the talking.
Alpher:I wish I could remember in any detail how we first got together. We were physically located near one another, and we must just have started discussing some of the work I was doing. I simply don't remember in any detail how we first got together. Bob, do you remember?
Harwit:How far were your offices apart physically?
Herman:Well, they might have been within one or two offices as I recall; they were rather close. I don't remember very specifically, but it’s very clear in my mind, however, that you had arrived, and prior to that time, I had seen George Gamow around. I hadn't become acquainted with him, although I had met him.
Harwit:This was because he was consulting?
Herman:He was consulting, and he was coming to the Applied Physics Laboratory, and of course I knew he was a physicist, and that he had done certain distinguished kinds of things. Then when Ralph came to the laboratory -- I mean, we became acquainted -- and I remember very specifically being very interested in your work on this instability problem. And I remember that was about when... that was the stage at which I recall first meeting you.
Harwit:This was when you, Dr. Alpher, were trying to work on the instability of the early universe and to explain potentially the formation of galaxies?
Alpher:That’s right. That’s the problem upon which ultimately I was scooped by Lifshitz in the Soviet Union.
Herman:And that is my earliest recollection of our interactions on the technical level. And then from that time on, I was aware since we discussed these matters periodically that you were doing graduate work with George Gamow, and that this problem had fallen through. And that you were then going to work on some of the nucleo-synthesis problems, and as I had mentioned yesterday, I had a very deep interest in astronomical kinds of things from a very early age, and I also never have been able to sit quietly and do one thing for a very long time. So I quite early became rather excited in knowing about what Ralph was beginning to do with George. Then I think I never left him alone, so to speak, and constantly wanted to hear about it, talk about it, and became very enmeshed intellectually and emotionally in what was going on there.
Harwit:How did you divide the work? Were there certain skills that one of you had, and other skills that the other one did? Or did you both work all of the problems all of the time?
Herman:That's an interesting question.
Alpher:I have no idea. I have never really thought about the analysis of how we divided things up. We hardly ever worked separately and then put things together.
Herman:That is correct. My recollection... Well, it's not a recollection -- I know this with my being that we happened to be able to discuss and work together in a kind of union that I don't think I've ever quite experienced in working with other people. This is my feeling about this. And I've worked very closely with other people, but this was something rather special and unique. For example, in working with some other people like Dick Wallis at Irvine, University of California, we will work together for a good part of the time, we will do different pieces of the problem, and then get together and go on from there. But in this case, we just worked together. We discussed, we argued, we worked the mathematical things out, did calculations, and I would say mostly together. Even when we had finished writing a paper, he'd write and I would dictate, then we would switch and I'd write and he'd dictate. Then we'd maybe look at them separately, make changes and then come back together and argue about the changes.
Harwit:So there wasn't any particular area where one of you was more expert than the other?
Alpher:No, not really, not really.
Herman:Not of any consequence.
Alpher:Not of any consequence.
Herman:If you'll pardon me putting this on the tape, maybe it was an example of equal incompetence.
Alpher:I don't know.
Harwit:That's fine. It's just that sometimes when people work jointly, it works out that one of them works a certain half of the problem and the other one works another half of the problem, and often they don't quite understand each other’s two halves.
Herman:That I must say is absolutely as far away from this situation as I can imagine.
Herman:It just happens to be...
Alpher:It was just a completely interesting collaboration in that respect. It was absolutely to within an epsilon of equality.
Herman:I would like to mention that I was extremely interested and excited about what Ralph was doing for his dissertation. He did that all on his own, of course; and it became fairly clear at some point during that, that we began to talk about the things you were not doing for your dissertation...
Herman:... but that might be done, and that would be interesting to do so -- it's as though there was a preparation for going further even during that period.
Alpher:There just seemed to be so many things, so many avenues, to follow up on that I could not even touch on in my thesis work. I was trying to hit a deadline -- self-imposed -- but I was trying to be finished by the spring of 1948. So there were an awful lot of questions which were just set aside. It was clear, that barring accidents, Bob and I were going to pursue some of these questions because we were both interested.
Harwit:Since you published a number of things in '48 and '49, you must have started collaborating before your thesis had been finished. Or is this...
Alpher:No, I think that's correct.
Harwit:So you set aside certain parts of the work that were going to be thesis, on which you would work by yourself, and other parts on which you would work jointly?
Alpher:It was probably early in '48; I was essentially finished with what I was going to do for my thesis, and it was a job of putting that together, polishing it, my wife Louise typed drafts, then going over the drafts with Gamow, and I think Bob went over drafts of the thesis. So there was a period of months of preparation in getting that darn thing done, and during that time, then, we began to look at other things. I think we were actually engaged in some other calculations before I even turned in my thesis.
Herman:Oh, I think there's no doubt about that.
Harwit:Well, the timing of the publications suggests that you must have been, because they came out quite close together.
Alpher:Exactly. If I could interrupt, it just occurred to me, you have not asked why Gamow was a consultant at Johns Hopkins University, and I have been trying to think back, what in fact he was doing consulting about. There was one incident involving me which, I think, was rather amusing. He and a fellow named Jim Pickett -- I have no idea where he is these days. I recall that he left Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab for a job with the Atomic Energy Commission -- the three of us, somehow or other in some discussion, developed a notion of powering a ramjet with nuclear waste products.
Alpher:Now, this might have been a monstrosity flying through the sky, but nevertheless this was the early days after World War II, and people were beginning to think about what you could do with nuclear energy. We did some calculations on what kinds of waste products were available, what they would do if they were used to heat a stream of compressed air going through a ramjet, and so on. We believed we could actually, at least on paper, design something that might fly and use waste products. We wrote up a report, and it went through for clearance. Well, you remember this story, Bob, don't you? One day the FBI appears at my office door, and it turns out that we had gone way beyond where we should have in terms of security. Although we didn't have AEC clearances and access, they had decided that this should be secret restricted data. So they gathered up all our manuscripts, calculations, all copies of the paper. So a joint paper by Gamow, Alpher and Pickett exists somewhere in AEC files, and has never seen the light of day.
Harwit:I see. And you don't have a copy?
Alpher:I don't even have a scrap of paper having to do with it.
Harwit:That's really interesting.
Alpher:Now, he did other things at the lab. I think he was kind of a general consultant; I really don't remember. He got involved later on with some of the operations research, missile firing...
Herman:... the explosives
Alpher:... explosives, and so on -- a number of different things.
Harwit:Maybe this is a good point for me to interject on the tape that the two of you wrote two short essays on Gamow, and your association with him in the book Cosmology, Fusion and Other Matters, that Frederick Reines edited, and that was published by the University of Colorado Associated Press in 1972. People interested in Gamow can also find some rather interesting anecdotal material there, and your recollections written around 1968, I believe, on your joint work with him.
Herman:That is right.
Alpher:At some point I do want to talk a little about my interactions. This is probably the only area after 1948 of interaction with Gamow that Bob was not intimately involved with, and so at some point we might want...
Harwit:Well, go ahead.
Alpher:This really starts again when I was in graduate school, because one of the things Gamow had been interested in for some time was the question of the numerical fundamental constants -- the fundamental constants of nature. For example, while I was a graduate student, Gamow insisted that I look through Eddington's book called Fundamental Theory (which was a terrible chore). But then he also suggested I read some papers that Dirac had written on varying G, which were published in Nature, I think, in 1937, or thereabouts. Gamow took great delight in noting that the paper on varying G was written by Dirac while he was on his honeymoon (Dirac, that is), which started something that still goes on, namely consideration of cosmologies in which the gravitational constant or other constants are not, in fact, independent of the epoch. That was a long-term interest of Gamow's; he always felt that Dirac's ideas were beautiful, even if not correct. Toward the end of Gamow's life, he and I began to go at this again. And he and I were co-authors of the last paper he wrote before he died, on this subject. Now, what specifically we did in that paper, maybe we want to discuss that later, I don't know, since sequentially that's at the tail end of things.
Harwit:Well, you might just interject it perhaps now since...
Alpher:Within the time not long before he died, we were beginning to think about such things as the entropy per baryon in the universe, the ratio of specific heats, the fact that the radiation background soaked up all the energy in the universe. Let me see if I can sort out all these things in my mind; I really haven't thought about them in some time. In Dirac's theory, he formed dimensionless ratios of things like the Coulomb-to-the-gravitational between particles, and developed a sequence of ratios -- all the order of 1040 raised to some index, half, one, two, and so on -- and suggested that this was too powerful a set of relationships to be a coincidence, and that there must be some fundamental relationship between the quantities that went into making up these ratios. Now one of the things that you put into the Dirac ratios is, of course, the constant of gravitation. Another thing that you put in is the age of the universe, and it's not illogical then, if you think about the problems in terms of dimensional analysis, that if you put in the age of the universe then something in the equation or the ratio -- the dimensionless ratio -- must also vary with the age of the universe, if it's in fact to be an invariant ratio. The thing that seems most reasonable is to have G varying with the age of the universe.
Harwit:... the gravitational constant.
Alpher:... the gravitational constant. Well, the idea we had was that why should the age of the universe be the characteristic time of the universe? There are certainly other things that one might pick for that characteristic time, in terms of dimensional analysis. For example, there is a time in the universe when the control of the expansion rate goes from radiation to matter (the "cross-over" time). There's a significant change in the rate of expansion. That time is unique, presumably for our universe, so it is a characteristic time. Another characteristic time might be, if the universe is closed, the time when the scale or the radius of curvature of the universe has reached its maximum extent. So there are several other characteristic times, and clearly, if you put these into the equations in making up these dimensionless ratios, you will then end up with a system in which the gravitational constant does not vary with time. Now the only thing left hanging was this ratio of specific heats or if you like the entropy per baryon, and the question was that seemed to be a rather fundamental number, obviously something that must have been determined by the physics of the universe earlier than we had analyzed in the scheme of things. It turns out that you can express the ratio of the entropy per baryon in terms of fundamental constants and the time at which radiation and matter are equivalent in density. We wrote, finally, a paper in which we proposed a set of dimensionless ratios using, say, the crossover time between matter and radiation as a characteristic time which incorporated all of Dirac's quantities plus this entropy per baryon as a set of dimensionless ratios which should hold forever, so to speak. Okay, enough on that.
Harwit:Let me just ask you. Gamow had a last spring -- a last, small outpouring of papers just before he died.
Alpher:Unfortunate. He was not well. Some of those papers, I think, were ill-considered. He was rightfully criticized by others. He proposed again, for example, in terms of numerical constants, I think, that the charge on the electron, as I recall, might vary with the epoch. There was evidence which he should have known about or easily could have determined that that could not be the case.
Harwit:That had been discussed several years earlier and shown to be wrong.
Alpher:The fine-structure constant, a number of other constants which involve e, and so on, had been shown observationally not to very with the epoch over most of the age of the universe.
Harwit:Bondi and Lyttleton had a universe where the electric charge varied, or there were small differences in the electric charge between the electrons and protons, and I think that had already been shown to be impossible on observational grounds.
Alpher:In fact, I’m not sure why those papers slipped through the editorial screen at Physical Review Letters.
Alpher:Well, it's difficult to know why they slipped through. On the other hand, with someone like Gamow, they may have felt reluctant to be critical. I just don't know. They're part of the record he has left behind and they are an aberration. That’s all I can say.
Harwit:On the other hand, let me come up with a question that ...
Alpher:He did bow gracefully to the criticism, by the way.
Herman:Yes, that's true.
Alpher:In his usual charming way, he realized he had made a gaffe.
Harwit:Just before we turned the tape over, we were talking about Gamow's willingness to take criticism. I remember reading one of the papers the two of you had written in Nature in 1948, which starts out with a sentence or two that others might have found extremely offensive. This is your paper called "Evolution of the Universe" published in the November 13 issue of Nature, Vol. 162, page 774-5. It starts out saying, "In checking the results presented by Gamow in his recent article on the evolution of the universe, we found that his expression from matter density suffers from the following errors: 1) An error of not taking into account the magnetic moments in equation (7) for the capture cross sections; 2) an error in estimating the value of alpha by integrating the equation for neutron formation, and so on; 3) an arithmetical error in evaluating po from equation (9). In addition, the coefficient in equation (3) is 1.52 rather than 2.14. Correcting for these errors we find ... and then you go on. Now, a lot of people would have ...
Alpher:(laughing) ... would have been offended.
Harwit:... would have been terribly offended. And I thought when I first read this that perhaps this was an indication of some friction between the two of you and Gamow.
Herman:In fact, it's exactly the contrary. George Gamow knew about this, we discussed it with him, he read what we wrote. In fact, the way I would like to put it, there was a purity of heart that would not have generated any bad reaction.
Harwit:You do say in the last paragraph, “Our thanks are due to Dr. G. Gamow for the proposal of the topic and his constant encouragement during the process of error hunting.” Nevertheless, I didn't know, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to clarify just what his relationship ...
Alpher:Look, George was absolutely terrible when it came to doing a detailed calculation.
Herman:And he knew this.
Alpher:He knew it and he reveled in it, as a matter of fact. His enthusiasm was for ideas, and for back of the envelope calculations that were within some factor which maybe some people wouldn't accept, which he found amusing.
Harwit:Did that strain his relations with any more puritanical ...
Alpher:Yes, with Teller, particularly. He used to infuriate Teller.
Harwit:I see. I thought he and Teller were very close always.
Alpher:Well, they were ...
Herman:At one time.
Alpher:Teller always grumbled because they would discuss something, and Gamow would have these ideas, and they would do some preliminary calculations, and Teller would end up having to do the detailed calculations, if you know what I mean, that is, in terms of taking care of every dot and tittle to make sure that the result was above criticism.
Harwit:Well, that's interesting because recently there's been this released article by Hans Bethe ["comments on the History of the H-Bomb," Los Alamos Science/Fall 1982, pp. 43-53] in which he talks about Teller and his early proposals for a fusion bomb, where he portrays Teller as having done things sloppily during the early stages of fusion proposals, and that Teller never wanted to calculate anything in Los Alamos, and so on.
Alpher:(Laughing) What can one say? So there is a hierarchy.
Harwit:A hierarchy of purists.
Alpher:I can't imagine Hans Bethe doing a calculation unless it was correct, so to speak, without question. I hadn't really thought about Teller until this article that Hans Bethe published on the fusion bomb, but with George and we knew him so well, and read and went over so many of the things he wrote -- it's perfectly clear, he is man of marvelous ideas and his physics was almost always correct. But when it came to doing the actual calculations that was not his thing.
Herman:It was remarkable, wasn't it, that he so often with good ideas could carry through some kind of a calculation that was almost all right.
Alpher:I think there were some occasions on which errors -- a numerator and denominator canceled -- and it was kind of amusing later to come across these things and find that the answer was right or nearly right, but there were embedded errors which canceled.
Harwit:Was that do you think because he had such good physical intuition that he knew what the result had to be?
Alpher:I think so.
Herman:More or less, I think that's right.
Alpher:I think more or less, yes.
Herman:That's my interpretation of it.
Alpher:Going back to this paper that he did on the evolution of the universe, in which he wrote down this magnificent expression ...
Harwit:This is a 1946 paper?
Alpher:No, 1948, where he wrote down the diameter or the mass of the galaxy in terms of the binding energy of the deuteron. You know, I think he probably just regarded that as marvelous thing to be able to do, and he didn't really care whether he had a square root of two out in front or two to the five-thirds.
Alpher:The essential thing was to go through a calculation in which you wrote down the macro world in terms of the micro world. Okay.
Harwit:I remember you cited that paper in the Cosmology, Fusion and Other Matters introduction, I think, and I haven't looked up that paper so I don't have the reference here for the purposes of the tape.
Alpher:We have the book here.
Harwit:If you want to look it up ... that paper appeared in Nature, Vol. 162, page 680, 1948. All right now, you said, Dr. Alpher that you wanted to say something about the Cosmo numerology.
Alpher:When shortly after Gamow died, the University of Colorado wanted to have a meeting at Colorado to memorialize Gamow, the question was, what should the nature of the meeting be? Now, some of this I have secondhand, but they decided to have a symposium celebrating the fortieth anniversary of quantum mechanical explanation of tunneling. Now, you must realize that Condon was still alive, and he was at the University of Colorado. There was, way back, this controversy about who did the first calculation of quantum mechanical tunneling in the nuclear context (alpha-decay). There was a famous paper by Condon and Gurney, and there was a famous paper published within the same period by George Gamow. And I think Gamow's paper was first, but then there was some argument that Condon and Gurney had done the work first, but had published late. The results were the same to within the usual approximations and arithmetic errors which one always has to be careful about. There was a lot of discussion about whether the three of them should have had the Nobel Prize for that calculation, or Condon and Gurney should have had it or Gamow. They were civil to each other, but I think Condon felt a little strained about George Gamow. But any rate, with Condon there, it was apparently considered inappropriate to have a meeting devoted to memorializing George Gamow, so they had a fortieth anniversary of quantum mechanical tunneling. I was invited to give a talk there, and I gave a talk on our interest in the Dirac numbers –the large numbers in cosmology -- and what we had done as a final paper. That talk was published in The American Scientist. But it's kind of interesting that even after Gamow had passed away, and they memorialized him, that this bit of controversy about priorities on alpha decay somehow persisted beyond the pale, as it were.
Harwit:Let me get back to your work on the early universe now.
Harwit:At what point did you realize that there ought to be some radiation- dominant component that would persist to the present day?
Alpher:Do you want to speak to that, or shall I?
Alpher:Well, in going through this paper of Gamow's on the evolution of the universe, for reasons for which I have to scout my memory, we decided to write down an analytical solution. We were able to write ...
Harwit:This was the very earliest paper?
Alpher:This was our Nature paper in which we predicted a 5° background.
Herman:That was followed by the 1949 Physical Review paper.
Alpher:Yes. But this was a calculation we had already done for this Nature paper in 1949.
Harwit:The three of you?
Harwit:No. Just ...
Alpher:Just Bob and I. This was the paper which you just quoted, in which we referred to the errors in Gamow's work.
Alpher:All right? In going through ...
Herman:By the way, I think it is worth just mentioning right at the beginning here that that particular aspect is something that George did not have an involvement in.
Alpher:He was physically at that time at Los Alamos, as a matter of fact.
Harwit:Oh, I see, so this was not something that you had discussed with him?
Alpher:Not face to face.
Herman:Not at all.
Alpher:The manuscript that went to Nature was sent to us from Los Alamos, and we corresponded with him -- because of the things we didn't like in what he had done -- by mail, telephone to Los Alamos.
Herman:And as a matter of fact, if we may say this, in a certain sense Ralph Alpher and I feel that Gamow wasn't all that understanding and sympathetic about what we were doing in this tremendous extrapolation and we can touch on this later perhaps.
Harwit:Why not say it now. Was it that he was infatuated with the cosmos chemical ideas and was not that much interested in the remnant radiation? Or was it because it wasn't his own idea, and so he didn't have that much interest in it?
Alpher:I can guess that part of the problem was that if you really tried to do it right, you have a long analytical expression with logarithms and all kinds of junk in it -- parameters -- which is not his style.
Herman:You're exactly right. As a matter of fact, years later, when he got used to some of the ideas, he then redid some things in a sloppy way and got a very poor result. And I think what Ralph is saying is exactly correct, that when we did this, and he saw all this analytical garbage, I think it put him off.
Alpher:I think that refers to the numerical calculation. And now this is my guess, the other aspect of it is if you really stop to think about it, if the universe started out hot and dense with lots of radiation in it and it's now cool, there still has to be radiation in the universe. Okay, so the whole thing is sort of an obvious statement, and all that was required is to get a precise number.
Alpher:But it really was a terrifically simple idea.
Alpher:It's a natural consequence of the statement of what the universe must have been like.
Harwit:So, that's why I'm a little surprised that you're saying the complexity of the calculation might have put him off.
Alpher:In terms of getting a number. Okay? Now I don't think he was disturbed at the idea that there would now be radiation in the universe. I think, in fact, maybe he thought it was a trivial result.
Herman:But he could only deal with calculations involving straight lines.
Herman:And I don't mean that in any derogatory sense.
Harwit:No, no, I understand.
Herman:By the way ...
Alpher:It wasn't that he couldn't, he wouldn't.
Herman:He wouldn't. And let it be clear that we had great respect, mutual respect and affection, and any sentence or two that might have appeared to be critical -- in fact, right now it's hard for me to believe that there is any nastiness in this because everything we ever did with George was open and the relations were most friendly and affectionate.
Harwit:Did you ever have any hesitation about thinking that this was a measurable thing -- this background flux?
Alpher:Hesitation about thinking that it was measurable? We were a little concerned, I think, that the energy density associated with this radiation for some peculiar coincidental reason seemed to lie in the same range as the energy density of all kinds of things. For example, the energy density of cosmic-ray particles within the vicinity of the earth is of the same order of magnitude; the energy density of starlight in the vicinity of the earth is of the same order of magnitude. And we even wondered about that, you know. Was there some significance to the fact that all these energies densities were the same?
Herman:We even made a remark in a paper about the energy density of starlight.
Alpher:Gamow made a remark to us that since these numbers are all the same, how the hell are you going to sort them out? On the other hand, being physicists, you know, when you speak of temperature, you know what you are speaking of is a Planck spectrum. That's why when we talked at NRL and at the Bureau of Standards, and so on; we talked about this as a quantity which was maybe an observable parameter, but we had been disabused of its observability.
Herman:And we were talking to people who were pushing out into the microwave region.
Herman:We were talking not to optical spectroscopists, we were talking to people who were pushing out into the part of the spectrum that was appropriate.
Alpher:Maybe we're guilty of not having pushed that.
Harwit:But it might have led to some misconceptions there. In his book Gravitation and Cosmology [pp. 510-11], Steven Weinberg talks about your contributions. He complements you, of course. He says, “A somewhat more detailed analysis along these lines carried out in 1950 by Alpher and Herman gave a temperature of 5°K.” Then he adds, “Unfortunately, Alpher and Herman went on to express doubt as to whether this radiation would have survived until the present.” Do you have any idea what that refers to?
Alpher:Would have survived into the present?
Herman:I have no idea.
Harwit:Then he says, “It is of course true that the individual photons extant at T ≈ 10 90K would have been absorbed long before now. However, because 0 > 1, the matter temperature must relax like R-1, so that the photons emitted just as the universe is becoming transparent must have the same value of TR as during the time of element synthesis. Nevertheless, the remarkable prediction of the 5°K blackbody radiation background was allowed to slip into obscurity.” Now, I think I haven’t seen anything you’ve published that would substantiate what he says here, but I was wondering whether you might know.
Alpher:Well, the only thing I could do if you could give me a minute as I go back, we have three papers in which we discuss this background radiation -- in ‘48, ‘49 and ‘50. And I have them here; we’ll go back and see what they said.
Harwit:I have them too.
Alpher:Oh, you have them too.
Harwit:In fact, I think I can help you out.
Harwit:Because I have marked the critical parts. The only section I could find that might have suggested doubt is in your Physical Review paper of 1949, Vol. 75. In that paper on page 1093, you talk about the 5°K temperature, and then you say, “This mean temperature for the universe is to be interpreted as the background temperature which would result from the universal expansion alone. However, the thermal energy resulting from the nuclear-energy production in stars would increase this value.” And then in the book on Cosmology, Fusion and Other Matters, you also have a sentence which refers to a difficulty of distinguishing the background radiation from that of the stars.
Herman:Yes, that’s correct.
Harwit:I was just wondering whether you overlooked the fact that the starlight should always occur at much higher frequencies than the background radiation, because you only talk about densities, usually. It’s a minor matter, but I’m just wondering what you thinking might have been at the time.
Alpher:Trying to think back, I think maybe at that time we were thinking in terms of energy densities, and certainly the starlight would have provided double the energy density, in effect, locally. We may have been misled by the fact that we probably were thinking about measuring the stuff with a bolometer, which would have given an energy density measurement rather than a spectral frequency measurement.
Herman:I think what you are saying is correct.
Alpher:So in that sense, we may have misled ourselves. On the other hand, many years later Penzias said that if you take a bolometer and put a piece of paper over it, you could have looked at the stuff, and, you know, I say, “Great, where were you in 1948?”
Harwit:I see. You discussed this with him.
Alpher:Oh yes, sure.
Herman:And retrospectively, you see, as physicists we certainly knew then and prior to that time, that when you talk about a thermodynamic quantity like a temperature, you are talking about a spectral distribution.
Harwit:Sure. Well, you had been a spectroscopist.
Herman:The trouble, if I may say it that way, is for some reason that I can’t put my finger on; we didn’t sit down, and make a plot of the spectral distribution that corresponded to that temperature. Now, had we done that -- I’ve thought about this -- had we done that, actually said, you know, 5° ...
Alpher:What does it look like?
Herman:... this is what this distribution looks like; I think that would have triggered our minds more forcefully in some direction, and in my opinion, would have changed the attitudes that people later had about what we did, and would have felt forced to behave differently. I think this ...
Harwit:What do you mean by that?
Herman:What I mean by that ...
Alpher:Well, if in 1948, we had said the temperature was 5°, and this is what the spectrum should be; it would have made a great deal of difference.
Herman:Then when they found it, they could never ignore us the way many people did after the discovery. So my own personal feeling is, for whatever reason Ralph and I did not make that graph -- that, I think, is a very key element in the sociology of what transpired later.
Harwit:What about the psychology? Is it possible that the experimental spectroscopist, Robert Herman, wasn't speaking to the theoretical cosmologist, Robert Herman, at the time?
Harwit:You know one does compartmentalize oneself.
Herman:I understand what you're saying. I think that's a nice remark. You're raising the question about what is explicit and what is implicit. And this is not to be defensive at all.
Harwit:No, I understand of course. I'm trying to get at what happened.
Herman:I'm not trying to be defensive, but I think without a shadow of a doubt these matters were implicit, and like what I said before, had we -- and I don’t know why we didn’t -- drawn that figure, it would have changed the sociology that subsequently developed. That's my feeling in the matter. Ralph, do you ...?
Alpher:I think so. Or if we had said the peak lies at such-and-such wavelength, or had we said something other than that it was a background temperature -- a blackbody temperature of 5° -- it could have made a difference.
Harwit:Let me look at another sociological factor that also comes in here, and ask you whether that played a role. Well, actually it's two factors. Just about the time that you were working on this, Bondi, Gold, and Hoyle in Britain were suggesting a steady-state universe. Did that detract from the evolutionary cosmology that you were talking about and divert attention from the work you were doing?
Herman:Well, I think the simple straightforward answer is absolutely as Alpher just said, and as a matter of fact, throughout that period for quite some time, there was the opposition of these two views. As I recall, whenever we lectured individually, separately or together, we always presented these views of an evolutionary universe in the "big bang" sense, and also the steady-state point of view. And as time went on, and certain observational evidence came into being, we pointed out, for example, the galactic, i.e., radio source, counts of Ryle, and so forth. And I think we presented to the best of our ability a balanced picture.
Alpher:We certainly always tried. In the early days there was a severe criticism of the age of the universe from the evolutionary model. It was much too short. The Hubble constant was way out of whack then, at least if you believe the evolutionary model.
Harwit:In fact, that's what led to the steady-state universe being proposed.
Harwit:The stars seem to be older than the universe, with the Hubble constant that was accepted ...
Alpher:And that's a very difficult thing to deal with, other than to make pious statements that probably Hubble's constant is not known with sufficient certainty. And I think that was a fair statement then. It may still be a fair statement. Within a factor of 2, there's a good deal of argument.
Harwit:And I guess even down to the popular level, as I remember it at least, there was sort of an enjoyment by amateur astronomers that among the professionals there was this controversy that ...
Harwit:... excited people to hear. I think it was usually put in the context of Hoyle versus Gamow. Is that your recollection?
Harwit:... at the cutting edge of this.
Alpher:There were radio debates on BBC between Hoyle, on the one hand; and I think Gamow participated in some of those debates. In the early '50s, I think, that’s when the words "big bang" were first introduced.
Harwit:Who introduced that?
Alpher:As far as we know it was Hoyle. T. E. Harrison at the University of Massachusetts researched this question and concluded that Hoyle used the phrase pejoratively and first.
Herman:In a pejorative sense.
Alpher:Instead of referring to what we were doing as an evolutionary model, he referred to, it pejoratively as a big bang.
Herman:Well, this is our impression, that it was pejorative.
Harwit:But you picked that designation up with enthusiasm then, or not? You use it in your own...
Alpher:It seemed appropriate. It seemed appropriate.
Herman:It seemed okay. By the way, as you we’ll know, Geoffrey Burbidge, for example wrote a paper -- "Was there really a big bang?" You remember that?
Alpher:Oh yes, yes.
Herman:And made the remark -- I forget the reference at the moment -- that when this data goes over the peak, in other words, it looks just like many other power laws in astronomy, physics...
Alpher:This is the blackbody...
Herman:This is the blackbody spectrum. And the point is that if it ever went over the peak and went down, then maybe one would concede, but that concession by G. Burbidge never happened as far as I know.
Alpher:Yes, he never conceded -- the data went over the peak.
Herman:Yes, the data went over the peak.
Harwit:Well, Burbidge never really was that much of a steady-state supporter.
Alpher:Look, I think he is ... the impression I have is that he still is. I heard him give a talk recently in which he raised considerable concern about the fact that the astronomical community is ignoring the work of Arp.
Harwit:Yes, but that is mainly his argument concerning whether quasars are...
Alpher:... are distant objects.
Harwit:... distant objects. Yes.
Alpher:And if they are not distant objects, then there has to be some other explanation for their large redshift. If that's the case, then, I think the next step is, you know, what are we really talking about in terms of Hubble expansion.
Harwit:I see. All right.
Alpher:Now that may be a step beyond what he actually says, but I think that's where it leads. That's my feeling in the matter.
Harwit:I think there was perhaps a more serious -- although perhaps at an implicit rather than an explicit level -- criticism that one might have mounted from the steady-state point of view. Hoyle among, of course, many other people started calculating the production of the chemical elements in stellar interiors with -- from his point of view of course -- the impelling motivation that the steady-state universe somehow had to come up with the right chemical element distribution; and if you didn't have a hot beginning to the universe, then it would have to be in the stars that one would have to form all of these.
Harwit:And the Reviews of Modern Physics article by Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler and Hoyle which appeared, I think, in 1957...
Harwit:... made a fairly good case for the production of the heavy elements in the interiors of stars. Now, that could have put into doubt your main calculation which had had its impetus from the desire to form these heavy elements early in the evolution of the universe. Was there, in fact, an adverse attitude towards your work that came with people realizing that you could form the chemical elements in stars, and that you no longer needed to form them early in the universe, and therefore you threw out the baby with the bathtub?
Herman:But that was because at that stage I think they didn't yet know you couldn't form deuterium (and helium, of course) in the right amounts, for example.
Harwit:It was known fairly early on, I think, that deuterium gets destroyed. I don't know whether one knew that as early as 1957...
Herman:I don't think so. That is, you can make it, but you destroy it.
Alpher:Oh no, I think that was known then.
Herman:At that point?
Harwit:Yes, because the binding energy...
Alpher:Well, you know I don't remember how quantitatively the destruction of deuterium was considered.
Harwit:I thought there was a difficulty that one always knew that the light elements get destroyed in stellar interiors. There's the lithium problem, and I thought that that was known at the time, but I'm not sure.
Alpher:I have to say at the moment, I can't remember what B2FH said about the very light elements.
Harwit:Yes, I don't recall...
Alpher:In the scheme of things, if you were to reject an evolutionary universe altogether, in that paper what would you say about the very light elements? I simply don't remember; it really wasn't long after, within a few years, it was clear in the literature, particularly, that people were concerned about helium and deuterium not being produced in stars...
Herman:That was Wagoner's...
Alpher:Right. And what does one say then about how they were produced? And so this was, what, within five or six years, this picture of having the lightest elements formed in primeval nucleosynthesis, and everything else in stars, emerged...
Harwit:I think Wagoner's work started about the time that the microwave background radiation.
Alpher:I think his first paper was 1963; it was just before the discovery. I don't know whether it's going to be in here or not.
Harwit:Now, I was asking about impressions on your work that this nucleosynthesis in stars had, and the attitudes of various people, and you were just starting to say that you had discussed this with Willy Fowler who was one of the authors of this nucleosynthesis work.
Alpher:It is my vague recollection that just as we early on admitted that the pure evolutionary model had problems at mass 5 and 8, among other things, so they, I think, early on admitted that they had a problem with the lightest elements.
Alpher:I don't think they were -- my recollection is -- they weren't willing to admit that you had to have a primeval nucleosynthesis yet.
Herman:This was my impression, and that's what motivated my remark earlier, the remark about when it was understood and conceded that you couldn't form deuterium and helium in stars. I do not recollect the point at which it became clear in the whole community.
Harwit:But did you ever have someone say to you, “Well, we now can form the heavy elements in stars, somehow or other we will account for the light elements through perhaps -- and I think I used to hear this -- through gamma rays or energetic particles that you have in the hot chromospheres of stars -- it may just be a surface effect. But there's no longer a need for nucleosynthesis in the early universe. Therefore, let’s forget about that.” Was there ever that kind of statement?
Alpher:Well, I can certainly verify that people argued that the B2FH paper wiped out the need for primeval nucleosynthesis, but I can't remember at the moment the specific alternatives that ...
Harwit:We just interrupted here for a minute, but we were talking about the impact of stellar nucleosynthesis theory on the community’s views of synthesis of elements in the early universe and your whole approach to the topic of the evolution of the early stages of the universe.
Alpher:Okay, now, when the B2FH paper appeared, we were already separated.
Harwit:You were at General Electric?
Alpher:I was at G. E.; Bob was already at General Motors.
Herman:I was at General Motors.
Alpher:By that time I think George Gamow was at Colorado. Now, I can't recall specifically any discussions that the three of us had, or that we had pairwise during that period on the impact of the B2FH paper, other than that there seemed to be a -- I certainly recall a general impression -- that this was a blow, if you will, at the evolutionary theory, because it had explained everything except what some people might have regarded as a minor aspect of the problem, which was the light elements. That coupled with the fact that there were problems in doing all the light elements, if you will, which we were certainly aware of, and which specifically surfaced when Fermi and Turkevich looked at the problem in the work that we reported in our 1950 RMP paper. So it probably was a low point, if you will, for the evolutionary theory.
Herman:And you and I, over all the years, were always in contact; and you and I discussed this.
Alpher:Oh yes, I’m sure we discussed this, and I can't recall any specific conclusions we came to other than that we had some faith, if you will, that the light-element problem really still was a problem for the B2FH school.
Harwit:In your paper with Follin, which, incidentally, Steven Weinberg refers to as “the first thoroughly modern analysis of the early history of the universe" in his book First Three Minutes ...
Alpher:Which we might discuss a bit later -- that book.
Harwit:In that paper you wrote, quote, “On the basis of the new physical conditions which have been discussed here, it would appear necessary to reexamine the specific reactions among lighter nuclei, particularly as regards the missing species at A=5. That's on page 1361 of that paper.
Harwit:And let me ask you, just about the time that you had written this paper with Follin -- and I know that you were all dispersing -- did you ever look at the then new triple-alpha process of Salpeter's to try to see ...
Alpher:Jim Follin looked at that. Alright?
Harwit:... whether you could bridge the gaps at A=5, A=8.
Herman:Jim did that.
Alpher:Jim looked at that, and, in fact, he presented a paper at the APS meeting in which he argued that one could bridge the gap, and ...
Harwit:One can't, of course.
Alpher:One can't. But he argued that...
Harwit:It had to be looked at.
Alpher:Well, he looked at this again, independently of us, because he did this basically after we had separated. And he wrote this abstract which I guess didn't really prove anything, except that he had looked at the problem again. It died there. That was the end of it. We never went back.
Harwit:I should be more cautious when I say you can't do it, of course. There could be some way, perhaps, but it certainly hasn't in all these years been...
Alpher:It never surfaced.
Harwit:Now, you yourselves, did you or Gamow ever consider the formation of heavier elements in stars, particularly since Gamow, of course, had been studying supernovae in connection with his URCA process. Did that cross your minds?
Alpher:Yes, as a matter of fact, it certainly crossed our minds. Early on, you know, we said, okay, you make elements in stars but how do you get them out? You know, you can reproduce an abundance distribution inside a star but then what is the condition of that material after its processed in the supernova explosion; what's available for the next generation of stars? We began to try and do a calculation -- the three of us -- with a gentleman at Los Alamos. Now what in the hell was his name (Note: It was C. L. Richtmyer)? He was going to program it on the Los Alamos computer, because we had tried to program the collapse and the explosion of a supernova at Johns Hopkins. We were doing something ridiculous, which was to try to use a Reeves analog computer, which was an absurd way to try to do anything.
Herman:That was absolutely hopeless.
Alpher:There was a friend of Gamow's whom he had met at Los Alamos who was going to try and set it up out there. And that just never got anywhere. It sort of died on the vine. But I even have a thick folder in my files, on the collapse of dehydrogenized stars, and what in the hell would have happened as it collapsed and you made elements, and how would they get out? (We had set up the problem mathematically. Gamow made some effort to get the calculation done at Convair; we considered doing it on an IBM at GM Research Labs. We just never got it done.)
Herman:We talked about that...
Alpher:We made some specific criticism of Hoyle in something we wrote, and certainly in our talks on the subject, that in order to finish the B2FH job, one had to get these things back out to the interstellar medium.
Harwit:You wrote a paper on that?
Alpher:We made some statement either publicly or in a paper, and I can't remember what.
Herman:I don't think we wrote anything about that. (Note added: as it turns out, we did.)
Alpher:But we did make some remark about how one has to consider that as part of the formation process in stellar interiors. We may have made a remark about this in the Reviews of Modern Physics paper, Bob. I vaguely recall...
Herman:You mean, as early as ‘50?
Alpher:As early as 1950, because, you know, Hoyle was arguing that stars were the factories for nuclei, long before that paper. In Alpher and Herman, Rev. Mod. Phys., 22, 153 (1950). See page 179 and page 180 in particular, where we discuss at some length the problem of extracting synthesized elements from stellar interiors during collapse. In recent years Stirling Colgate and, we believe, I. Craig Wheeler have looked at the thermonuclear shock processing problem.
Herman:I don't recall the specific point. I would like...
Harwit:We were just talking about the impact of the stellar nucleosynthesis ideas in the mid-1950s on your own work, and Dr. Herman, you were just saying...
Herman:I was thinking that this might be a reasonable juncture at which to make some remarks that might indicate possibly why we did or didn't think of or do certain things. I think it's fairly clear that Ralph Alpher and I -- starting our efforts together, after Ralph did his dissertation with Gamow – had very strong interaction, as we indicated before and somewhat less strong interaction with Gamow. It was a good interaction; it lasted for a long time.
Alpher:We, after all, interacted almost on a daily basis. Gamow came on basically as a consultant from time to time.
Harwit:Once a week, maybe?
Herman:Once in a week, or maybe...
Alpher:Unless he was off on a long trip to Los Alamos, or he had a stint at General Dynamics...
Herman:Yes, but then later, we were in different locations, and you and I still were very intimately and strongly interacting.
Harwit:Did you write or call?
Herman:We were on the telephone a great deal, and we wrote a great deal. Now, what I want to point out is that apart from the very fine interaction that Ralph and I had with Jim Follin on the '53 paper, we worked alone. I mean, that's it! In other words, we did not have a group of people with whom we could interact, kick ideas around...
Alpher:... could or did.
Herman:... could or did. In fact, there weren't other people for this long period of time who worked in that area, who gave credence to it. As a matter of fact, as I remember it, we were always going uphill -- struggling uphill with Holye, Burbidge and these other people, constantly -- if not pejoratively describing what we did -- trying to give weight and credence to their opposing points of view, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But they were coming out of a much larger community.
Harwit:Who, for example?
Herman:Well, I'm talking about Hoyle, Fowler, the Burbidges, the Fowler students, Wagoner, then the Princeton group, and so on. I mean these people had their own...
Harwit:You mean Martin Schwarzschild's people at Princeton who made the nucleosynthesis calculations?
Herman:Yes, and there was Dicke and that group. There were these groups who were more embedded in groups and in the scientific community of astronomers and astrophysicists. And we were not. We were never embedded in any larger group. We had always worked in an essentially individual isolated way.
Alpher:Over the years, we met those people not at Astronomical Society meetings, but I think only at meetings of the Texas Symposium...
Herman:And then rarely...
Alpher:And then rarely, because...
Harwit:Those were much later anyway; they were started in the late 60s.
Herman:That is correct.
Alpher:We had glancing blows with Maarten Schmidt. I think we both met him with Sandage. In other words, our interactions with astrophysical community were really minimal.
Harwit:You were not members of the Astronomical Society?
Alpher:I was, at the time. I got the journal, but I never went to a meeting. I have never been to a AAS meeting. Neither Bob nor I has ever been invited to give a talk, not then, nor since by the astronomical community anywhere.
Harwit:What about astronomy department colloquia?
Alpher:I’ve always been invited by physics departments.
Herman:So was I.
Alpher:... unless they were physics and astronomy, in which case there were some astronomers present. For example, RAA was invited to talk at Indiana -– in the audience was R. E. d'Atkinson -- then in his early '80s. We had a pleasant and long visit and reminiscences, ranging over the history of nuclear astrophysics. He was most complimentary of our work.
Harwit:You mean, all of these years, you’ve never been invited to talk to an astronomical, professional audience?
Herman:That is absolutely correct for both of us. And I was trying to bring out that we worked on this whole matter ourselves. We’re talking now about Gamow, Alpher, Follin -- for that shorter period -- and myself. And I don't mind telling you, from my point of view, that it was very, very difficult over all the years, including recent years, to sustain a certain amount of integrity and guts, because this is sort of crushing. It's a feeling at times of being ignored. At other times there's a feeling that people deprecate even that which you did, which is definitely recorded in the literature. It is a feeling that people will pick on some of the things that are not quite neat, or elegant, or right. And Ralph and I make no bones about the reality that we said, "Um, is it possible that starlight screws this up?" I mean, we said it; we know it. But we also said other things! I think this is the point at which I felt I wanted to bring out, that if we felt that the community at least had the generosity and objectivity to say, "Yes, this is what you did"; we would be the first ones to say, "We didn't do it all. We missed the boat (in some respects). Had we done this and that, had we not separated, we might have pursued. Then we might have gone on to greater glory.” But that is not the way it was. We are, in a certain sense, ordinary human beings, made out of flesh and blood, and I want to very, very quietly but forcefully bring out that many of our experiences in the broad, and in specific detail, have almost been crushing. And I don't mind...
Harwit:Can you specify?
Herman:Absolutely. What has saved me personally is this consuming enthusiasm I have which leads me into leading multiple lives, which in a sense is a curse and also a blessing. So I’ve had a life of worrying about, say, traffic science for over a quarter of a century, and so on and so forth. Ralph, I think you will certainly agree with me about the trauma of many of these things, on the one hand, and agree that I, for example, have over all the years tried to encourage us with the idea that in the end ...
Alpher:... justice will prevail. Whatever justice may be!
Herman:Well, I don't know that I would say justice will prevail, but in the end there were certain facts and certain truths that could not be denied forever. And that was borne out, fortunately, in certain respects.
Herman:Well, we received certain recognition...
Harwit:The prizes that we recalled yesterday?
Herman:Yes, certain recognition that, of course, makes you feel better because as ordinary human beings you respond well to being patted on the back. So that is clear.
Alpher:By the way, apropos the awards, I think the very first one we got from the Philosophical Society was the happiest one in a sense, because we know that the selection committee included some astronomers.
Alpher:That made it all the nicer because as far as I'm concerned, it was the first...
Harwit:Do you know who was on that selection committee?
Alpher:I know that Horace Babcock was on it; Fred Whipple; and Allen Astin, who was then -- Director of the Bureau of Standards. And who was the fourth?
Herman:I can't remember.
Alpher:Oh, Donald Hornig was on the committee. There were maybe others, I don't know. Those four names come to mind, but at least there were two astronomers.
Herman:I’m not sure I know how the hell we ever found out. (Note: RAA was told by Whipple).
Alpher:In fact, in subsequent years, on a couple of occasions, live run into Whipple somewhere. He’s been very warm and friendly about it.
Harwit:But in general, you say you felt that you were outside the community.
Herman:Oh, without a shadow of a doubt -- not only we felt; we knew! We were outside the community, and when we had a short respite here in the interview, I mentioned to you that part of the troubles may have stemmed from our very intimate and close association with Gamow who was not, for some reason, looked upon as being a member of the community. He was not a member of communities...
Harwit:The astronomical community, or the physical?
Herman:No, he was certainly not a member of the astronomical community, and as far as I can sense, was also not a member of certain portions of the physics community.
Herman:I know darn well that there are certain powerful individuals in the physics community who -- maybe it's a strong word -- were outraged by his joviality and behavior.
Harwit:Who, for example?
Herman:Well, I don't mind telling you. For example, I have a recollection that Wigner was not very pleased with Geo (pronounced Joe), I remember that.
Herman:Pardon me; he always signed his letters "Geo."
Harwit:Oh, I see, and so you refer to him as "Geo.”
Alpher:We use that as a nick name with him.
Herman:... an affectionate nickname, so excuse me.
Harwit:No, that's fine.
Herman:So, you see, I’ve seen Gamow at large social gatherings, in fact, specifically at the time when he was considering all these matters about the genetic code, and he’d be tanked up. He would be lying on the floor with pieces of paper and drawing diagrams in a loud, high-pitched voice. He was a megalomaniac -- He was! But he was brilliant, creative and did many beautiful things. In spite of that there were people who were just put off by George. So that may be an element in how Alpher and I might have been viewed.
Harwit:Are you saying that the scientific community which always prides itself on objectivity has guilt by association?
Alpher:I think there is some element of that in what Bob has said.
Herman:I might not put it that strongly; I do want to be careful, but I think that there are elements of this kind.
Harwit:Let me phrase it in a different way. You may have come across a book by the sociologist, Harriet Zuckerman, in which she traces genealogies of Nobel laureates. Would you say that there is the inverse of that effect also where there are negative genealogies if somebody doesn't get the Nobel Prize, his students don't get it either?
Herman:I haven't studied that, but what you're saying evokes some sympathetic reaction to this. For example, there is in the literature, on the other hand, a tendency for this community that we're talking about, when they do make an attribution; they'll make it to Gamow. See, they attribute it to Gamow, then they make it to Gamow and collaborators, then they might, as they did later, make it to Gamow and Alpher and Herman. But they have rarely kept the record straight. That, of course, was another element that caused concern, on top of the general feeling, that we were an isolated, small number of people, not in any substantial group -- whether it be the astrophysical community, or what have you.
Harwit:What effect does the community have, in your view, as far as defining what is an accepted stance of the discipline at any given time?
Herman:All right, I'm going to try to answer that in terms of some other facet of my life. For example, starting in the middle '50s, I got into -- what I like to call the science of the vehicular traffic. In that area I have, if I may say it this way, done a lot of pioneering and a great deal of work, some of which I'm very happy to say is considered to be nice work, and has generated the advancement of this field. In that arena, I feel very good because there is a group of people who recognize what I've done for whatever it's worth. I don't feel that I'm an outsider; I don't feel that anyone is trying to detract anything from me. I feel that when people pursue work that I may have started, I look upon this with pleasure, as something nice because they feel that what I may have done is worthy of pursuing. So I have this nice comfortable feeling that I'm not isolated with opponents all around me who are trying to disprove anything I've done, or ignore it, never want to talk, never invite you.
Harwit:Which is what you're saying has happened.
Herman:Has happened in this other case for many, many years. And then, just to touch on Nobel Prize, believe it or not -- Ralph, I'm going to touch on this -- I want you to listen. Penzias was not a cosmologist, and certainly Wilson was not and is not a cosmologist. They knew very little about that. There was contact. Ralph actually went down to visit with Penzias.
Harwit:At what time?
Herman:... right after he won the Nobel Prize.
Alpher:Right after it was announced and before he went to Stockholm.
Herman:He was working on preparing his Nobel lecture paper. And Alpher, who's a wonderful man with the enormous integrity and honesty -- and I don't even want to look at him blushing when I say these things. We talked about this and agreed that if he had the emotional fortitude: Yes, why doesn't he go down and talk to Penzias and tell him everything he knows. Ralph did that. Now, what I want...
Alpher:I spent seven or eight hours.
Harwit:Everything you knew about what your input had been?
Herman:Well, about the subject.
Alpher:About the entire subject. I spent seven or eight hours with Arno.
Herman:About the subject because Penzias didn't know anything, really. Now, what I want to say to you...
Alpher:... refereeing or leads in the bibliographies, reference material. In retrospect it's difficult to guess how much background he had. He clearly did a lot of reading before going to Stockholm. Obviously, I told him what we had done and what I knew about what everyone else had done. I tried to give him as thorough a background briefing as possible, if you will, on this subject.
Herman:And I'm going to be sure to say that in my opinion, Penzias hasn't been all that carefully generous to us in spite of all of that.
Herman:Well, that's my feeling...
Herman:... in the matter. In fact, he's argued with us about certain things, and has minimized what we've done vis-a-vis Gamow; implied that we were not very bright all you had to do was to put a piece of paper in front of it, and so on.
Harwit:I see. So this was said in a derogatory sense, this comment you had made earlier...
Herman:That's my view of it.
Alpher:Well, I heard the remark from Penzias. I don't know that it was derogatory. It was kind of a science thing. “How come you guys didn't push hard enough to get the...”
Harwit:Let me ask you here about one point on which you might be able to through some light. The original paper by Penzias and Wilson is entitled “Excess Noise at 4080 Megacycles per Second,” something like that, and there's only one astrophysical sentence in that which says something approximately like, one possible explanation of this observation is given in the accompanying paper by Dicke, Peebles, Roll and Wilkinson. The rest of it deals with technical matters of describing the measurements and the noise values that they had measured, and so on. In the book that you have lying here, Cosmology, Fusion and Other Matters, there's an article by Penzias in which he goes in great depth into all the various astrophysical considerations that had gone through their minds as they were trying to understand the observation they had made. Have you ever thought about the contrast between these two written records -- one written three or four years after the other?
Herman:Well, we're talking about '65 as opposed to the book having been published in '72.
Harwit:But these were gathered when these articles...
Alpher:... a couple of years before, in '70 and '71.
Herman:... something like that, so it was five years, something like five years.
Harwit:So, how do you view those two sets of written...
Alpher:Well, my interpretation is that at the time The Astrophysical Journal paper was published, they were still a little uncertain that they could accept this other model -- this explanation. That's the only reason I can give for why their paper was so devoid of any speculation about the origin of the radiation.
Harwit:Do you think they were too young and didn't want to stick their necks out, maybe?
Herman:We’ll, I have another possibility...
Harwit:But you were young when you were writing your papers (in 1948, RAA was 27 and RH was 34).
Alpher:Oh sure, sure.
Herman:The other possibility is that they deferred to the strength of the Princeton group who were going to explain it all in the accompanying paper; and I've wondered at times why, for example, it might not have been a joint paper. I do not know what transpired.
Alpher:I don't think from what I recall of my conversations with Penzias that the vibrations between him and the Princeton group were all that great. I think that when Dicke and his co-workers visited the Bell Labs to see what was going on, that maybe overtly, maybe implicitly, Dicke expressed some -- not reservations, but some displeasure -- at the fact that he had started down the route. And Penzias and Wilson, who hadn't even thought about the problem, had observed the radiation. I have no evidence of this, other than that I got that feeling from talking to Penzias: That it was kind of a strained relationship, because the Princeton group had been observationally scooped, in effect, which may explain, by the way, why the papers are coupled only by one or two sentences.
Harwit:You've mentioned the Nobel Prize. What was your reaction when you heard that Penzias and Wilson had been awarded it?
Alpher:Honestly? Disappointment. Not that they had received it, but we had not somehow become involved.
Herman:Yes, great disappointment. And I don't mind saying as the years went by, a certain amount of bitterness associated with it. I would say that freely.
Alpher:And we speculated about what the heck went on. Was it because Dicke and Peebles had been so close to the observation, that they limited it to just Penzias and Wilson? Peebles had written a paper in which he got a figure of 10° for the background radiation, so then there was confusion between their contribution and our contribution.
Herman:And we'll comment on that.
Alpher:There was no confusion in our minds, but there may have been in the views of someone not intimately related to all of this. Later, Bob, for example, learned from a friend of his that we probably couldn't even under the best of circumstances have been considered because they limit the number of prizes to three on a given subject.
Harwit:That's true, yes.
Alpher:... and so on. Well, we certainly have wondered about it.
Harwit:But, it could have been the two of you rather than the two of them?
Herman:That is right.
Alpher:It could have been. Sure.
Herman:And we, of course, would have no way of sorting out any thoughts on why that might have been...
Harwit:Let me ask you this. Again, perhaps a leading question, but it is true, in general, that the community of physicists -- scientists in general prides itself on rewarding theoretical work that accurately predicts an observation. It doesn't pride itself, overtly, on having people accidentally stumbling on an observation, and then having other people having to explain to these discoverers what it is that they actually found. And yet, the Nobel Prize was awarded to Penzias and Wilson. You may not want to comment on this.
Herman:Well, it's difficult to know what to comment on. We certainly have thought of that, and been aware of that, and that adds to the way we feel that is, our disappointment and bitterness. We don't understand why it came out that way.
Harwit:Does it have anything to do, do you think, with what you were saying before, about your being outside the establishment?
Alpher:Well, that certainly didn't make us feel any more part of the community than before.
Herman:Definitely, that we were not part of the community. And I think we have other examples of this that we can talk about.
Harwit:Let me just interject here that I am glad that you are speaking openly here because I know sometimes there is a reluctance when one talks about one's own work, and references to the community of a derogatory nature that one says could be interpreted as sour grapes. But I think it is a function of these interviews to try to understand how the individual in science interacts with the community, and, if nothing else, what his perceptions are of the way that the community receives the work one does and evaluates it, and how the reward system works. Even if these comments you make are just purely personal ones, I think they are going to be of interest because they probably reflect feelings that other people have as well, which sometimes they may be reluctant to voice.
Alpher:Can I go first? Let me make a couple of remarks because I feel like they're waiting to come out. First, I do want to put on tape a remark that I made earlier which is that everything we have said is colored -- maybe it's a transparent color -- but it's colored by the fact that we are now looking back so many years to when we first started in this.
Alpher:Thirty-five years. And everything obviously is colored and/or distorted if there is any distortion by the time interval and the events that have occurred.
Harwit:Let me remark further for the purposes of the tape, that neither of you is yet retired.
Harwit:... which shows how young you were when you did this.
Alpher:Thank you. The next point I want to make has to do with what happened after 1965, that is, after the observation by Penzias and Wilson, and the appearance of their paper and the Dicke/Peebles' paper, back-to-back. We saw the paper rather soon after they were published, and I think for the record, you should know that we knew earlier that something was up, because Bob and I had been asked to review a paper by Peebles which had been submitted to Physical Review early in 1965. In this paper he discussed the possibility of a background radiation and discussed a calculation. I think the paper actually went to Bob from Pasternak, who was then editor of the Physical Review.
Herman:That is absolutely correct.
Alpher:And you, then, sent the paper to me because you were appalled...
Herman:Yes, and we reviewed it together.
Alpher:And then we jointly reviewed it and wrote a...
Harwit:Appalled at what?
Alpher:At the paper. We were appalled at Peebles' paper because there was absolutely no indication that he had read any of our early work.
Herman:We weren't appalled at the paper. We were appalled at the fact that...
Alpher:I'm sorry, let me be careful. The paper was well written. Let me not say it was a poor paper -- it was a nice paper.
Herman:... a fine paper.
Alpher:... except in this one area, that there was absolutely no recognition of the fact that this had already been done.
Herman:In other words, we were appalled at the scholarship.
Alpher:Right. So what does one do? Well, we sent back a review in which we said that basically the paper was fine, but that there was very little new in it, and we suggested that he really go back and look at the literature and see what he wanted to say about the subject that was new, different, derivative, or whatever.
Harwit:He never referred to your paper?
Alpher:We suggested that he go back and look at the early work of Alpher, Gamow and Herman.
Herman:In fact, we pointed out that 90 percent of what was in the paper had been done before, and we gave a list of references and suggested that the remaining part of the paper be preserved and published.
Harwit:So this was in a letter that you jointly wrote to Pasternak (jointly written but sent over RH signature).
Alpher:Then we received a second draft. The paper was sent back apparently without comments. Now, we don't know how much of our comments Pasternack sent to Peebles, but obviously he sent something back, because Peebles then revised the paper. But, in fact, he still had not, in our view, really looked at what we had done. So we wrote back a second letter, and said that he still had not, in our view, absorbed what had already been done and the paper still suffered in that respect. We recommended that it not be published in that form.
Herman:It was redundant with what had already had been published.
Alpher:Okay, then we heard no more after that until the appearance of the papers in the July 1965 issue of the Astrophysical Journal with the observation and with the Princeton group's explanation of the background radiation.
Harwit:And no reference to your work?
Alpher:And still no reference to our work. There was a reference to our... [interruption] Do you have any idea where we were?
Herman:Yes. You were talking about the second version that Peebles submitted to the Physical Review, and it still did not solve the problems we had addressed.
Alpher:He did refer to the fact that you, Gamow and I had discussed an early hot, dense universe, but that was about it. There was no reference at all to any of the other stuff that we had published...
Herman:Well, he didn't state that we had made the calculations and predicted 50...?
Alpher:Precisely, and even a later paper, which Peebles published in the Astrophysical Journal on the background radiation, made very limited reference to our work, if any.
Harwit:Oh, was that right? Was there a reference in an initial article to –unrevised?
Alpher:In 1966 -- there was nothing in '65 -- he published basically what he had sent to Physical Review -- unrevised.
Harwit:But which had come first? Had you already reviewed his paper and rejected it before?
Alpher:... the Astrophysical Journal paper? Yes indeed (rejected it as originally submitted to Physical Review). That was in perhaps March of 1965, when our second rejection went back -- March or April.
Herman:We can verify this because we have...
Alpher:... copies of the letters.
Herman:... these matters in the file.
Alpher:Suffice it to say that our second comments ...
Harwit:Do you have those here, so one could see the dates?
Alpher:Yes I do.
Herman:We can do it now or we can do it later.
Harwit:I would like to see those. Yes. [interruption]
Herman:Alright. Let's go back on tape.
Harwit:We were just looking at a number of manuscripts here, and some referees' comments. There is a paper by Peebles which was sent to The Physical Review, received there 8 March 1965 and then revised first of June 1965, which is entitled “Cosmology, Cosmic Blackbody Radiation and the Cosmic Helium Abundance.” There is another paper which actually was published in the Astrophysical Journal called the “Blackbody Radiation Content of the Universe and the Formation of Galaxies,” also by Peebles, which also was received on March 8, and also was revised and received on June 1, 1965. There's an April 23, 1965, letter by Herman to Pasternack, the editor of the Physical Review, in which he points out to the author that Alpher, Follin and Herman had already considered this problem in 1953. This paper is not mentioned in the Astrophysical Journal article, which subsequently appeared. There is only a citation of a 1948 paper by Gamow.
Herman:Let me make the following remark: Very often the scientific community will explain certain events by saying, “We’ll, some paper was published in some extremely obscure journal, and therefore it went unnoticed.” For the record, I think it's important to say that the work that Alpher and I did jointly -- and this one paper with Follin -- these papers appeared in Nature in 1948, the Physical Review in 1949, and then there was a Reviews of Modern Physics paper in l950 and the Alpher-Follin-Herman paper in the Physical Review in 1953. I would like to suggest that all of these journals were among the main journals in physics. That's mainstream, and Alpher and I have always had the feeling that the people at Princeton, for example, just either had extraordinarily poor scholarship or the omission of references from journals as well-known as these is not just an oversight. That, of course, is something that is very difficult to say, but it's hard to understand.
Harwit:One should add, perhaps, that the Princeton group in fact was in the Physics Department, not in the Astronomy Department, and that Dicke himself had published in the Physical Review.
Herman:That is certainly true. Ralph, would you want to add something to what I just said? I mean this in itself was enough to give us pause to think, and to worry and to fret, because later many articles came out that just ignored what we had done. And as I mentioned earlier, then said Gamow, then said Gamow and collaborators, and so on. Let me make it clear, as we did earlier, that Gamow was the one who was beating the drum for a hot, dense universe. Now, implicit in a hot, dense universe that undergoes an expansion are all the consequences. But that's like saying that Newton's laws of motion contain implicitly all the consequences or that Schrodinger's equation contains all the consequences. But that is not quite the way life is. I think people work on specific problems and then, in general, the community recognizes specific contributions, and they don't minimize them because they're implicit in some very deep, fundamental structure. This caused us and still causes us a lot of concern, worry, and bewilderment, lack of comprehension, uneasiness and unhappiness. I'm being very blunt about this.
Harwit:Sure, I understand. Let me just put things into perspective. We were just looking also at the original paper of Dicke, Peebles, Roll and Wilkinson -- which was written before the Peebles paper (in Astrophysical Journal) -- and there they do mention the work of Alpher, Follin and Herman. You made some comments on this a minute ago, when I pointed this out when we were off tape, maybe you should repeat those.
Alpher:Well, I would like to make some comments about that too, because I'm now looking back at that paper and reminding myself of the context in which they referred to the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper which was perhaps the first paper that had any quantitative statement about a hot, dense beginning, and then in the Alpher-Follin-Herman paper, which was a rather detailed final statement about an evolving model, and then a Hoyle and Tayler paper which had to do with the mystery of the helium abundance in the universe. In other words, their reference to our work did not include any of the papers, in which we talked about a possible background temperature. View this in the context of two pieces of evidence being important for an evolving universe or a big bang universe, one being that there be background radiation. Several pages of the paper have to do with that possibility without reference to our early work. But then we are mentioned only in the context of helium abundance, and our papers are referred to in terms of our calculation scheme, predicting an appreciable amount of helium in the universe from primeval nucleosynthesis. To that extent we are referred to, but to that extent the question of a residual radiation is not mentioned in this paper.
Herman:And it's very difficult for us to understand how at that point some of these people did not know of this literature.
Alpher:As a result of this paper of Dicke, Peebles, Roll and Wilkinson, the conventional view for several years afterward -- and this caused us a great deal of personal discomfort -- was that you could summarize what happened in 1965 as follows: Penzias and Wilson had observed an unknown component of radiation from the cosmos, and it had been identified as cosmic microwave background or residual radiation from the universe, confirming a big bang model, by Dicke, Peebles, Roll and Wilkinson. Our role in it was completely ignored, and for some years there was an enormous explosion of publication in this field, both observationally and theoretically, which was all derivative if you will from what was stated in these two papers, it appears. For some years Bob and I held our tongues. We had many discussions of whether we should do anything about this, and if so what. We both felt that at the time that the gentlemanly thing to do was not go around swinging our club at people, and so we kept quiet. But finally, and I don't remember what precipitated a change on our part; but we began to write letters. I think, in my recollection, what triggered it was a series of papers in Nature, in which people looked at cosmologies involving matter and radiation. There seemed to be one paper after another in which people redid not only what we had done, but failed to go back to Friedmann, Lemaitre, Tolman and a whole bunch of people who had gone before. All of that work, including ours, was ignored and redone. The publishers published this stuff, and apparently their reviewers simply didn't either appreciate what had been done earlier, or chose to ignore it.
Herman:And our concern and uneasiness about all this, we discussed with Gamow who then suggested that we write this paper that appeared in the National Academy Proceedings which...
Alpher:... which was a mistake, because that is a journal which people generally don't read, apparently.
Herman:Well, it was not a mistake; it was just ...
Alpher:... not in the right place. But he became very exorcised, if you will, about the fact that all of our work seemed to be falling by the wayside. What could we do about it? Well, he suggested that we write a joint paper and describe what we had done earlier, get it into the literature fast.
Herman:And we did.
Alpher:Because he was a member of the Academy, we got it in fast -- like we wrote it and it was published within seven or eight weeks.
Herman:But it didn't make all that much difference.
Alpher:It didn't make all that much difference.
Herman:Now, let me go back a second, and bring out, for example, that at the Texas Relativistic Astrophysics meeting in Dallas in 1963...
Alpher:... where I was present.
Herman:... you were present and that...
Harwit:This was which meeting?
Alpher:The 1963 meeting of the Texas Symposium.
Herman:... the Astrophysical.
Harwit:This is the so-called Texas...
Alpher:... the so-called Texas meetings which oscillate between Texas...
Harwit:Was it the first one?
Alpher:Oh gosh, no, I don't think it was the first one.
Herman:I do not think so.
Alpher:I think maybe it was the first one I had gone to; I’ve only been to two or three.
Herman:It was in Dallas. It was 1963. It was in December; we know that.
Harwit:It wasn't 1963 in Dallas, was it?
Alpher:Yes, yes, I think it was ‘63 because I took some pictures of where Kennedy was shot, and I remember the mayor of Dallas coming to meet this group at a dinner, and apologizing for what had happened in Dallas. I’m almost certain it was 1963, okay?
Herman:All right. It was before ‘65, okay. The point I wanted to bring out -- and perhaps you should say it -- is that at that meeting Willie Fowler, whom we both have known for quite some time, made a statement to you, and would you state that directly?
Alpher:Well, there had been a lot of discussion about -- obviously not about an observation of the microwave background -- the evolving model, and the realization that the helium problem really was not to be overcome by a steady-state universe. It was in that context that he made the remark to me that “you guys did it all.”
Herman:I want to bring that out...
Harwit:Weinberg almost says the same thing in this sentence that I cited a little while ago; he also compliments you in his book, Gravitation and Cosmology.
Herman:Now, I think it would make me feel better, and I think you...
Harwit:No, in fact, I’m sorry. That was in The First Three Minutes, where he says, “This was in fact the first thoroughly modern analysis of the early history of the universe.”
Herman:What I would 1ike to do, because it is going to make me feel better and I think that's a good enough reason -- make us feel better -- is to make the following statement: Gamow, indeed, was the person who was calling for a consideration of the early hot, dense expanding universe model as a locale for element synthesis. He gets credit for this. In your thesis [Ralph] you did the static model of nucleosynthesis on a very elementary basis. There is no argument about this which gave some indication of how you could build elements in a neutron capture model.
Alpher:And to the extent that the model was correct, it suggested the density of matter at an early time was small compared to the radiation density, given the temperature.
Herman:Right. And then you and I pursued this and did calculations of the nucleosynthesis by neutron capture in a relativistic expanding medium, which then gave a better handle on the kind of temperatures and densities you needed early. We, of course, generated a distribution of elements with these detailed difficulties that we won't go into here, again. But following this model, then, the following things came out. There was, in fact, a prediction of this residual blackbody radiation. A specific number was calculated; there is no question about that. We also had something to say about the helium and deuterium abundances, right? And those were the first calculations of that. Then there is the ‘53 paper which you have kindly...
Harwit:... Alpher, Follin, Herman...
Herman:... read this sentence to us from Weinberg that we’re aware of. So there are these distinct matters that we did with all their strengths and weaknesses, and that is the way it is. Whatever we1re saying that indicates our concern and displeasure, and the fact that we1re frustrated and maybe a little bitter comes from the manner in which our work has been viewed and not recognized -- not cited in many, many places that deal with this subject. To this very day, it is very difficult to understand, consider, for example, in The Royal Society of London, Volume “The Big Bang and Element Creation,” there is a paper by R. J. Tayler on "Introduction to Big Bang Nucleosynthesis.”
Harwit:This is a 1982 paper?
Herman:This is a 1982 publication -- you are correct. This paper in its references cites only the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow letter to Physical Review in 1948. This is a very difficult thing to understand and I...
Alpher:This is not to imply that in writing on any subject you are constrained to refer to all the papers that were written prior to your paper on a given subject.
Alpher:Maybe we’re overdoing this, maybe not. But I must say that since we’re still around, still reading these things, and trying to understand what goes on, it just seems like it's a little sketchy, in referring to the earlier work.
Herman:Well, in this regard, for example, in the early '70s, there was a program called “The Violent Universe” on TV in which some of these matters were...
Harwit:This was a “Nova” series?
Herman:This was a “Nova" series ...
Alpher:... "The Violent Universe?"
Herman:No, that was the...
Alpher:No, I'm sorry, that was the BBC special -- Nigel Calder's “Violent Universe.”
Herman:You're absolutely right ... in which the Princeton people, particularly Dicke, but also Peeples, appeared as main characters in this production. There was not even a word about where some of these matters had originated. And when you...
Harwit:No reference to you?
Herman:None, whatsoever. None. And this was, of course, very upsetting to us. Then later on, there was this BBC Nova Production, "A Whisper in Space" -- I believe that's what the title was. It is interesting to recall that Ralph and I both, independently, received transatlantic telephone calls from a Mr. Peter Jones of BBC, telling us that they were going to do a program on cosmology, etc., and that they were most anxious, when they arrived in New York, to do some of the shooting, to have us come to New York and join them and have discussions and film interviews with us, and so forth. I think this is the time to bring this out. We went to New York with great enthusiasm with the idea that we have an opportunity to at least get some visibility of that kind -- get some of the facts out. I remember our being in this delicatessen, having lunch with Peter Jones and his colleague, and there was a lot of interest and enthusiasm.
Alpher:In fact, long before the TV taping during the afternoon, we spent several hours (in the morning) going over the ideas that are inherent in cosmology with him by way of background. Then we went to lunch and we taped all afternoon.
Herman:It all went very well. We must have taped for two and a half to...
Harwit:On video tape?
Herman:This was video tape of the order of a couple hours. (Note added: The interviews were actually recorded on 16mm motion picture film.) Now, in order not to make this too long, let me point out that when one is interacting with people from the media, I have trouble with them. Ralph is always trying to calm me down and tells me that we should -- as I try to calm him down about other things -- because we have a duty and an obligation to the public to bring to them scientific information in a healthy way. And he's right.
Harwit:Healthy, meaning what? Not disruptive of the community?
Herman:No, no. I mean in a balanced, understandable kind of a way that puts the work and the people who do the work in some effective and honest perspective. Now, I began to wonder what the hell was going on when Peter Jones tells us, in order to get some local color, they would like to have us get into a taxi cab and come to the building where the taping was going to be done, and that building ...
Alpher:May I go back one step...
Alpher:At one point Jones called, and we were discussing where the taping should occur. It was his suggestion earlier that it be done on the top floor of the General Electric Building at 51st and Lexington in New York City. Well, that turned out not to be possible. Then, I guess, he pursued the question of whether it might be done in the General Motors Building in New York City. And then, I don't know how you responded to that one, but it ended up we did it in the BBC offices in New York City. Now, you can continue about this particular tape...
Herman:I don't mind recording that in many ways -- maybe I'm naive. In other words, when I'm interacting with people, I don't immediately start doing an operational analysis on all the conceivable scenarios with a "devil" theory, and so on. So that when Peter Jones said, "Well, if you gentlemen get into a taxi, then you come to the bui1ding and you walk through the revolving doors, that'll just give a little color," and so on.
Alpher:So we did it.
Herman:Both of us wondered what this was all about and why. But we did it and they shot it. Then, that afternoon, we must have done a minimum of two hours...
Alpher:I thought it was all afternoon; maybe it was two and a half and it felt like more.
Herman:It was at least a couple of hours of taping during which you and I sat on this sofa. We were talking about the nucleosynthesis and some of the evolutionary -- the universe evolving; we talked about the background radiation. We talked about all of these things at great length. Is that not so, Ralph?
Alpher:At great length, and he was using questions which were derivative from our conversation of the previous morning.
Harwit:So they were well-informed questions.
Alpher:They were reasonably well-informed questions. There were no stupid questions; there wasn't anything where we said, "We can't answer that," or "That's not the right question."
Herman:No. I mention this so that you realize that this was not just a 15-minute thing. It was a deliberate, well-thought-out thing with a lot of taping. And I mention a lot of taping, because you can always clip pieces out. We then see the program.
Harwit:This is a one-hour program?
Herman:This is a one-hour program, and what transpires is that the only thing that involves A1pher and me is a picture of our getting out of the taxi cab in front of this building, walking across a little plaza, going through the revolving doors, with the commentary that, “This is Alpher and Herman who did do this in ‘48, and they are now in industry.” We were out raged. The reason we were outraged is that as the whole program evolved, there were all kinds of scientists in the program, making remarks about the work and the work we had originally done. Then we asked ourselves, why did it happen this way? And particularly, I was outraged at the idea that, what is the relevance of my being in industry, what does it have to do with the work, or with me, or the public or with anything? And more than Ralph, I began to feel more and more that this was not an accident. Then the question is, how do you figure out what happened? Well, we really don't know what happened or why.
Harwit:Did you write?
Herman:Yes. And we have all kinds of correspondence, with the producer, Jones, and with Philip Morrison of MIT.
Alpher:Do you want to see it; it's ridiculous.
Herman:Well, may I mention that we can't do it all now, but we could very seriously consider making available the correspondence or letters -- the responses -- because I think this is an incredibly interesting scientific, sociological problem. And let me say right now, that Ralph and I, indeed, if we have the guts, the energy, the drive, the will want to write something that hopefully would be balanced and even-handed about what we see as this picture.
Harwit:Can you say something about the gist of the correspondence.
Herman:Oh yes, sure. I'll shut up. Go ahead.
Alpher:I had the contacts with Philip Morrison and you didn't.
Herman:I understand. But we ought to mention Peter Jones.
Alpher:There was correspondence with two people.
Harwit:Where did Philip Morrison come in?
Alpher:Peter Jones was the producer of the show, but we don't know exactly what role Philip Morrison had in the show, other than that he was at last the commentator for the...
Harwit:He was the one who...
Alpher:He was the person who appeared frequently during the film, introducing the next topic and making remarks about what the audience was about to see or what they had just seen.
Harwit:He also commented on you're going through the revolving doors?
Herman:That was his voice.
Alpher:That was his voice, as far as I know, behind the taping. Now, we did not know until the show appeared that Philip Morrison had really much to do with this.
Herman:That is correct. Well, we heard from Peter Jones that he was an advisor or some such.
Alpher:Anyway, we wrote to Jones, and the gist of our correspondence with him -- and it ended up quite unsatisfactorily -- was that he claimed that they could not make any intellectual connection between nucleosynthesis and the origin of the universe and the background radiation.
Herman:And Peter Jones, we understand from Philip Morrison, said that he was going to take it all out.
Alpher:And Morrison argued that there should at least be something in there about us, so the taxi cab sequence stayed in...
Herman:So what they left in was our walking into a building.
Harwit:I'm sorry; Peter Jones wrote you that he told Morrison...
Alpher:... in response to our criticism.
Alpher:In response to our criticism of the program afterward, he responded that they had not been able to make this intellectual connection, and he implied that for theatrical reasons, because the show has to be something that people will enjoy watching, they were not able to include our contributions.
Herman:Anything of that two or three hours of taping.
Herman:We learned subsequently from Morrison in correspondence that Peter Jones wanted to take everything out, but that he, Morrison, retained this little piece in which he said that Herman and Alpher did...
Alpher:So we have basically an apologetic letter from Morrison.
Harwit:Now, Morrison couldn't explain the connection to Jones or bridge it over as...
Alpher:I have never made that statement in public. You said it, and that's a conclusion.
Herman:Yes, we do not know...
Alpher:Either he could not, which I doubt, or he did not, for reasons which I don't understand, or he was overruled by Jones -- one of the three things.
Herman:Yes, when we wrote to Morrison, we raised this question about what is the relevance of this industry business, and all. We never got anything back on that. Now, there is something even deeper, and I think we have to touch on that.
Alpher:Not long thereafter, Morrison was invited here to our laboratory to give a Joseph Henry lecture, which is a lecture for...
Alpher:Was it after the program or before?
Herman:Didn't you meet him in that other context before that...
Alpher:Maybe it was before the program. You are quite right. Okay, you’re quite right.
Herman:It was before.
Alpher:It was before the "Whisper from Space" Nova shooting. He came at the invitation of...
Harwit:Before the shooting, actually.
Alpher:This was before the program; before we even knew about Nova. I’m sorry, my time sequence is wrong. He came to Schenectady and lectured to a full auditorium of high school students, and then there was a dinner for him to which I was invited. We were standing at the bar, as a matter of fact, and he made a remark to me, "How would you like to get the Rumford Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences?" Well, what can you say? Of course, one doesn't turn down a medal. Then he made the following set of remarks, that until that year...
Harwit:This was the Rumford premium?
Alpher:The Rumford premium.
Herman:That is correct.
Alpher:He made the following set of remarks, that until that year, until this moment in time, for several years, Bob Dicke was chairman of the awards committee, and they had not felt it was appropriate to make an award while Dicke was chairman of the awards committee. But now Dicke was off the awards committee, and they now felt it was appropriate -- and they wanted -- to give the Rumford premium to Dicke, to Bob and myself for the work on the early universe. I was somewhat taken back, and didn't handle it very well. I don't think I said very much at that point, but subsequently I wrote him a letter and told him some of history of our discomfort with the 1965 events. That was the last I heard about the Rumford medal, whether they gave one to Dicke, I don't know; I’m not a member of that Academy. But at any rate, that was a very awkward thing. Then subsequently, he came back. This was much later on, and gave a talk to Union College, Sigma Xi Chapter, and again – I’m a member of that chapter -- I was there. I chatted with him, and we talked around everything else but that. He didn't want to talk about it.
Herman:I gather, you gave him every opportunity to.
Alpher:I gave him every opportunity because I was curious as to how it had become resolved. I still haven't heard. Finally, I wrote him a letter and said that I was uncomfortable about our interaction at that Sigma Xi banquet, and that if he wanted to tell me what happened, that was fine; if he didn't write back to me that would be the end of it as far as we were concerned. I never got a reply.
Herman:A parallel matter, for example, is that a few years ago Peebles, who is a very good scientist, and has done a lot of excellent work, of which there is no question -- received an award from the New York Academy of Sciences with a citation that, in part, says that he is getting this award for his work on the cosmic microwave radiation. That, of course, was a rather strange thing -- to find somebody receiving an award specifically for something that other peop1e had done previously. Now, Ralph and I make it quite clear; we understand...
Harwit:You also have had an award from that same group.
Harwit:So Peebles got it first.
Herman:Yea. What was the issue in our minds was that he gets it specifically for things that we had done a long time before. It's not that we think he's not deserving of an award...
Alpher:I think there's other work he's done for which he deserves...
Herman:He deserves an award. They can give him ten awards. That would be fine, but that is another example of a committee -- a group of people who don't know what is going on -- who do things in a peculiar way. If anyone wanted to give me an award for work that someone else had done, I would refuse it. I just don't understand. In other words, what I don't understand is the totality. Anyone of these things if a person were to get upset and become paranoid, I would say, well, come on, forget it. But there is example after example -- I mean we could pullout files of papers, even to trivial things like Isaac Asimov writing and screwing up. Then we drop Asimov a note.
Alpher:By the way, I felt free to write to him because I had met him on several occasions. I had dinner with him on several occasions, so it wasn't as though I was writing to somebody I didn't know, or he didn't know me at all. I just wrote him and tweaked him a bit about his accuracy.
Herman:And what was his response. He says basically, what do you want from me? I’m a journalist. This was the response. We wrote to Harriet Zuckerman.
Alpher:There was a long article in the New York Times with a boxed set of statements from William Lawrence who attributed them to Harriet Zuckerman.
Harwit:Which Lawrence was this?
Alpher:This is the William Lawrence, the Dean of Science Writers at the New York Times. Now, the occasion of this long article was a new...
Harwit:He used to write a long, long time ago. He hasn't written...
Alpher:He still writes articles in the New York Times...
Herman:... on occasion.
Alpher:... and he is still their chief science writer.
Harwit:You don't mean Walter Sullivan?
Alpher:Did I say Lawrence, I’m sorry.
Harwit:William Lawrence use to write for...
Alpher:I meant Sullivan, excuse me.
Herman:Oh my, we are slipping.
Harwit:That is okay.
Alpher:Alright, the context of this particular event is that they wrote a long article about Ken Wilson getting the Nobel Prize. In this article they noted that there some other people who might have been considered for this prize, along with Wilson, who, in fact, had jointly received an earlier prize -- the Wolfe Medal from Israel.
Alpher:... for the same work.
Harwit:We are talking about Michael Fisher and Leo Kadanoff.
Herman:That is right.
Alpher:So this article referred to the fact that these two gentlemen who -- and I think a lot of people expected that the three of them would share the Nobel Prize for this work, but in fact Wilson got it. So this is referred to in the article. Then in this boxed short article in which Sullivan basically quotes Zuckerman, there was a discussion about other instances in which the Nobel Prize has been given, and people who should have shared the prize, did not. What example did they use, but Penzias and Wilson on the one hand and Dicke and Peebles on the other hand?
Alpher:A colleague of mine at the Laboratory named Bob Fleischer wrote a letter to the New York Times, and we got a letter back from Harriet Zuckerman who wanted to know what the hell was going on. I wrote her along letter in which I told her about this early work, and I sent her the reference material. I suggested that she read Weinberg's book, and so on. She wrote back a very nice letter, in which she said she had now looked at this material, realized that there had been an error, and would correct it in future writings. End of story. How did this all happen in the first instance, I really don't know.
Herman:It's interesting how these things propagate. Now, let me tear into the following: In the spring of the academic year when I went to Texas, in fact, on March 6, 1980, I had learned that there was going to be a public lecture on the campus, given by Wilson of Penzias and Wi1son on this discovery, and so on. Well, I went to this lecture, and I must confess right at the start that I have difficu1ty understanding what it is that motivates me to hear certain kinds of things and then quietly slink away, rather than to get up in public and join the issue. That might take ten years of psychiatry; I don't know the answer to that.
Harwit:Perhaps one doesn't want to make a spectacle of oneself.
Herman:That is true.
Harwit:Again, the sour grapes fear...
Herman:All of this. Now, he gave a lecture at which I took some detailed notes, and at some point could always deposit that in the archives. But there is the following to say, the general lecture about astrophysical things was not very inspiring because it's not his thing. This was my reaction. So I didn't find this very elevating, although the audience that comes without a great deal of knowledge may have felt differently -- I have to admit that. Now, there are two things that I have to mention: One of them is he shows a slide of the distance redshift relation – it’s the usual slide showing data and down near the origin is a tiny little dark rectangle that contains all of the data that Hubble had. Then, of course, all the rest of the data comes. He made deprecatory remarks. I viewed what he said about Hubble only having all that -- look what we have now -- as being scandalous because the magnificent thing is that Hubble read the signal through the big noise level. It was in that tiny little black rectangle that the whole thing began, and I would have hoped that Wilson would have had the common sense and the dignity of a scientist to point that out, and say that we now, of course, see all of this data. The other thing I want to say is that in mentioning the work that Alpher and I did, he apparently couldn't resist making the statement that, “But in the 40s the physics was atrocious.” That I say is an exact quote. Now, the point of the matter is, the physics was not all that atrocious. It wasn't as good as what might have been done in '53, '69 or now, but there is another example of a man who receives the Nobel Prize, who then is sought after as a spokesman from the scientific community to bring forth to the public, to the scientific community, the public, to young people, to students at universities, and elsewhere, what is the word? And doesn't have the sense to do this very well -- not only from the technical point of view, since he's not an expert on those things, but from the more general historical point of view -- the point of view of physics as a human subject that's important in the societal sense, important in the socio-historical sense about the way human beings evolved culturally. In other words, there was an ugliness in the way he was talking about the work of his colleagues, and the early work that opens doors and new channels. I feel very deeply and very strongly about this. I want to say that when you couple that episode with my interpretation of Penzias making remarks that are not all that encouraging and they Ire critical as though to say "Well, you guys weren't very bright because if you had done this, and... " Well, that's like saying, "Well, why didn't Newton understand the limitations of his description.” It's all ridiculous. The arrogance, the narrowness and the self-serving attitude of many of these people it distresses me. It pains me. I’ve been around for a long time. I started to do things in science when I was a young lad in college. The first paper I wrote was on these thermodynamic surfaces I mentioned yesterday. It was a paper jointly with Mark Zemansky. I began to do things, you see, in the early’30s that were scientifically oriented. That's 50 years ago. I’ve been in industry, I’ve been at a number of universities, live had deep interaction with the Bureau of Standards, government agencies and so on. I think I have a fairly broad view, and the signals I am getting are that we are not doing our job as well as we might do it. There's too much hoopla. There's too much publishing in the newspapers. There's too much aggression, too much struggle. In other words, the easiest way to clean up our act is to keep the attributions straight. I mean, that is an easy thing to do, in my opinion.
Harwit:What do you attribute this lack of attributions to? Quite apart from your particular case, now, if we look at citations of papers in most physics or astrophysics journals, it's fairly seldom that you find something which is cited that's more than five years old. How do you explain that?
Herman:Well, it's not easy to explain that. Let me just touch on one point. I know a number of examples where somebody will get into an area, do a piece of work, referencing somebody who came before, and then when they write their next and subsequent papers, refer to the first paper they wrote and not to the original source. I know of examples of that kind, and this is nasty, in my opinion. Now, why people don't bother to go sufficiently far back? They might argue that they were not writing historical papers about science, but rather these are, so to speak, timely working papers that are just dealing with the matters that are specifically at hand.
Alpher:But on the other hand, when a book like this appears, in which a person writes a chapter...
Harwit:Is this the one we referred to before?
Alpher:The Big Bang...
Harwit:... put out by The Royal Society.
Alpher:Exactly. And here is a chapter on the introduction to big bang nucleosynthesis, open and closed models, and anisotropies. This is meant as a background paper for this meeting, and those are the kinds of things...
Harwit:Can you read the title once more for the record. A1pher: "Introduction to Big Bang Nucleosynthesis is: Open and Closed Mode1s, Anisotropies.” That's the full tit1e as 1isted in the contents by R. J. Tayler. When you write a chapter of that kind, which is the first chapter in a book wholly devoted to this subject, then I think it's appropriate to discuss, to some extent, the historical development of the subject. And, in fact, that's what he purports to do. And it's inaccurate and incomplete.
Herman:I'd like to mention that when Ralph and I, in great passion and deep, deep interest, did the work that led to our Reviews of Modern Physics article, I think the deep, burning desire we had was to explore the literature, to find all of the papers, to read them all, to rework them, to understand them, and to write a critical article, which I think we did to the best of our ability. Anything that might have been left out, I would chalk up to our own ineptitude in not having been able to track it down. As a matter of fact, we redid part of a calculation in a paper of Hoyle's that we quoted, and discovered that due to some errors that he made in arithmetic, he was using the wrong statistics; he should have been using degenerate statistics -- right? Ralph and I sat down and wrote with the greatest respect and are -- and by the way, we didn't write to him the way we wrote about Gamow in the Nature letter. I just smile when I think of that. We have a copy of that; it was a respectful letter in great detail. It might have been two pages long, as I recall.
Alpher:We pointed out we were writing a review, and we wanted to have it right; we had discovered this.
Herman:We detailed the whole thing to give him an opportunity to comment on it; we never heard from him. Then some while later Willie Fowler, who's a bit of a comedian at times, in talking about this incident said to us, “Well, that was at the time that Fred Hoyle was doing his BBC lectures; he was receiving an enormous amount of fan mail, and he must have thrown your letter out with all the other crackpot stuff.” Well, it's sort of a cute remark. But it's the totality; it's all of it. When you put it all together, including writing to Gott, Gunn, Schramm and Tinsley, you write them a letter about misattributions and so on, and you get some kind of a letter back that argues with you, and so on. I mean, we have example after example of this sort of thing, and it's wearisome and distressing, especially when you look at the whole thing in a naive, pure-of-heart kind of a way.
Alpher:Now, maybe Bob and I tend to err in the opposite directions, but when we were asked to write a review on the microwave background for this Magellan Premium, we made an effort to trace the development of the idea of a big bang universe. You have to go back to not only Einstein, of course, which underlies it all, but to Friedmann's non-static solutions, to Lamaitre's non-static solutions, to DeSitter’s contributions to non-static solutions. Then you certainly have to remark on the fact that Lemaitre was excited about the idea that the universe began with some kind of primeval explosion. He wrote a book called the Primeval Egg which was actually translated from French into English by Serge Korff, who was then at New York University.
Herman:I think so.
Alpher:I still have a copy of the book. It's a little monograph.
Herman:It's called the Primeval Atom.
Alpher:Primeval Atom, excuse me. I think it was popularly referred to as a Primeval Egg because the egg is how things start, but it was a Primeval Atom. It had some elements of the idea which Maria Goppert Mayer and Edward Teller, later elaborated on in their so-called poly-neutron model. We described this notion of theirs in our '50 review.
Herman:This is a cold poly-neutron beginning.
Alpher:But then you go on, and Tolman made contributions and Robertson made contributions -- the Robertson-Walker metric, etc. Tolman, for example, has a short part in his book in which he discusses the idea of a universe that is only radiation -- a pure blackbody universe, and what its properties would be. These guys came awfully close, for you always...
Herman:They sure did.
Harwit:Let me go a little off the topic of citation here because there is actually a reference to your paper with Follin, again by Steven Weinberg in his First Three Minutes. He muses there about why it was that your paper was neglected for as long, as it was; he was trying to understand that. You know, I think he was really trying as a theorist -- I think he was actually sympathetic. The First Three Minutes chapter which was written several years after his Cosmology and Gravitation book appeared doesn't have the earlier criticisms -- seems to be much more sympathetic. Nevertheless, he does have a parenthetical comment about this Alpher-Follin-Herman paper. Trying to explain why perhaps people neglected it and talking about you he says, "Nor do they mention -- in this paper -- their earlier prediction that a 5°K radiation background was expected." Now, I looked at your paper, and you yourselves were saying before, when we were talking about Peebles and his reference only to the Alpher-Follin-Herman paper, that that wasn't about the background radiation. But...
Alpher:We, in turn, did not refer...
Herman:we did not refer to it in the '53 paper with Follin.
Harwit:Okay. Well, let me differ with you on that, and maybe you can set me straight, because you do mention in the first place the deviation that your recalculation calls for in the previous results that you had, and you find that for the late evolutionary stages, the deviation is completely negligible. And so while you don't specifically recalculate it, by implication, you call it correct. And in fact, there's a great deal of discussion about not only the radiation density, but also the ratio of neutrino density to radiation density which, as far as I know, at least, and maybe you can set me straight on this, is the first calculation of the present day…
Alpher:... abundance of...
Harwit:... neutrino background radiation that one would expect. By reference to earlier work on the absolute value of the radiation background, you also have a calculation there of the expected value of the neutrino background. Now, what I wanted to ask you there is whether in your view that is the first calculation of a neutrino background, or whether you think that that was already implicit in the work of Hayashi? I have Hayashi's paper here.
Alpher:My guess is that it's probably implicit...
Alpher:... at the least implicit.
Herman:... at least implicit in Hayashi's work.
Harwit:So this is not something that you would claim...
Alpher:No, no, I don't think so.
Harwit:... as part of your… I mean, Hayashi never calculates it explicitly for later stages.
Harwit:He does talk about the neutrino background at very early times.
Alpher:You know, I can't swear to it, but trying to think back to his paper, didn't he discuss -- boy, I'm telling you, this is so long ago -- didn't he discuss the decoupling of the neutrinos?
Herman:Yes, he did discuss that.
Alpher:And therefore by implication the fact that they would participate in the...
Herman:... in the expansion.
Alpher:... at least by implication.
Alpher:... that they would participate in the expansion, and be present now in whatever density corresponds to the decoupling and subsequent expansion.
Herman:Yes. It's all implicit, that I think we...
Alpher:We gave a number for the temperature.
Harwit:You gave a number for the ratio (neutrinos to photons) in a table there, and...
Herman:I think that's the way it is. I mean, it's implicit -- and we got a number.
Herman:I think that's correct. By the way, if we may touch a little bit on the Weinberg book...
Alpher:Well -- for some reason which we don't understand, he was kind enough to send us a partial manuscript.
Herman:Weinberg had prepared a manuscript for this book, The First Three Minutes, and as we understood had taken various pieces of this manuscript and sent it to various people, which is a very nice thing to do. We received his draft which concerned these matters of the evolutionary universe and the background radiation. Ralph, why don't you worry about this because I think it is important?
Alpher:Alright, well come back to Hayashi in a few moments.
Herman:Unless, you want to do that right away.
Alpher:Well, I don It know...
Harwit:I think we talked about the Hayashi thing probably enough. I just wanted to know what your feelings were about that.
Herman:It was a good paper, then.
Alpher:It was a good paper. We felt that it needed redoing, for a variety of reasons (which we spelled out in our paper), and we redid it. And I think we went beyond it, but I think the ideas are implicit, at least implicit, in here.
Harwit:It was sort of a classical way that, perhaps, science ought to work. I mean, you did your early work of ‘48. He pointed out some improvements that were necessary. You recalculated the changes; took it further without any hard feelings, then, as far as I can see.
Herman:Oh, none whatsoever.
Harwit:And as a result of that, one had now not only a radiation background, but also a neutrino background, which is currently of interest because people are hoping to measure that, sometime.
Harwit:It's a very difficult experiment.
Herman:And it is important.
Harwit:But it will be an important...
Alpher:As I recall, we estimated it as something like 2° for the equivalent neutrino temperature.
Harwit:Yes, you have a ratio of, I think, 1.4 in the flux density or something like that.
Herman:Something like that, so if you look at 3 ...
Alpher:So it's an enormously difficult experiment.
Herman:So it's something like 2°. To get back...
Alpher:Well, we could track down some statement in here which would...
Harwit:I don't think it's that essential. I looked for an explicit statement. It's difficult partly because, of course, there's some difficulty Hayashi had with the writing of English, and it's not quite as smoothly written as -- although, it's certainly intelligible.
Harwit:A very nice paper.
Herman:Yes, we thought so -- have always felt that way.
Alpher:I hope we treated it properly in our work.
Harwit:Oh yes. No, I mean, at least I always felt in reading your paper with Follin that you were paying Hayashi the greatest respect there.
Herman:To get back to The First Three Minutes, Weinberg, as it turned out, had sent various portions of his draft to different people, and we received a portion on the background radiation, etc. And when we read that, we were aghast. Is that a good word? We were really aghast. And very briefly, the reason we were is because it put us in a very peculiar and bad light, which derived from Weinberg's, I think, not having looked at the literature and understanding what it was that we had done. Well, we got damned upset because of all the accumulated reasons that we have now indicated, and seriously put together a letter to him that was most respectful, as I remember it, and pointed out, I think in 13 pages...
Alpher:... led him through the literature.
Herman:We led him through the whole literature, and gave references, and so on, in order to try to give a balanced, factual picture. Now, what we are delighted about is -- look, Steve Weinberg's a smart guy. He's a very smart guy.
Harwit:He's a colleague now?
Herman:He's a colleague of...
Harwit:... at Texas.
Herman:... mine now, right. Weinberg, I’m glad to say, read this letter, and while he did not take care of all the things that we might have hoped that he would take care of, did a splendid job in revising what we saw, and then read in his book. So I think it's fair to say...
Alpher:Well, I think, the important thing that it's clear to us that he went back and read the damn papers.
Herman:We were very pleased that he read the papers, and we’re very pleased that he generously makes these statements that he does about our work and about us. I will add just for the human interest part of this, is that it came to my ears that he did tell a friend of mine (Robert Hofstadter) that he felt that we had given him a hard time. But that's all right, because it was a hard time that was factual and straight and so on.
Alpher:No, he never indicated to us in correspondence...
Herman:Oh, no. Oh, no.
Alpher:... that we had given him a hard time. In fact, he seemed, I think, pleased that we had essentially forced him to look in the literature, in a way which he had not before.
Harwit:Well, there is certainly quite a difference in the way that he treats your work in his 1973 book, Gravitation and Cosmology, and the, I think, 1977...
Harwit:... book The First Three Minutes. You can see a quite different attitude there.
Herman:So, I mean, that ended up in a nice and satisfactory...
Harwit:Do you think there is a basic laziness, rather than a malevolence that can explain all or some of this neglect?
Alpher:My guess is that Weinberg thought he understood what had happened, and that's what he wrote.
Herman:In that case.
Alpher:In that case.
Harwit:Let me explain -- a laziness to try to retrace one's steps, 15, 20, 30 years back, and try to figure out to what extent the physics at that time was correct, even from today's point of view, in order to understand whether a result that old ought to be accepted or thrown out, just because one is too lazy to figure out whether the physics was right. There have been so many changes.
Herman:Well, let me put it this way. I think trying to deal with the problems in nature and in the human arena by looking at averages is always very dangerous. There are distribution functions. And I think some people are lazy, some people are malevolent, some people are stupid -- I mean there's a whole spectrum. In Weinberg's case, I would imagine when he first did this; he did as straightforward a job as he could on the basis of his knowledge. And I dare say that none of us have the will and the time to explore every point in whatever we write to the extent to which you were just mentioning. (Note: We believe we reread and as appropriate reworked every reference in our 1950 Reviews of Modern Physics paper.) So in his case, I think considering the end result, he saw what was put in front of him, and took the trouble to straighten it out. We're very grateful that he did that.
Harwit:When you were writing those papers, initially, he still was at the Bronx High School of Science.
Herman:That is correct, and...
Harwit:So, you know, for him, for a person, anything that happens in high school tends to appear like a stone-age...
Alpher:Oh sure, of course.
Herman:That is correct. And in discussions with him, it's clear that he freely points out as he does in the First Three Minutes that it was very uncomfortable to deviate from a nice fixed, static universe, where everything hangs together forever, and so on.
Alpher:He makes a remark in his book, for example, that physics generally didn't take the evolutionary model very seriously. You know, I think that's probably a correct view of that -- it was not a part of the standard curriculum. When you went through a physics education; maybe you got exposed to it briefly, if somebody gave a course in cosmology or relativity and its applications, or something like that. I have no idea of what people who were teaching astronomy were saying in the 40s and 50s and early 60s about ...
Harwit:Let me just mention there -- I was going to say that my impression is that when I was in graduate school, around the late 50s and until 1960, that the physicists, I thought, tended to side with Gamow. He was one of their own kind. The astronomers, to the extent that they felt themselves competent to judge cosmology, I think, might have viewed it as an interesting debate between the steady-staters and the evolutionary people, with perhaps a slight antagonism to Fred Hoyle, and sympathy for the physicists' approach; Gamow, after all, was a recognized physicist who had done "serious" physics as well.
Herman:Well, this evokes in my mind the following: That the whole idea was this, that early on the...
Harwit:Excuse me. Maybe I should interject here that I was MIT as a graduate student, and that comments of this kind were probably, in good part, influenced by Weisskopf, who knew Gamow.
Herman:Oh, very well.
Harwit:So perhaps I got a biased view there.
Herman:What I was trying to say is that early on, of course, cosmological models, even in the Tolman sense, were rather academic kinds of models – I mean, we know that. I think perhaps, if anything, it was the attempt on the part of Gamow and us to put some physics in that would tell you what was going on. So, maybe (leaving all the extraneous minutiae) the contribution over all was, in those early days, to try to put physics into these pictures.
Harwit:I think that's a really nutshell statement. Before the work of Gamow and yourselves, cosmology was geometry.
Harwit:And you put physics into it.
Herman:That was the attempt. Let me make another point that -- while it's a small one -- I think it will give a little flavor to some of the difficulties that we experienced and tried to describe to you. And that is, that after the discovery -- there were many papers, of course, on these matters -- in which some of the authors claim that the whole idea of there being a cosmic microwave background and its discovery was one of the most significant discoveries in this century. For example, Oskar Klein, McCrea, Rees, Sandage and many others wrote this, as I remember. I mention this because, on the one hand, people were touting this as a very deeply significant piece of information which was going to be able to tell you, if you know the background temperature, you then have some quantitative handle on information about the universe. And they tout it as the most significant, and then they either ignore what we did or make misattributions. And if we write a polite letter, we get back things that are... Well, we got a letter from Klein that indicated that he ... my interpretation... he was sort of irritated that we thought he should do better than just attribute it all to Gamow. So, I mention this -- I belabor it -- but I think it's important to indicate that it is not pure insanity on our part that these things caused us so much pain.
Alpher:We had some correspondence with Hannes Alfven, which is sort of weird in my view. In his last letter to us, he makes some remark to the effect that, "You know you guys really ought to be criticized because you didn't take care of the matter/antimatter problem, in discussing the big bang.”
Harwit:This is really known as grinding your own ax.
Herman:Let me mention...
Harwit:Actually, you did talk about it. Yes, you did.
Herman:We did. We wrote a paper. We wrote a paper. In fact, Alpher, Follin and I wrote a paper, and we did discuss this.
Harwit:In fact, I guess you were writing a paper... Well, there were two papers, one of them you wrote in order to see whether the matter preponderance over antimatter could be a fluctuation.
Alpher:Yes, that was in Science...
Harwit:The other one was...
Harwit:And the other one was a response to -- I forget who now who had ...
Harwit:Goldhaber had suggested this, and in a short letter, he refuted his own view and referred to the earlier work that you had done.
Herman:That's absolutely correct. That's absolutely correct. Now, Alpher and I...
Alpher:By the way, I never closed the loop with Alfven, because I don't know what to write him at this point. Clearly, the matter is...
Harwit:Well, you could write him, of course, that you had considered it.
Alpher:Well, on the other hand...
Harwit:... refer to the paper.
Alpher:It's the symmetry breaking, and so on, now is the...
Herman:... is, at least in part, an answer to what he was reaching for.
Alpher:So, people have gone beyond anything we might have said at the time. So, I hope he's happy now.
Harwit:Let me, in reference to the symmetry breaking; ask you whether your appetite is whetted by the recent cosmological developments, to go back further in time to the sort of things that Guth and other people have done, to get back into the swim?
Herman:Aha, I think it's marvelous.
Alpher:Well, I don't know about getting back into the swim -- I don't think I have the stomach for it now, frankly. Nor do I have...
Herman:Well, no, it's more than that.
Alpher:It's more than that. I don't feel capable of contributing in that area now, on the basis of my training, background and the kinds of things that...
Herman:Well, it would require an enormous effort to become knowledgeable to the extent that one could in fact pursue these matters in a creative way. Ralph...
Alpher:...certainly follow it avidly.
Herman:Well, Ralph, I have no doubt with an enormous effort... even at this stage of the game we might get to the point where we could do something. But that's not what is at issue. But it's marvelous and exciting.
Harwit:But in the same spirit as what you were doing.
Harwit:The idea of questioning -- and this is always the most difficult thing in cosmology, I think -- questioning what used to be considered the scenario, the given starting conditions, and who is going to be considered the actors on the stage, the participants that can evolve within a fixed, stationary scenario.
Herman:Put another way, one might ask, “What are the given boundary conditions.” And it's magnificent to think that one can probe further and further back. Of course, there is this other matter that we haven't touched on. It's an incredible problem. And that is the universal constants, having the particular values that they have, are a boundary condition that make things come out the way they do. And if things... (laughter)
Harwit:Of course, the chemical composition could have been in an initial condition...
Harwit:... boundary condition; but, I mean, this was really the interesting thing, and perhaps philosophically the most difficult one to decide that –- I would think ... you know, this is just one's impression one has in reading these things -- that where previously people had thought that the chemical constituents of the universe were the kind of thing that were thrown out the first day, and then they were there; whereas Gamow started worrying about whether they couldn't be the consequence of a different ...
Herman:Of some ... right.
Alpher:And really what...
Harwit:... active participant in the evolution.
Alpher:What we are seeing now is an attempt to go further and further back.
Alpher:... and do as much of a job as possible in terms of first principles. Now, we were tremendouly intrigued, over and over again, by the fact that what we originally called the initial density of matter required for nuc1eosynthesis -- and later, in a more sophisticated way, it became clear that there was a quantity we call the entropy-per-baryon, or the ratio of baryons to photons, or whatever one wants to call it -- which is a certain number. Now, what is the significance of that number? In at least one of our papers, we point out that that number, hopefully someday, will be derived from the physics of the earlier universe. And that's what's happening. And that's tremendously exciting.
Herman:Ah, that's just thrilling.
Harwit:I notice you have two other volumes here. Is there...
Alpher:Oh, the other two volumes are sitting here, I think, because I showed them to Bob. He never received them (not so, Herman did receive them). This gentleman, whom I do not know -- A. Zee -- wrote ...
Herman:A to Z.
Alpher:... put together a collection of reprints, having to do with cosmology and grand unification theory, and so on and so forth. Now, I think he wrote me at some point, quite a while ago, to get my permission to republish some of the papers, and I think you agreed...
Herman:Yes, we discussed...
Alpher:... at the time. But I did write him back and said that...
Alpher:Please, if you don't mind, would you consider including among those you reprint, some papers that I suggested to him, namely, the '48 paper. Well, he didn't choose to do so. And that's his privilege. But in response, he did send me free copies of his book. So…
Alpher:Some of the papers we've been looking for, I suppose, are reprinted in here.
Harwit:This is called “Unity of Forces in the Universe?”
Herman:Yes. It was published by World Scientific and he is a professor of physics at the University of Washington. It was published in 1982 in two volumes.
Alpher:It's a peculiar choice of papers: He has Gamow's ‘46 paper; he has the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper; he has Gamow's ‘48 paper “On the Origin of Elements and Separation of Galaxies;” he has this Nature paper by Gamow; but he doesn't carryon beyond that. That's the end of it until he gets to Hayashi and the Alpher-Follin-Herman paper and then the Hoyle-Tayler paper on the helium abundance. So he skipped over the intervening stuff. I pointed out to him or suggested that he consider those and he had his options so for whatever reason. I don't know whether he even read these papers or how he was led to the choices he made. I can't comment on the rest of it. He has a lot of stuff in there on grand unification theory and all kinds of things.
Herman:By the way -- I think we would be remiss if the following were not at least touched on -- and that is to point out that Alpher and I clearly are sensitively aware that the way we see things may not correspond exactly to the way other people see things. It would be marvelous if there were some way and there isn't, of course, to see how other people see things and try to get some kind of a better view. And it's for that reason that I feel that the history of science and the sociology of science are important. I have a great deal of admiration and respect for you and other people, who are concerned with these matters and who tried to at least get different points of view, documentation, look into the record to try to see how we in fact do our work and how it evolves. So I just think this is marvelous.
Harwit:Let me ask you one last question that I have, and then you may have some things you would like to comment on. You know, you were saying before that, and I think correctly, that this discovery of the microwave background radiation and the theoretical work that predicted it are one of the most important pieces of work of this century. And yet, I think that neither of you is in the National Academy. Isn't that right?
Herman:Well, let me modify that. Neither of us is in the National Academy of Sciences. I am in the National Academy of Engineering by virtue of my work in the science of traffic. Yes, you are quite right. And I will say very bluntly -- and it isn't sour grapes because at least I’m in the National Academy of Engineering -- that I think, and I’ll speak bluntly, I think this is scandalous; I think it's unfair; I know quite a bit about the processes that are involved in the election of people to the Academy. I’m not very happy with these processes, the way they are, because they focus too strongly on power structures, and I have no doubt in my mind that if Ralph and I, say, were in the right places, that this would not be the case.
Herman:Well, it is obvious to me that if he and or I were at Harvard or Berkeley or Bell Labs, and a few other places, where there is a very large membership in the Academy, that our colleagues would have the strength to get us in. I feel very unhappy that Ralph is not a member of the Academy. He deserves it, in my opinion. I speak this way as a member of the National Academy of Engineering, so it's only half a sour grape. I think it's scandalous that he isn't a member of the Academy. I’ll even go further and say that I am very unhappy that, with the efforts that quite a number of us have made, we haven't been able to get him elected to The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, for example.
Harwit:Which is easier to get into?
Herman:Which is easier to get into, yes? I’m very upset by this. And the way I would put it is the following: Ralph and I also, were involved in something that is touted as one of the most important contributions, at least in astrophysics, in this century. This statement gets made, and then for sociological reasons of one sort or another, the scientific community, or at least that part of it, that is in the National Academy of Sciences, doesn't see fit to do what, I think, would be the right thing in the case of people who had been involved and instrumental in breakthroughs or significant contributions.
Harwit:How could they change their procedures? I mean, you must have given this quite a bit of thought. What should the Academy do? It is self-perpetuating, as you point out, and this has been said by many people. Consider the frequency with which people who are given Nobel prizes are only subsequently inducted into the Academy; the large numbers of people who come from major institutions on the two oceanic coasts, and so on. That's all been pointed out before. Do you have any constructive suggestions on what might be done there?
Herman:Well, something perhaps. I would hope that there could be instituted a system whereby, if it were brought to the attention of the Academy, that there is some body of work that is known to be or touted to be of great significance in the development of physics, for example -- science, some aspect of science -- and that one or two people who were instrumental in this, that those people would be brought into the Academy by virtue of the community's admitting that the work is of great significance, independent of their names and their faces and whether there are people who like them or don't like them, and are prejudiced or not prejudiced. So this raises the question whether there should be two paths: One path would be by this voting business which has all the power politics in it, and the other, perhaps, being inducted into the Academy through a different kind of a body that has a different kind of a consideration. In other words, a committee that would be constituted to see to it that these kinds of horror cases do not get perpetuated forever -- that there is a channel through which it could be rectified.
Alpher:Let me give you another horror case, very briefly, because it's a ... at my Laboratory at General Electric, there were three individuals, named Robert Fleischer, Buford Price and Robert Walker, who a good many years ago made a discovery about being able to develop and visualize tracks of ionizing particles in dielectric solids -- you know the work.
Alpher:They ultimately wrote a definitive treatise on the subject and their work is widely quoted, etc., etc.
Herman:And as we know, it was all stemming from the basic work that Fleischer had done to begin with.
Alpher:Fleischer was certainly an equal if not the senior member of the three, as I understand it.
Herman:He had originated the work.
Alpher:Now Price and Walker left, at some point, and Walker went to Washington University, St. Louis, and Price to the University of California at Berkeley. Those two gentlemen were in the National Academy within two years, and Fleischer is still not; he's still at the laboratory. Now, it's difficult not to make an inference on this, about how important it is to be in the right place, to get into the Academy.
Harwit:And Walker also is in the Academy?
Alpher:Yes he is.
Herman:And I want to re-emphasize the point that if the work is outstanding, then independent of the man's face, independent of his name, independent of where he is working, independent of how long ago the work was done, independent of whether now he is doing science or not -- maybe he's driving a taxi-cab, maybe he has Alzheimer's disease. Independent of all of that, the right thing should be done. I know enough about the machinery to know that every kind of trick is used to get people in and also to keep them out. I mean, there are cases that I'm aware of where somebody did some outstanding work and a body of work, years before, and then when his name is brought up, the person who happens to be a chairman of the given section of the Academy will ask the sponsors -- or insist -- what has he done lately? Give us some of the titles of papers that he's done in the last few years; and these ploys and games go on and on. I think they're inappropriate, and I will say as a member of the Academy -- and I have been involved with a lot of National Research Council efforts -- I am very disappointed; I do not like what I see. I’m unhappy about it; I don't think resigning, the way Dick Feynman did, is the answer to these matters.
Harwit:He resigned from the... ?
Herman:As far as I remember, Dick finally resigned...
Alpher:He either resigned, or just not accepted.
Herman:No, no, he was in the Academy for years and years. Richard resigned from the Academy.
Harwit:He just got sick of it?
Herman:Yes, he got sick of it, and he resigned. I do not know what one can do about these things because the power structures are very strong. It would not be so bad, in my opinion, but there are many people in both the National Academy of Sciences and more in the National Academy of Engineering who do not belong there. This is a very bitter pill to take, because people are inducted into the Academy, who just has never done anything worthy of being in the Academy. There are...
Harwit:For what reasons are they inducted?
Herman:They’re inducted because they happen to be the head of something. Somebody who is the head of... well, I’ll mention a name.
Alpher:Well, Art Bueche was a...
Herman:Art Bueche was the vice president in charge of...
Alpher:... research at our laboratory. He’s now deceased, but he was a member of both academies.
Herman:He was a member of both academies. Ed Creutz became a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Harwit:Who is he?
Herman:He was the deputy director of the National Science Foundation. I knew him when I was a graduate student. I mean, he’s a fine man, and he did some science, but he never distinguished himself in science, per se.
Harwit:And why was he inducted, do you think?
Herman:I think it’s because he has friends who were in the Academy, and because he was a deputy director of NSF.
Alpher:Wasn’t he also director of research, or something, at Gulf Atomic...
Herman:That may be.
Alpher:... General Dynamics.
Herman:Yes, yes, that is correct. And there are other people in the National Academy of Sciences. This problem, I think, is worse in the National Academy of Engineering. There are people there who, I think, don’t deserve to be in it at all. There is a large fraction of the NAE, made up of people from industry, and they are not all fine engineers and scientists. Many of them just have high positions.
Harwit:I think when the National Academy of Engineering first started up a few years, there was an article in Nature where the comment was that it sounded like a register of organizations...
Alpher:... Fortune 500 executives.
Herman:You are absolutely correct.
Harwit:So this is sort of the same comment you...
Herman:Yes, well, there was a great deal of resentment. The people in the NAS didn't want to be thought of in the same breath, so to speak, as the NAE. And the NAE, of course, is trying to make things more and more parallel. There are a lot of people who are worthy who never get in. That, I think, is worse than people getting in who don't deserve it. But when people don't deserve it, and get in, it creates a lot bitterness, divisiveness, and so on.
Harwit:Let me ask you. The Academy was created by Congress to advise the Government. We normally think of it as an honorific institution. Do you see a conflict there? Should those two functions be divided somehow? What do you think?
Herman:You're quite right. The Academy was generated for that reason, and the National Research Council became the arm, in a sense, of the Academy, that does these studies. I'm not very happy with that, as a matter of fact, for the simple reason that a lot of work is done for Government agencies that ends up as though its job shop work. I don't think it's at the proper level for the kind of people who are addressing it. And I'd like to mention, that a lot of the small consulting companies have always been up in arms about this kind of work going on in the Academy where it was all done free of charge, as unfair competition to them, because they feel these are the kinds of things they should do. Now, I don't see anything wrong with the Academy being honorific and doing things that are of importance to our society and our culture. I don't like the way it is being done. For example, in the National Academy of Engineering there is a Transportation Research Board. There is a TRB, and I don't want to depreciate it or minimize it. They do a lot of good things that have to do with transportation and maintaining roads and bridges. The Transportation Research Board people would have you believe that they take care of all the needs of research in traffic and transportation for the United States. This is not true. They do not do a good job in the sponsoring of basic research -- to use that terminology. I tried to improve this. To make the long story short, when the NRC was reorganized a couple of years ago, the Transportation Research Board came under the aegis of the Commission on Sociotechnical Systems which the TRB didn't like. They now stand alone, and report to the top management, that is the Director and the Board of Governors. And what is it all about? In my opinion, what it's about is they have the largest budget of any entity within the NRC, and the overhead that the Academy gets is -- oh, it's a million and a half dollars, or something like that, and that's an important and large amount of money to keep the shop running. And that type of thing goes on and on and on. I don't mind telling you that I get so disgusted with all these things, I want to crawl into the woodwork, and then when I get the voting lists, year by year, and read the credentials of people -- some of whom I know, some of whom I don't know -- I don't like what I see in general. And to go back to the beginning, I think there's got to be some recognition of the work, and if the group of people in the Academy don't happen to like some person's face, or that that person hasn't done any work lately, or that person happens to work for the gold and si1ver factory around the corner, I don't think those things should be allowed to stick. There's got to be another route to recognize the work, and therefore the person or persons involved independent of this narrow-minded power structure. I don't care if a person has a hunchback, or he's outspoken, and therefore some of the people don't like him, and he's a troublemaker that has nothing to do with it. It's recognition of the outstanding work this person has done. It could be one outstanding piece of work; it could be a body of work; I don’t think there should be any restrictions on any of that. That is what I would encourage -- ways around the prejudices sticking.
Harwit:Well, live asked all the questions that I was going to ask, but I’m sure live missed things that are important to one or the other, or both of you. This is probably the time to ask you to say what you would like to add.
Alpher:Well, there are a couple of things live been mulling over here about adding. I’ve had a curious interaction with the General Electric Company since coming in 1955, because basically much of my work done in this area – cosmology -- was done prior to my joining General Electric. Now, over the years, live had a lot of demands on my time to come give talks, less frequently more recently, but in the beginning many times each year, to give invited papers or invited talks, hither and yon. I guess the people I worked for at the time, at least in the first ten years, were reasonably gracious about saying, you go but you go as a G.E. employee. That has become more difficult. Two of my medals are on exhibit in the cases in the lobby at the Research Laboratory. But basically, for the four awards received, there was a notice that appeared in the employee newspaper, and that's about the extent of the recognition internally at G.E. for the work I've done. And I think Bob has probably had the same or worse experience. It's difficult to know what GE should do in the way of dealing with employees or scientists working for them who are being recognized for work done prior to their joining the laboratory or for work done in their spare time. I don’t know how you handle that; it's just that it has caused me some grief. For example, when I was elected to the Council of the American Physical Society, it was kind of an odd situation because I was elected not because I represented General Electric, although that's what I did, but because I had name recognition which had nothing to do with my working with G.E., I'm sure.
Herman:May I make a comment, please?
Herman:You say, what should be done? I think the answer is relatively simple. By the same token that an employee who joins an organization basically accepts in general the character and the structure and the rules of this organization, the organization has to recognize that they are not hiring some kind of a computer that they plug into and suck out a piece of the memory -- that they are bringing into their fold a human being with many, many dimensions. And on the rare occasions -- and I raise my voice now -- on the rare occasions, that an individual joins them who has certain distinctions, by virtue of outstanding work, they must treat that with kid gloves as an exception and do all the things that allow that person to go forward as a respectable human being with his own dignity and integrity, and if they cannot do that, then I’d say, they are just not worthy.
Alpher:What is relevant here -- the reason I bring this up at all -- has to do with your discussion of membership in the Academies, because it's certainly true that at places like Bell Labs, and even at our place, because of the way the game is played, that it's important to have references -- politicizing if you will -- by the power structure in your organization, to help an individual become a member of these academies. Bell Labs, for example, I think it's well known, makes a real effort every year to get some of their people into the academies. And this is not to say that the people who are elected from there are not appropriate, but merely that they have had some backing, some help from their organizations. But in my case here, and I suspect in Bob's case at General Motors, although I can't speak for there, I’m sure there's been no effort, whatsoever.
Harwit:Are there members at G.E.?
Alpher:we have a few members of the National Academy of Engineering. We have two members of the National Academy of Sciences, one is Ivar Giaever, a Nobel laureate, who is, by the way, a member of the engineering section; did some work for his Ph.D. thesis at RPI while he was working at the laboratory on quantum mechanical tunneling between superconductors. He shared this with Josephson and Esaki. And the other is Charles Bean, who is... you'd better tell me what he's notable for; I don’t know.
Alpher:He's done some things in biophysics. He did some things years ago in superconductivity.
Herman:I can't properly answer...
Alpher:But I can't properly tell you that for which he is famous, or that which enabled him to get into the National Academy, except that he was basically a mentor of Giaever’s.
Alpher:I have a suspicion, but I really don’t know.
Herman:At General Motors nobody is in the National Academy of Sciences. But slowly over the years, there must be four or five people now, some of whom, again I would say, just if the NAE were even at the level of the NAS, then some of those people surely would not be in, because they have not really distinguished themselves in engineering and engineering science.
Alpher:Now, we have a third guy who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, I just remembered and that is Robert Hall, who is most well-known for the invention of the junction diode. We have several members of the National Academy of Engineering: Bob Wentorf, because, I suspect, of his leading role in man-made diamonds, Lou Coffin, who has made quite a reputation, and Joe Burke, well-known in ceramics.
Herman:Isn’t Coffin in both academies?
Alpher:I’m not sure. He's certainly in the Academy of Engineering, and he's a world-renowned expert on fatigue and cracks in solids.
Harwit:But you say at G.E., there is no concerted effort, as far as you know, to try to promote...
Alpher:No, no. They do try to promote some people for work done while at G.E.
Harwit:Okay, I see what you are saying.
Alpher:What I am saying is as far as I know there was no effort made in my behalf for either academy. Until today, I hadn't even thought about it in these terms, because the work had no relevance to General Electric. Now, he's putting a bug in my ear, but nothing will be done about it.
Herman:Well, I am very very adamant about it.
Alpher:You have a point.
Herman:Well, I'm adamant about that. I don't think any organization is finished with a responsibility to the members of that organization when they give them a pay check. It goes way beyond that. And by the way, I think as members of the scientific community, we owe one another a great deal more than I think appears on the surface.
Alpher:You know, I don't know whether the people at Cornell would have supported Wilson's nomination as strongly if he had done the work at, say, MIT, and then had joined Cornell subsequently. One wonders. I don't know how these things are viewed. And I don't know...
Harwit:It must depend on the individuals…
Herman:Very personal kinds of things.
Harwit:Other topics of the same type we haven't talked about.
Alpher:Well, there is a whole seething caldron of unhappiness over the years, 1965 to date, with so many, many instances of things we have alluded to individually -- the "Whisper from Space," the paper of Gott, Gunn, Schramm and Tinsley, and there were so many other examples. I have a file full of cases where we have written letters over the years, and it took us a long time to get to the point where we would even raise the issue with anybody. I still don't remember what triggered it. Why we ever wrote the first letter? Except maybe it was Gamow who pushed us. It's interesting to recall Gamow's anger with himself for voting "yes" on election of Dicke to the National Academy of Sciences, when he thought he was voting for Dieke (Johns Hopkins spectroscopist). I don't know, because of the '67 paper we did in the Proceedings of the National Academy.
Herman:Let me give you an example. A very good friend of mine, Ilya Prigogine, back right after the discovery in '65 -- it might have been within a year or two -- he was consulting at General Motors; he was part time at the University of Chicago. I would visit him periodically and shortly thereafter, he went down to Texas. Well, I remember one time, in Chicago, talking to him about the discovery and my and Ralph's displeasure at what was going on, and he apparently had had discussions with Chandrasekhar about some of these things, as it turned out in the conversation. He turned to me and said, “Oh, but Dicke has done a lot of work.” He was basically saying, “Now what are you guys talking about?” Well, as the years went by, I think he learned the facts a hell of a lot better, and was very supportive, and an extremely good friend in these matters. It’s is only because he’s such a good friend of mine and was so supportive in these matters later, that I mention this little incident -- that even he did that. When Wilson gave this public lecture at the University of Texas, there was an article in the Texan, which is the newspaper of the university, which talked about Wilson and Dicke -- the usual things that came from an interview with Wilson. Prigogine kindly wrote a letter to the newspaper that was subsequently published, attempting to straighten out some of those details at least in the university newspaper. So, this is an amazing “can of worms,” to put it in that kind of terminology. While this sort of thing can never be undone, rectified, justice be done, I would feel so much better personally if the community saw fit to invite the two of us into the Academy. I think that would be appropriate, and it would particularly please me to see this distinction given to Ralph. I have mentioned maybe that some of the sting, in my case, has been less because of some other lives that I lead. I’ve talked to Ralph about this, and live tried to be as supportive and helpful as I can. The question is how does one overcome the power structure? And that is very difficult to know. If I were a member of the NAS, I would start doing my damndest to rectify this for Ralph.
Alpher:Hey, maybe we ought to get close to finishing this off. But I think it might be worth mentioning that we had another go-around with Fred Hoyle quite recently.
Herman:Oh yes, I’m glad you mentioned that.
Harwit:What does this...?
Alpher:There is a magazine of a New York Academy of Sciences called The Sciences, and they recently published excerpts from a forthcoming book by Hoyle which is based on lectures that he gave in England. In this article which is...
Herman:... called “The World According to Hoyle.”
Alpher:... “The World According to Hoyle,” right. There is some discussion about the microwave background and the early prediction, and he made some remarks to the effect that it was really a terrible prediction because it was off by, at best, a factor of 10 and, at worst, a factor of 1000, which is not acceptable.
Alpher:100,000 or whatever. Now, what he had done is to say, well, let’s take the 5° figure, and you take 5 over 3 and you raise it to the 4th power, because that after all is the energy density, and the 5 over 3 to the 4th power is at least a factor of 10. Then he took some number that appeared in a paper of Gamow’s...
Herman:... Gamow’s, which was some stupid straight line. Oh, it's unbelievable.
Alpher:... 150 or whatever the hell it was. It was really a terrible... You take that ratio and raise it to 4th power and you are off by a factor of 1000, 10,000, 100,000, whatever.
Herman:By the way...
Alpher:And so he says, what the hell kind of a theory is that can't come any closer than that? Then he goes on to say that this theory never made any predictions that could be observed -- that could be checked by observation whereas, on the other hand, the steady-state theory makes predictions that could be verified by observation. Well, so, we couldn't let that go by, and we had to write a letter to The Sciences.
Herman:Which was published?
Alpher:In that same article he also talked about the origin of life, and he has these ideas...
Harwit:More recently he has written some...
Alpher:So I think some may have...
Harwit:I don't know why. I've worked with him, you may know. We did some papers together; I post-doc’d with him, and have always been very fond of him. But he wrote a paper with Wickramasinghe (I don't know whether it was ever published) about some work on dust that had been done by people, which was quite abusive. I don't know why...
Herman:Well, these guys, among other things, calculated the shape distributions of iron grains in the solar system that would convert sunlight into something like the background radiation. I mean, these are the most contrived, convoluted attempts I've ever seen -- amazing things.
Alpher:Anyway, what's happened to him?
Herman:Alzheimer's disease. Oh look, who knows. It's sad.
Harwit:I don't know. I haven't seen him in a number of years. He used to be a visiting professor at Cornell for a number of years. It was very nice; he’d come for a month a year.
Herman:By the way, he's a brilliant guy. He's a man with vigor and...
Harwit:Very good friend. Always -- despite the age difference -- we've always been good friends.
Alpher:Now, he had some problem; he resigned from the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy.
Harwit:Yes, well, that was a long story. But I mean, when I wrote this book Cosmic Discovery, he very kindly wrote something for the jacket and praised it. So we've always been on very good terms, but he has recently written some things that were ill-considered, I would say.
Herman:Yes, it’s hard to understand.
Alpher:I think that that particular thing that was reprinted in The Sciences was ill considered.
Herman:And his book, if it’s more of the same, will be a disaster.
Alpher:At the same time that they published our letter in response, they published one on his biological speculations. And that’s even harder hitting by far than our letter is.
Herman:Ah, that’s an interesting thing to mention. The letter that we sent to the New York Academy in response to Hoyle’s article had a final paragraph or so which rather hit hard at Hoyle, and the people at the New York Academy (Heinz Pagel) prevailed on us to take it out. Now, the reason... and we took it out, by the way. Now, whether or not it would have been better or worse for the world to have taken it out or not taken it out is not the issue.
Alpher:Well, we say we hit hard. What we said was that Hoyle was a guy who had done a hell of a lot of good work over the years, and we simply couldn’t understand what he was doing now and for the last few years -- some of the things that seem to be going on.
Herman:It was said in a sharp kind of a way, as I recall.
Herman:What I want to say, however, is that if you’re sensitive and amenable to reason, you back off. And I think if I had to do it all over again, I’d back off in general, maybe not quite as much, but a lot of people don’t back off. They just keep swinging the baseball bat, right? Even Oskar Klein who I thought was a very congenial and friendly man to us back to around ‘50, when he spent a year at Princeton at the Institute for Advanced Study, acted in a very irritated and negative way when we questioned the manner in which he described certain things. So it’s very difficult to understand all of this. I do not understand it.
Alpher:Hoyle is understandably bitter, I guess, because I take it he now has trouble getting his work published. He’s now writing stuff for his books instead of journal articles.
Harwit:I don’t know. Let me still ask you whether I could also get to append to these interviews to your bibliography and vita sometime, whether you could send those to me.
Harwit:And if there is anything else that you would want to append, you said that there might be some correspondence or documents that you would like to. That is done on some of the files that people have in these archives. Anything that you would consider that you’d like to have added on, you could send Xerox copies.
Alpher:Oh boy, that’s a tough one.
Herman:Let me make a comment on that, if I may. If we were to do that, we would certainly not release any of it for some time. You and I still want to write something about this whole situation in our own way, from our own point of few. Isn’t that right?
Alpher:Yes, like to.
Herman:And hopefully we will be able to do that. So, if we decide not to append anything...
Herman:... this is the reason. This is the reason.
Harwit:You could always decide later on...
Harwit:... to add it on.
Herman:Or if we were to append something, we would say "not to be released."
Harwit:Whichever way you would want.
Herman:I just wanted you to know what the reason is.
Alpher:Look, I have a file drawer of correspondence on these things. I’ve dug up some of these papers, some of the correspondence, but what the hell am I going to do with it later, if at some point, if, rather than burn it, if somebody wants to stick it into a file in New York, I’d be very happy to pass it on.
Harwit:Well, I think that’s something that you would probably want to take up then with Spencer Weart and ask him whether he would want to add it to...
Herman:... you mean, eventually.
Harwit:But for the moment it would be nice if I could get your vita and bib1iography.
Alpher:That’s for sure.
Herman:No question about that.
Harwit:Any further comments?
Alpher:No, I think...
Herman:I’m sort of...
Alpher:I’m washed out.
Herman:... blown out. I’m sure that as the days go by, I’ll think of things, and I want to ask you a question, then. If things suggest themselves, would you possibly welcome some notes or...
Harwit:Yes, you could...
Herman:Typewritten three pages...?
Herman:... or whatever.
Harwit:You could just put in an addendum, then, at some point, and add it on to the file as written material, just as the bibliography and vita.
Herman:The other question I’d like to ask is do you have any idea what the time scale might be before some transcribing is done.
Harwit:I’m not quite sure. It depends on when it gets typed up, as I said ... well, let me discuss this off tape, perhaps.
Herman:Yes, and I have a question off tape also.
Alpher:Can I make one or more remarks to you on tape. There are a lot of semi-humorous, sort of personal incidents that, for example, that we haven't talked about -- that I haven’t talked about. I’ll give you one example. Then you tell me how much of this should one add to the situation. We’ve got an awful lot now on tape.
Harwit:Some of the things you had in this epilogue in the Cosmological, Fusion and...
Alpher:I don’t remember what this particular thing was in there, except it’s a recollection that tickles me from time to time. At George Washington University, when you were ready to finish up your thesis, you submitted the thesis, and then there was some kind of a posting of when you were going to have your public examination on the thesis. There was in the Washington area a service called "Science Service," which later became "Science News," with an editor named Watson Davis. He picked the posting up, came over and read the abstract of my thesis and proceeded to write a short column which was syndicated, about my thesis work. It appeared probably in several hundred newspapers around the country. And, in particular, it appeared in the local papers, so: when I came up for my Ph.D. examination, there were about three hundred people in the audience, who had come as a result of the publicity. What I find most amusing is that Herblock, who is a very famous cartoonist for the Washington Post, felt compelled to draw a cartoon about my thesis subject.
Harwit:I didn’t know that.
Alpher:live never been able to get the original from him. In fact, he did, at one point, give permission to reprint the cartoon.
Alpher:Yes. It was reprinted. In fact, it was reprinted in the APL Johns Hopkins News.
Herman:Yes, yes, that’s true.
Harwit:You mentioned this story in Cosmology, Fusion and other Matters ...
Alpher:I did mention it in...?
Harwit:Not the Herblock part.
Alpher:Okay, well, we did try to get permission to publish that cartoon.
Herman:For that, he wouldn’t give it.
Alpher:He wouldn’t give it.
Harwit:Oh, I see. Well, I specifically mentioned the book earlier on tape because I knew we wouldn’t be able to cover all of those, and lid love people to have a chance to go back and read those, because probably it would be more complete than anything we would could cover here.
Alpher:Very good. Okay.
Harwit:Thank you very much, both for being so open.
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES added by Ralph Alpher in December 1983
- Jim Peebles knew of our work, unless he was incredibly obtuse. Did he tell Dicke?
- Peebles got from us two reviews of his paper on the background radiation well in advance of the Dicke-Peebles-Roll-Wilkinson 1965 publication. They did refer to the Alpher-Follin-Herman paper. Did any of them read it or other of our papers?
- Penzias (by telephone on 10/23/79) at least implied that we had reason to be annoyed with the Princeton group. This remark is quite explicit in my notes of this phone conversation.
- George Field (in his article in the The Joys of Research, edited by Walter Shropshire, Jr., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1981) states that in 1965, prior to the Penzias-Wilson announcement, he attended a colloquium by Peebles on the background radiation, “I recall thinking that Alpher and Herman had predicted the same effect." Field implies, and it would be difficult to think otherwise, that he pointed out our earlier work to Peebles at that time. Why did Peebles ignore us?
- Gamow gave a colloquium at Princeton before 1965; in some correspondence Dicke says that he was present but that he recalls only that Gamow spoke of a cold poly-neutron early universe -- the Mayer-Teller model. Incredible! Maybe Penzias has the correct view that Gamow was difficult to understand and not taken seriously, and so I infer, one must excuse Dicke. I think rather that this is an example of what I have heard people say of Dicke, namely, that he is a "not-invented here" type, that he was pursuing an idea of an oscillatory universe, and that the contributors of Alpher, Herman and Gamow were not germane. Dicke's excuse to us (in correspondence) that some of his work in other areas had been overlooked, and why, therefore, were we upset, just does not wash.
- In view of these matters, is it any wonder we were piqued at Peebles being honored by the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Institute of Physics, and the Royal Astronomical Society for his work on the background radiation? We would support his recognition on the large-scale structure of the universe -- why are the other citations being made?
- Why on several occasions and well after there could have been no question of Peebles knowing of our work did Peebles give colloquia in which he made absolutely no reference to our existence? (Iowa, via Jim Van Allen; Stanford, via Dick Wallis - - are two we know about definitely.)
- Some psychologist could have a field day with the fact that on two occasions R. A. Alpher ran into Peebles at meetings -- he professed no name recognition. Curious.
- RE: PENZIAS
- After all the time and effort R. Alpher spent in bringing Penzias up to speed on contemporary cosmology prior to his giving his Nobel address, my giving a colloquium at Rutgers -- very close to his home and work, being at his home, etc., there was never any invitation to visit Bell, to see the radio telescope, to meet Wilson, nothing, no friendly overtures at all. Penzias did call my wife when he somehow heard that I had had a heart attack shortly before he left for Sweden. Moreover, his Nobel paper does not really reflect the true course of events as Herman and I’ve lived through it. He has the right, of course, to write what he perceives as correct.
- I must say that Penzias was encouraging to R. A. Alpher about writing up our view of the course of events, particularly as he regarded us as part of the “folklore of physics.” In some way he seemed to imply that being so dubbed should be sufficient recognition of our contribution.
- RE: THE ASTRONOMICAL COMMUNITY
- A general comment -- why is there seeming resentment about our contributions and their recognition? Jesse Greenstein commented to Bob Hofstadter that we did not need more recognition (curiously, this occurred at a time when we had none).
- RE: JOHN WHEELER
- In January 1983, R. A. Alpher gave a luncheon address in New York to a group of science writers and officials of the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Physics. This was after I had arranged and given an introductory talk to a session on cosmology held for the National Association of Science Writers in connection with the New York meeting of APS. In my luncheon talk I gave a rather historical view of the development of the Big Bang, and went into some detail on how we had been treated on the problem of attribution of our work by the Princeton group. I did not say that Peebles surely knew of our work and priority. Afterward John Wheeler came up and remarked that all things considered, I had dealt with the Princeton affair very kindly. Wheeler was at Princeton during all of this period. Makes one wonder?
- RE: JOSEPH WEBER
- Weber reported to R. A. Alpher that prior (well prior) to the Penzias Wilson announcement in 1965, he had discussed with Gamow a research project for himself. According to Weber, Gamow suggested that Weber look for the background radiation at microwave frequencies (Weber's then current area of interest). Weber did not follow up. Weber and R. A. Alpher did cross paths at George Washington and in the Washington, D.C., area on many occasions, and he certainly knew Gamow. I must record that neither Herman nor Alpher have any recollection of Gamow having mentioned this particular event.
- RE: PRIGOGINE
- Herman had conversations with Prigogine after announcement of the Penzias-Wilson observation. Ilya deprecated our work, saying Dicke did it all (prior to this time Ilya had frequent contact with Chandrasekhar at Chicago).
- Later he changed his tune. Marina Prigogine (Mrs. Ilya P.) told Helen Herman that Ilya had told his son, Pascal that Alpher and Herman should have been awarded the Nobel Prize.
- When Prigogine knew of the nomination of Penzias and Wilson for the Nobel Prize, he, along with Larry Hafstad, wrote to the Nobel committee about Alpher and Herman (all of this reported to Herman). The committee response was reported as being that they never give the prize to more than three people. Says Ilya, the committee never goes back in a later year and gives another prize in the same area, so Alpher and Herman have had it.
Session I | Session II