Oral History Transcript — Dr. Gordon MacDonald
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Gordon MacDonald; August 4, 1995
ABSTRACT: Early life; study of chemistry and geology at Harvard University (1946-1950, AB); influence of Wendell Furry, John Rosenfeld, Jim Thompson, Francis Birch, Percy Bridgman, Cliff Frondell, Marlon Billings, R. A. Daly and Kirtley Mather. Harlow Shapley adn McCarthyism at Harvard University. Elected to Harvard Society of Fellows, sponsored by George Kennedy (1951-1952, AM; 1953-1954, Ph.D.). High pressure studies of jadeite. Arguments about continental drift theories of Jeffreys and Harold Urey's views of geochemical history. Assistant then Associate Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1954-1958); use of computers and time-series analysis and the influence of Steve Simpson. Discussions of geophysical research among King Hubbert, Tom Noland, Phil Abelson, Merle Tuve, and Bill Rubey. Research at Caltech with Fowler, Wasserberg, Greenstein, influence of Fred Hoyle. Editor of the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences. Relationship of cosmology to geophysics. Development of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. John Tukey's report on the greenhouse effect. Reaction to M's paper "How to Wreck the Environment". Early history of the Environmental Sciences Services Administration.
Doel:This is Ron Doel and this is a continuing interview with Gordon MacDonald. This is our third interview. We're recording this in La Jolla, California, and today's date is August 4th, 1995. One of the topics that we didn't get a chance to cover in our second interview was your work on the thermal history of the earth. You had a major paper on that in the late 1950s--1959 as I remember.
Doel:There are a number of interesting arguments in the paper that come to mind, and one was your mention of the time of the aggregation of the earth, which was of course a major point of controversy in the mid-1950s over cosmogonic theory. I am wondering if you had any contacts with both Kuiper and Urey on that point, given that both of them had very different arguments concerning how long it had taken the earth to form.
MacDonald:Yes, I contacted them both, Harold Urey and Gerard Kuiper, in the mid-1950s, and by the late 1950s I was working really rather closely with Harold Urey. In '59 I went back and spent a year or so at NASA working on planning the lunar and planetary exploration program. And during that time I had extensive contacts with Harold and with Kuiper.
Doel:Do you remember particular discussions with them on this point?
MacDonald:Yes, and clearly my views were much closer to those of Urey than they were to those of Kuiper. The thermal history paper I think was interesting for a number of aspects. First, it took explicit account of the fact that radiative transfer played a role even in solid materials, so that the conductivity, or the effective thermal conductivity, was a nonlinear function of temperature. Of course straight from Stefan-Boltzmann law. And because of that, one couldn't secure or meet analytical solution, and that's when I turned to using the computer in a major way so that the results were based on the numerical calculations.
Doel:That was when you were using the IBM 704?
MacDonald:704--first at MIT, then at UCLA. Work got started when I was still at MIT and they had a 704. UCLA had a 704, shortly to change into what was a 709. That's where during the calculations I learned how to program, got very deeply involved in computers, that kind of research I continued to do up until the present.
Doel:One of the other interesting conclusions that you raised in that paper was the constraints that it placed on the thermal history. Indeed the argument that you made was that it favored a cold accretion model for the earth.
Doel:Birch, as we did discuss in the second interview, favored that approach. That had been the consensus at the Rancho Santa Fe Meeting , but that became an open issue again by the late 1950s.
Doel:Do you remember any discussions in particular once the paper came out, how it was received?
MacDonald:It got a good deal of criticism from a number of points of view. One, that really the thermal transport within the earth was dominated by convection, and that came from those who believed in convection at the time, John Verhoogen and others. The second was just the point that you raise, that I argued that the calculations pushed for a cold accretion, and that the earth did not go through an early molten stage as some people were arguing at that time.
Doel:Kuiper being one. But also people -- well, then, Kuiper included -- were looking at the thermal history of the moon, what can be derived from it. How much attention were you paying to the question of the moon? Did what was known of the moon's thermal history or what could be interpreted about it seem relevant?
MacDonald:Yes. And in fact I guess in the early '60s I published two or three papers on the thermal history of the moon.
Doel:Indeed. I was thinking particularly in the late '50s when it was still a much more open question.
MacDonald:It was still much more of an open question, but at that time we thought a great deal about the moon, both because of Harold Urey's fabulous book, and also because we were thinking about what kind of observations should be carried out either in orbit, an orbiter of the moon or something that sits down on the surface. Clearly we wanted to get some feeling for what the heat flow of the surface of the moon was, because we felt that this would place constraints on the mode of origin.
Doel:There's another interesting aspect of the 1959 paper, which was your use of the results of a number of Soviet scientists, particularly L. V. Altshuler and Lenner Lubimova. "The Dynamic Compressibility of Iron." High pressure work.
Doel:Given the political dynamics of the late 1950s, how were you becoming aware of the work of the Soviets, and were there questions on its reliability?
MacDonald:Yes, there are always questions of reliability. However I particularly studied Lubimova's work and just in terms of internal consistency I was able to check a couple of her calculations and it was clear that it was absolutely first class work. The compressibility, the arguments with respect to the origin of state, particularly of iron at very high pressures, was much more problematic. And I think in the end their work was not definitive, but it was certainly very good.
Doel:Had you met any of them at all at that point?
MacDonald:No. At the time I was writing I hadn't met them. I did meet Lubimova in the '60s. I think it was at some conference in Europe. We then struck up a personal correspondence and I've kept in touch with her over the years. I haven't heard from her in maybe ten or fifteen years.
MacDonald:One other matter in that paper which you come to argue with in your own writings by the early 1960s is how well one can apply the chondritic model, particularly using the Urey-Craig evidence from asteroid studies in 1953. When you published that paper in '59, had any of the arguments begun to surface on the issue of radioactive content and compositional agreement? Was that already becoming another controversy?
MacDonald:Yes. It was becoming a matter, and largely as a result of the work which I think we covered in the last interview, the work of the Burbidges and Hoyle on the cosmic abundance. And as you recall, I spent a summer at Caltech working with Hoyle, Willy Fowler, and clearly there were questions about the extent to which the chondritic model could be used.
Doel:Right. And that, if I recall, wasn't it in the early 1960s, that summer with Fowler, or was it earlier?
MacDonald:It was earlier. It was actually 1956 or '57. It was just at the time that the Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler and Hoyle paper was published. I think that was '56.
Doel:That comes back to me. I think you're quite right. We'll get to that again in a moment when we turn to the 1964 paper in which you were co-author with Willy Fowler and Gerry Wasserberg and Hoyle. One of the more important papers of yours in that early 1960 period is clearly "Deep Structure and the Continents." As you recall, we did cover Munk and MacDonald in the other interview.
Doel:How long did it take for the arguments that appeared in that paper to coalesce? Clearly you were the only author, but I'm wondering how much of that was an individual work or the result of a lot of discussions.
MacDonald:It was largely an individual work. It was done at UCLA. I, of course, had many conversations about the subject with Louis Slichter, Dave Griggs, George Kennedy, and Harold Urey. Those were the people to whom I talked about [it]. I gave a number of seminars that essentially presented the arguments in the paper, both back east and out here, and clearly they were controversial. There were critical comments relating mostly to the fact that I was just taking into account conductive transport and not adequately dealing with the issue of convection.
Doel:At the same time you were working on that paper to lay out a fairly comprehensive theory that accounts for the new evidence on it and the new interpretations of the Pacific ring of fire and other material. And it's, for me, one of the more interesting aspects of the paper. You mentioned the seminars on the east and the west coast. Are any of them particularly memorable when you think back?
MacDonald:Yes. I guess one was giving a paper at a symposium in Reginald Daly's honor at Harvard. I think that was in the early '60s, and I tried to shape it along the lines that I would have expected Daly to have argued. And I think that was very well received, both by Birch and his colleagues. He thought very much along the same lines. And by many of the MIT group, not including Pat Hurley, who was a devotee of a mobile interior.
Doel:I think you had mentioned that. Did the department seem, when you look back on it, very divided on that issue already by that time?
MacDonald:Yes. Very definitely.
Doel:Was that openly debated and discussed or did it seem to you that the people's views were such that it was hard to continue the debate?
MacDonald:It was hard to continue the debate, because there were rather fixed views on both sides [laughs].
Doel:Was there a difference, generally, in the reactions of the American and the European scientists on this issue as you presented it? Did there seem to be a greater favoring in the European communities?
MacDonald:Yes. Very definitely.
Doel:Any thoughts on why that's so?
MacDonald:No, I've never really thought about it in those terms. But in part, it may be that the European thinking was very heavily influenced by Harold Jeffreys.
Doel:And not merely that, even though it was extremely strong within Britain. You felt it continued over all of Western Europe at the time?
Doel:Did you have contacts with Vening-Meinesz at this point?
MacDonald:No. I met him on two or three occasions, but never really had in-depth discussions with him. He visited Scripps at one stage. I think it was in the late '50s, and presented a seminar. But we never really had in-depth continuing discussions.
Doel:Did you have any interactions with Teddy Bullard or Keith Runcorn?
Doel:I thought you would.
MacDonald:A lot of discussion with Bullard. Later, the Goddard Institute of New York hosted a conference on just this question. It must have been '66. And I presented the arguments, and then had to miss the last summation session. Teddy Bullard got up and said, "Now I will give you the argument that Gordon would give if he were here," and he presented in a very amusing way the points that I would have raised.
Doel:What kind of reaction was there at that point?
MacDonald:Oh, by that time the enthusiasm for sea floor spreading was such that my views were definitely not being listened to.
Doel:It was to change very fast in that decade.
MacDonald:Yes, that's right.
Doel:Another interesting thing that I found in your paper was the way that you were attempting to use the recent evidence from Lamont, Bruce Heezen's work particularly, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Did you have contacts directly with them about their arguments with the expanding earth?
Doel:What do you recall of their arguments?
MacDonald:Of course Bruce was very much an empiricist, and he took physiography of the ocean bottom as all-important evidence and argued strictly from that point. In that he was supported by Maurice Ewing, who converted rather late in life to the opposite way.
Doel:Right. Did you talk directly with Ewing about this as well?
MacDonald:Oh yes, many times. I remember we were flying back on the red-eye to New York, and we sat next to each other and discussed it all night long.
Doel:That's interesting. Do you remember the tenor of the discussion?
MacDonald:He was very persuaded by the arguments that I had advanced. He also felt, largely from the seismic evidence, that he could not see any support for sea floor spreading.
Doel:This conversation is after 1963?
Doel:So he had read your '63 paper.
MacDonald:He had read the '63 paper in detail. He said, "You make a very convincing case." But of course I was also spending time here at Scripps, and Scripps had already joined the converted. A number of people Russ Raitt and others-didn't quite get as warm a reception as I did at Lamont.
Doel:And Bill Menard.
MacDonald:Yes, Bill Menard.
Doel:Right. Do you feel that the expanding earth theory got a fair hearing at the time it was debated?
MacDonald:No. It was primarily I think because it was being pushed so hard by goodness who is it? A geothermologist from South Africa.
Doel:His name's on my--
MacDonald:Slipped right off my tongue.
Doel:It's good we can add names later, and we will.
MacDonald:Yeah. But he was looked at as almost a religious advocate rather than trying to put the arguments together in a sensible way.
Doel:Is it Carey?
Doel:But yet, I'm just thinking, I fully understand what you mean on this, and yet Urey could have been considered at various times in the 1950s a very strict advocate as well of the positions that he took. I wonder if there seem to be other philosophical issues--
MacDonald:Well, Carey, argued very much from the point of view of a South African who had looked at sort of the geomorphology in his country. He was totally unconcerned with quantitative arguments, either from geophysics or from geochemistry. I think Urey, you're quite right, had a rather fixed point of view, but he tried to amass the evidence in support of that view.
Doel:Yes. I think it's a very important point, that as the discipline was becoming more quantitative in terms of what evidence would seem convincing in the mid-1960s, something like Carey's--
MacDonald:I think that one of the contributions I made was to try to emphasize quantitative rather than qualitative analysis. So many of the arguments during that time, and continuing to some extent today, are that you sketched out a particular model and you put in overturning, upwelling, without trying to put real numbers and see what the implications are.
Doel:You're right. That was very new in the era that you were--
MacDonald:That's right. Of course Jeffreys had done that structure back into the 1920s. Birch contributed very greatly in this country. The presenting of quantitative arguments and paying attention to them really started in the '50s.
Doel:I think that's quite right. Were there others whom you regarded as sympathetic at least to the expanding earth arguments in the early 1960s?
MacDonald:In the early 1960s there were a few people who paid attention. One of course was Art Meyerhoff, who was an enormous devourer of the literature, and he appreciated some of Carey's arguments. But it was very difficult to support Carey's position in quantitative terms. In qualitative terms it could be argued that it made a great deal of sense.
Doel:You said a moment ago, and it prompts me to ask, as you helped push the quantitative methods, did you find it difficult initially to get these kinds of arguments into the journals that you wanted to publish in?
MacDonald:Oh yes, very difficult. It was difficult then. Fortunately I had the very great support of Phil Abelson who was then editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research. He was very sympathetic to me and the arguments that I was presenting. We'd gotten to know each other very well, because for many years I was an associate at the Carnegie Geophysical Lab. And also he was a regular participant of the Rubey seminars that we talked about. So when you have a sympathetic editor, it makes a great deal of difference. I'm currently going through an absolutely horrendous battle with Nature on getting a paper published that I think gives a little shift on thinking on the origin of the Ice Ages, but because it suggests a change in paradigm, advocates of Milankovitch are not prone to give favorable reviews.
Doel:This is in contemporary terms, how things have shifted, yes.
MacDonald:This is today, yes. Basically the notion for which Rich Muller and I have quite convincing evidence is that the earth gets cold as the earth's plane of inclination to the solar system passes through a common plane of planets. The increased dust quotation really explains the 100,000 year cycle, because that's the cycle in which the earth nods up and down. It had been totally forgotten about because it has no impact on how much energy gets to the earth through the sun. But since it's a different idea, it's hard to get published. I don't have any good friends who are editors.
Doel:This is where the history of science can come up with many examples from earlier periods where this does not do. [laughter] Back in the 1960s, were there particular journals that you wanted to publish in where you found it exceedingly difficult to present either the quantitative or the--?
MacDonald:Yes. For example, I had a paper on the stability of diamond before the experimental data had come in, just on theoretical grounds. That got turned down by Nature, and I actually eventually abandoned it. It never got published, even though the stability field that I've calculated turned out to be very close to the one that was determined by Strong. I also tried to get a couple of papers published in the Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Doel:Do you remember any particular reactions from reviewers that you thought were quite revealing of the response that you were getting?
MacDonald:No. Certainly anything to do with thermal transfer always met the criticism that I did not deal with convective transport. Some of the papers on the core, which I wrote in collaboration with Leon Knopoff, were criticized because we postulated a particular chemistry. I forget whether we were putting in silicon into the core. I think it was set up then to bring down the density and that got criticized.
Doel:Was William Ramsey still interested in core models at that time?
MacDonald:Yes. Ramsey was interested -- an extraordinarily brilliant man -- but he had a very bad alcohol problem. I met with him on numerous occasions. He had tremendous physical insight, but very little discipline.
Doel:I imagine that affected how colleagues perceived his work as well by that time?
MacDonald:Yes, that's exactly correct.
Doel:When you published the continental structure paper in the '63, one other matter still in hot contention was Keith Runcorn's paleomagnetic evidence.
Doel:You had cited in there the arguments that were then being voiced by Axelrod, that countered some of the claims that Keith Runcorn had made at that time. I'm wondering what you recall of the general reaction of the community to that debate as it was unfolding between Runcorn and Axelrod.
MacDonald:It was a gap split much along the lines of those who believe in mantle with expressions at the surface and those who were attracted to a very mobile earth. Keith and I engaged in many public debates on the subject. He visited Scripps frequently. I went on a number of occasions and lectured either in Newcastle or in London, and I think we both were invited more for entertainment value than scientific insight [laughing].
Doel:I hadn't known about those debates, and I think that that's really interesting, but do you think it had some lasting effect on the way the community reacted?
MacDonald:No. Despite the validity of the arguments that were represented in the deep structure paper--and I would argue that those points are still valid today--once the herd started moving, [laughs] it got harder and harder to -- And, you know, I'm sure one of these years there'll be a deflection and general movement of the herd.
Doel:This prompts me to ask if, given the philosophical underpinnings and implications of the two rather different points of view already by the 1960s over the fixity or the drift and resulting structures, it is exceedingly difficult for alternative hypotheses to be voiced because of the depth of those issues?
MacDonald:Oh yes. Without any question. As a matter of fact, Rich Muller and I -- he's my collaborator on the glacial paper -- are seriously thinking of writing a book, The Herd Instinct in Science, because it is virtually impossible in these days to express views that run highly counter to conventional wisdom. The glacier paper is one. I think Tommy Gold's views on the origin of oil and gas have not received the attention that they properly should. He may be dead wrong, but nonetheless he presents a well-reasoned argument and collects data in support of it, but it's just so unthinkable that the -- And I think we've run right across the other fields of science. Tommy Gold tells a wonderful story. He wrote his thesis on the hearing mechanism of the ear, and had a great deal of difficulty getting it published because it ran counter to the conventional wisdom, the von Beaksey theory, which it turns out was based on analysis of cadavers. Gold clearly demonstrated that the ear has an active feedback circuit. It's active. That's why you get ringing of the ears when it goes wrong. And today his theory is universally accepted. In 1946 or whenever it was when he first did the work, no one would touch it. And also because if you publish outside your field, or try to get things published outside your field, it is extremely difficult. And it's getting worse.
Doel:That's just what I was going to ask.
MacDonald:It's getting worse, with the emphasis on peer review, the enormous competition for funding. Heretical ideas are difficult to get into print.
Doel:Do you see a major difference between the early 1960s and the present?
MacDonald:In the '50s and '60s you could get controversial papers published. It's much, much tougher now.
Doel:You mentioned the funding crisis in science in the moment. What other factors do you think are leading to that change?
MacDonald:It's very much enhanced competition for funding. The peer review system has run amuck; no one wants to take a chance. It's a risk-averse situation from editors of journals. They don't want to be known as the journal who published a weird idea that people laugh at. But taking risks today in science is very, very difficult -- much more so than it was in the '50s and '60s.
Doel:That's very interesting. I hope you do write the book.
MacDonald:We have, you know, dozens of examples of how something that runs counter just-- and in some cases those early ideas eventually become received sanction.
Doel:Tommy Kuhn's structures argument may play well with what you are thinking about.
Doel:Let me turn to another paper of yours from the mid-1960s, when you moved to another set of arguments that you felt opposed the drift interpretation for major earth features, when you wrote the figure and long term mechanical properties of the earth in 1964, and at that point you put aside the arguments, you flagged the ones you had raised in the '63 paper, and began raising from new sets of data arguments about the gross structure, the geodesy and geodetical information about the earth. You cited Chandrasekhar for recent studies that he had done. I'm wondering what kind of interactions you had with him in developing that work.
MacDonald:Oh, rather extensive interactions. First in the context of JASON. He was a member of JASON for a brief period.
Doel:I didn't know that. That's interesting.
MacDonald:And Harold Urey was a good friend of Chandra, and both in the JASON connection and through the Urey connection I saw a good deal of them. He also had published this very, very interesting work using general arguments rather than detailed models, sort of looking at moments of various quantities, and I found that a very attractive approach. That paper, incidentally, of the major papers I've written, is one that has received the least attention. One, it was in a volume -- I guess MIT press put it out.
Doel:That one I believe was a JGR paper.
MacDonald:No, I don't think so.
Doel:The figure in long term paper do you mean?
MacDonald:Oh, let's see.
Doel:There was another paper. You're right.
MacDonald:Yes. That developed the mathematics in great detail.
MacDonald:You're quite right. The JGR paper was just pointing out that the figure of the earth -- in particular its equatorial bulge -- was inconsistent with having a very fluid mantle. It was, as I recall, a rather short paper with Walter Munk as a co-author.
Doel:I think this is one that you had actually published separately. I have a copy of it right here as well as your-- [shuffling of papers...] I stand corrected. I have it here in front of me, and you're right. The longer paper did appear in the Pat Hurley edited volume, Advances in Earth Science.
MacDonald:Yes. The figure in long term appeared in Advances in Earth Science. That, and the other major paper which I wrote with Harold Urey, "The Origin and History of the Moon," got absolutely no attention whatsoever in a book edited by Kopal.
Doel:And yet those kinds of papers were becoming increasingly common.
Doel:Just because of the overload on the volumes?
Doel:The need to get material out. There's a paradox it seems.
MacDonald:Yes. If you wanted to get ideas out, you didn't hide them in volumes.
Doel:Yes. When you say it didn't come up, do you mean it raised no ripples in the broader community, even among the geodesists?
MacDonald:Well, geodesists appreciated the fact that I was paying attention to what they were doing. They wrote nice complimentary letters. But the main community--the paper in the Hurley edited volume I thought was particularly good, because it developed the mathematics to approach problems in more generality. You didn't have to build a detailed model of the interior of the earth, but you could use, interpret the geodetic data more generally.
Doel:You could look at the large scale inhomogeneities and begin to make the interpretations from them.
Doel:I'm wondering, do you think it had something to do with the unfamiliarity of more classically trained geochemists in understanding such issues?
MacDonald:Oh, without any question. It was a mistake to publish in that forum, a paper that really was developing a new mathematical approach. It was not new to astrophysicists. It was certainly new to geophysicists.
Doel:Yes. But this is, as you say, a problem of interdisciplinary fields.
MacDonald:That's right. [phone ringing and tape turned off, than back on...]
Doel:We were just finishing on geodesy before the telephone interruption. Was there anything else that you wanted to add to the discussion?
MacDonald:No, except I think that I did have a bit of an influence in the sense that geodetic information became increasingly regarded as significant and should be included in any debate about the interior of the earth. It had been very much a dead field. The arrival of satellites and the use of satellites to obtain the detailed gravity field of the earth really made a very big difference in the discussions, though even today not enough attention has been paid by the Don Andersons of the world and others who continue to write on this subject.
Doel:That was what I was going to ask. Even from the '60s forward, that community's voice still wasn't heard adequately?
MacDonald:Yes, wasn't heard. Again, it's the difficulty in getting information from one field of science into another. The geodetic community is a very tight, close community with strong ties to the military, and of course its very own basic information for map making and for making ballistic missiles work. Of course their paths critically determined by the earth's gravitational field [laughs].
Doel:Exactly. I'm wondering when you say that, how much interaction did they have within the AGU in the early 1960s?
MacDonald:Not a great deal. Historically of course the AGU has had a section on geodesy, but they're relatively isolated as opposed to the volcanologists and other sections.
Doel:Were efforts being made at that time to increase the professional standing of the geodesists?
MacDonald:Yes. Trying to get awards, but not much success.
Doel:Was there resistance?
MacDonald:Yes, there was active resistance, because geodesy had been sort of a backwater, not much of interest. There was a lot of interest on the earth's gravity courtesy of the work Vening-Meinesz did, and to some extent Harry Hess. Then it -- oh, people who came out of that community have had an impact. Bill Kaula came out of the Defense Mapping Agency. I rescued him from that career and got him to come out to UCLA.
Doel:It's interesting that the two that you mentioned from the 1960s, Vening-Meinesz and Hess, were both also identified as contributors in other fields in geophysics. And not principally in geodesy.
Doel:I also wanted to ask a little bit more about the 1964 paper, the one that carries Gerry Wasserberg's name as principal author, then yours and Fred Hoyle's, which appeared in Science.
Doel:You mentioned a little while ago discussions you were having already on the abundance of uranium, and the implications that it had for the chondritic model.
MacDonald:See, many of the arguments that appeared in the Science paper were contained in a JGR paper that I had written and had circulated. That's how we got together with Gerry and Hoyle and Fowler. The title of that paper was "Dependence of the Surface Heat Flow on the Radioactivity of the Earth," in which I argued that the heat flow observations really limited radioactivity of the earth. Wasserberg said, "Well, your arguments are consistent with the things I've been thinking about. Let's write it," a joint paper. Even though they are both dated '64, my surface heat flow paper was written before the other one.
Doel:Okay. That's very good to know. Wasserberg had seen a preprint or a draft?
MacDonald:Yes. I had given seminars. He asked for a copy of the paper, and I of course gave it to him.
Doel:What was Wasserberg's thinking about convection at the time? Convection played critically into your ideas of the degree of concentration of uranium near the surface.
MacDonald:Right. At that time, he was much more closely aligned with Urey and me on convection. He obviously has changed and has joined the other thing.
Doel:Yes. I meant to ask you before, did you have discussions with Chandra about drift and mantle convection?
Doel:What were his feelings?
MacDonald:Of course I tried to emphasize the evidence as I saw it on the continental deep roots and so forth. He was concerned primarily because I couldn't give him a good model for how to deal with the fluidity of rocks. I pointed out that the concept of viscosity really was inappropriate. He agreed completely. But he said, "Well, I can't do anything unless you tell me what the equation for degree of fluidity is," and so he was never tempted to actually get into the argument. But he was certainly aware.
Doel:That those intrinsic difficulties in making the modeling estimates were for someone who of Chandra's training and inclinations, it seemed to be a--
Doel:Stars are easier.
MacDonald:Fluid and plasma, and at least we think we understand the equations.
Doel:Right. So had there been discussions before the time that Gerry Wasserberg saw your draft of doing a joint paper, since you and Hoyle and others had been discussing this?
MacDonald:Basically the results of my stay at Caltech were summed up in a 1959 paper, "Chondrites and the Chemical Composition of the Earth," which was published in a volume edited by Abelson.
Doel:Right. This was, as I recall, a volume that had received quite a bit of critical attention, in part because the timing was so important.
MacDonald:Yes. That's right.
Doel:How much interaction did you still have with Hoyle and Fowler by '64?
MacDonald:They were still spending summers at Caltech, about a quarter a year, and I saw a good deal of them. Hoyle of course was a very close friend of Tommy Gold's. I remember several occasions meeting with Fred at Ithaca. Both of us were there to see Gold.
Doel:Did you also have discussions about cosmology?
Doel:What do you recall about those discussions?
MacDonald:Well, you know, it was a time in which the steady state universe was under attack. I always found that concept enormously appealing philosophically.
Doel:The steady state?
MacDonald:Yes, the steady state. And Bondi's book on cosmology was such a beautiful, very well argued presentation.
Doel:Do you remember reading that in the original? I think that appeared in '51 and then a new edition appeared again in '60.
MacDonald:Yes, I read it at the time it came out. I was still a student at Harvard. And I got to know Bondi as well as Hoyle and Gold. Clearly those three are the smartest people I've ever interacted with. And particularly Gold, tremendously original.
Doel:As you say, there are major philosophical implications in steady state, including the creation of matter. American astronomers, who led the world observational community, found that their own trust of data and their own philosophical assumptions went very much against the more theoretically inclined people like Hoyle.
MacDonald:Oh, I've listened to many a debate between Hoyle and Sandage and others of the observational community based upon cosmology. Wonderful, wonderful. And you know, Hoyle and the Burbidges, joined by a Caltech astronomer whose name escapes me at the moment, have tried to revise the steady state theory, but I don't think with much success.
Doel:I think that's right, but that's still interesting in the context of what you were discussing a moment ago, about consensus views within scientific communities.
MacDonald:Hoyle of course solved the problem. Whenever he had a far-out idea he would essentially write a small book on the subject and get it out. The origin of life in the solar system, for instance. Much to my surprise, I hadn't even known that he wrote really a quite good book on the origin of the ice ages.
Doel:I believe I've seen the title, but I haven't seen the work itself. That's very interesting.
MacDonald:He's a superb writer.
Doel:People in Hoyle's circle, like Raymond Lyttleton, had arguments with the U.S. astronomical community over the origins of comets, which also led into many broad geochemical considerations.
MacDonald:Yes. And of course Ray Lyttleton believed in the expanding earth.
Doel:Yes. Did he enter much into those discussions?
MacDonald:Yes. He started to become seriously involved in the late '50s, early '60s -- and he started spending time at JPL.
MacDonald:He had a part-time appointment at JPL, and so he spent a good deal of time in California. We had arguments on things like tidal friction and so forth.
Doel:How well received were his views?
MacDonald:He was recognized certainly by the astronomical community as an accomplished applied mathematician. Many of his ideas, however, were so far out they didn't get much attention.
Doel:He had also earned a reputation in the mid-1950s certainly as a polemicist.
Doel:Did that continue?
MacDonald:Yes, very definitely. A tremendously witty man. I was sorry to hear of his death.
Doel:I hadn't heard of it. I'm sorry too. I want soon to turn to a different set of topics, involving institutional and professional factors. But were there other issues that you wanted to raise concerning the physics of the solid earth that we haven't had a chance to discuss so far?
Doel:Again, things can be added to the transcript.
MacDonald:Oh yes. I think that the old issue of the mechanical properties of the earth, the radioactive composition--those were important issues at the time.
Doel:They were clearly central in the '50s and early '60s and in some ways they long remained at the forefront. But I did want to ask about your interactions with Cecil Green in the 1960s.
Doel:You mentioned off tape that you had known him?
MacDonald:I had been at MIT and had gotten to meet him largely because of his support through Texas Instruments of the work using Weiner's predictive theory in the interpretation of seismographs. A couple of students of mine worked closely with that group. Freeman Gilbert was heavily involved. And I got to know Cecil. He clearly brought a great deal in experience and also in judgment. He and Eugene McDermott immediately recognized the value of having digital seismographs, and that that meant that we could do analysis in a variety of ways that brought out information which you couldn't get out of purely analog record. And then of course I went back to the dedication of the Green Building at MIT--
Doel:...[laughing] You were saying you had gone back to the dedication.
MacDonald:The dedication of the Green Building at MIT, so a good deal of that interaction came at this time.
Doel:And that was '64 roughly, wasn't it?
MacDonald:That was '64. The Hurley edited volume was the proceedings of the symposium for the dedication. Then I saw something of him because he and Walter Munk became very good friends. Cecil provided some funding to the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. So I knew him through those circumstances.
Doel:You mentioned Cecil Green's judgment. I'm wondering how active you remember him being in actual development, in addition to his recognizing the value of the undertaking.
MacDonald:No, I think he recognized -- By the time I met him, he wasn't doing technical work per se. He participated in the management of TI, and certainly kept abreast of what was going on. I don't think he read much, but he talked with scientists and was a very good listener and could ask relevant questions. Just a very good perception of what was going on.
Doel:The development of the digital recordings with the seismographs also made it possible to have a genuine net, a network.
MacDonald:That's right, yes. The networking, of course, was motivated by considerations of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and through his company he pioneered the analysis of digital signals. And there's Robinson, who'd been at MIT, was one of the leaders active opponents, and Sven Treitel, a student of mine at MIT, then went on to AMOCO, got AMOCO heavily involved.
Doel:I didn't realize that he had been one of your students. He was deeply involved in that set of developments. And Freeman Gilbert's career was clearly very much influenced by the availability of these data sets for his work--
Doel:You did a joint paper with him, as I recall.
Doel:On free oscillations.
MacDonald:Yes, I managed to convince him to come out to UCLA to join the staff there, and we wrote maybe a couple of papers together on free oscillations.
Doel:Let me get back to that issue a little bit later. Given your interest in the question of access by authors to journals, it's significant that you became contributing editor, or actually editor, of a few journals in the 1960s. The Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, for instance, from '64.
MacDonald:Co-chief editor of that.
Doel:Then Reviews of Geophysics, from '62 through 1970.
MacDonald:Yes, I essentially founded the Reviews of Geophysics.
Doel:I wanted to ask how that came about.
MacDonald:I had been very much impressed by the Reviews of Modern Physics, a journal that I published in. I noted that there was no journal in geophysics that provided a forum for longer papers that summarize the state of the field. If you look at the history of physics, it has been much influenced by review articles that actually provided a base--let's say the one that Bethe wrote on nuclear physics. It served an educational role and just through the synthesis of ideas and information, contributed to the actual advance of the field. I thought that this was badly lacking in geophysics, and that we needed a comparable journal. I certainly convinced Phil Abelson of this. Bill Rubey was a supporter, and the usual gang in Washington, including Merle Tuve. So we got it started. I was its first editor, and quit only when I went into government.
Doel:Right. But how did you get the funding and the support?
MacDonald:I managed to convince AGU that this would eventually be a money-making proposition. And it was eventually.
Doel:So it was a matter of convincing the advisory council of AGU?
MacDonald:The AGU's publication committee or council, whatever it's called.
MacDonald:And they were willing to take the chance. I'm sure if Abelson hadn't been there, it would have been much more difficult to do. He had enormous faith in what I did and essentially told Waldo Smith, who was the executive officer at the time, that this was something that should be done. Waldo was not a supporter.
Doel:Waldo was not?
Doel:On what grounds?
MacDonald:Oh, just that it would be a financial drain on the AGU, that he didn't see a reason, that long articles could appear in JGR. Basically he was an extremely conservative person who didn't like to see change in any way.
Doel:Of course arguments clearly were being made that one needed, as you say, to synthesize aspects of this field as it came into being. Were there other tasks that you wanted that journal to fulfill in addition to providing review articles parallel to those in physics?
MacDonald:Basically that really was my goal: to provide a journal, and by having that journal available, to encourage people to write those kinds of articles. To bring together arguments that appear individually and provide an overview.
MacDonald:And again, that was very much lacking, as were books on the subject, in the '60s. The situation has changed radically since then.
Doel:Textbooks were particularly lacking in the early '60s.
MacDonald:Yes. And I thought having such a journal would encourage people first to write a review article, and then perhaps go on to write a book.
Doel:How quickly did you get review articles of the kind that you wanted?
MacDonald:Well, initially of course I published extensively. I also always had it reviewed, but at least -- it was difficult in the first few years. After its reputation was established there was an overabundance. I didn't have to go out and recruit articles; I could just sit back and see what manuscripts came up.
Doel:How much time did that take, say in proportion to the your research time during those years?
MacDonald:Fortunately during those times I had a lot of staff support provided by the Institute of Geophysics of UCLA. I had two full-time secretaries who made it a lot easier to operate. Well I would guess I'd spend maybe a quarter of my time on journals as a whole. One thing I was proudest about on the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences was I got a paper from Ed Lorenz.
MacDonald:Even though I did not fully understand his arguments, I was absolutely certain that this was an important paper, so I published it.
Doel:And it was an important paper. [laughter] Oh yes. What else did you see as your role as the co-editor of the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences?
MacDonald:To try to recruit articles and to make sure that there was an adequate review process. But my notion of review was to get people's impressions of a paper, and only if they could really demonstrate that it was scientifically inaccurate or there were mistakes in the arithmetic or mathematics would we turn it down.
Doel:Your philosophy was to aim for the broadest publication possible?
MacDonald:That's right. I wish editors would take that view. [laughter]
Doel:You were also actively involved in the NRC's division of the earth sciences in the mid- and late 1960s--on the executive committee from '66 to '70, and then became designated chair by the end of that decade. I'm wondering what you recall particularly about how the members of the division looked at the field. What seemed to be the greatest controversies that began to emerge during that period, and what did you see yourself as most needing to do as a member?
MacDonald:Much of the work I did for NRC during that time in the '60s was in atmospheric sciences. I led a couple of studies on weather modification and other somewhat controversial subjects.
Doel:Which I wanted to touch on in a moment, yes.
MacDonald:And on space.
MacDonald:I chaired a group that outlined the program that eventually evolved to cover the exploration of the outer planets, the whole Voyager program. We worked very closely with NASA on planning their program and basically decided that or thought that following the success of Apollo one should get out of the manned space program, but it became clear that Shuttle was going to be the next big venture. In my mind it was going to be an enormous waste of money. So I testified to that effect a couple of times, and I was no longer on any of the NASA advisory committees, quite happily.
Doel:Did planetary exploration issues come up within the NRC division as well?
Doel:Which it broadly considered?
MacDonald:No, no. That's the way a lot of the NASA program, the Space Science Board had a big influence, and there were additional committees either under NASA or under NRC that--
Doel:But I wasn't referring particularly to the SSB in that moment. It's interesting that the division of earth sciences in general also became as involved in planetary science.
MacDonald:They became heavily involved in the broader planetary science issues. And at that time, NASA really paid attention to these outside advisory groups. They had a big hand in shaping their program, both Hugh Dryden who was an associate administrator, and then Homer Newell, who really valued the input of outside groups.
Doel:I do want to turn to environmental issues in a moment. I'm curious about those earlier discussions within the NRC and even the SSB; did environmental questions ever come up in the way that we tend to define them now?
Doel:I was wondering if there were any advocates that you recall?
MacDonald:No. None whatsoever.
Doel:Okay. I'm wondering too how deeply involved you had been in the effort to make the AGU the best professional home for the emerging planetary sciences community. Bob Jastrow was clearly involved in it, and a number of others.
Doel:What role did you play?
MacDonald:Largely working with Phil Abelson, making sure that the important papers being derived from space got published in the JGR. Abelson and I certainly saw space was going to be a very important player in the evolution of science, and we wanted as many of the participants as possible to identify themselves with the AGU and feel that their contributions would be welcomed for publication in the AGU. For example, many of Van Allen's most important papers were published in JGR.
Doel:Indeed. Were there any developments that you would have wished would have happened within AGU in that period that didn't take place?
MacDonald:No. It took a while to integrate space into the sections structure. The logical choice was on magnetism, but there was no section really devoted to space science and that--
Doel:And that is the big issue, whether one ought to create a new division of space science or whether it just was--
MacDonald:Cut across the board.
Doel:Cut across, and ought be reintegrated.
MacDonald:But it clearly, the leadership within AGU -- with the exception of Waldo Smith -- was very much wanting to reach out and make sure that AGU was the home for space science, rather than astronomy.
Doel:Right. Do you remember any discussions in the mid-late '60s when the American Astronomical Society created the division of planetary sciences?
Doel:What do you recall from that?
MacDonald:There was real concern at the time that they could capture a lot of the more exciting space science, planetary science, in part because of JPL and the close association with the California astronomical community. I was among those who were really worried about what the implications were for AGU. In the end I think it sorted itself out very well. It's not the Astronomical Society's prize section; planetary science doesn't quite have the elan of cosmology or broader neutron stars and so forth.
Doel:And as it's developed the methodology and the subject matter have diverged so greatly that the overlap that had once existed in the community between a planetary and astronomical or stellar study isn't there.
MacDonald:It isn't there.
Doel:I read one of your papers that you had published in the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists back in May '67 on how space and science policy gets planned. And you seemed to be putting, already somewhat in the past tense, the willingness of NASA officials to pay attention to the outside advisory committees. Was this intended as a statement of frustration at NASA?
MacDonald:Yes. As I mentioned, I began working closely with NASA around '58 and spent a year and a half at NASA full time trying to develop their lunar and planetary program. And there was very easy access. Even I as a relatively junior staff member had access to Keith Glennan, and then Jim Webb, and Hugh Dryden, who really was a very good scientist at one time, Homer Newell who had great sympathy for science, and other members of the NASA leadership. You began to see by the mid-'50s--
MacDonald:I mean '60s -- an erosion that NASA was well on its way to becoming a very large bureaucracy. It was also clear that the manned program was competitive with the science program and that there would be conflicts between the two.
Doel:Did you have any direct interactions with Gene Shoemaker at that point?
MacDonald:Oh yes. A lot of interactions. We both were on the Lunar and Planetary Science Board. There was a group within NASA headed by Charlie Townes that looked at the problems of man and space flight, at that time essentially Apollo. So there was a lot of interaction with Gene.
Doel:Of course he was in an interesting position of being an advocate of science but yet one of manned science, given the geological type investigations he then most wanted to do.
Doel:I imagine that could have led to interesting discussions.
MacDonald:Yes, there was many a debate. [laughs]
Doel:Does he stand out in your mind?
MacDonald:No, just on that issue. I as a geologist had an appreciation of what geology could contribute. Harold Urey and Tommy Gold and others who were also very active in planning the space program really were turned off by geologists. They were non-quantitative, they were given to waving their arms, and putting arguments that were highly qualitative of sort, and so there was a tension between those, and I now identify very much with those who believed in the importance of quantitative analysis, and those such as Gene who immediately saw opportunities in using the astronauts as a way of securing data. Harold Urey was just wonderful. Since he was on the board of -- what's the Philadelphia organization?
Doel:Not the American Philosophical?
MacDonald:No. The Science Citation Index, and he was one of the founders of the group, along with [Berg; Burke?] and a couple of others, and he would drag out in particular some of Shoemaker's colleagues, "Look, no one refers to their papers. Look at these!" [laughter]
Doel:I could imagine.
Doel:What did Gene say when Harold would do that?
MacDonald:Oh, his argument, "Chemists don't understand anything about rocks. It's important to see them, see their setting, and structural characteristics," defending the importance of geological analysis.
Doel:Again from the disciplinary perspective.
Doel:I recall that one of the early committees over which Urey had had considerable influence did vote to include a hard rock geologist as one member of the Lunar Science Team. That always seemed to be a very grudging vote.
Doel:Looking over the list of members of the Committee on Atmospheric Sciences and then your Panel on Weather and Climate Modification, I see that Ed Lorenz was actually a member.
Doel:So, did you know him at the time?
MacDonald:Oh yes. I had known him primarily because when I was at MIT -- and I think you mentioned this, there was a joint seminar with Wood's Hole--organized by Jule Charney. And so Ed Lorenz, Jule Charney, Willy Malcoz, and a variety of people met regularly together, and even in the late '50s, Lorenz was clearly thinking along the lines of eventually -- And I must say other participants in this seminar viewed Ed with some amusement, not understanding the profound work that he had undertaken.
Doel:I'm curious how you became chair of that committee.
Doel:The Panel on Weather and Climate Modification.
MacDonald:Basically Charney asked me to do it. Then Malone was influential, on the basis that I held no preconceived notions; I was neither -- at that time I hadn't published much in that, or anything in the atmospheric literature that was broadly knowledgeable, particularly in fluid mechanics and things of that sort. So I was a neutral party with an unsullied record.
Doel:The advantage of neutrality was quite strong.
Doel:Okay. I do have a number of questions, and I want to continue, but I'm realizing we're getting on to 25 after. Should we pause now and then reconvene?
MacDonald:Sure, yes. Do you want to come back this afternoon?
Doel:I'd like to.
MacDonald:Okay. Two o'clock? Would that be a good time?
Doel:That would be great.
MacDonald:Okay. Great. [tape turned off, then back on...]
Doel:I believe I was going to ask you, with regard to weather modification, about controversial issues and areas that included, as you put it, conflict and confusion. Clearly this was a new enough field where many of the parameters, methodologies and issues were wide open.
MacDonald:There was of course great interest from the commercial purveyors of cloud seeding. They desperately wanted to get a seal of approval so they could sell their services, and so there was, even from really very thoughtful people who were carrying out these experiments, an attempt to influence the panel. And fortunately it was a very strong group. We were not going to get Jim McDonald to change his views and basis of appeals outside.
Doel:Appeals, as you say, to get the committee to validate in essence the claims or the ideas, arguments of the outside community. Just thinking back to the earlier panel in the Eisenhower Administration, was that one in which the commercial interests had a much greater hand?
MacDonald:Very definitely, and as a result a lot of attention was focused on it. Government was spending real money, at least in terms of the support for atmospheric sciences, trying to carry out various research/operational projects. The Bureau of Reclamation had a big effort, and several other agencies were supporting either operational programs or research programs.
Doel:At that time in rough terms, what was the proportion that was funded through military concerns about our abilities to both understand and to control weather phenomena, versus the commercial, federal?
MacDonald:The Defense contributions were relatively minor. There were some activities supported by the Department of the Navy and they were centered on trying to modify the behavior of hurricanes. There was another group in the Navy based at China Lake at the Naval Weapons Center whose mission was to design better ways of dispensing silver iodide in clouds. They were later to become very heavily involved in the Vietnam weather-making activities.
Doel:Right. One document -- I simply recall this from a note in one of the presidential archives -- indicates that certain atmospheric scientists by the late 1950s seemed concerned about what was known about the extent of Soviet research in the field. Do you recall that as being a major concern?
MacDonald:It wasn't a major concern. It was clear that the Soviets had a fairly significant effort in weather modification. They had approached it in a somewhat different way. The one concern that they had was how to diminish the damage due to hailstorms, particularly in their lime growing regions. And they involved the military. The military would use radars to identify clouds in which hail was likely to be produced and they would use artillery pieces or anti-aircraft guns to shoot canisters of silver iodide into the clouds. So the military clearly was involved with the Soviet weather modification effort. And this led some people to wonder whether or not they had made discoveries that would lead them to be able to use weather modification in a military setting. But I don't think that was a major driver in having the academy do the study. I think the major driver was that the agencies wanted to know if they should be spending the amount that they were spending, or should they be spending more, or was it all nonsense and they should give up on it.
Doel:As a means of determining which way to steer, simply?
Doel:I'm curious about the late '50s, how much of Defense or military-related concerns helped to inspire the creation of NCAR?
MacDonald:Very little. NCAR really grew out of the International Geophysical Year. People who played a big hand in the International Geophysical Year, particularly Lloyd Berkner and to a certain extent Kaplan at UCLA, could see that atmospheric sciences were going to become a very important area of scientific investigation. They were influenced by Von Neumann and his view that computer simulations could lead to a much greater capacity to predict weather. They were convinced that worldwide observational systems were coming along, that satellites were making a very big contribution to observing the atmosphere. They thought that university departments were too small to house or to manage large efforts such as computer modeling of climate or support of satellite programs. And out of these considerations grew the idea of a national center -- an idea of course that was very controversial at the time. The university departments saw it as drawing away government support from them and potentially drawing away key faculty and that the national center would be very much in competition with the departmental efforts based at the universities in support of meteorology.
Doel:It sounds in your telling of it this way very similar to the debate over whether one ought to have a center for theoretical geophysics, the NSF panel debate of 1956.
MacDonald:Right. Many of the same considerations applied, "Can you do a better job with a centralized facility and focus attention?" or really should you continue to depend on departments with their huge resources and graduate students.
Doel:I would imagine that people like Berkner who was not connected with the university would have. He indeed was in this case one of the defenders of the NCAR.
MacDonald:Oh yes. He was a very strong proponent and, as you say, he came out of NRL and a Navy background and could see the advantages of a non-university--
Doel:Right. Whom did you regard as the opponents, the leading opponents to developing NCAR at the time?
MacDonald:The leading opponents were a number of the chairs of meteorology departments. Maury Nieberger at UCLA was a significant opponent. Houghton at MIT was not an explicit opponent, but he was certainly less than enthusiastic in his support. Eventually he came around and said yes, we should go ahead. But this was after it was clear that it was a done deal. Horace Byers at the University of Chicago was an opponent. So there were leading figures within the community who felt there were better ways of spending money in support of meteorology than going to an NCAR type structure.
Doel:What helped to tip the balance in this case?
MacDonald:I think it was the persuasiveness of Lloyd Berkner, the support of Hugh, of the leading atmospheric scientists, particularly Jule Charney. Charney played a key role in supporting the idea. He had been a close associate of Von Neumann and had a good deal of influence. Tom Malone was also instrumental. He had become sort of a statesman for meteorology. He never did any science to speak of, but he was promoting the interest of atmospheric science.
Doel:Of course at that time he was also outside the university, in the Traveller's Insurance Company.
Doel:How long did you know him at that point?
MacDonald:Quite well. He was a participant in the modification panel. I saw a great deal of him at the time.
Doel:I think you were about to say something? I didn't mean to step on your words.
MacDonald:No, no, no. If I was, I've forgotten.
Doel:Then I'm sorry. Were there other areas that we haven't mentioned that you had been thinking about at the time when you referred to "conflict and confusion" in weather modification?
MacDonald:No, I think "conflict and confusion" describes the situation very well. There was a conflict between commercial operators and many university scientists, but not all. There were some scientists who felt that there was validity in some of the claims. What we learned out of that whole undertaking was that we understood cloud physics very poorly, that there were a variety of circumstances in which it was clear that seeding would not work; there were some circumstances in which it was probable that seeding would work. But it was a mixed situation, and we at the time didn't have the technology or the understanding to be able to determine a priori whether the circumstances were propitious or not.
Doel:Right. You also mentioned in the 1966 report that one of the important developments since the interim report was the study of water vapor and carbon dioxide on the radiation balance--work that was done at Princeton, as I recall, by Smagorinsky.
MacDonald:Yes. Manabee, at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, carried out some initial computer experiments. It was clear from the work of Keeling at Scripps that the composition of the atmosphere was changing, and our report was really one of two reports that highlighted the greenhouse issue. The other report came out of the President's Scientific Advisory Committee. It was a report on the state of the environment, I forget the exact title. It was from a group chaired by John Tukey. Within it there was one section written by Roger Reveille, who had been a consultant to the President's Science Advisory Committee, that identified climate change as an emerging problem. So that and the weather modification report were the first real federally based documents to discuss climate change in (in quotes) a "policy setting."
Doel:Do you remember the date on the Tukey report? Wasn't it the mid-'60s?
Doel:It was that late?
MacDonald:'65. '65. Yes. '65.
Doel:Yes. Had you been in contact with John Tukey and discussed the conclusions of that report?
MacDonald:Yes. In fact, I of course had known John for a number of years. He had become very much interested in Walter's and my work on the earth's rotation, and we were as geophysicists very much interested in his ideas about spectral analysis, so there's a lot of interchange with Tukey. Tukey also chaired a group for PSAC on atmospheric science. It was put into place to look out with suggestion of establishing NCAR. Tukey, in his role as a member of PSAC interacting with Jerry Weisner put together a group. I was a member; Jule Charney was a member; several others were members of that group. It was before I became a member of PSAC. So, you know, I knew in detail what Tukey was putting together in his environmental report. I joined PSAC just at the time the report came out.
Doel:Do you remember any discussions either in your interactions with John Tukey's group or within your own panel about how to frame the global climate change arguments?
Doel:What stands out in your mind in particular?
MacDonald:I think we wanted to get across the idea that in the long term, it was an issue that could be of very great importance. But we had pitifully little information to guide that, so recommendations were always in the context of more research, and to try to identify long-term climate change as a valid area of investigation. Climatology is sort of at the bottom of the pecking order in meteorology. At the top was of course computation or modeling of the atmosphere, but in terms of short-term weather prediction. The group at Princeton was about the only group that really started to do a little bit of modeling in the '60s. And I guess in '66 I testified before what was then the Interior Insular Affairs Committee chaired by Clinton Anderson from New Mexico. One of the areas in which he questioned me was "If your suspicions about climate change were correct, isn't that going to be a great benefit to, or a great reason for, pursuing nuclear power?" He was at that time chairman of the Joint Atomic Energy Committee and having Los Alamos in his constituency he was a great proponent of nuclear [energy], and he immediately grasped on climate change as a reason to promote nuclear energy.
Doel:That's very interesting. So he then became one of the proponents of additional work in this area?
MacDonald:Yes. He was a very strong proponent, and as really one of the sort of old men in the Senate, a very powerful Senator.
Doel:Do you feel it began to have an effect immediately on the direction and scope of research?
MacDonald:Certainly NSF began to put more money into climate research. There were more proposals coming out of universities, more people worried about climate change. The University of Wisconsin developed a fairly healthy program in climate, Reid Bryson. So I do think it had an impact on starting greater interest on the part of the government agencies in supporting that research. Once the government agencies made it clear that they were sympathetic to that, the universities reacted appropriately.
Doel:Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Step-by-step.
Doel:Did you notice any general differences in attitudes between European colleagues and American colleagues on the issue of climate change?
MacDonald:First, interest in deliberate weather modification was very limited in Europe. The Swiss had done some experiments largely in the context of trying to mitigate hailstorms. But there was very little interest, and it took a number of years for Europeans to really get involved in a significant way in climate change. Mason, who became a relatively powerful figure in science in Britain, pushed climate change, got the British Met [Meteorological] Service to take an interest, and really laid the foundation for the quite important contributions that the British had made in recent years.
Doel:Thinking back to the debates within the panel itself, was there divergence of views among the members on the significance of global warming?
MacDonald:No, I think maybe it was because I was chairman and I thought it was very important, and I pushed it very hard. Most people were not terribly interested. They were mainly concerned with the shorter term, immediate problems and trying to say something sensible about cloud seeding. But there was certainly no opposition. Everybody said, "Yeah, that's a good thing. We really should recommend additional support for long-term changes in climate."
Doel:What was your own first acquaintance with the literature on the possibility of global warming through human activity?
MacDonald:It really originated with the work on the panel in '61 or '62, whenever we got started. I started to review the literature and ran into the work of Callendar, the British engineer, not meteorologist who explained how the continued use of fossil fuels might bring about changes. That fascinated me. It was a clear demonstration of how in an inadvertent way -- I think we call it inadvertent without modification or use terms like that man can bring about changes, and so you will have to understand what you're doing and what the implications are. So let's say from '61 on I was very much involved in learning about climate change.
Doel:And for you and certainly it was very much a discovery of what was already out there in the literature that there was nothing that had acquainted you at an earlier point?
MacDonald:No. I'd never heard a lecture or talked to somebody who had expressed interest in the problem.
Doel:It was just unexpected.
MacDonald:Yes. Of course at about the same time I got to know Keeling; I certainly talked to Roger Revelle. They of course both believed that this was going to be a significant problem in the future and wanted to undertake the programs of measurement, without which we'd really be in very sad shape.
Doel:Did Revelle's interest come principally through understanding what Keeling's data was presenting, or was it through the broader issues that he was already addressing?
MacDonald:It was to a large extent the broader issues. He and Hans Suess wrote a paper looking at the changes of carbon 14. Out of that they recognized that the patterns that they saw in the data, suggested that carbon was being introduced into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels and the oceans weren't taking it up. And that led to the famous remark, "Nature is undertaking a great"-- "We are undertaking a great geophysical experiment."
MacDonald:That was in '57. Keeling started his work as a postdoc in '59. Roger essentially brought Keeling here to do that.
Doel:Had Keeling already begun the measurements on Mauna Kea?
Doel:That really started in '59?
MacDonald:Yes, it was just at the end of the IGY. They may have made a few measurements, and they did in fact make a few measurements here in La Jolla with prototype instrumentation that was later to be transferred. And the early just very few measurements suggested an upper trend consistent with the Suess-Revelle argument.
Doel:Indeed, the Suess-Revelle paper was very widely known very soon after that it appeared.
Doel:It was fairly quickly recognized for the significance of the excess CO2 problem. You wrote then in 1968 a very interesting article, on "How to Wreck the Environment."
MacDonald:Yes, my most famous paper. It has gotten me into the National Enquirer many times [laughter].
Doel:That's true. I had not thought of that unintended effect [laughter].
MacDonald:With a little discussion of how to alter brain waves, it made a great impact on them. [laughter]
Doel:You raised I thought a lot of truly interesting issues in the paper, in part relating to the "environment" in a way that we would recognize today, but also questions about how one organizes science to address interdisciplinary problems, and reorganizing scientific communities to deal with the non-reductionist aspects of mid-twentieth science. What were the different inspirations for that paper as you think back?
MacDonald:Several things. One was my experience on weather modification and climate change, recognition of the literature in climate change. Secondly, in 1966 I went to the Institute of Defense Analyses, IDA, as the vice president for research. I had been a member of JASON for a number of years. I'd seen example after example of the interaction between military and science. The military depended very heavily on science advances. One area in which I was not aware of any activities either in the open literature or the classified literature was the use of environmental modification for military advantage. And I was impressed with the fact that one could conduct or potentially conduct modification of the environment in a covert way, and hide it in the noise of fluctuations. And that seemed such an attractive idea, that I thought there should be a full discussion of it before that technology developed and got out of hand. So that was basically the motivation for writing the paper. It was very amusing. I had written essentially the final draft of the paper before I went to IDA, but it was actually published when I was at IDA. Our security officer came around and said, "If you'd written this when you were at IDA it would have had a very high classification."
Doel:[laughter] I was thinking about that.
MacDonald:But I was in a good position.
Doel:You were. Let me just add on the tape I'm not asking you questions about JASON because Finn Aaserud's interview with you covered that topic* quite well.
MacDonald:Have you read through Finn's interview?
Doel:Yes, I have. It's helped me in thinking of how to approach this issue. One question I want to ask you comes right out of that interview, but first let me ask what kind of reaction you got from raising the issue of environmental engineering. Those on the military side conceivably might not like it raised in a public forum.
MacDonald:Yes, yes. See, when I wrote the paper I was not aware there was a program for weather modification in Vietnam. Before the paper was published I became aware of it. I was even asked if I wanted to be cleared into it, and since I felt so strongly about it I said no. But I knew that it was an activity that was underway and it further strengthened my view that there was a need for an open discussion of it. I got a very large response, many many requests for reprints, lots of comments, most of them very positive. They were comments from people particularly in the meteorological community who sided with me in the sense that they recognized that the science of meteorology and particularly just plain old day-to-day weather forecasting, couldn't proceed without open international collaboration. And if it were known that we had a program advocating intentional modification of the environment for military purposes, that would be put in danger. I later wrote about this once that the Project Popeye and rainmaking in Vietnam became known. A lot of people said, "You're quite right. It's time to raise the issue, time to have international discussion." And years later, for example about four years ago, I met with the head of the French Intelligence Agency, and he said, "Oh yes, Gordon MacDonald. I read your paper" [laughter].
Doel:You became very well known?
MacDonald:Very well in a variety of circles, not all of them necessarily admirable.
Doel:What I was tempted to ask you, relating to your interview with Finn, was that in the way that you wrote that paper I sensed two things: on the one hand you had deep reservations about this technology being kept a secret, and wanted this widely debated; on the other hand, paralleling the objectives within JASON, you refrained in that paper from making policy analysis or recommendations. Was that deliberate?
MacDonald:That was deliberate. I wanted to raise it as an issue, hopefully get discussion. But the really amusing part of course though was very shortly after its publication, the National Enquirer called and wanted to know all about brain waves. [laughter] They ran a series of articles that were hilarious.
Doel:I suppose one could say at least at that point they still were calling people.
MacDonald:That's right. [laughter]
Doel:What was the most memorable reaction to that paper? Outside of the Enquirer, at least.
MacDonald:Yes, yes. Solly Zuckerman, who was the principal scientific advisor to the British government said that I was completely correct, that it was an issue that should be flagged, that we can't let governments run amuck in such schemes. It may seem outlandish, as several of them were, but nonetheless if you really wanted to spend the money and work at it, you could do it.
MacDonald:And I think that was sort of a commentary that impressed me a great deal. I got a letter from a number of people -- Dean Rusk wrote and said, "We have to move towards an international regime." And eventually, again, this laps into the '70s, we did get a treaty. And that paper was the source of it, an international treaty. I love telling that story to my classes. [laughter]
Doel:And well you should. What continues to impress me about that paper is that you also moved beyond that issue of policy into the question of reductionism in science: you stress the need for a unity of facilities in the environmental sciences. I am wondering what particularly you had in mind?
MacDonald:It was the genus, the beginning of the thought that we needed a different kind of institutional approach to dealing with environmental issues, that a disciplinary approach -- let's say ecology by itself -- would be totally incapable of dealing with environmental questions. And again, at the end of the '70s and '69 I wrote a report for the National Academy of Sciences called "Institution for Effective Environmental Management" in which I tried to lay out these thoughts. We should have an institute for the environment that would be broadly based, that would involve not only the contributing sciences but also economics, that there should be a historical perspective, that it really just had to cut across the disciplines because the environmental problems are part of all aspects of human existence, and that there was a need to recognize that in the research efforts, right from the very start. And again into the '70s, I made a persuasive enough case that President Nixon included that suggestion in his environmental message of 1970. And it would have come into being but for the fact that no one was identified that would be acceptable to the Nixon Administration and acceptable to the partner. The Ford Foundation under McGeorge Bundy had agreed that they would put up half the money for such an institute, and we just floundered on the fact that we almost had gotten Frank Press to agree. He would have been acceptable. Allen Entoven would have been acceptable. The Administration wanted me to head it. Bundy said, "It was your idea, and it would look much too much like you were just promoting yourself." He wouldn't accept me. It was clear at the time I wrote the "How to Wreck the Environment" paper that you had to make a very great effort to bring people from a variety of disciplines together. Historians like Rod Nash, could very well be a part of that kind of activity.
Doel:How did you start to think in terms of the environmental sciences? That has its genesis in some ways in the '50s and '60s.
MacDonald:Yes. Environmental science, I started to really think seriously about environment as a part scientific and a long term policy activity as a result of the work on weather modification. As you can see, from the social and economic consequences, this really was a technology that was for real. Of course it developed a deep interest in the environment. I don't know whether we've done this before. As a geologist I became a bird watcher; I hate always to be looking at the ground. Occasionally you want to look up. And I've had, you know, some very great experiences, as wonderful as spending some time in the Shetlands in northernmost Isle of Unst in the summer of '52 and being dive-bombed by a Great Arctic Skua. That's really where I got started bird watching and took a fascination in the Great Arctic Skua. It travels almost to Antarctica and then comes back, and the reason I was being dive-bombed was a female sitting on an egg a few feet from where I was walking. So I waved my geology hammer at it and then over the next month or so watched the chick grow up. I saw the mother teaching the chick how to fly very straightforwardly. She walked up to the edge of a cliff, she spread her wings, gave the chick a great big whack, and took off, and he either flew [laughter] or it was a dead chick.
Doel:Sink or swim in a different context.
MacDonald:So that got me interested in the problems. I of course followed very closely Roger Tory Peterson's work on birds and then of course the various books of Rachel Carson. And so I'd say certainly in the early 1960s I felt convinced that this was an issue that was going to be of increasing importance.
Doel:So you remember reading for instance Silent Spring at the time that it appeared?
MacDonald:Oh yes, yes. Right at the time. And The Silent Sea. Very moving books.
Doel:Indeed. I'm wondering too how important your discovery of the military's own interest in -- I think you're using an original term -- environmental modification was, the military's own conception of what it meant to study the environment, because it was the medium through which weapons needed to pass.
MacDonald:It was only in bits and pieces that the military at that time was concerned about the environment. One of the great concerns -- and obviously I played a significant role -- is now the recognition by the Defense Department of the issue of environmental security. There is now an Assistant Secretary for Environment. There's a bureaucracy recognizing (1) the military has to operate in the environment, (2) environment degradation could lead to conflict, and on and on and on. So now it's part of the way the military thinks about the world, and that certainly wasn't true 20 years ago.
Doel:Yes. Of course even [U.S. National Security Advisor] Tony Lake recently made it clear that the NSC recognize that environmental issues are paramount.
MacDonald:Yes. We have an office within NSC on environment.
Doel:What I was thinking of when I said that though is not environment necessarily in the sense of what it is that needs protection as we recognize conservation now, but environment in that interdisciplinary sense in which in order to operate as a theater of operations in the post-World War II environment one needed to consider many of the substantive questions that we now consider to be part of the environmental sciences -- oceanography, its relationship to meteorology, upper atmosphere.
MacDonald:Yes. Clearly the Navy took the lead. At that time, 1966 I think it was, I'm [not] sure of the group who wrote the report "Effective Use of the Sea" for the President's Scientific Advisory Committee in which it was clear that one had to have multi-disciplinary approaches to studying the ocean. There were many aspects to it involving the social sciences and involving people worried about the biological as well as the physical aspects of the ocean.
Doel:I'm wondering too about the final point that I mentioned a moment ago: reductionism in science and how you were thinking about that. Did that relate at all to frustration over the response of certain scientists to issues as you were raising about the significance of the environment?
MacDonald:Oh yes. It was very hard to get people really interested. There were some who were very sympathetic, Murray Gell-Mann comes immediately [to mind]. He was enthusiastic. I worked in the summer of '69 with Murph Goldberger. He immediately saw. And in fact that summer I think convinced about five very bright young physicists to change their careers and head up the Princeton Energy Institute. And were involved in the Berkeley Energy Group and so forth. There were pockets of a lot of interest. It was much harder to interest geologists. Geologists have always been part of what I would now call sort of, "We need to exploit our natural resources, discover, then make use of them." There was more sympathy from meteorologists and certainly from oceanographers. Geologists were hard to convince that this was something they should be thinking about and taking into account.
Doel:[tape off, then back on...] We're resuming again after a very brief interruption. You mentioned in your own development of a sense of the environmental sciences, certainly your interest in bird watching and Rachel Carson's work. Were you also familiar with and following, say, the work of Barry Commoner and others who were concerned about the introduction of radioactive elements into the environment?
MacDonald:I appreciated Commoner's interest. I found his science really very weak. I've never really been a strong supporter of his in the same way that I followed the work of George Woodwell on DDT and Long Island. But again, I thought the science was not as strong as it should be.
Doel:Did you have any personal interactions with him?
MacDonald:Oh yes, both with Commoner and with Woodwell.
Doel:When did it start for instance with Commoner?
MacDonald:In the mid-'60s.
Doel:And I did not mean to cut you off on -- when you were discussing the problems of interesting the geologists in these issues. You raise a good point about professionalization of geologists being much more in line with exploitation--the Survey's mission for instance. When you look back, were there geologists whom you found to be particularly sympathetic to that, whom you did look at as allies in that effort, or was it hard to find leaders.
MacDonald:It was hard to find. Bill Menard I consider a geologist, since he took his degree more or less at the same time I did at Harvard. He was extremely sympathetic. He worked with me; came back for a year assignment at the Office of Science and was my principal staff person when we wrote the report on "Effective Use of the Sea." He saw the environmental issues very clearly, and of course in his years as director of USGS tried to change attitudes within that, without a great deal of success, but.
Doel:I suspect he spoke with you about this.
MacDonald:Oh yeah, at great length [laughter].
Doel:Do you recall anything in particular that he told you?
MacDonald:Oh just, he said, you know, "There's been such an emphasis on using geology to find oil, gas and mineral deposits that people can't recognize that the future of geology is going to be how to deal with groundwater, how to evaluate the damage that's been done, how the damage can be remedied." He understood it very clearly. But lots of scientists, some very good scientists -- for instance, Tommy Gold, who is one of my closest friends -- think the environment is almost a non-issue. Tommy is very much a technologist at heart; he believes that technology can overcome anything.
Doel:Right. Roger Revelle seemed quite sympathetic to these arguments.
MacDonald:He was sensitive to them, he talked deeply about them, he clearly understood these problems.
Doel:Do you recall any discussions with Frank Press about it?
MacDonald:Frank Press was more ambivalent. I had approached him to become director of this institute for the environment that we were setting up, largely because he was an earth scientist, he certainly was a good manager, and he had concerns about the environment. This was in the late '60s, early '70s. I felt that he moved away from as deep an interest as he might have had in his years as science advisor, and even as president of the National Academy he did not play a leadership role in trying to get the academy more deeply involved in the environmental questions. Phil Handler did.
Doel:Do you sense why it was that Frank Press did not share that kind of concern?
MacDonald:He had aspects of technology being able to master. Not as strongly held a view as let's say someone like Gold or Teller or some of my engineering friends, but nonetheless it was his tendency in that direction.
Doel:On a related matter, when you, in either the panel or related activities had to deal with the military representatives, the counterparts who were the liaisons, in the environmental context, did you find that there were a number of them who shared, began to share that sense of the environment, or was there training such that it didn't incline them to understand those issues?
MacDonald:It didn't incline them to understand -- at all. Again, that's changed dramatically for the better, but at the time no, not at all.
Doel:Yeah. I had a feeling that would be.
Doel:Back to your famous '68 article, in thinking back to the 1960s and the emerging environmental science organizations, I'm wondering for instance how effective you found the new groups like ESSA, the Environmental Science Services Administration. Robert White I think was the director of that.
MacDonald:Yes. Bob White was the first director, right.
Doel:How close did that come in its operations to what you wanted to see, or did it not even seem to be close to what you had in mind?
MacDonald:It was basically a reorganization, bringing together activities related to weather forecasting that incorporated some activities in remote sensing. But it wasn't structured in the very broad sense that I felt environmental issues had to be.
Doel:Was NCAR closer to that concept?
MacDonald:No. NCAR if anything is more remote. Again, in recent years more sympathetic to that point of view. But I could only blame myself on the Environmental Science Services Administration. In the mid-'60s I was a member of the Department of Commerce's Advisory Board. Herb Holloman I guess was the assistant secretary for science, and he offered me the job of director. I said no, I was going to do Defense work. He never could understand that.
Doel:I'm sure at the time you must have considered how effective you could have been in implementing those changes.
MacDonald:As you well know, bureaucracies are difficult to steer away from their established factor.
Doel:You mentioned Frank Press had declined the offer to lead the institute that would have been co-funded by Ford. You mentioned Allen Entoven as another candidate. What happened to his candidacy?
MacDonald:It turned out that he was not acceptable to the Administration.
MacDonald:Initially I thought I'd cleared it with the various people in the White House, but apparently he had made some statements with respect to support of health care that the Nixon Administration found repugnant.
Doel:I'll just ask the question, and then I'll need to flip the tape, but how broad was the range of issues that the candidates needed to be vetted on?
MacDonald:Right across the board in terms of understanding science, understanding the policy process. The institute as I envisaged it at the time would carry out research, but research that clearly was aimed at helping the policy makers in arriving at decisions. Entoven would have been very good at that. He had served in the Defense Department, his most recent work at the time -- I mean, continuous to now -- is looking at health care issues and he is very sympathetic to environmental issues.
Doel:How many candidates were on the short list of acceptable? Was it a half dozen--?
MacDonald:Oh, half a dozen, something of that sort.
Doel:I imagine there must have been a great disappointment when the project didn't succeed.
MacDonald:Oh, when it didn't. Because we negotiated this agreement with Ford, had gotten Nixon to agree to it, briefed the Congress. They would support it, they'd put money into it, and could never get somebody who was mutually acceptable and who would accept. Press was offered the job and he turned it down.
Doel:Was there continued Ford Foundation interest in trying to resurrect this?
MacDonald:There was continued Ford Foundation interest, certainly through the time that Bundy was there. As you may remember in the '70s Ford sponsored two really in-depth looks at energy and the future of energy. The second one focused on nuclear energy and what its role could be. So there was interest within the foundation both in the management of the foundation and in their trustees of looking at trying to integrate environmental disciplines that could contribute to the environment.
Doel:Who in the organization itself in addition to leadership from Bundy were particularly important in that or shared that vision?
MacDonald:Their head of international programs, if my memory serves me right, was a man by the name of Robinson. He saw the international aspects of the environment and attended the Stockholm conference on the environment.
Doel:In the early 1970s.
Doel:Right. Okay. There are a few other questions that I might ask, but I think its perhaps best to save those until we begin the fourth part of this interview.
Doel:So let me then thank you once again for this long session, and I shall put this on the tape: We will not release either the tapes or the transcripts without your express approval in the forms that we will be sending you.