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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Geoffrey Burbidge

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Interview with Dr. Geoffrey Burbridge
By Spencer Weart
June 4, 1975

Listen as Burbidge describes two different views of the universe and how much we understand.

Transcript

Burbidge:

[?] I told you this morning, I’ve got one secretary and she’s kind of , she’ll take manuscripts[?] being drawn in all directions by all the fellows, and so I’ve got a temporary girl in there.

Weart:

[?]Or is this the usual state of affairs?

Burbidge:

Well, it’s [?] It’s partly because I’m president of the Astronomical Society. I’m doing work for the organization of this Oil Conference in Venice. I’m chairman of the committee that is responsible for scheduling part of the [?] antennas for KPL. I’m on the board of AUI, which is [?] Brookhaven and RAS. And somehow, all these things, they all come when I’m really crazy with the Astronomical Society, meetings, as president. I have had to go over all this material for Italy. [?]Trieste, because Trieste is, there’s trouble because the [?] of Trieste is ordered by USCO, the [?] are protesting about UNESCO, [?] I’m going to get up in Venice and make a speech against [?] But, everything kind of descends on you, plus the students and all the things that I neglect around here.

Weart:

Not to mention research.

Burbidge:

Not to mention research. My wife is, she’s on the Aura [?] Board. She represents the university on the board [?] observing [?] comes back [?] all Thursday, up at Lick. And by then, our daughter goes to Berkeley, and the following week, I leave for Europe. Then I go to Brookhaven. After Europe.

Weart:

You must do a tremendous amount of traveling.

Burbidge:

[?] three summer schools and institutes, [?] with the European [?] and then the one in Venice, that I’m running, [?] and then [?] Anyway, and then I’m coming back to the AAS (?) Meeting at the end of August, because I’m president-elect of the American Astronomical Society, so I can’t stay in Europe. [?] So that’s supposed to be progress. Well, it’s exciting, I must admit.

Weart:

I know much more about the history than I do about what’s going on now. I don’t know that much about the history either, but I don’t think that people in the old days had that many obligations.

Burbidge:

Well, the main thing of course that has changed everybody’s life in modern science is the airplane. [?] the airplanes [?] It used to be done in a different way. Certainly the organizations [?] were not served by these boards and committees, in the way one — I know, if we used to get to Europe [?] I think that — I really think that if the airplane went out, if something happened to airplanes, they suddenly became [?] weren’t available [?] in the Southwest, you could go on doing telescope astronomy, [?] but you couldn’t, you couldn’t function...

Weart:

Would there be much less telescope astronomy then?

Burbidge:

Well, not these things that go on. The problem now, you see, is that we all, all the senior people now, [?] have — a little group, I guess, the people, a segment, a minority of the people, in this generation, [?] do things, though, because... So one has a certain responsibility. The people that do that nowadays, [?] keeping the system going until the money ... these are very bad economic years, so, one of the major functions now is to keep it going. I mean, in astronomy, it’s to keep the thing going, which means not only the telescopes, the libraries and the telescopes, but to get money to run the thing, to even develop new things, and that means money, hoping for money — the old places, federal money, state money and federal — Even on national levels, you have committees and boards in Washington and all the rest. In the old days, I mean, Hale, when he wanted to get money for Mount Wilson, Hale went and told Andrew Carnegie he needed money. It was Andrew Carnegie he went to. Nowadays, if we wanted to get something, say, we wanted to move the Lick Observatory... or get some new money for an optical astronomy at University of California, or get enough money to support the Hale Observatory, which is in a terrible financial state — you’ve got to write a proposal. It’s got to be backed by dozens of people. If it’s the university, you’ve got to get it into the hands of various federal agencies, and then to dozens of people, and it goes on for years and politics enter into it. Different groups enter into it. Practically everybody with some voice or some say gets into the act. And then you don’t get it. You fight like the devil. I mean, ever since we came into the university in 1962, within my knowledge, these things — the astronomers at this university have been trying to get some new major facilities. Lick Observatory, which serves the whole University of California astronomy —and therefore has the largest use of telescopic aid optical astronomy I guess in the world — and you have four campuses, involved: San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and Berkeley — We have sore demands on the Lick telescope, and it’s sitting above San Jose, and the lights are ruining the sky. So as a matter of fact, for years, we’ve been trying to get a proposal starting out when we were first around this [?] in jointly with Australians in Australia, [?] the telescope. And this went a very long way. The Australians wanted a partner in the United States. And the University of California was one very good alternative. Back in 1963, ‘64, I remember spending a tremendous amount of time writing a proposal … [?] and in the end, it was turned down at the highest levels of NASA. … They turned it down. Then, the last [?] we had this proposal jointly with the University of Wisconsin, to get some support for building a telescope on a new site that we have , up at St. Mary, … the Bay Area. And all kinds of donations [?] coming, [?] just to get the site developed; — first of all, we haven’t managed to get any money. Secondly, the Stern Club is on our backs. All these things enter in. Just doing what — you know, I’m sure the people 60, 70 years ago felt depression. They probably felt as harassed, as I feel harassed, but for different reasons. I don’t know what their reasons are. But you’re in the middle of this morass, and you’re trying to do science and you’re trying to do all these other things as well. Now, I don’t think that everybody does. It so happens that some of us do. I suppose, among the people that you [?] you’ll find them particularly hard pressed, because they’re close to this, and therefore it becomes — there’s no way out [?] out of it, Just let it rest.

Weart:

This raises one of the questions that I wanted to ask you. Let‘s restrict this to the period of your career, since you got started as an astrophysicist. I don’t know exactly when that was.

Burbidge:

1950.

Weart:

Around 1950. Over that period, what do you think have been the main changes in the way astrophysicists work?

Burbidge:

Well, I mean I was trained as a Physicist. [?] astrophysicists. But I’ve talked with astronomers out of the [?] (It sounds vaguely like: “I married an astronomer” or “why marry an Astronomer) And so I don’t have any typical background or education in this country, as a matter of fact. I couldn’t speak to that. Probably that’s been... But I suppose that the main thing that has come over astrophysics — well, on the scientific level — has been the explosive growth of information that stems largely from opening up the electromagnetic spectrum, wider and wider. As far as observation is concerned, this is not a field; modern astrophysics is not a field where there had been a great interplay between theory and observation. And the major discoveries which have led so many people to be intrigued by astrophysics have put it in the forefront of the physical sciences. And it has been used as the explanation for the first sign of the influence of the – First of all, radio spectrum. And radio astronomy, which I’ve been very much involved with, which started out after the war, as you expressed, by meetings, and really has come a tremulous way. And then more recently, infra-red astronomy and X-ray astronomy. And even more recently, gamma ray astronomy. Now, this has only come because a — well, it’s come because-radio astronomy came, following the war, because that’s obviously where the talent came from. If there had not been a war, it’s not clear how people would have started to explore in this area, but, talking about the earlier …It was a — a group of people was generated who had the urge to do things, and the ability to do things, and in fact, after the war, then there was some possibility of getting the necessary funds, which were small then. So in the early fifties, things were beginning to grow, particularly in Australia, where there was a major development. Then, in the ether areas, chiefly X-ray astronomy, only ultimately got involved because, well, I guess, ultimately you trace it all to Sputnik, and space, ant the political pressures, between the United States and the Soviet Union, which led to this tendency to develop technology. We were all— not all of us, very many of the astronomers, who were trying to do astronomy in those early days, were very much opposed to NASA and [?]

Weart:

Could you name me the names of some of the people that you think were involved in these developments toward radio and space?

Burbidge:

Well, the radio — the basic pioneers in radio astronomy were of course, in England, Ryle and Lovell, supported by Radcliffe, whom I respect, since then [?], the famous physicist, you’re undoubtedly familiar — the vacuum tube — conic ray physicist, a man out of Rutherford, [?] the Cavendish,... chiefly Eminent during the war, in operations and research. (Or: Chief of [?] during the war for Operations and Research) But, I mean, the other radio astronomers, the people who actually did the work, made the developments, besides Rile and Lovell in England were Henry Brown, who is—we’re talking now about people in the middle fifties — who are now —

Weart:

In the 1950’s?

Burbidge:

Yes. These are people who (inaudible) Henry Brown and Graham Smith ... (inaudible)... These are the leading English people and Hughish [?] who is somewhat younger. These were the leading British radio astronomers. Then there was this group who were in Australia — Mills, Bernie Mills, who is among the group in Sidney. John Bolton, who was an English man, a Yorkshire man went there after the war. And …in Australia... Johns, who was one of the great pioneers, along with Arnold. Joe Causi, who was Australian. He is one of the few of that generation who is dead. He died tragically a few years ago of cancer, at a fairly early age. These were all physicists or [?] Now, there was Hay, J.S. (?) Hay, who’s written historically about the developments, was in the radar establishment in [?] England, which was very much – fascinating work done during the war. It was the [?] in the world. Then, the astronomers didn’t really enter into this picture seriously at all, people whose background was in astronomy, until considerably later. People like Bach, who was at Harvard at the time, who really came to radio astronomy in this country, on the astronomical side. Usually, [?] Mayer and Ben Haddock, and you also would attempt to involve them in the middle fifties or the late fifties – The Naval Research Lab made studies. But not – in the United States, they were very backward in this field until, really until the late fifties and the creation of the National Radio Astronomical Observatory.

Weart:

Who were the most important people? What about [?] say?

Burbidge:

Well, the United States has now bred a new generation of radio astronomers. They’re somewhat younger. A lot of them — Heeschen, who is director of NRAO, and Roberts, who’s in NRAO, Ken Kellermann, younger, who is a Cal Tech graduate. There’s also at NRAO, Lilley, who’s at Harvard. See, Bolton came to the United States and was in the United States for about ten years. He came and started the Cal Tech Radio Astronomy Project. And Trangalo, he worked on the Radio Astronomy Project. Stanley, who’s another Australian gentleman, who was [?] recently, who incidentally was very much the [?] was [?] Bolton [?] Cal Tech [?] evaluated … [?] that’s Bolton, though. Then, there’s a group out of Cornell, who were responsible for developing this very large — this [?] group Arisaba? That really came out of radar. [?] familiar with that. Radar studies in the United States. It was a military project, built by the Department of Defense. Originally their aim was to build a very sensitive antenna, which would detect the Russians — lighting their cigarettes on the moon. The Navy lost interest in that. They had better techniques. And so it never got funded. But Tommy Gold was one of the key people there. Gold was English. He’s English, was English, but he came to the United States in the early [?] Frank Gray, who was the first American (inaudible again...) And there were many many others.

Weart:

What about X-ray?

Burbidge:

Well, X-ray astronomy grew up in a different way. X- ray astronomy grew up since the middle sixties, pretty much. And it grew up around another small group of people, cosmic ray physicists, whose techniques are similar, where you detect charged particles, or hard [?] They were doing many of the same kinds of things. I mean, they were more on [?] One of the great pioneers was Bruno Rossi, who’s now retired, at MIT. (Inaudible...) Rossi and Friedman, at the Naval Research Lab is one of the other key people, and these are — Rossi must be in his seventies, Herb Friedman must be in his sixties, and they are two of the great pioneers. Now, I was at — what he did at MIT was very interesting. What he did was actually— at MIT, they all enjoy private enterprise, running their own companies on the side — and Rossi was, I believe, originally involved with the foundation of this company which was called American Science and Engineering, which makes all the — which got very heavily into X-ray astronomy. And he also, in order to — it makes all the detection devices for most of the airports. But American Science and Engineering, Bruno got a collection of people there, maybe mostly all Italian background — in fact, I always thought he was Italian. ... [?] of which the key figure was Ricardo Jacoby. Recently, the large group doing X-ray astronomy has moved from American Science and Engineering, to the Harvard School of [?] astronomy. .. (Inaudible...) [?] school which was the [?] I guess, since he has memories of the previous science school, he might have been…Anyway, the whole group under Jacoby and Gerski (?) … they all moved to Harvard. Now the Harvard group is in the ascension in this field. Then Friedman, at the Naval Research Lab, has also moved with Foyer, who‘s a man at Berkeley. We have a group here — in fact, Larry Peterson (?) who’s got the whole floor above us, and Peterson was part of a group I guess at Minnesota, and Van Noyes, that group of experimental physicists, cosmic ray physicists, influenced by and actually trained in.... Peterson. The group at Cal Tech. John [?] came from at MIT. There are still a lot of people at MIT involved in this . . . . In this area... [?] I mentioned..., let’s see... I mentioned at MIT, I mentioned Norell (?) — there’s a department at Chicago — ... (inaudible...) There may be half a dozen very good groups in X-ray astronomy. It‘s a comparatively small fie1d. It depends almost totally, first of all, on balloons and on rockets, which very long [?] And of course, ultimately on satellites. They have at least managed to get the last satellite, for use [?] all [?] Mentioned one of the branches of astronomy that does depend on space — [?] depending on NASA’s Apollo. There now are some quite good groups in England. There’s a group in London under Boyie. There’s a group in Leicester under Pound. And there’s a group — there are some groups in Italy. Under Ochiolini in Milano. Let’s see... It’s a comparatively restricted field, in the sense that you don‘t have a lot of people... George Clark? Schlock, is, one of the most recent satellites that was launched — the satellite that was launched at let‘s see — the Italian group, launching a satellite with MIT equipment — and strangely enough, George Clark? Schlock, who was at Princeton, testing equipment — I met George. Anyway, these things have been creations also, in a comparatively small way it’s not a huge [?] one that easily grows, became basically, the problems, funding — the problem is finding the money. X-ray astronomy is one branch of astronomy that could be wiped out tomorrow, if politics lead NASA to do something quite different from what they’re interested in doing now. I mean, they’re a big government agency. They’re going to stay in business, no matter how they stay in business. They make a great noise about science, and they obviously [?] but when the chips are down, they’d stay on as an agency even if they had to work with the airplane [?] (Inaudible...)

Weart:

We’ve talked exceedingly briefly about radio [?]. What about [?]

Burbidge:

Well, optical astronomy is developing too, obviously... In the American scene, it’s dominated, optical astronomy. Well, I think modern optical astronomy — by that I mean, since the 17th (?) century - -what really happened was that most of the major discoveries, all the major discoveries in astronomy, were made with what we now believe was comparatively modest equipment, in the last centuries, since the 17th century? Even photographic techniques are largely ... [?] its visual technique. But they were all made around telescopes, near the centers of intellectual activity, and by in large, are in Northern latitudes where the climate was lousy. And this persisted, since the 19th century, and in the beginning of the 20th century. The major institutes were at Potsdam and Greenwich, [?] and so on. And then, it was in the early years of the century when Americans began to move out into — of course it was Hale, the great pioneer. The real overturn in modern astronomy is due essentially to very few people. The group around the Lick Observatory, in the l880s, the [?] — supported by James Lick, who was one of the San Francisco Industrialists. And George Ellery Hale, who started off in Chicago, and came to [?]and then came out to California and came to Mount Wilson Observatory, and then actually founded Palomar. And then, I think the other major figure probably, though he was much later, was Arthur Struble, who created the [?] And it was moving, putting big reflectors, building big reflectors, and putting them into deployment that really transformed astronomy. So, it was 50 years before the Europeans came anywhere near accepting that this is what you have to do. And now we have (inaudible) physicists are fairly successful at, namely, trying to [?] moon [?] from space again, illustrating with the telescope from European (?) Observatory, which [?] And the Germans, who were in the South of Spain, with the [?] telescope. This is actually what happened. (inaudible) But I think the consummation has come this way, and for a very long time, it was California. Mount Wilson and to a lesser extent Lick, because we’ve had instruments which dominated — dominated optical astronomy. And they became conservative in their way. Everybody followed Hale’s rules, because he set them up. (inaudible) It took this university 40 years to get the astronomers off on Hamilton down on the campus. A terrible [?] But enough in astronomy. I mean, I believe that the major change in astronomy has come in many ways. The advisory committee (inaudible)

Weart:

And that’s continued. You say that the California —

Burbidge:

Yes, but California — the problems of the California observatories is that they have now, for some years, they've had heavy competition from the National Observatory, which was set up originally for the have-nots, because of the traffic — these have and you haven’t. But we still have a situation where a very small number of astronomers — I mean, if you have a good idea, and you want to try and do something, you’ve got a really clever idea about the observing process, if you are not one of fifteen or twenty astronomers, you probably can’t do it. That’s what it comes down to.

Weart:

You mean this is different?

Burbidge:

Oh, it’s very different. Very different. And you’re privileged, if you’re — if you’re at University of California or at Cal Tech. In the sense that you can to great telescopes in some way, and you can be sure to get to them if you’re a senior staff member. So, my wife and I and [?] Schmidt and so on still very much are in a strong position, vis-a-vis an awful lot of — Now, at Kitt Peak, we have, the facilities are there now. In fact, I’ve gone over the schedule, because — in fact, those are the proposals for the last six months. [?] service went beck about three to one. You can get time on them, but the competition is very severe. But the major problem that we in California have now, at Cal Tech, and at the University of California, is that deteriorating — by that I mean, deteriorating pollution, smog and so on, ...(inaudible ) But mostly, in many ways that are just falling down. Mount Wilson too. Cal Tech is trying to run Mount Wilson, Palomar and build themselves and operating place in Chile, and they just don’t have enough money for the two, let alone Chile. They’re in the process of seeking grants. And as I say, we’ve been trying to get some way of moving away from Lick, which is terribly [?] They’re doing something with new [?] which is [?]

Weart:

We’ve been talking about the scientific side, but who would you think are the most important people on the fund-raising side?

Burbidge:

Well, as I said, they have since — since 1957, I think — well, I mean, I think that there were a number of — I’m not terribly well informed about the ear1y days. I never really got — we’ve always been concerned about it, … but people like Greenstein and Bach and Shapley , I suppose, and Spencer, who was very much involved in NASA, and Schwarzschild. Those men, all those were devoted — well by now, Shapley is dead, but all the others Strube is also dead, and would have been in his seventies now, but all these other people are now in their sixties, they were the people who for instance helped create the National Science Foundation, and [?] institutions, people like that. Lipford, who was one of the...

Weart:

Who was on the committee? (Or perhaps: Who else do you think of?).

Burbidge:

Well, you can simply — it’s hard to say — you can look at the — well, Greenstein ... Goldgreen was very much involved — but if you look for younger people, then have to look say at the Greenstein Committee. And there are names could be mentioned there, but I’ve been terribly uninvolved in that. Jesse was the chairman. Merck at MIT, who was a radio astronomer, Dave Heeschen [?] who was director of NRAO ... [?] Marvin Schwarzschild, Abe Lily, (inaudible)If you looked at them before, you’ll see a long roster. Al Cameron. There’s a kind of a — there’s a kind of an establishment now.

Weart:

Do you think these have been very important in professional societies, journals and so forth? Or are there others?

Burbidge:

There are others. For example, Chandrasakhar, who Is always kept out of the national political scene, but he’s an eminent scientist …Chandra was a man who, following Strusa, served the ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL as …did very well… the journal was tremendously successful. I mean, I have great admiration for him. So I’m prejudiced. (Inaudible...) national societies, and how they’ve been run, and who have been the presidents of the national societies. Well, the current’ president of the Astronomical Society is Bob Kroft. (Inaudible) The president before Bob Kroft was Bob Bach, and the president before Bach was Nolan ... Martin Schwarzschild , ... (inaudible )... accidents? Those are, some. There have been a lot of [?] the names they know most, they think they know.... [?] People they’ve heard about, that they know about. Well, there were a lot of people who were exceedingly concerned with their’ own affairs to the exclusion of anything else. Now, you know, for example, [?] was a case in point. I mean, if I were that way, I obviously wouldn’t be involved in this. Alan Bandage was that way. Alan …There was a period when Alan was very prominent and was being put on everything. Then Alan was very bad. He wasn’t turning up. Then Alan just — I mean, I’m not throwing bricks at Alan. He knows this. And Martin Schmidt also ... Martin’s very much involved in his own projects.

Weart:

How about teachers? Do you know anybody who’s formed a school, so to speak, of his students?

Burbidge:

Well, it isn’t only students, when you have schools forming. (Inaudible...) Chandrasakhar of course has had many students … The Princeton group, — …Again, there’s a kind of a — of course, young people, particularly around Slater, …If you look at the major institutions, the major teaching institutions, I guess what they say, simply in their own terms, would be that there are four institutions: Cal Tech, Berkeley, (?) and Princeton, and people around research — faculty members inaudible...

Weart:

That brings up another subject I wanted to ask you about.

Burbidge:

I’m not a part of that system, and I’m not— I’m long past the point where I feel that I — I’m perfectly content to be one of the [?] But I see the young men. They were getting very [?] the other night, among the research fellows and the ... (inaudible...)

Weart:

That brings up another question— about the main institutions that are doing research, whether they’ve gone up or declined?

Burbidge:

Well, Harvard’s always been on the decline, ever since the forties. No, but you see, I think that Harvard — in my own view, my own personal view, and it really isn’t fair because … which was, it has a tremendous tradition, very much in the British tradition. I think that if Shapley …He came from ... and he tried to get teaching ... (inaudible..,) … educated at Princeton...was offered a job at Cal Tech, refused to remember the [?] Nothing but the Harvard system. And [?] brought him, as American and a group of …I mean, Harvard has, among the professional research people, had a [?] reputation. …Always has had a very large staff, a large budget, a very good [?] secretaries and secretaries and so forth. Princeton was always trying to keep itself small and very selective, and they’re very pleased with themselves about this, and [?] drew people and... My own criterion, for somebody who’s really good, is somebody who’s creative. Creative people. ... (Inaudible) I don’t [?] far enough. I’m not in the know. I don’t pay that much attention. I’m a little like a radical. ... (inaudible) (something about Willie Fowler)

Weart:

We haven’t really talked about —

Burbidge:

... a lot of people. ... my associates... But you see, in this country, I believe that the strength of optical astronomy — the strength of astronomy in this country has come from the observatories. There’s still great strength in theory in Europe. Despite the fact that I have a student who ... There’s no question that the English theoretical school has been very powerful and very productive and still is. But there are some very good theoreticians in this country... But there was a time, Brod (?) used to tell these marvelous stories about this. The fact (he said) that there’s only one theoretician in the country anybody paid any attention to, and that was Henry Norris Russell. And there were some very good — Russell used to come out every summer and teach, teach the Mount Wilson astronomers some physics, in a very elementary way. About 1916. Russell was a towering figure. But they were so heavily oriented towards observational astronomy that I know for a fact, Chandra showed me material as editor of the ASTRONOMICAL JOURNALS Paul Merrill, who is a very eminent astronomer at Mount Wilson, very empirical observer (as they all were ) — Mount Wilson refused to appoint theoreticians — In fact, Cal tech isn’t strong in [?] at all. They have some good people, very good people. Professor [?] Anyway, Merrill made a big fuss at onetime, when Chandra himself was going through the United States, from — England — Chicago — from England to [?] Merrill didn’t want his papers published in the ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL. Merrill said that it was the journal of the nation relation it was not [?]. And the only exception, as far as I can tell, that they seriously made was the establishment of was Henry Morris Russell. Russell really was a towering figure at Princeton. And he was there at Princeton for a very long time. He was succeeded ultimately — well, the position was offered to Chandrasakhar. There’s an interesting story attached to that. But Chandra refused it. And after that [?] came. But the story is an amusing one — namely, that Chandra was, of course had been in Chicago for 40 years, but he was at Chicago at the time and Robert Hutchins was president of the university. And Chandra had gotten this offer from Princeton, to succeed Henry Morris Russell. He thought it was a great offer, and he went to discuss it with Robert Hutchins. And Hutchins said, “Well, Chandra, you know, we really don t want you to go. We hate to lose you from our establishment. But I understand that this is a very important thing, and I suppose there’s little we can do. We’d do what we could but actually there’s little we could do.” He said, “But I would just like to — there is a problem in succeeding a great man. “ Chandra said, “Yes.” He said, “For example take Lord Kelvin of whom I’m a great admirer, Chandra was a great admirer of 19th century physicists and Kelvin. “Take Lord Kelvin.” Kelvin was a [?] Chandra said, “Yes. “ He said, “Chandra, Kelvin was there for a very long time, too, wasn’t he? “Yes, he was.” “Who succeeded him, Chandra? “ Then he sand — “Yes, that’s just the problem, “ And Chandra told me this story, and then he said, he wouldn’t go to Princeton at all. Anyway, there have been some very drastic changes. You see, suddenly the membership in the societies has grown, and the people — see, among people of our own generation, and people a little younger, I think astronomers still know most of the prominent people in the world, and get to know them, have got to known them virtually as students … So you can’t talk to somebody 20 years younger and get the response you would get with older people.

Weart:

I’m sure this is one of the great big changes.

Burbidge:

Well, it is a change.

Weart:

Has it had a big effect on the way astronomy is done?

Burbidge:

I don’t know what effect it’s going to have. It’s hard — I mean, I think it makes it more impersonal judging scientifically [?] and that one of the problems is that — one of the problems “has been, in astronomy, that you don’t make a judgment about somebody because you don’t — I mean, I’ve heard, you may laugh, but I quite well known astronomers now who turned thumbs down on somebody for a job or a committee, or somebody being [?], because they know that he doesn’t — that he goes backpacking, and he doesn’t bathe very often, and things like that. And — or they know that he goes to the darkroom and makes a horrible mess in the darkroom, or somebody tells them. Now, I don’t care about that aspect of it. But obviously, as a practical matter, it will have some effect. I mean, there’s much more competition now to do minor things. And a lot of it— I mean for somebody of my generation, I suppose ... (taped voice goes off ...)

Weart:

One of the things I want to do, over the next couple of years is to interview some people. We’re doing ‘an awful lot of interviewing now, generally to get their life histories, what we call an Oral History interview and one cannot do this for very many people, because it involves a tremendous amount of work, on the part of both parties. And I wondered who might be the best people to interview?

Burbidge:

Well, I don’t know. Many people are colorful. Many people have lots to tell you. It’s very hard to say offhand. I mean, I think, obviously, some of the older people who have a lot to say about it are very interested in their period, their history of astronomy, and some of them might be interested in talking with you. Fowler?

Weart:

Fowler has been interviewed, in physics. Really this is the first time we got into astronomy.

Burbidge:

I should certainly say, you should interview and, you could talk to some of the pioneers in radio astronomy John Bolton. [?] I doubt if — or if Martin talked to you, I suspect that he would give you a sense, a view of ... I don’t know. Harry Lovell might talk to you about history of … in the late fifties or sixties... In certain areas, there are people like Herb Friedman, and certainly I would say Rossi, about the beginnings of … which of course is really the modern history of the physicist. Albert Whitford, who, [?] who is not very well talked about, might very well talk about the old days. The old days. He went to our meetings, got all the gossip.... There are some of the old Mount Wilson types who would be —Wilson is a very nice guy, who recently retired. He’s In his sixties. Maybe you should try to talk to him. Horace Babcock.... (Inaudible) Let’s see again, I’m talking about West Coast people now. [?] The astronomy there. Bach... Chandrasakhar you should certainly talk to Chandra. Morgan, he’s a prominent astronomer at Berkeley for many years, and is a former colleague of [?] Leo Goldberg, who is director of Kitt Peak and who is still a few years from retirement, obviously. He was a success at Michigan, Harvard and now Kitt Peak. He’s been very prominent. He’s now the president of the Astronomical Union. He’d be very responsive. [?]

Weart:

Off the record, perhaps.

Burbidge:

But these are all real (inaudible)

Weart:

(inaudible)

Burbidge:

I don’t know. I mean, it’s very hard for me to say, because — Bernard Berg, at MIT, for example. It’s hard for me to say, because I don’t know how my friends, for that matter, would, whether they’d want to talk about it, about science. I know Chandra likes to talk about it, about what’s happened and the way things are done, and why things are done. He and I used to spend hours. He was always telling me stories about the old days in Cambridge. It was fascinating … the way they (he?) discovered.., and so on. Of course, mostly it’s plain mathematics. He’s not — doesn’t have background in optical astronomy. Nearly all the old timers, from the Mount Wilson days, are dead. It’s too bad we weren’t... Mrs. Hubble is still alive. She [?] in Pasadena. Hubble of course was a very — he was very much mixed up with the Hollywood set, you know.

Weart:

No, I didn’t know.

Burbidge:

Have you read this biography of Aldous Huxley? You’11 find him mentioned in that. And Grace, Grace Hubble proofed some of his books. We met Aldous Huxley at the Hubbles once. See, we never knew Edwin Hubble. He died in ‘53, and we came over, we first came to Cal Tech in ‘55. And we were introduced to Grace Hubble by Alan Sandage, and we got to know her very well. She’s really delightful. ... (Inaudible...) That was her … You know, this whole — you’ve heard of Anita Loos? GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDS? Well, she’s an old [?] member, too. One of the [?] of the thirties. Hubble was mixed up with that whole lot. Ronald Coleman. They knew all these people very well, Clark Gable.

Weart:

Were any of the other California astronomers involved in that? They‘re all there in Pasadena.

Burbidge:

You know, the common view is that Hubble was a snob, and all the rest of it. He was probably just a [?] Very English in his outlook, in the sense that he‘d rather talk to the Rhodes Scholar usually than the lawyer. [?] was a Rhodes Scholar. He’d always affect these British mannerisms, walking stick, canes, spats, gloves. And all the rest.

Weart:

With some of these people, especially the ones who are retired and have some time, the — one thing that one can do is ask them for a manuscript autobiography. That’s something that we did about ten years ago, with a lot of the older physicists. Many of them were very happy to get out a record. You know, it’s funny; they were just waiting for somebody to ask them. And they’d get out their files, get out the stories —

Burbidge:

In the Royal Society, when you’re elected, the first thing they ask you for is a —

Weart:

That’s right. But often people only give them a few pages, you know.

Burbidge:

I don’t think — they often... They’ve? I’ve got [?] memoirs up here —

Weart:

Right.

Burbidge:

They’re fascinating

Weart:

Oh yes. And I think it would be a very good thing if we could ask some of these older astronomers.

Burbidge:

Yes, well, you write, you might get some response. Some of them would say they didn’t want to. …

Weart:

With physicists, we got about a 80 percent response.

Burbidge:

That’s very good. I think astronomers will be much more withdrawn. There were only — of course — we got a great, we became very good friends with Hummerson? Fundeson and Walter [?] It’s funny, because Hummerson was a very — Hummerson was a marvelous person, and he — but he was a very, he was a real old conservative. You see, I mean, the politics of that lot was really something out of this world. I can see them now, sitting every lunch, 20 years ago, up there — Paul Merrill and Hummerson and so on, all in favor of (Joseph ) McCarthy, you know, right down the line. But Milton was a very conservative man, and we of course met him when we first came to Mount Wilson. And then we actually got across him, when Alan Sandage and I had to fight the battle over Margaret and Women’s Lib. You know, we had a very fierce encounter with our friend Lee DuBridge, who was president of Cal Tech …in his capacity as — But anyway, the point is that Milton was the secretary of the observatory at that time, and he was the man who was originally, who originally made these rulings. But later on we got to know Milton. He became a good friend of ours. He was an old conservative. He really was a mule skinner in his day, and all the rest, you know — He was the only man I’ve ever really met who was always chewing tobacco. He suggested, after I got to know him, he suggested possibly (inaudible ) He used to take out on Sundays — take Margaret and me out to lunch once a week. And I never — Milton used to go, and he was really grumpy and he gradually got more and more mellow, and we used to talk for hours. And I often wondered. Then I found out that actually, what was happening was that Milton would drink coffee all through the lunch. And he had this arrangement with this restaurant, this waiter, and they say, he spiked every cup of coffee he had, and kept bringing fresh cups of coffee, and all the time, he really had — he really was a heavy drinker. I remember Baade [?] used to love talking to young people. Talking about science and scientists... (Inaudible) He used to love to tell these stories about the old astronomers, the old… shocking behavior of [?] couples and all the rest of it, oh, a tremendous line... But all those people are gone now.

Weart:

So have the rivalries and pressures gotten less too?

Burbidge:

Oh, I [?] in Chisago, where we were, Yerkes was… see, Arthur Strube was a great man, and he brought together a group in the middle thirties, Morgan and Chandrasekhar and [?] and Coker, [?] and some others. And they were very dissimilar people. And he was a very strong man, and he— as far as I know— I knew him, we knew him — he was the man of course who persuaded us to come here to the States, persuaded Margaret and me to come. He brought all these people together. But when he went, they all came apart, and they were all at each other’s throats, and they were all very different kinds of people, and there were a group of younger people who came to Chicago, at the time, Bob Kroft [?] who’s now at Lick, who is presently the president of AAS, and us, and Jim Chamberlain, who is now at Rice, and Helmut Abst, who is now at Kitts Peak, editor of on the ASTRONOMAL JOURNAL; Kevin Prendergast, who’s professor at Columbia . All of us were young assistant professors at that time. And we found, to our horror, when we got involved in faculty meetings and so on that all kinds of fights went on, but the fights were never going on about the issue that was rated. They were always really fights which had something to do with something that happened ten years ago. Chandra would say something, and he would be really getting to Morgan — not because Morgan was opposed to this particular issue, though it seemed that on the surface, but because of something that happened long before we all appeared. There were some terrible ruckuses. And of course, finally the whole thing broke up. ... (inaudible...) Chicago had — the great institutions had an era. And then they decay. That’s just what happens. Now, outwardly, they may not. I mean, Yerkes really has decayed. (inaudible... ) Outwardly and inwardly…But — the Cavendish is one of the great institutions that went over the hill long ago.

Weart:

What about institutions that have come up very rapidly? Of course, there are some new observatories.

Burbidge:

Well, there’s the National Center. Well, it’s hard to tell, really, when something comes up. You know there are some very good groups floating around. But it takes them a long time to get assimilated into the system, to the point at which their graduates and their people really begin to take charge. I would say that the National Center serves to come extent. But they don’t — the National Centers have not, have deliberately not, in the first instance anyway, deliberately did not get the best research scientists, because they felt they had to get people who were interested in serving the community. So you won’t find the National Centers full of stars. And in fact, I think the age of the star has gone by, because now — I wrote a little piece for Wheaton? last year, on how you use large telescopes in [?] observatory — and because of the politics of it, because of the fund-raising and all the rest, because you’ve got to get money, unless it’s on a national basis, really, because — and you can’t get large chunks for individuals, in the way that you could in the old days — when they have a very small number of people — it’s team research. There are the people who are going to turn out to be good leaders of team research. Still, among my generation and older, there’s a whole lot of people who really hate this idea, and want the individuals left alone, as Alan — we always kid Alan Sandage about communing with God in the private (?) part of his Cage (?) There was a marvelous crack made. But we always kid Alan, because he’s very serious about astronomy, all this nonsense about communing with God in the privacy of his cage at Palomar. And Helmut Abt, one day, who doesn’t have a great sense of humor, really, but he made a marvelous crack, when we were making jokes about this — this attitude of Alan’s. I don’t think it’s ever been stated, but it does sound like somebody pronouncing, the communing with God in the privacy of his cage, and Helmut said, “Well, by golly, the problem is, “he said, that you can never bite into the [?].” But you see no one — there’s no practical way in which you can get a major piece of equipment and essentially give it to a small number of people. This isn’t done any more.

Weart:

It used to be, but it’s not now.

Burbidge:

Yes. I mean, even if you wanted to. I don’t happen to think it’s the best way to do research. I think many of the problems of astronomy have been caused by this star system. But that’s another question. People argue with me about that. But I think the practicalities of it — it can’t happen now. You’ve got to look at this thing seriously. You need different kinds of people, which you’re used to in physics, and which many astronomers are just horrified at you. In their view, they’ll end up with a paper, with 50 names on the paper, which horrifies them. There are some people still in astronomy, prominent people, who don’t like to put other people’s names on their papers, even though those people have helped them. Now, my wife has moved from one scheme to the other. She’s quite happy now, with her group at Lick. Usually it’s … (inaudible...) [?] shepherded it through the press office, — the press office is boring — anyway, she’s moved through, working very much as an individual to this present situation. She doesn’t — I think if you feel reasonably secure in your reputation, you don’t worry about that. But there at many people who don’t like that. You know, you may even come —

Weart:

— it’s a process that —

Burbidge:

You’re kicking the wind. You cannot do anything about it. It’s going that way. Nobody is going to give — this is one of the problems with Pasadena. They want running costs from the federal government, but they don‘t want to give up any control. There’s no way. It’s gradually being forced on them, see, but they — that in order to get anything — maybe they won’t get it — they will have to give up some control. But they want control. So, I mean, the attitude is: “you give us so much money, and we will, our brilliant astronomers will find out things about the universe”. And everybody who reviews the proposal says, “To hell with you…” And we’ve got the same problem at the University of California. I mean, there’s an awful lot of bitterness and jealousy directed towards the people — towards the haves, from the have-nots. Really, it’s the old story. That’s the way a lot of people see us all in the Southwest, in general. I’ve learned this the hard way. It comes out very loud and clear ... [?] from the other astronomers involved... I remember, discussions when people would flatly come out ant lay it in. And I — there were others, Chandra and Alan Sandage and I were talking about it last week in Chicago — when big splashes were made about something of Alan’s. I mean, Chandra had seen some of the bitter letters he would get from people saying, “I don’t know why you make so much fuss about this, our man is just as good, he’s having trouble with his papers –“ And Chandra said, “Indeed, that may be true. “ In the old days, you see, nobody cared a damn for anybody else at all, at one time. They had their support from their local millionaire, and that was all right. Nowadays, they have to go — everybody and his brother referees everything; everybody has his say.

Weart:

mp3

You say you call yourself a radical.



Burbidge:

Yes — all [?] No, it’s just that — well, we’ve been talking about the policies in science and the policies of people. What I meant by that was that there’s a whole range of astrophysical problems, I guess, major astrophysical problems.... where there has developed, I think, among a very large fraction of the observers, and many of the theoreticians, a cut and dried attitude about the universe. — The attitude that Fred and I take, if I can express it in a general way —

Well, there are two approaches you can take to these major areas. One is that we do basically understand the rules by which the universe functions, operates. There’s a large amount of information that we’re lacking, but we understand the basic rules, and we know what the skeleton looks like, and we‘re clothing the skeleton. And that’s the way, I think, people would say they understand cosmology and the Big Bang and all the rest of it, and many other propositions. But there is a minority view of, which I think Fred and I are a couple of the most prominent exponents, — we essentially believe (now I’m speaking for myself, not for Fred ) — (but I mean, he does really share this attitude, in what he does and says ) — that we’re so — we’ve observed so little, we know so little about the universe, that we may not have the skeleton right at all. In other words, what I’m trying to say is that I think modern astrophysics is to be compared to 19th century physics, where you have lots and lots of observations, but you’re still talking about the ether... and things of that kind. And therefore, we don’t even know what shape the skeleton is. We don’t know whether it’s a horse or an elephant or a camel, or whether it walks on six legs, or 55 legs.

And in that sense, we’re prepared to take observations and talk about schemes which are not the scheme that everybody’s already swallowed. And in that sense, Fred and I find us in a minority on a large number of problems. And there’s a feeling somehow that you’ve got to believe, in order to do things. Well, I don’t agree with that, but I can see that — the relevance of it. Alan [?] if you don’t believe in looking — if you couldn’t go beyond [?] how can you possibly struggle onto [?] It’s so hard to do it.

Well, you know, “We’ve worked so hard and fought so long, we must be right, we can’t be wrong. “ That’s the attitude. But anyway — you know, there are arguments over the red shifts of the quasi-stallers, whether or not there was a Big Bang, over the origin of cosmic rays — a variety of things, where Fred and I get ourselves into this box, that we think up new possibilities, and people get exasperated like hell with us because they don’t believe in them, but they can’t rule them out. And there’s a big controversy developed, in a nice way, and then people like to — then, the way the reporter goes at it is to go and ask ten eminent astronomers, and nine say it’s one way, so they say, “By a ratio of 9 to 1,” you know — But you don’t do science that way, as we all ultimately know. It’s partly because astronomy is such a difficult subject, and such a frustrating subject, because it’s an observational science. As I was arguing with [?] You can’t pin things down so well. And people get exasperated as hell.

Weart:

Do you think there’s much prospect of getting this within the next generation?

Burbidge:

Oh, maybe in the next two or three years, I don’t know. But I mean, I believe the time [?] along. I mean, if you say that you have every reason to believe that there are 10 10 galaxies in the universe, of which you can probably observe 10 8 or 10 9 if you work at it all right — and each of those 1010 galaxies contains stars — and then, there’s a whole variety of objects that you can’t see, which are not normal galaxies, not normal stars, which may very well be floating around, according to all the principles you can think of — and then if you say, “Well, I’m going to actually observe one or two thousand galaxies and maybe 50,000 stars, and what is the chance that we’ve got it a 11 right so far?” You see? I mean, if you play that game, then — then you’re not so sure. One of the real crunches here, one of I think the really fundamental crunches, is whether or not, in the normal way that we’re all done astronomy in normal times— that is, to assume that we understand the laws of physics and apply them to, find out about the universe, apply them to astronomical objects — and the question that Fred and I and a few other people, [?] I guess have raised is: well, to what extent might astronomy have a real reaction on physics? Maybe — for example — the general theory of relativity, which is widely accepted and generally believed, is only — (and of course, there’s been all this fuss about [?] cosmology and various gravitational theories). Now, I’m not an expert on this. Fred is not. Ostensibly on it, but — The situation is the following, that in general relativity, there’s this tremendous effort — say in Thorne’s group and Weaver, and all those people — to test general relativity, in the framework of the weak field approximation. And in as far as they can test it; there it seems to be good. You know, [?] as we move out, and all the rest of it. The real crunch comes when you come to the strong field approximation. And the only place where gravitational fields are strong in the universe is in the centers of galaxies and places where fundamental things happen. And we know that there are such places, in the centers of galaxies and quasars and all these other places. Now, there are two routes you can then go. You can try to explain everything you see on the assumption that general relativity in the strong field approximation is right. Or, you can say, “We may get to the point where we don’t accept that. And we may have to argue that from these observations, we’ve got to rewrite the theory. “ Now, there are so many indirect arguments between an observation and relating it to a theory that you get into controversial questions here. But nearly everybody wants to go the route of assuming that it is right, and then trying to fit everything together. And when Fred, Alan, Ellicott, and I, for example, generate the new theory of gravitation, everybody looks down their nose at them. I mean, in exasperation. And, you know, Einstein has had a tremendous effect on astronomy. ... a very strong... His great triumph of 20th century physics has to be right, in all respects.

Weart:

I want to ask you something, if there’s still time for it — because we’re getting into some other areas now. We could talk about these kinds of things, I’m sure you’ve spent many days talking about them. What I — I’m very tentative about this, because I might send some questionnaires to some people about some of the things we’ve talked about. I don’t know whether I should or not, or if so, how they should be stated. What I’d like you to do is to read this, and comment on it as you go along, and perhaps you can throw out those of the questions that you haven‘t already answered. Right now, just throw them out, out loud.

Burbidge:

Yes, well, that’s — many people.... (inaudible)

Burbidge:

I think a number of people would

Weart:

I’d appreciate it if you would cull them out.

Burbidge:

Well, you don’t mean to answer them, do you?

Weart:

The ones you obviously have time —

Burbidge:

During the period.... (inaudible)

Weart:

Right—.

Burbidge:

The [?] journals, the engineering work and so on —

Weart:

— later on, we’ll get to questions that —

Burbidge:

well, we talked about the names, and not having... (interruption) (seems to be no more on this tape) Alan would say, the whole relation — he’d probably say, each …“Please name some academic institutions ... which you feel have been ... “Well, that’s easy.

Weart:

We’ve been over some of them.

Burbidge:

I could name others — They’re all fairly obvious. NASA, the NSF, the [?] Council.... a reorganization … You’ll get hundreds of people who use the Mount Wilson facilities. Or who use Kitt‘s Peak. Journals, publications — all these are quite straightforward. I mean, you’ll get a set of answers to these things which —

Weart:

Some of them we won’t ask, perhaps.

Burbidge:

Well, I mean, you can ask, but I don’t think you’re going to get any surprises. You’re going to get the regular professional societies, the regular journals, a few of which are pre -eminent. And that’s all. “Have there been important [?] institutions and financial [?]” I mean, this again, will depend very much on how much people have been involved in that sort of thing. [?] from Brigham Young, he’ll feel that nothing has changed, in the last 50 years. But otherwise, I think you’ll get a general trend, what we’ve been talking about. (inaudible ) … before, unlikely or more likely to accept. Highly likely. That’s a very —“There exists at least one black hole, of stellar mass, and radiation from it has been identified.” Well, I’d say there are at least — I would certainly say there exists one black hole— whether the radiation has been identified, I have my doubts about.

Weart:

Well, which parts would you check? May I ask you to check?

Burbidge:

Well, I would say, highly likely that there exists a black hole.

Weart:

I have two questions there.

Burbidge:

But now, radiation — what you’re really saying is, “What is the chance that one of these objects that’s being touted as a black hole is a black hole?"

Weart:

Exactly.

Burbidge:

I don’t know the answer to that. I’d guess, I would say that’s pretty likely too, but it’s not as likely as the fact that black holes exist.

Weart:

Can I ask you, which blocks would you check?

Burbidge:

Well, I would put, “highly likely” there exists at least one black hole. The other one I would simply put “likely...” “There exist very massive black holes near the centers of some normal galaxies.” I would put, “Highly likely..." “The universe emerged from a black hole, [?] singularity. “ I don’t know. You know, I could be perverse, and, as Fred says, I could say, “Well, if everybody thinks so, then it’s highly unlikely... Ginsberg once made a good remark to me – he’s a good friend of mine, a Russian — and Ginsberg said, (he’s very conventional but he also has a sense of history, he’s `interested) and he said, “Well, Geoffrey” — we were arguing about the origin of cosmic rays, we had a long time dispute for ten or fifteen years, which is getting [?] and again, he felt Fred and I were in the minority position. But after a lot of discussion about this, he finally said, “Well, Geoffrey, it is true that if you look at history, the minority usually turns out to be right...”

Weart:

Every new idea comes from the minority.

Burbidge:

That’s right. So I would say —“ the universe originated from a black hole?“ — I don’t know. I don’t think it’s “highly likely.” I think it’s “likely.” “Quasi-stellar objects are very large, very … [?] normal stars, “ “No.“

Weart:

Very unlikely.

Burbidge:

Very unlikely. In fact, they certainly aren’t, at the present time. That’s a bad question, if you don’t mind my saying so. I mean, there’s a dispute here. The dispute is associated with the problem of where they are. I mean, you see something which manifestly is not anything to do with stars. Now, the real question is, is it embedded in a galaxy of stars? Now, many people think that it’s the nucleus of a galaxy of stars, and that’s normal stars — I mean, that’s the cosmological view, and the non-cosmological view is that you’ve got a galaxy and the quasi-stellar is something that’s shot out from the galaxy. But I don’t think that the objects that we see are a normal collection of stars, but it may be embedded in a normal collection of stars. That’s a difference there. “Some people [?] say the basic process is unknown in present theory.“ I think that’s quite likely. And most people think that’s Very unlikely.

Weart:

By quite likely, you mean you’d put it somewhere around a 5 or a 6?

Burbidge:

Yes. “The 3 degree microwave black [?] radiation” — you see, you’ve already called it “3 degree.”

Weart:

Well, perhaps that’s wrong.

Burbidge:

Well, you see, that begs the question.

Weart:

It begs one of the questions, yes.

Burbidge:

“ ... is perfectly homogeneous, isotropic in black body [?] “ Well, you’ve said in black bodies.

Weart:

Would you say, the background radiation?

Burbidge:

I would say the “microwave background radiation,” I should call it, to spell it out — “is perfectly homogeneous, isotropic , in black bodies." Yes.

Weart:

Highly likely?

Burbidge:

Well, it certainly looks to be. But you see, the problem is, with all this, if it really has this origin, that it has to be this way. And so, by admitting in the first part of the sentence that it does have this origin, you’re really not asking a question that is very, particularly good. Do you know large scale universities that steady state system? Well, most people would say, at Ames [?]” (or “It aint.”)

Weart:

What would you say?

Burbidge:

I would say it’s unlikely, I must admit. But I mean, I can see ways of arguing every piece of evidence that seems to demonstrate evolution is not true, so I would probably go out on a limb and say, maybe it is steady state. But you see, steady state is an absolutely inflammatory remark.

Weart:

Where would you check it?

Burbidge:

Where would I check it? I’d check it somewhere in the middle. Check it about 4. “There are presently existing radio source adequate to give strong evidence for the cosmological model.” “Highly unlikely.” I don’t think there’s any question that the radio sources depend completely on things we don’t know about. We‘re counting things we don‘t know anything much about. That’s the thing. “If there are presently existing.... There are presently ... I don’t think that’s likely, either. I think that this is question that will rise really [?] hackles …The problem is that following, that we’ve shown that apart from helium, all the elements have to be made in the stars. That, everybody knows. Now, the question whether Helium can be made — I mean, helium can be made cosmologically; the question is, was it made cosmologically? Well, I guess I first posed the thing, I mean in ‘58. And if the helium was uniform everywhere you see it, then you can make a case that it may be cosmological. But in fact I don’t think it is uniform. And therefore, I don’t think you can be sure it’s cosmological. “There are serious but unknown flaws in most current calculations of the inter-reactions [?] of [?]” I would say “No.” “There are serious flaws in all experiments claiming to detect gravitational waves from extraterrestrial sources.” Well, only one man says he can detect them, and everybody else says they can’t. So I’m not sure what you mean by that.

Weart:

Well, I try not to name names.

Burbidge:

Well, I mean, what you should simply say is, “Is Joe Weber up the creek?” And everybody will say: “Yes, Joe Weber is up the creek.” “There are serious flaws in all experiments claiming that the…Well, I don’t think that’s true, I think that the experiments will be... “There are serious flaws in all experiments claiming to detect a center of brightness – “ Well, that’s already been dismissed. This guy Henry Hill has got very good measurements which — I think he calculated baking (?) soda (?) in a [?] a dated question –

Weart:

Yes, a lot of these questions are kind of dated.

Burbidge:

Well, yes, I think the Weber question — I really would change those questions if I were you – “The Hubble Constant is … magnetron... … 8 1/2, well — it could be 25(?) ...”

Weart:

But where would you put yourself?

Burbidge:

Well, I mean I think that we’re still claiming that — you’re really saying, since [?] is now using 55, that we know it within 15 or 20 percent, and I think most of us are still very doubtful about that. When you say it’s between 40 and 70.

Weart:

Neither likely nor unlikely.

Burbidge:

My wife would [?] … The following statements: please say Oh, I see. “The universe originated in a Big Bang.” I mean, this is what most people would say: “Yes, it did.” I mean — When they went to Sunday school: “Yes, it did.” When they went to college: “Yes, it did.” And basically, all depending on where we went to Sunday school. That’s all that matters.

Weart:

What about you ? Have your views on that changed?

Burbidge:

See, my problem is, I never had strong opinions, until I found people had all these arguments. And then I came to, was there really a Big Bang? Have you read my article; WAS THERE REALLY A BIG BANG?

Weart:

Has your feeling on that changed? Or — what?

Burbidge:

No, but you see, the problem — the problem is the following: That there’s something about people, in the sense that they want to have evolution, and they want to have a beginning. And if you read the history of modern cosmology, you’ll see that they clung to one argument or another, most of which turned out to be wrong, as to why the universe is evolving. That’s the whole — that’s the weakness in this whole position. Hoyle put it very well in one of his Royal Society lectures. I mean, he talked about seven crises endured by the Steady State. You see, one after the other, the Steady State — arguments that were given against the Steady State have been knocked out, and we’re living now with probably what does appear to be the strongest one, namely, the microwave background radiation. Where everyone was used in its time, very powerfully, as an argument against Steady State, and the reasons why there was an evolution — the reasons why we live in a [?] universe, and one after another, they’ve fallen away. And some of them in rather blatant ways. Some of them were being used long after they were known to have been disproved. So, if you believe in history, as you should, and then you ask, where is it going? Because now we do have a powerful argument. And that’s why I hesitate about it. And yet, and yet, and yet —?

Weart:

I understand.

Burbidge:

So I think that most people will — seriously, I would say that most people, most observational cosmologists will say, “I always believed in the Big Bang,” if they’re honest about it.

Weart:

Even before there was any evidence for it?

Burbidge:

Yes. “And if there wasn’t, we’ll manufacture some, or we’ve got some handy, or whatever comes to hand, we’ll use.” Because the objections that were made — I mean, for ten or fifteen years, Fred was pilloried by [?] Royal, who was a [?] And the way Fred made objections sometimes was wrong. But there was no question of the key problem, which is still unsolved, is: where are most of the sources that you can see? I mean, if you look up in the sky and start counting sources and trying to do something about the large scale structure, first of all, you’d better establish that the sources really have something to do with great distances. And that’s never been proved. Independent of the quasi-stellar, it’s never been proved. And yet that argument was used.

Weart:

It’s still used.

Burbidge:

Yes, it’s still used. But I mean, now people, if you attack them strongly on it now, they’ll fall back on the microwave background, which after all is a better argument. “The universe is closed.” Well, most people will say they have no idea whether it’s closed or open, except John Wheeler, who believes on some religious grounds that it has to be closed, according to modern principles. John argues fiercely that it’s always been closed.

Weart:

You don’t feel there’s been any evolution in your reply?

Burbidge:

Well, I think every — I think you’ll get — I don’t know what range of opinions you’ll get. My guess is a range of opinions which go all the way from “I didn‘t really believe that it was closed” to “I never knew and I don’t know now.” I think that most people think that it is absolutely undetermined. The things that have been happening lately are making it more outwardly obvious that it’s [?]

Weart:

None of these questions are fixed, by the way —

Burbidge:

No, no, I’m only giving you my —

Weart:

I’m very grateful that you —

Burbidge:

“The Hubble effect that that — Well, most people will say, sure they are. And I don’t think they are.

Weart:

Have your views on this changed?

Burbidge:

No. I admit there’s a possibility that they were.

Weart:

Perhaps I don’t need to ask these questions historically, but just need to ask people their current views.

Burbidge:

Well, I’m not [?] to say... that is yes. Though I might be yet among the purists, that become — “After ... Well, I mean, it’s always [?] since. I would say, it’s not in a state of revolution, because there are very few revolutions in astrophysics.

Weart:

Do you feel that it’s more confused?

Burbidge:

I think it’s more — (crosstalk) Well, whether that means revolution — I should say, it‘s in an anarchical state.

Weart:

And has been, for some time.

Burbidge:

Really, though, everybody thinks they know the answer. (inaudible) “Can you suggest other problems? “ ‘What problems do you think will be most important … Well, we’ve all been notoriously bad. Whoever devises the next good instrument obviously is going to win the next round.

Weart:

Well, that’s a statement — saying that the instruments will —

Burbidge:

— well, it has been. It’s probably coming to an end. “What would your field be... Would you please state what your problem … [?] Well, I never have.

Weart:

Maybe I should state that differently: “When did you first get into the field? When did you first start working on it?”

Burbidge:

(inaudible ) “Please name several people who have strongly influenced you daring your life —: Well, Chandrasakhar, Fred Hoyle, Willie Fowler. “Did you attend church regularly when you were a child?” I was a Baptist. I’d have said, yes. But British Baptists are not fundamentalists. “Did you as a child ... No. No. “Do you attend church or synagogue regularly? “ No.“ I don’t do all that.

Weart:

Right.

Burbidge:

I refuse to answer that. ... totally different... “Do you” Theorist, I’m more of a theorist.

Weart:

Could you say what number you would check?

Burbidge:

Well, it would be about two or three. “Work best independently or collaborate.” I don’t know. (mind) The fact of it is, some [?] specialist, generally. “Stick to opinions.” Absolutely refuse to accept “I stick to opinions. “ All right, the only opinion that I stick to is that I don’t really know. So where do you put that? “Down to earth or imaginative.” All the people say that. “Mix well socially. Sure.

Weart:

Right. What do you think?

Burbidge:

I think it’s not bad. I think some of the questions, as I said, are a little bit dated. I think you’ll be inclined to get a somewhat uniform response from a lot of people, because a lot of the questions are fairly straightforward.

Weart:

Could you suggest some questions perhaps that aren’t so dated?

Burbidge:

Again, you see, you will be accused in some quarters of concentrating completely on the spectacular — cosmology, red shifts, radio sources, Big Bang and so on, and people will say, “Well, what about all the other important things that are happening ? What about the physics of solar flares? What about the ages of the globular clusters? And what about the abundances of the elements in magnetic stars?” There are all kinds of exciting things. You have to remember that.

Weart:

Yes, that’s one thing that concerned me when I wrote down the questions.

Burbidge:

They’ll say, “Oh well, he’s been talking to that Cal Tech lot again.” That will be the common view.

Weart:

Well, how do you feel about that?

Burbidge:

Well, no, I really believe — I mean, it’s not fair to, you know — I mean, in a sense, while it’s very interesting to the layman and it’s intellectually very stimulating, it’s a small part of modern astrophysics, this whole thing. You want to talk to somebody in [?] along the hall. They’ll tell you it’s all totally overrated. Right.

Weart:

Well, this concerns me, because —

Burbidge:

— and that it’s overrated because it’s something that gets in the public eye, and probably one of the major factors that distorts the direction of — or at least the attitude of science — is one single thing, the bloody Cal Tech News Bureau. It’s always very active, it’s very good. And there’s always something coming out about this. And this raises the hackles, up and down the Coast and elsewhere, you know. People make really cynical remarks about that.

Weart:

Right, this does — because I am, I do want to try to give a more balanced view of what‘s been happening.

Burbidge:

You have to go and have a meeting, like we had at Pasadena, someplace else — with another group, totally. Go to Boulder. I mean, there are other whole— (inaudible ) ... research in astronomy, and on all the work we did on the synthesis of the elements and so on, much of which wasn’t discussed. I mean, the composition of stars and so on, which is one of the things that’s done on the West Coast and elsewhere, we didn’t discuss at that meeting. It could have been a very good topic, because it links physicists and chemists and astronomers. But we got off onto this radio- astronomy and we kind of went in there for cosmology. — they’re kind of wedded there to cosmology.

Weart:

Right. Right, that’s the whole approach.

Burbidge:

But you, then I mean, if you ask yourself about that meeting — Martin didn’t – Martin was doing his best to try and make the meeting go. I know, because I talked to him before. He was very worried about what could be brought up. But the mere fact that Bob Dicke was brought there and Kitt Thor (?) and so on, that was the kind of approach they were going to take. And they wanted Jim Gunn there and so on. Now, Willie kept trying to make this point that I just made, but he wasn’t paid much attention to. And Jesse started off by talking about the history of radio astronomy. There are whole other areas. And I think you — one place where you can get in some difficulties is if people think that you’re developing a history of astronomy with special importance being placed at Cal Tech.

Weart:

Yes, and cosmology.

Burbidge:

And cosmology.

Weart:

What do you think have been some of the — if we can take another five minutes — what do you think have been some of the most important other developments, outside cosmology and radio astronomy?

Burbidge:

Well, obviously, we start out with the theory of the stars and the Stellar [?] in Illinois. Or Pierre DeMott, who’s visiting Pasadena right now. And talk to them about these modern developments. I mean these developments which have been tremendously productive. I mean, ways we can date systems, we can get ages for star systems. Now, Alan Sandage was involved in that in the early days, and is still very interested. And a lot of this work of course is related to stellar evolution, stellar structure, and the synthesis of elements in stars, and energy [?] production in stars and the [?] — it has all these connotations. But it ain’t quite in the same — bailiwick as observing fainter and fainter objects, further and further away, we know, or we think or we guess — and getting less and less information, and making more and more noise about it — which is really what cosmology is about, I’m afraid ..

Weart:

How do you feel — thls is perhaps not entirely your field, but say in general — how do you feel about the field of stellar evolution, stellar structure, — Do you think the main discoveries have been made, that the main advances are behind us?

Burbidge:

Well, one would like to say so, but I think the solar neutrino problem shows that that’s not true. We still don’t understand the structure of the sun. We don‘t understand really what‘s going on. I think there’s a real fundamental question there. Schwartzschild gave a very nice talk last week, at this meeting for Chandrasekhar’s 60th birthday, on the history of stellar Schwartzschild evolution. Schwartzschild, you know, he’s the son of Carl Schwartzschild.

Weart:

Yes, I know, I saw him.

Burbidge:

And Martin really gave a good talk. I mean, sometimes he gets very kind of prejudiced and so on, but he gave a very broad survey of the field, on where he thought the major steps had been made since the turn of the century. It was a very nice talk.

Weart:

Gee, I wonder if that was recorded.

Burbidge:

It was a very nice talk indeed. I mean, I really think — I mean, I always tell the students and others that this is the field where I think the most solid progress has been made. The other field, which I don’t make such a fuss about though I’m heavily involved myself, is the nuclear synthesis — I mean, the basic problem of where the elements came from, was the basic problem, let‘s face it, and has been tackled by many people. George Gamow was trying to fit it into the Big Bang. And the nuclear physics was not _ I mean, it couldn’t be done. And the time was ripe in the middle fifties, and Al Cameron, whose work never really got published, of course he was in Canada — and we started, more or less accidently in the field, with Willie Fowler in Cambridge, and then with Fred. And the problem, I believe, I mean, I think most people would agree, that we have solved that problem, in its outline. And to me, that’s a very satisfactory thing … I mean, that has all hung together, and it’s a tremendous amount of data and information, which are pulling more and more things, and the details will change. But these are the major advances in our understanding of the physics of the stars and what makes them shine. And we have real thorns now, like the solar neutrino problem — but that whole area — a large number of classical people. Chandra will talk to you about that. Schwartzschild will talk to you about that. Towling in England. Many of the younger people, some of whom I’ve named, who worked in that —some of whom still work in it. But you see, it’s a very solid — and it’s never been given, it’s not got into the religious aspect the way cosmology has. Though if you tell a student that actually, “the material out of which you’re made has actually been through a supernova,” he’s interested.

Weart:

I understand it does have those possibilities.

Burbidge:

But I mean, there is that area, and there are others, I’m sure there are, in stellar physics, but I’m not a stellar physicist. There’s all this interesting stuff which is really — I mean, it’s spectacular, about the structures of the planets, the origin of the solar system, the surface of the moon. Harold Urey or [?] will give you a low diatribe about this. And there are lots of interesting people in this field, and lots of interesting stuff. And then you can go to any talk to [?] or some of these people and talk about X-ray astronomy, which is getting spectacular, and they want to find black holes and all the rest of it. But it ain’t cosmology. Though they hope to get enough sources to count them. But I said to Ricardo, “If you count them, my God, you’re going to come out and say that you don’t believe in the Steady State. “ I said, ‘How many have you got?“ He said, “Oh, fifty. “ That’s — Well, we have good fun. But I enjoy these people. I enjoy — Well, I’m going to have to excuse myself.

Weart:

Oh, yes. You‘re given me a very complete rundown for this. Let me tell you what I’m going to do with this, because you‘re curious. I’m going to take it back and transcribe it, and stick it in the files, and if at any time, while you’re still alive, anybody wants to quote from it, we’ll get in touch with you OK?