Oral History Transcript — Dr. Sam Treiman
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Sam Treiman; December 18, 1986
ABSTRACT: Education at Northwestern University and University of Chicago (Enrico Fermi); membership in Federation of American Scientists (FAS); founding member of JASON. Discussion of the beginnings of JASON (project 137); Wheeler's initiation laboratory, and Marvin Goldberger's (et al.) plan for a private consulting firm. Goldberger becomes the first chairman. Early JASON activities; Treiman's JASON activities in the first decade; reasons for leaving JASON in 1968. Rejoins JASON in 1979; extensive remarks on the changes within and around JASON.
Aaserud:We are in Sam Treiman's office on December 18, 1986. We are going to talk mainly about JASON and your involvement in that, but we should start out a little bit with your earlier career to get to the motivations and such things. First of all, however, let me ask you about the state of your personal papers, and how that has been taken care of, if at all. I'm asking from a general interest.
Treiman:Sure. I have drawers full of papers and nothing more, no diaries for example.
Aaserud:Right, but they do exist.
Treiman:Yes. Some do and some don't.
Aaserud:Because that's another concern of the Center — to take care of the deposit of physicists' papers, generally speaking. I'm not only talking about JASON now, of course.
Treiman:Well, with JASON there's the added problem of course of classification.
Aaserud:Yes, of course. But generally speaking, we don't have facilities adequate for for storing physicists' papers.
Treiman:No, of course not.
Aaserud:But I just wanted to say that we're willing and indeed eager to provide any help to place these papers in repositories. We could come back to that.
Aaserud:Would you have any papers that might be relevant for my study, though?
Treiman:In preparation for this, I looked to see. I don't. I have only recent papers, nothing going back to the foundations of JASON. I'm really quite sorry about that, because it was an interesting period. But you know, when one is young, one doesn't think about history, so I treated papers as working papers, and I have really nothing, nothing that I could find.
Aaserud:That is true for JASON itself as well. I looked at the finding aid for the JASON archives, and I think it's one box for the first ten years.
Treiman:Something like that, right.
Aaserud:And then a box for each year after that.
Treiman:You understand, there was no lack of paper. In fact, there was so much paper, I think, that we treated it with disrespect.
Aaserud:Exactly. It takes time until an institution —
Treiman:— realizes that it may be a serious institution.
Aaserud:Yes, that's the general problem. What about papers of the department in general here? If you know anything about it, just tell me briefly. We'll not be going into this in any detail.
Treiman:Papers of the department?
Aaserud:The physics department here; do you know anything?
Treiman:Oh, there we have records going back some time. Yes, of course. I haven't poured through them, but they tend to be records of a dull sort — employment, salaries and so on. We do keep a minute book for senior departmental meetings, and I think we have books going back many years. I don't know when that institution started to happen. I haven't bothered to check. I work with the current one.
Aaserud:Well, I expect to come down to Princeton later with Joan Warnow, who is our expert on archival matters; she's the archivist of the Center.
Treiman:Yes. In fact, some time I must talk to you about that, because I'd like to establish some archival activities here, and I don't know quite how to go about it without filling boxes. One has a feeling here that there are some very good people in the department, that history is being made.
Treiman:I know I myself would like from time to time to go back and find out what happened and when, and it's hard to do. The university maintains archives, and I'm sure they have some information about the physics department.
Aaserud:Yes, but maybe the connection there isn't established well enough.
Treiman:I'm sure it's not.
Aaserud:We'll definitely come to you then. She's in China for the time being, but when she comes back I will arrange a visit.
Treiman:That would be very useful.
Aaserud:That's very nice. You were born in Chicago the 27th of May, 1925.
Aaserud:What were your parents doing?
Treiman:My parents were immigrants. I lived in a poor Jewish ghetto neighborhood, and was one of the bright kids. I did well at school, and was the first in my family to go to college. I went to Northwestern.
Aaserud:Did your parents have anything in terms of education?
Treiman:No. Just elementary education.
Aaserud:And what did they do?
Treiman:Well, my mother was a housewife. My father was a leather worker. I graduated high school in 1942. I had and have an older brother who's very talented but couldn't afford to go to college, so I was the first. I went on a scholarship to Northwestern in chemical engineering, spent two years there, and the war was on. I then entered the Navy. I entered the Navy in the Radar Training Program, which many other physicists, I've since discovered, did. I keep running into people who tell me they were in the same program at the same time.
Aaserud:But you didn't meet them then.
Treiman:No. Well, I did one, Jay Orear, who's a physicist at Cornell. I met him in the Navy.
Aaserud:Did that have any impact on your career?
Treiman:No, except that we've been friends ever since. It didn't change my career. In the course of being in the Navy, I read a lot in the Philippine Islands and discovered that my interest in science wasn't chemical engineering at all, but was physics. So it was then that I knew that I wanted to do physics. Earlier I just thought I wanted to do something scientific and technological, and engineering seemed as good as anything else.
Aaserud:And it was basically reading.
Treiman:Reading, yes. I had no particular mentor to tell me.
Aaserud:What reading brought you to this?
Treiman:Popular books, Gamow, things of that sort. I can't really recall. Awful books, just terrible, but I got interested in atoms and electrons. I'd always been interested in mathematics.
Treiman:My brother is a certified public accountant. He didn't go to college.
Aaserud:To what extent were you encouraged to such a career at home?
Treiman:Strongly. Strong belief in education. So they were very pleased when I got my scholarship.
Aaserud:So it's essentially books that you would point to as the main influence.
Treiman:Books and a few good teachers. A superb high school algebra teacher probably had a larger effect than any other school teacher. That and a very intelligent brother and a well-read uncle — those were the three major influences.
Aaserud:Were there other things than reading during the war period that had some impact on your view of your forthcoming career or of physics as such?
Treiman:Well, I was a radar technician in the Navy, so that encouraged my taste for science. There was a period when I was so well trained by this excellent program that I could actually repair a radar set. I've lost the skill since, but that encouraged me. Also I should say in the course of this, it was an unusual training program which attracted scientifically well educated people. So I met PhDs, something I'd never seen before, who were fellow sailors with me. We had a rather elevated lifestyle compared to others in the Navy, and that just encouraged me further.
Aaserud:You might even have read the same books then.
Treiman:We might even have read the same books, yes.
Aaserud:Or might even have borrowed books from each other.
Treiman:Well, we certainly borrowed. We traded books. Of course in the Philippines the books we had were few in number.
Aaserud:So that when you completed that service, you were set on going into a physics career.
Treiman:That's correct. I had applied while in the Navy to transfer to the University of Chicago. I was accepted, and from the Navy went to the University of Chicago, and stayed there through my PhD.
Aaserud:Well, we shouldn't get into your education in detail, but what was your PhD about ?
Treiman:It was in the area of cosmic rays; it was the theory of the development of cascades of collisions induced by incident cosmic rays in the atmosphere, and what one could learn about high energy collisions by that means. So it was a beginning of high energy physics, at a time when that was the only way to get at the subject.
Aaserud:Who was your adviser?
Treiman:John Simpson at the University of Chicago.
Aaserud:Did you connect up with experimentalists?
Treiman:Well, he is an experimentalist, and I had started my work with him actually doing some experiments, which I've retained a taste for. But I began doing the theory on my own. He encouraged me and I worked on it. I got my theoretical advice chiefly from Fermi, although I was a Simpson student. So I would talk a lot with Fermi, and be encouraged by Simpson, and in my early association with Simpson I actually helped with experiments. As I say, I've retained a great respect for experiments ever since.
Aaserud:What about science advising and the application of physics to other fields? I'm talking about the pre-history of JASON now. What exposed you to that?
Treiman:That comes at a much later period. That developed long after I came to Princeton, which I did in 1952. Although I followed science policy questions as a citizen, it never occurred to me that I'd be involved. That developed in the late fifties, really in connection with the beginnings of JASON.
Treiman:When was Sputnik?
Treiman:Yes, I was about to say, it's a little after. It was no doubt triggered by Sputnik, but I think the first stirrings that I remember were more like 1958 — a year later or so.
Aaserud:Were you a member of the Federation of American Scientists, for example?
Treiman:I think I was at the time. I lapsed, but not for any deliberate reason, later on; and rejoined and lapsed. That's mainly because I forget to pay my bills. But yes, I think I was a member at the time.
Aaserud:Did you do any contracting work during this period?
Treiman:Wait a minute, I've forgotten something. Yes, I did something earlier. In the summer of 1955, or thereabouts, yes. I think it was 1955, I did my first consulting. It was during the summer. I spent several months consulting for Lockheed on the West Coast. That was triggered by John Wheeler, who was on the faculty here. My beginnings in consulting can be traced always through Wigner, Wheeler and Goldberger. Wheeler told me that he knew of a need at Lockheed for a young theoretical physicist to help out there during the summer; would I be willing? And I was delighted to have a try at it, just to see what that kind of life was like. I got some sort of clearance and spent the summer doing that. Yes, that was my first taste.
Aaserud:What was the life like?
Treiman:It was interesting. It was interesting. Since I did particle theory by that period, I was getting more and more abstract. It was a pleasure to find concrete problems some of which I could solve. In particle physics, I hadn't had much experience of solving problems through to completion.
Aaserud:And you didn't find the combination difficult?
Treiman:No, quite the contrary. It was a pleasure to turn away for a couple of months. So that was my first taste. Yes, I'd forgotten that. That gave me a taste of that life. Then the summer after that, one of the people I had met at Lockheed asked me to consult. He'd gone to Ford Aeroneutronic, and asked me to do a little consulting the following summer. I did, but I forget the details. It was a shorter visit. That was my second taste. Then the third has to do with the beginnings of JASON.
Aaserud:So that was something that you wanted to pursue.
Treiman:I didn't think of it as deliberately pursuing. The following summer after that, there was no consulting, and that was fine too.
Aaserud:Yes, but there was nothing discouraging in the experience.
Treiman:I found nothing discouraging, no. Nothing discouraging.
Aaserud:JASON has a lot of different threads leading into it.
Treiman:It has a lot of threads, right.
Aaserud:And one of the threads is the summer study — 137.
Treiman:The famous summer study, 137, right. I participated in that with the lectures at, what was the name — Fort McNair is it, in Washington? Right. The arrangements were chiefly led, as I recall, by Wheeler. Wheeler was very instrumental in the early stages of JASON. Wigner was highly supportive and was for it, but he is not one to take worldly leadership. So the leadership and impetus were provided by Wheeler originally. He arranged for Project 137, as I recall.
Aaserud:Were you involved?
Treiman:I was involved fully in Project 137. Found it extremely interesting. It opened up a world I knew nothing about before, because my work at Lockheed and Ford Aeroneutronic, although classified, didn't give me the big picture. I was presented with a well-defined problem which I managed to solve. Project 137 was my first exposure to the broader defense picture.
Aaserud:So you were even involved in the planning of it, together with Wheeler?
Treiman:I had no official role in planning it, but since I was around, we'd have lunch occasionally. I remember lunches with that trio — Wigner, Wheeler, and Goldberger. Increasingly Goldberger was induced to take the lead in early JASON. Originally I think the idea would be that Wheeler would, but in the end, although Wheeler inspired a lot of the early activity, he backed out of leadership.
Aaserud:To what extent would you say that Project 137 was the beginnings of JASON?
Treiman:I think it was the beginning. Oh, I think so.
Aaserud:But the motivation wasn't exactly the same as what JASON eventually turned into, was it?
Treiman:Why not? The aim of 137 was to expose scientists to defense problems, with a view to attracting their help in some form. That was the purpose, certainly. The mode of operation of JASON developed, of course. Project 137 was a project in which we weren't doing research. We were merely getting exposed to problems. The motivation generally was to expose us, to see what we would then do, later.
Aaserud:So the summer study, 137, was very similar to the summer studies that developed later, in JASON?
Treiman:Developed later? Well no, there's a big difference, since in the subsequent summer studies, you got briefings, but then you also worked. Here in 137 it was all briefing.
Aaserud:So it was entirely a learning experience in 137.
Treiman:Yes. I think we may have tried our hand with pieces of paper, but that wasn't systematic. The main thing was to get exposed.
Aaserud:It was designed as the beginning of something, to start something, whatever that might be.
Treiman:Yes, whatever it might be. The first thing you have to do is get exposed to the problems.
Aaserud:So the idea was to expose a certain number of physicists to this kind of problem.
Treiman:Precisely, that I think can be said, right. It was somewhat unclear what would follow, at least unclear to me. Maybe others will have a better remembrance.
Aaserud:Was there a particular set of problems that was discussed at 137?
Treiman:It was very wide-ranging. And there I have to be careful what I remember, but it was very wide-ranging. Certainly ballistic missiles were an important issue.
Aaserud:The reason I was a little doubtful about the direct connection is that I have got the impression from some people that Wheeler intended something more institutionally well defined.
Treiman:That may be. I'm not totally clear. As I said, I don't think it was clear what would follow 137, but roughly the idea — and that remains the idea — was to recapture the Los Alamos years or whatever, and to involve scientists in defense issues. And whatever institution was going to be formed, clearly in order to engage their interest, the first thing would be to expose them to problems. Maybe they would hear the problems and find them uninteresting. As I remember it, we weren't presented with policy issues, which would turn a lot of people off. But the question was, whether any technical problems attracted people. So you're quite right; it's certainly my memory that the details of the follow-on institution weren't set. That's certainly correct. But there was some notion that if you spent the summer getting exposed, then we would discuss and see what followed, and indeed there were a lot of differences about that. I think maybe what you say you heard it right — I think Wheeler at the time had in mind something, as you say, more institutional, a fixed institution.
Aaserud:I think Wheeler called it an initiation laboratory or something like that.
Treiman:I don't remember that term. That may be.
Aaserud:It was intended to be essentially a weapons laboratory, which would be more basic than Los Alamos, that would introduce more basic concepts.
Treiman:At a fixed location, yes. I remember all that being discussed. I would be cautious in saying that Wheeler was pushing it. That was certainly a view. A lot of us, as I now recall, resisted that idea. We didn't think you could get scientists away on anything like a permanent basis.
Aaserud:No, and I was also told there was the practical problem of finding an administrative head of such a thing.
Treiman:Yes. Well, I think there was actually a little friction there. There was a feeling that if Wheeler had all these ideas, why wouldn't he take the leadership in the end? And he didn't.
Aaserud:Right. So that might be one reason that that particular idea didn't materialize.
Treiman:Although in retrospect I don't think that idea would have worked at all. I'd be surprised if you found many of the founders who thought that would have worked. It just wouldn't, because people wouldn't have left their universities. All you could imagine was leaving for a couple of months in the summer.
Aaserud:And then another thread was in the Institute for Defense Analyses.
Treiman:Right. Well, they were our original patrons.
Aaserud:They were your original patrons even for 137?
Treiman:No, not 137. When I said "our," I was referring to JASON. That was the institutional form that finally developed, and there I don't have a good memory of the tugging and hauling. Anyhow, what I saw was just a local version of it. But somehow Goldberger got pushed into a position of leadership. The notion of a summer study developed, without permanent commitment to anybody, and IDA took over.
Aaserud:The person in that respect who was important was Charlie Townes, I suppose.
Treiman:Townes was the first person, but I think the ideas were developed even earlier, when one began to look around for a suitable manager of the organization. Then Townes took over, right. But I think the original ideas were probably formed here in Princeton at the lunch table with Goldberger being pressed into a leadership role.
Aaserud:A third thread — you can correct me at any point, of course — that I have found is some frustration on the part of physicists in consulting matters, that there was not a sufficient independence and continuity in doing consulting for different places.
Treiman:Individual consulting? Yes, I believe that was a big factor, right.
Aaserud:And that Goldberger, Keith Brueckner, Murray Gell-Mann to some extent —
Treiman:— Ken Watson —
Aaserud:— and Watson, of course, were actually planning to create a private consulting firm.
Treiman:There was such talk at the time. Yes, that's right. That was one of the threads, that's correct. You're reminding me of things.
Aaserud:Was that an independent thread?
Treiman:That was independent for a time, and then got joined somehow to the JASON idea. I don't remember in detail how that went.
Aaserud:Were you involved?
Treiman:No, I was not involved in that, no.
Aaserud:But you were involved in the discussions of how finally the threads would come together, what the form would be.
Treiman:Yes. I was quite aware of this other idea, and I remember talking about it. A number of people thought it was improper to set up a private corporation for profit. We didn't like the sound of that. We wanted to sound more patriotic.
Aaserud:So what do you remember about what eventually decided the form that it finally took?
Treiman:That I can't tell you. I can't remember any sharp incident that did it, so I just can't help. It just took form somehow. I think some of it must have taken form at Project 137, because after hours there were endless discussions about what might be done. But I don't recall. I don't have a good memory about that.
Aaserud:To what extent was it totally a creation of the physicists, and to what extent did it have to be molded by the wishes of the military?
Treiman:Of the military establishment? It's my view — but I could be wrong, I saw it from one side — that JASON was molded overwhelmingly by the physicists. I wasn't involved in the negotiations. No doubt there were pressures for other forms of organization coming from various members of the military establishment. But it's my impression, which could be distorted because I saw it from one side, that we set the form. When people asked us, "Would you take a year off?" we answered, "No, but we would give the summers." "Do we want to be fixed at a permanent place?" "No, we wanted to move around where it pleases us to move." "Do you want to do this, how about that?" My memory, but it's one sided, is that we set the terms.
Aaserud:It would have to be accepted at least by the establishment.
Treiman:Oh, it had to be accepted, certainly, so the thing I don't see is how many little compromises might have been made. But it also had to attract good scientists. It was very elitist, at the beginning. Very.
Aaserud:Yes. You mean the physicists.
Treiman:Yes. The cream of the crop, and they sneered at the thought of letting a chemist in.
Aaserud:That was part of the motivation for joining, of course.
Treiman:Partly it was an honor, you may say. Is that what you mean?
Aaserud:Yes, that's what I mean.
Treiman:Well, nobody acknowledged that. We all claimed that we were doing it for patriotic purposes, and for curiosity. But there's no doubt that that was a factor. To be tapped for JASON was something special.
Aaserud:That's part of what I find fascinating about it, that it is an honor for the physicist, from the physicist's point of view, and also that it fits into the advising structure of the government.
Treiman:Well, it didn't fit in, as you were saying; it didn't fit in to any pre-existing structure. It was an unusual thing, in fact, and it's a miracle to me; that's why I'm very cautious when I say 90 percent of it came from our side. It's as I saw it, however, because there had to be a lot of yielding on the part of the establishment to give clearances to these wild people.
Aaserud:Well, I will have to get a fuller view of this by going to the other side.
Aaserud:And while I'm at that, is there anybody in particular for this special problem that you would suggest that I go to and talk to?
Treiman:No. Well, the people who will know most about this, who are still around, are Wheeler, Townes a little bit later, and Goldberger, and people they will suggest. There are several threads, and again I am guilty of seeing things from one end, but I believe it chiefly started here with 137 — John Wheeler — and then Goldberger being drawn in. Whether independently or as a result of this — probably independently — the thing you cited took hold. Namely, a group of people who had some experience with consulting — I hadn't, most of us hadn't — thought of forming an organization. I believe that was really stimulated, though, already by Wheeler, by the feeling we ought to do something. It was the Sputnik era. Although I think all this was a year later. I'm not sure. You'll have to find out. I can tell you with some assurance that the best sources for names are probably Wheeler and Goldberger.
Aaserud:I have some ideas of course myself.
Treiman:The people at IDA — Flax and whoever — but that's a tiny bit later period. The first thing was getting clearances, and who arranged that, I don't know. Wheeler, it is my impression. I think he had the initial contacts for 137.
Aaserud:Yes, I guess it's the older generation.
Treiman:That's right. He'd had experience with all this.
Aaserud:And he had connections. I'll skip a lot of these questions in order to finish in time.
Treiman:And he had the connections, right. You don't actually have to hurry, we can take another hour if you like.
Aaserud:Fine, I appreciate it.
Aaserud:We did touch upon the question of the motivation for joining, and you said that it was a combination of —
Treiman:Well, in the end I'm speaking for myself, but I believe the general spirit was a worry about Sputnik, a worry that the generation that had been involved during the war was aging, and that they weren't being replaced. To put it in an embarrassing way, a certain amount of patriotism. I think that was genuine. A certain amount of adventure, just plain adventure. This is a world none of us knew. And then many of us, after the initial exposure, saw some interesting problems.
Aaserud:What about the purpose? The purpose was twofold of course — at least. One was to expose a new generation of physicists to these kinds of problems, and I think that was a strong motivation.
Treiman:Very strong, yes. Very. That was the older generation's chief concern.
Aaserud:The other purpose of course was to really have an impact the other way.
Treiman:Well, you wouldn't want the first unless you hoped for an impact, of course. Just exposing with no consequences wouldn't make sense.
Aaserud:Conceivably it could have the indirect consequence of exposing people to the problem and then hoping that they would go further into more important organizations.
Treiman:I see what you mean, yes. That's possible. You put it very well. That's correct, that thread was there; exposure might lead some to join other organizations. That was part of the hauling I spoke about, before JASON took its form. Most people, however, weren't going to take this exposure and then take a fulltime job, say, in the Army. The best you could hope for — and it would be better than that — would be for them to take only a couple of months off, but work hard in the group in the summer.
Aaserud:So it was an expectation that JASON itself would have an impact.
Treiman:That was the predominant view, as best I can remember. But you're quite right, at the beginning there were both threads. But certainly, quickly enough, the idea developed that JASON would make a direct contribution. In time it might also become a source of people — advisors individually — to take high positions. But that notion developed later, I think. We weren't thinking in terms of high positions then.
Aaserud:A stepping stone.
Aaserud:What about your tenure in JASON? When were you a member?
Treiman:Well, I was one of the founding members, whenever that founding was.
Aaserud:Have you been a member ever since?
Treiman:No, I dropped out at the end of 1968, and then rejoined in 1979.
Aaserud:We can get back to that. Let's treat this chronologically. Let's do this general question: How much time did you spend on JASON over the years? Did it vary, when you were a member?
Treiman:All along during my membership, the time has been quite well defined for me, not so for some of the others. I went out for the full summer studies every summer, with perhaps one exception when I was on a sabbatical. No, I think not even that. I managed to get out every summer — six or seven weeks. There were the two annual meetings. I myself didn't do much during the year apart from that. I was too busy with my own academic work. In this aspect, you will find differences among JASONs. There were some who became more and more engaged. I personally did my work chiefly during the summer.
Aaserud:But it was a significant part of your activities.
Treiman:It was a substantial part of the summer, right.
Aaserud:Apart from those different threads that we've been talking about, and discussions of what JASON should turn out to be in relation to that, were there other arguments about whether JASON was the best forum to do the kind of thing that it was supposed to do? Was there any kind of discussion like that at the time of the origins of JASON? Whether it was too elitist, for example; whether it should have a more general appeal
Treiman:No. I don't remember that. I think people settled on the format rather quickly and happily. There were discussions later on, as there are now. But at the time, in the beginning, nobody felt apologetic about the elitism. There was tugging and hauling about assessments of prospective members — but not about our elitist principles. I will come later to a different class of discussions which is: How useful are we? But at the time, we were very cocky.
Aaserud:I believe that Brueckner indicated to me that Hans Bethe, for example, would have preferred something a little less elitist.
Treiman:Oh, I don't deny that there may have been such views, but I was one of the troops, and I don't recall intense discussions about this, amoung the troops.
Aaserud:Let's now turn generally to the organization and kinds of collaboration and such things within JASON. Then perhaps we could later talk about projects to the extent that you can do it. During the first years, the activities of JASON were entirely military-oriented, is that correct? ARPA was the main sponsor, or contractor, I should say.
Treiman:The contractor was chiefly ARPA and military, but already there was a thread of non-classified work, and that increased with time.
Aaserud:Even at that early time, there was?
Treiman:Yes at that early time, I remember it. In fact, I published in the open literature. Well, it depends how early you mean, but certainly by 1963 there were published papers in the open literature. I published things with Lewis and with Salpeter, for example. The problems may have been suggested by thinking about military projects. But this could lead to open work. I can't be sure about the very first year, but fairly early on there was a substantial amount of unclassified work.
Aaserud:Which was contracted for others than ARPA?
Treiman:Well, some of it grew out of work for ARPA. In other words, apparently, now that you say it, the arrangements must have been permissive enough so that if in the course of the summer some of us got together and worked out something of an open nature, they would pay for it and we could publish it. Now, we couldn't do something, say, in quantum field theory. That would have been "immoral" on JASON time. But there were no unreasonable strings. We were moral enough not to do our ordinary academic work. But things that were suggested by problems we were looking at could carry us afield. I think right from the beginning, but certainly from 1963 on.
Aaserud:So that's a sign of the independence.
Treiman:Yes, there was great independence.
Aaserud:To what extent was there an organizational structure at this point?
Treiman:There was a structure. I mean, there was a chairman, Goldberger, and there was a steering committee, as I think it was called. I was even on it for a time. We took turns. But it was hardly a tight structure, because you can't be tight with a bunch of academics. Nobody wanted a tight structure, and Goldberger has a loose style anyhow.
Aaserud:When were you part of the steering committee?
Treiman:I can't recall. Certainly in the early years, but precise dates are the kinds of things I can't remember.
Aaserud:That's the kind of thing I've had a hard time to get my hands on.
Treiman:No records. I don't know; that shows how little we took formality seriously. Structure didn't matter. I was told I was on the steering committee, so I'd show up at meetings. We weren't serious about structure. So I simply don't remember. I think I must have been on the earliest steering committee, because I was one of the founders after all.
Aaserud:Yes, maybe in the very beginning.
Treiman:I think so, but I'm not sure.
Aaserud:I'll try to find records of that. During those early years — let's say, Goldberger's tenure — who were the most important members? Or does it make sense to ask such a question?
Treiman:Well, it probably makes sense, but I wouldn't dare to answer it — you know. I mean, certainly major ones were Goldberger, Brueckner while he was there, Watson. They were sort of the more experienced ones. A lot of us had never had much experience with consulting before, apart from my brief consulting. Hal Lewis was very important.
Aaserud:That was essentially the first steering committee, probably. It wasn't large. The steering committee consisted of a chairman plus three others, didn't it?
Treiman:You know more than I. Again I'm not conscious of organization. But these were guys who had had experience, and they tended to be leaders. Murray Gell-Mann. Who am I omitting? If you had a list of the early members, it might refresh my memory. I don't have it handy.
Aaserud:But of course, membership in the steering committee implied more meeting activity, obviously.
Treiman:A little bit. Not too much. We'd meet during the summer, and there may have been one or two special meetings during the year. No, it wasn't heavily, tightly organized. We'd meet at lunch. Instead of going out to lunch, you would stay behind for sandwiches.
Aaserud:It was the steering committee that made decisions, handled proposals of new membership, renewed members, and things like that?
Treiman:Yes. I think later on there developed a separate membership committee. At the time, I think it was the steering committee, right; that's correct. But it was the whole membership that had to approve, and it was really individual personalities who took the initiatives. If Goldberger knew of somebody who seemed right, he'd simply go around and ask people, did this seem OK? I don't recall that it even had to pass through the steering committee, except pro forma. It was the old boys' network.
Aaserud:To what extent did the membership of JASON overlap with the kind of other people you collaborated with in physics generally?
Treiman:Quite a bit. Goldberger and I were and are — regard ourselves as — close colleagues. We've written papers — academic papers — together; Goldberger and Watson etc. Yes. Quite a bit. It was the old boys' network, without question. Without question that was a factor. And in other cases, such collaboration started in JASON and carried through later in academic work.
Aaserud:So even without JASON, the JASONs would have constituted the cream of physicists at the time.
Treiman:Well, it's immodest to say this, but it was a good bunch. There's no question but that it was a very good bunch. There were a number who weren't members for other reasons. They didn't want to do it, they didn't have the time, thought it improper, or weren't citizens or whatever. But of those who were interested, you sort of picked the cream of the crop, together with a little — . Well, you know, it always happens with old boys' networks, your vision is a little narrow sometimes. You don't know the other good people so well, so you don't think of them. Those are all human traits.
Aaserud:And JASON of course has always been limited in numbers of membership too.
Treiman:Certainly. Nobody's for large increase.
Aaserud:Did you have any kind of screening of members? Did you have a trial period?
Treiman:Yes, I think there was a trial period. That set in early, as I recall, but I can't recall the details.
Aaserud:Was that a demand from the military?
Treiman:No. That was the JASONs' idea. You just wanted to be sure. There were people who came and didn't get invited back. No, to my knowledge, the trial idea was totally our decision.
Aaserud:And how successful were you?
Treiman:There were a fair number who came for a while, but didn't remain. So it was enforced. Some candidates may have left voluntarily, because they found they didn't like the setup. Others were not invited to stay on. I will certainly not name names.
Aaserud:Because I saw in Dyson's correspondence yesterday, he had two letters at three years intervals from Nierenberg, in the eighties, telling him that he was re-appointed.
Treiman:Re-appointment, yes. We continue to do that now, right. But that's something we do now; in the earlier stages, membership was thought to be permanent once you got it.
Aaserud:That's a much later invention, yes. The membership was rather constant, wasn't it?
Treiman:Fairly constant, yes. New members came slowly.
Aaserud:Let's go up to the Vietnam period now, because that's special.
Aaserud:How constant was the membership after that period?
Treiman:What do you call after Vietnam? When do you date the end of Vietnam?
Aaserud:When you began to have public discussion of JASON, say.
Treiman:I think it was fairly constant. It's been constant throughout, I think. There was some dropping out. There were some who weren't re-invited, but then among permanent members, most of them stayed on. People who are renewed for three years are essentially permanent, with some exceptions.
Aaserud:Because the average age —
Treiman:— has gone up. It goes up almost a year per year.
Aaserud:Yes, I'm sure it has for a while.
Treiman:There was a little dropping out at Vietnam. I don't know how much, actually. Not all that much. I was one. But in general, it's the same group, and there have been new young ones. They do come in.
Aaserud:What about your activity in selecting work projects in JASON? How were you involved in that, and how were such decisions made?
Treiman:There was a menu of things. The typical organization in the summer was, we got briefings early on, to see what kinds of issues were up. You chose entirely voluntarily. Initially you chose what interested you. After a time, you would acquire a certain attachment to an area. You were the expert. Or you had learned to work with certain people and you found that enjoyable. So after a time, there were these sociological factors. But you were never, never directed, not to this day. You just look at the menu. Now, after years pass, you already know the menu. In addition you come up with your own ideas. We'll return to that. So you create your own menu. But never direction. Never, to my knowledge.
Aaserud:I'm asking general questions now. To what extent was the work independent projects, and to what extent was it evaluative work?
Treiman:Now, that's an interesting question. That's a very large question, and that's the kind of thing we began to discuss increasingly as the years went on. My memory is roughly that initially, in our very cocky way, we were there to solve problems that nobody else could solve, and to invent. There are two kinds of activities. One is, there's a known problem, and I'm talking now about technical things, not policy problems, or if policy, how the technical ideas impinge on policy. We were so smart that problems that had baffled mankind for generations, we would solve. In addition, we'd be exposed to needs, and then invent things to meet those needs. As time went on, of course, we increasingly evaluated things, and that was always a concern among some people. How much should we be mere evaluators and how much should we try to invent? And that's a question that continues to this day. It doesn't alter what we do day by day during the summer, but it's something you talk about at lunch often — particularly the younger people. The older ones have talked about it so much that we're tired of it. That's a very important question, and I'd suggest that you pursue it among many of your interviewees, to get a taste for that, because that is a big question within JASON, and was from the beginning. I remember, in 1960 already we were beginning to do that. "Why should I bother reading some idiot proposal? I'm here to invent." But what happened was, over time you found you weren't that smart. You couldn't solve everything. You couldn't invent all the time. Secondly, you discovered there were smart people out there in the establishment. I believe the quality "out there" increased with time. You found yourself dealing with quite intelligent people. You can no longer regard your chief role as telling them things they don't know. So increasingly as time goes on, your special merit is that you are somewhat detached. You therefore can give objective evaluations, and still, the JASONs are a rather smart bunch of people, and our evaluations carry maybe some wisdom as well as objectivity. Along with the growing quality of the best people in the establishment, there is growing stupidity and wrongheadedness. Part of the argument for JASON has always been that inventions and solving problems are fine, but you really save money for the government by stopping the idiotic things, and I think that's true. But it's disappointing.
Aaserud:That's where the impact is strongest.
Treiman:It's disappointing to think that your impact comes from things that are less challenging. So that's a theme I suggest you follow. It's a very interesting one.
Aaserud:But in your judgment, has there been more evaluation?
Treiman:Do I think it has changed? Yes, certainly. Over the years. More reviewing.
Aaserud:But at the same time, the self-perception of JASON has not changed.
Treiman:No, I think most people realize that they're useful; they're prepared to spend a lot of time evaluating. We still spend quite a bit of time trying to invent and solve too. But there's no doubt that a lot of the most useful things we do is, stop nonsense. And by now, we can speak with authority. We're known, and in some quarters trusted, and if we say something is nonsense, it carries a little weight. Doesn't stop it, of course.
Aaserud:There might be more reason for that kind of discussion now than ever before.
Treiman:I think there are fluctuations, but certainly over the years that has increased, certainly compared to the very early years, when we ran around being terribly inventive. A new person, who's reasonably smart, seeing a new problem, can often do things, particularly when there's nobody in the government at that time who can. There was a smaller cadre of well-trained people in the government back then so we could dazzle everybody and have fun.
Aaserud:But JASON has survived, though. That must indicate something. I don't know what.
Treiman:Well, the work wasn't bad. There were some good things.
Aaserud:What about the contact with agencies? How close was that? Was it a continuous thing? Was it a thing that happened when you presented projects?
Treiman:People from the agencies came out — they still do — to give the briefings.
Aaserud:At the summer meetings.
Treiman:Yes. Over time you get to know some of them.
Aaserud:But for the most part, when you did a project, say, that project was done on your own. You didn't have anybody looking over your shoulder.
Treiman:No. The agencies didn't look over our shoulder. We looked over theirs. Of course they would look when we turned in a report, either written or given orally. Of course too, they might look in along the way to ask, what's happening to this, or have you done that and so on. But we were under no obligation. The presentations were up to us.
Aaserud:And then it was presented as a written report.
Treiman:There'd be written reports, yes.
Aaserud:Then that was that.
Treiman:That was that.
Aaserud:Then it went to the bureaucracy, and was acted on.
Treiman:No, we would keep tabs on things, successfully in some cases, not in others. Often the problems would recur. They'd last for years. You become knowledgeable in an area, rather than a specific problem, so you'd see variants of the problem over and over.
Aaserud:So you did maintain a track of the fate of your work.
Treiman:Yes, and that's still so.
Aaserud:So the results were mostly presented in reports, notes?
Treiman:Verbal reports and written reports.
Aaserud:What about technical tasks, in relation to general policy advice?
Treiman:I'm not sure I know what you mean.
Aaserud:I'm talking about calculations in relation to specific problems — technical solutions — as opposed to more directly policy advice.
Treiman:Well, most of it in principle was technical. The technical impinges on policy, so, there there's a great spectrum. Yes, the JASONs are citizens; when they heard idiotic policy, they couldn't resist thinking and saying so. But in the end, in principle, to the extent you resist some policy, it's because it's technically foolish. In principle, JASON provides technical input, but technical input impinges on policy. Ultimately that's the whole purpose of the thing, isn't it?
Aaserud:Yes, of course. But there are degrees, as you say.
Treiman:It's hard for me to characterize. My memory is rather clear that in the beginning, for most of us, it was the technical that appealed. Not that we didn't have policy views. But we were so smart; we were going to solve all the technical problems. I think as time went on, we became more familiar with policy issues. We became more conscious of them, no doubt.
Aaserud:Was there any discussion of that — to what extent there should be technical solutions to everything, as you say, and to what extent they should be contributions to policy?
Treiman:Yes, there was some discussion. Everybody agreed in principle that our main role is technical. Where differences occurred was, "Are you sure you're not slanting your technical commentary because of your policy advice?" And so on.
Aaserud:And there are different personal inclinations.
Treiman:Totally different, right, so there's no policy on policy.
Aaserud:But there may have been a discussion of it.
Treiman:Yes. There used to be lots of discussions, when we were younger and more idealistic about, what should we be doing? Why are we doing it? Why isn't there a better way? And so on. Now, of course, we're an established organization, so there are somewhat fewer such discussions.
Aaserud:But there were probably considerations from the other side as well. I mean, the contracting agencies were probably more ready to listen to a technical solution than to policy advice.
Treiman:I don't recall that that was ever an issue, actually. Nobody would have presumed to give policy advice as such. The whole context was technical, but in the course of it, there was a lot of give and take, quite freely. I don't recall that we were especially criticized for expressing our views.
Aaserud:And of course you were choosing problems too probably on the basis of how you saw them as fitting into a more general policy stand.
Aaserud:What about JASON as expanding your interdisciplinary experience?
Treiman:That helped. I found the work interesting. It was particularly so for somebody like myself whose academic work tended to be abstract. It was nice to find that you could solve more practical problems. You could show off with your fancy techniques, you see, and dazzle people.
Aaserud:Most of you were theoretical physicists.
Treiman:That's the point, exactly. Just for that reason, it was attractive to many. I think a lot of us found that enjoyable.
Aaserud:Well, you had some exceptions, of course, like Munk, I suppose, and MacDonald.
Treiman:Yes, there were certainly exceptions; people who worked in other areas, which were in some cases closer in fact to the problems we were faced with. Also there were others who had had much more consulting experience, and were less surprised. But those of us who came straight from academia found it interesting that we'd learned enough apparently to do practical problems. I'm sure a lot of the people at Los Alamos during the war had the same revelation.
Aaserud:In projects, in work within JASON, how was the work done in terms of collaboration? How was the work divided up?
Treiman:Well, as I explained, it was voluntary.
Aaserud:Yes, but was it more collaborative than work in other areas?
Treiman:The work in JASON tends to be more collaborative than university work, which is typically, at least among theorists, individual or in small groups of two or three. A lot of the JASON projects have a fair number of people who come and go as they wish among various projects.
Aaserud:Did you have special groups developing, or did the groups change?
Treiman:Naturally special groups tend to form. That's just human nature. That's what I said earlier. After a while, you get to be the expert in some area, so you naturally feel a certain responsibility for it. Or you like to work with these three people and not the others. Of course.
Aaserud:We'll get a little more into that when we talk about projects. OK, let's turn to that now, then. Let's talk to the extent that we can about the projects that JASON took up during these first let's say ten to fifteen years, and, specifically, the ones you were involved in, of course. If you could relate them to the work in JASON generally, that would be excellent too. So what were the projects that you were involved in?
Treiman:Well, there I feel a little more inhibited. I don't know. What have you been finding with other interviewees? Some things of course were classified. Most of them were classified. In a loose sense, I can tell you, I'd feel more comfortable telling you just about my own activities in general terms.
Treiman:In the early days of JASON, one of the biggest concerns was ballistic missile defense, and a lot of the problems connected with that had a fairly fundamental character. It wasn't a question of how ballistic missiles work. Initially we were less concerned with things like that. It was, what are the signals when they hit the atmosphere? And so on. The problems had an interesting and fundamental character, and a lot of us worked on that. That was certainly one of the major themes in the early years, and it was certainly an important theme for me. As I say, as an outgrowth of that activity, there were a number of openly published papers which had no reference to missiles at all; questions had just been raised about turbulence and stratified media and so on. So that was one major theme which I was involved in.
Aaserud:That was all-pervasive within JASON?
Treiman:No, nothing was all-pervasive. No, no, I'm just telling you now about one particular area. I feel a little hindered because of classification about some of other the activities I was involved in. Various parts of this constituted one large effort. A continuing problem that recurred, which was a problem early on — one in which I was involved and one which led to open publications — had to do with detection of underground tests. An issue called decoupling — could something be done deliberately by the other side by building oversized holes to reduce the signal? How far could you go? And so on. And some of the questions — the seismological questions — were kind of interesting and fundamental. Again, they were totally new to many of us, so we got a big kick out of working on them. And some of the things we did had a certain lasting value. So certainly ABM and testing were major issues. I don't claim that was the whole agenda. There I feel a little more inhibited. If you can get hold of early programs, feel free, but I'm a little more inhibited there. Later on, there was increasing concern of course with Vietnam. I personally, and this was my personal policy, stayed away from questions with Vietnam because I was uneasy about Vietnam. So I can tell you less about that. The problems there had a more concrete character than general questions of turbulence and so on.
Aaserud:Was there any project in particular, say prior to Vietnam, that you considered more important than others, that had more impact?
Treiman:Well, I think the ABM work. There were many other things going on, but that was certainly a major one, and I was involved in that. Yes, I think that had a fair impact.
Aaserud:I'm asking you this in part for egotistical reasons. That is, I think it makes sense to concentrate on one particular case of the case, so to speak, to get an idea of how JASON worked.
Treiman:Well, that's one I'm knowledgeable about. So I choose that, but I can't speak of others. The ABM work was certainly an issue that was presented to us as an important issue. It attracted the interest of a number of us. And before you knew it, already in the early years, there was a fairly large group of us working on various aspects. Some of the work, as I say, was of a character that you could publish openly, and Salpeter and I did some nice work that got published openly. That continued for several years. The underground testing was another, not super-major, but rather important issue.
Aaserud:While we're at that, you just reminded me of something. Are unclassified JASON reports part of your publication list?
Treiman:Well, the ones that are published in standard open journal are. There are also unclassified reports, a lot, that go to sponsors, but they're not published in the open reference literature, so I don't list those.
Aaserud:Could I ask you to mark articles that came out of JASON work?
Treiman:I could mark that. There are two or three. There was a little question, as I recall vaguely, whether it was OK to do it, but it turned out, there was no problem.
Aaserud:OK, fine. Actually I don't have the full list of JASON reports.
Treiman:Well, I'm not sure you can, but I leave it to you. [Treiman checks articles on publication list.]
Aaserud:There's the general question of to what extent work in JASON fed into or related to physics work. I mean, that's exactly what we're doing now; you are marking those articles.
Treiman:Well, the work in JASON didn't impinge on my regular activities as a particle theorist, so it had no effect on my career in that sense. It led to a few published papers in the open literature, but not in the field with which I'm normally identified. In fact, friends of mine were amazed when they saw it. "Why are you publishing in the geophysics journal? For some people, it impinged on their work. For example, Walter Munk is an oceanographer. Some of the work he does is for the Navy. And it fits right in. They are purely publishable. In fact, there have been several books published. I was involved in a book on the carbon dioxide problem. That's later years. So that's an illustration from later years. There were many open subjects — e.g., carbon dioxide, acid rain — which have led to open publications and books. I thought we were speaking about the earlier period.
Treiman:So for me personally, the JASON experience hasn't impinged on my own work, just because of the nature of my normal academic work, but for some people it had a closer relation.
Aaserud:Any physicists that you would mention in particular for whom the JASON work impinges on their physics?
Treiman:Oh, I think Dashen and Flatte and others have become interested. It happens to be oceanography, but they are physicists. They became interested in oceanography partly through JASON.
Aaserud:And they're taking a physicist's approach to it, of course.
Treiman:Taking a physicist's approach, you see — path integrals.
Aaserud:I have interviewed both Dashen and Flatte; I got the same impression. What about differing or similar political views within JASON? Did that play any role at all?
Treiman:No. There is a spread; it surprised me. I thought all physicists were on the liberal side, but I discovered there are a few who are not, and increasingly as there are members from other areas. So in fact I discover now that there's quite a spectrum in JASON. It was probably somewhat narrower at the beginning, that's my guess.
Treiman:Somewhat more liberal at the beginning, I would say. But it doesn't become an issue. I have not seen it become an issue on anything technical.
Aaserud:Except for Vietnam, perhaps.
Treiman:Well, there's always Vietnam, but I don't think that was political. I don't think there was anybody who was happy with Vietnam. Different people were trying to respond in different ways. I'm not particularly proud of the way I did, which was to drop out. Maybe I would have been more useful to stay on. Political differences probably play some role in what projects you're willing to take on. That's correct. There are some things people just don't want to touch. But I haven't seen it play a role within a project — what you write.
Aaserud:Well, Dyson told me he didn't want to touch the Barrier problem.
Treiman:Well, I didn't either. As I said, I pulled out of it. So there were a number of people who didn't do it. But I want to be very clear. The ones who did, didn't do so because they supported the war. It was quite the opposite. They thought they would do more good that way. They may have been wrong, but that was their motivation.
Aaserud:Well, probably it was the insider-outsider problem.
Aaserud:And people draw different conclusions on that basis.
Treiman:Exactly. So too now with SDI.
Aaserud:Right. Well, that's an interesting matter too but I wouldn't dare to get into that. It's probably more reasonable to take the earlier period anyway.
Aaserud:And there are similarities with the ABM question and all that it involves too.
Treiman:Not at that time, interestingly enough. There would be now. I think, back in the sixties everybody agreed it would be interesting technically to see if you could stop incoming missiles. A lot of people who worked on this are totally as am I, openly, for the ABM Treaty. I saw no contradiction.
Aaserud:Are there any examples you could mention, except for Vietnam, of politics?
Treiman:Of politics? What do you mean?
Aaserud:I think you limited it to choice of problems.
Treiman:I think choice probably enters. Choice is also probably affected chiefly by whether you like a particular kind of problem. But there's no doubt, I think, that choices chiefly reflect scientific taste, except for a few special issues. Certainly Vietnam was one; the Barrier, rather, was one. And now — we don't get into it — SDI to some people. So yes. In maybe unspoken ways, it enters elsewhere. But I've never seen it enter openly other than a few very special issues like this. In fact, those are the only two I can think of. There may be others, but I can't think of any others.
Aaserud:In your case, the work in JASON and the work in physics was rather distinct.
Aaserud:So I suppose that you did not encounter too many problems with the demand for secrecy.
Treiman:I don't see why that would have — oh, I see, in the sense of hindering me in my own work. No, not at all. Of course not.
Aaserud:Were there cases of that?
Treiman:Actually, I'm not aware of any. I've never heard of any. That's an interesting question. I've never heard of anybody being inhibited in his own work. I don't think that's ever occurred.
Aaserud:In terms of what they could publish, for example.
Treiman:I don't think so. You might question whether something you do for JASON could be published, but certainly not your ordinary work. No, I never heard of that.
Aaserud:Even Munk, for example?
Treiman:No problem. No, I don't know of a single case.
Aaserud:Maybe you could say something about the background for your quitting JASON, then. Was it in 1968?
Treiman:The last summer study I attended before my later return was 1968. I didn't show up again until 1979. And even 1968 was truncated; it was shorter than the usual summer. And that was a quiet thing. I just felt sufficiently uneasy about Vietnam. I had no objection at all to what JASONs were doing; I thought they meant well. So the reasoning I gave to myself was rather, I just felt uncomfortable. No objection about JASON. God bless them. And I didn't even resign; I just stopped coming; it turned into a formal resignation only later on. In fact, I now remember, as I talk. There was pressure, as you remember, on campuses then, and I certainly wasn't going to resign if there was pressure, so I just stopped going. The pressure eased on this campus; it disappeared in 1971, so then I could resign, without, you know, seeming to be doing so because of pressure, though I never had any personal pressure. But the climate was such that in 1968 a resignation would have been leaped on happily by people whom I didn't want to leap on it happily.
Aaserud:So the pressure was counter-productive in that sense.
Treiman:It was counter-productive with me, yes. Well, I stopped coming, but the point is, I might otherwise have resigned. I would never have resigned in any case publicly. Just quietly. Because I had no objection to what was going on in JASON. I just didn't want to be part of government consulting.
Aaserud:So it wasn't in any newspaper?
Treiman:No, no. I just very quietly, in 1971, I think it was, said, "By the way, you see I'm not coming; you might as well count me out." Again, lack of fancy organization. JASON just noted the fact. Nothing had to be done.
Aaserud:Some people did it a little more strongly, of course.
Treiman:That I know.
Aaserud:But you didn't. I've seen the same kind of argument with some Columbia people. They stayed on because they couldn't quit because of the pressure.
Treiman:Yes. Well, I dealt with that by not resigning or anything, but just quietly not going. I would not have quit publicly under any circumstances, but I didn't even want to quit privately while there was pressure, because maybe somebody would find out.
Aaserud:Did your decision in any way involve any doubts as to the function of JASON?
Treiman:No, not at all. Just that I felt uncomfortable being associated with anything to do with the government. But I thought JASON was a good thing, and in fact I was a little ashamed about quitting. I didn't think it was a thing to be proud of, because I should be in there doing the right thing. But I just felt so uncomfortable, I couldn't.
Aaserud:Was that completely an individual decision on your part?
Treiman:Completely, yes. Completely. I told a few friends in JASON later. I think they understood.
Aaserud:Of course, there were others as well.
Treiman:No sense of disapproval, just uncomfort.
Aaserud:That's another problem I have, although I'm getting to that. I only have a list of current members of JASON, and it would be very good of course to get the perspective from people who quit, for whatever reason, and I don't have a full list of those.
Treiman:Well, that I'll have to kind of leave to you. I don't feel I can supply that. That will have to come from the management.
Aaserud:Sure. But I can tell you about an interesting experience I had. Some secretary called around to present and —
Treiman:You mean currently, right?
Aaserud:Yes, she called to present and earlier JASON members to ask about opinions about the kind of study that I'm doing, and the result of that was that I was asked to call one person who had expressed some doubts. I called the person up, and I thought that this was somebody who was strongly involved in JASON still and didn't want JASON to be touched upon for that reason. It turned out to be Richard Blankenbecler of Stanford University.
Treiman:Yes, he's been out for a long time.
Aaserud:He's been out for a long time, and his fear was that I would write something too nice about JASON. So I was very surprised about that.
Treiman:Well, he turned against it, I think.
Aaserud:So we arranged an interview. So that was the result of that. So I'm finding somebody. There's Matthew Sands and others as well. How did you find JASON when you returned? Had it changed much? Let me explain my question a little more. When you left, JASON was still under the Institute for Defense Analyses.
Aaserud:And it was contracting still essentially for ARPA.
Treiman:I think that's right, although there were a number of other agencies too.
Aaserud:I think that during the seventies — I don't know if that was partly the result of the Vietnam thing — JASON got several contractors, both in the civil sector and the military sector.
Aaserud:In the military sector, the Navy in particular, I think, introduced particularly severe classification standards.
Treiman:Yes, that was during the time that I was out. But yes, it happened during that period, right.
Aaserud:So that you got more of a, I wouldn't call it a hierarchy, but more of a division within JASON.
Treiman:A little bit more; that's correct, yes. When I returned, I found that. I also found that it was older. Although there certainly were new members, the average age had certainly gone up.
Aaserud:So maybe you could, on that basis, say something about the differences that you did encounter?
Treiman:Well, yes. I think that JASON had become itself somewhat more "the Establishment." I don't say that negatively. It's that the older JASONs by now had had a lot of experience, a lot of contact, knew their way around Washington better, so it had a slightly more Establishment tone. I found also that the quality of the technological and scientific people we were dealing with in government — that is, the contractors and their agents and people — had gone up. That is, there were now a lot of talented people. That was good because it made for more intelligent discussion. It also made us wonder from time to time — or me, returning — how useful was JASON? I've since discovered, it's still quite useful.
Aaserud:But it also led to more evaluative work.
Treiman:It led to more evaluative work, and I increasingly discovered that the evaluative work, although it's not the thing that gives us the greatest pleasure, was often very decisive, but not as much fun. I found, on the other hand, I have to say, some new young members who were very bright and that lifted my spirits. But on the whole, the age was more establishmentarian.
Aaserud:Did it play much of a role, that people now had different levels of clearance?
Treiman:That was not a big factor. It didn't hit me as a big factor. That wasn't a general problem, except with one area. [Interruption]
Aaserud:I think you said before you took the telephone, "Except in one instance."
Treiman:Except for the Navy thing, that's not been a problem.
Aaserud:Right, so you didn't get different classes of JASON or anything like that.
Treiman:With that exception, and that did cause irritation. It didn't bother me particularly, but it bothered some people.
Aaserud:Were there particular things you couldn't discuss that you wanted to — that kind of thing?
Treiman:In limited areas, yes. But it happened not to be an area I was interested in working in anyhow. I felt sure enough that if I wanted to, I could get the clearances. But it was not an area I wanted to work in.
Aaserud:Because originally of course, the idea of JASON in part was that all of you should work together.
Treiman:Absolutely. To that extent, it was an unfortunate thing, and it's generally regarded so.
Aaserud:But of course, it's hard to do anything with that.
Treiman:It's hard to do anything with it.
Aaserud:What about the involvement in JASON and bringing public issues out? Has that been accomplished for you, say?
Treiman:Wait, how do you mean? Garwin, say?
Aaserud:Garwin, I guess, is the obvious example, yes.
Treiman:Extreme version, yes. You mean, does it inhibit me, is that what you're asking?
Aaserud:Yes, from giving testimony in Congress, say, or something to that effect.
Treiman:It doesn't inhibit me whatsoever. No. I've signed petitions and so on. I don't give testimony to Congress because I happen not to be the kind who volunteers to do so, but if I felt like doing it, it wouldn't inhibit me. It would inhibit me only in that I wouldn't reveal classified information.
Aaserud:Well, have there been instances in which JASONs have testified or gone public with something that's close to their heart, and they have been —
Treiman:— chastised for it?
Aaserud:Yes, chastised for it, or even thought of giving classified information?
Treiman:No. I'm not aware of any violations of security. None whatsoever. If there are, it's not known to me.
Aaserud:And, like I talked about with Dyson yesterday, I guess Garwin's case is more than JASON anyway.
Treiman:Well, but in any case, Garwin certainly doesn't give away classified information. He is impeccable.
Aaserud:Yes, absolutely, but on the other hand he hasn't made himself all that popular with some people.
Treiman:That's another matter. Right. But you were asking me about classified information, and he is certainly an example of a guy who's not inhibited in giving his opinions. And he is, therefore, an example of a guy who is therefore detested by some in government.
Aaserud:So you haven't found any problem.
Treiman:Well, I have not — zero myself. I'm not aware of any. I can't rule out that there are some people who are a little more timid in speaking out than they would otherwise be, but, I don't see any sign of that. Drell speaks out. I can't swear that there isn't some member who's being intimidated. But from my knowledge I don't know of any.
Aaserud:There have been people who have, you know, taken the entirely opposite track, after Vietnam. I'm thinking particularly of Henry Kendall, for example, who was a JASON member until that time, and he went into the outsider role entirely.
Treiman:Right. Yes, there are examples of that. I mean, he participated in some of the activities he subsequently criticized.
Aaserud:So for example, there have been no departures, on the basis of suspicion.
Treiman:You mean, anybody forced out because of what he said? No.
Aaserud:Or suspicion of giving away classified information. I'm not saying that they did it, but suspicion.
Treiman:No, no, not that I know of. If there was anything in those years I was out, I've not heard of it.
Aaserud:JASON has tried to keep a low profile, at least since the Vietnam period.
Treiman:On policy issues, you mean? No, it's low profile because of classification, and, after the student troubles, because it would make for trouble on campus. So it has been low profile. But that has nothing to do with speaking out on issues. It's low profile as an organization. When anybody speaks out, he speaks as an individual.
Aaserud:Nobody speaks out as a JASON.
Treiman:I don't know of any examples. Although there are some JASONs who are quite proud to be JASONs, and like to taunt their students and tell them they are. These tend to be the liberal ones, by the way.
Aaserud:What about the relationship of JASON with the physics community more generally? Has that been smooth?
Treiman:I'm not aware of even what it means to say "the physics community"; I don't quite know what you mean. There's no institutional connection. These guys who are in JASON are members of that community. If you mean by that, are some of them challenged for belonging to JASON, yes, sure.
Aaserud:Well, that's part of what I mean. Also of course there are a lot of people out there who want to join JASON. That's the other side.
Treiman:That's the other side. Right. But there's no institutional connection to anything. These are members of the community.
Aaserud:Right, but I was thinking about the conception of non-JASONs of JASONs.
Treiman:I don't know of anything systematic. There are certainly a lot of conceptions out there, ranging from regarding them as ogres, to those who would like to be members. And sometimes they're the same people!
Aaserud:But that hasn't had an impact.
Treiman:I'm not aware of any. Well, there have been unpleasant things. As you know, at Columbia the JASONs are picketed daily. Of course, that isn't by members of the physics community except in the loosest sense. The leader is a former student. But in that sense, it's an issue. It's calmer now, but during the time of the student troubles, sure, individual JASONs were given a hard time. So in that sense, yes.
Aaserud:Well, of course, Charlie Schwartz comes to mind.
Treiman:Schwartz is an example. I didn't understand the question. If you're asking, are there people in the physics community who are opposed to the idea of JASON? Certainly. Kendall is now.
Aaserud:I was thinking more generally — I was just fishing — whether there are some kinds of relationships that play a role for the JASON self-conception or for the JASON work or, you know, just the role of JASON within the physics community.
Treiman:I think maybe what you're asking is, how does the physics community view JASON? If that's what you mean —
Treiman:— then there are some in the community — that is, the Kendalls and others — who regard it purely in its political strategic context; JASONs are people helping a bad government. There are others who think of it in terms of, I would like to be a member, as you say. I think a large number think of it reasonably dispassionately, but probably resent a little bit the eliteness of the group. That's probably a less strong feeling now, but it is a feeling of some, that these are a self-selected set of people. So I would guess the general picture in the community is indifference, but there are some who just have a slight sense of resentment, particularly on the left side of the political spectrum.
Aaserud:I wasn't specific enough with my question. My question also involved whether broader discussions of these involvements within the physics community had some impact on the work in JASON, or what problems were taken up.
Treiman:I don't think so. Well, wait, I should clarify. Again, I think there are some people, as I said, who, during the Vietnam War, didn't want to be associated with Vietnam projects. I presume they had that view, as with me, because of general political beliefs. But my political beliefs are of course colored by my environment, so to that extent, of course, but only in that sense.
Aaserud:How unique do you consider JASON, as a group combining basic research and government advice?
Treiman:Well, I don't know of any others like it. I know that we've encountered a few members of the Establishment in England who admired it a lot, and were even conducting a study some years ago about whether they might set up something similar. I don't think the Russians have anything equivalent. You're either full time with the government or not. I don't think you can consult and carry secrets around, and still go to international meetings the way we do. So let me just say, I'm not aware of anything. There might be, but I'm not aware of anything else like it.
Aaserud:Anything in this country? Have there been organizations that you have collaborated with or competed with ?
Treiman:Nothing remotely like the JASON model that I know of.
Aaserud:And still not.
Treiman:Not that I know of. Well, there's a new junior kind that's forming very much on the JASON model. It's brand new, it's just getting established. I don't have much information on that. If Bill Press is one of the people you're going to interview, he's knowledgeable about it.
Aaserud:There was an attempt at one point to establish a group called Mason, I think.
Treiman:This I didn't know. Really?
Aaserud:Yes, it was a similar group of solid state physicists.
Treiman:I didn't know that. When was that, in the seventies?
Aaserud:I think so.
Treiman:It could be during the period when I was out. I don't know it. It certainly didn't survive, to my knowledge.
Aaserud:But I don't think it ever came to that kind of general stature that JASON did.
Treiman:I'm not aware of that. I see. No, I don't know it. You mean it still exists? I never heard of it.
Aaserud:I don't think so. I'm not sure. Some people have mentioned it; very few. Very few have thought of it, actually. I think Fred Zachariasen was one exception, who mentioned it. He wasn't part of it or anything.
Treiman:Unless he's referring to this new thing that's starting. Are you sure he isn't?
Aaserud:Yes, because I've also seen papers.
Treiman:There's a new one just a year or so old. I see. It's not known to me.
Aaserud:The seventies or earlier; I would guess seventies. What about involvements on your part in similar activities in different contexts?
Treiman:No. All my government advice has been through JASON, on things remotely touching military. Of course, I've been an advisor on high energy physics, laboratories and so on, but that's purely within physics. Oh, in that sense, sure, I'm on many committees. That's part of my academic life. That's not consulting. Without pay, for example.
Aaserud:So you wouldn't compare JASON to that kind of activity.
Treiman:No, it's totally different. No, in the normal course of academic life, one has all kinds of things — editorships, in high energy physics every big laboratory has advisory committees and so on. All kinds of things of that sort. That has no bearing.
Aaserud:So you haven't used JASON as a springboard. The other thing is entirely independent.
Treiman:I don't see it as a stepping stone. It has been a stepping stone, in a sense, without question, to a very limited number of people. Well, the only one who's gone to a government position is Ed Frieman, who became Under Secretary. Now, of course, that's a civilian position in the Department of Energy, but probably his contacts through JASON initially had something to do with his becoming known to the government. I don't know what stepping stone means, because again, the arrogance of JASON — what's higher than that?
Aaserud:Well, I was thinking of the original conception of JASON as a springboard.
Treiman:Yes, I understand. I think, it's rather as a stepping stone to being knowledgeable about government agencies, and therefore more useful to that extent as a consultant, but most of the consultantship is still through JASON. A number are called in on government panels and boards. They're not consultants in any steady sense, but certainly a number of JASONs who became known and established tend to get called in on special panels. In that sense, oh yes. They are called upon because they've shown themselves to be good and knowledgeable people. So if stepping stone includes that, there's a lot of that. Serving in various things in the government — on panels, committees and so on; absolutely, a number of JASONs have served on the Defense Science Board, for example. I suspect a lot of that is traceable to contacts made through JASON, yes.
Aaserud:What I'm talking about, I suppose, is the effectiveness of the educational aspect of JASON.
Treiman:I think that there's a lot, yes. Precisely through the example — a series of services on government panels, boards, etc., which are probably traceable, in part at least, to JASON experiences, although unconnected with JASON. No connection officially.
Aaserud:Francis Low distinguished between what he called blue collar and white collar JASONs, the blue collars being the ones who didn't use it for further involvement of the same sort.
Treiman:That's a fair distinction.
Aaserud:But I guess there are more blue collars than white collars.
Treiman:There are many more blue collars than white collars. But there's no question, a number of JASONs have become important figures on boards again and again. If we stay away from the words stepping stone in the sense of a different permanent position, but service of various kinds, some of which is traceable to JASON, no doubt, not in any official sense, but if a guy is called to be on an important panel, in individual cases, I suspect it's because the people who did the calling got to know him in a JASON context. Yes, I think that's a correct statement.
Aaserud:I should correct my language there. And some too, of course, have gone from other activities into JASON. It's not a completely unified picture.
Treiman:Well, mostly it's one way. I can't think of any members who have come from government into JASON. Most JASONs are academics. There are some exceptions, but most are academics. And they have then gotten to serve in various government capacities. The only one who moved on to a regular government position was Frieman. There may be one or two others. I can't think of any.
Aaserud:I was thinking for example of William Nierenberg, who I think was in NATO before he joined.
Treiman:Well, in that sense, OK, but that's really minor. I mean, we all had some experience. Even I consulted, as I said, one summer. I don't count that, quite. Mainly we were academics.
Aaserud:There's a big question, maybe the biggest, of the impact of JASON. What difference did it make?
Treiman:That's hard to say. We often discussed that. We used to discuss it more in the earlier years. In the earlier years, there was a spirit that we could do wonders, and we discovered we couldn't always do wonders. It was a subject we, particularly the younger blue collar people, would often discuss. I find somewhat less discussion of that now. I think people have learned to live with what they can do, and not do. My overall assessment — this is purely personal, I don't know how you document such things — is that on the whole, JASON has done tremendous good; and not nearly enough to matter enormously, but tremendous good in the sense of stopping, generally, a lot of silliness. There it can carry some weight. This is a strong group of academics, and if they say something doesn't make sense technically, not policy-wise, it carries some weight.
Aaserud:Could you mention some example?
Treiman:Well, I mentioned one that's kind of a crazy idea that's always around, and doesn't get me into classification — the idea of doing things with neutrinos that you just can't do. In fact, Dyson — I don't know if he talked to you about it — worked on that recently together with Callan and me. Other examples I can't give so easily. But there are any number of examples where outright foolishness is stopped. There are others where things aren't outright foolish, where JASON, largely in a review sense, can direct things in a more favorable, intelligent way. There have also been JASON inventions which are pretty good. But there's a little less of that, I think, than the dreamers initially hoped, at least than I hoped.
Aaserud:Are there examples of independent projects that JASON has done, that have played a role? I mean, that's the exception, I understand.
Treiman:By independent you mean?
Aaserud:Not evaluation — more than evaluation work.
Treiman:Well, when I said invention, I was using invention in a broad sense. I meant independent projects. Yes, as I say, there are examples of that. Again, it's hard for me to talk about. And then there are things in the middle. You understand, it's hardly a clear line, because you don't just evaluate something. In the course of evaluating you say, "It isn't that way, here's the way it is." That means often a lot of technical work. So it's not at all clean. But roughly one can speak of things that are essentially evaluative, and others where you bring new ideas. There's a continuum, and the spectrum is filled.
Aaserud:Dyson mentioned Nick Christofilos.
Treiman:That's an extreme case — plain invention, right. And there are others. I mean, without saying what they are, Garwin is an inventor. And there are others.
Aaserud:And you would say that kind of work has played a role.
Treiman:It has played a role, and continues. But I think it is correct to say that the evaluative has probably emerged as the most useful role. But evaluative, I repeat, involves a fair amount of subsidiary invention, analysis and so on. I don't mean we merely check: OK or not OK. Not at all. It involves new reports and so on, but they're based on general propositions that are floating around already, where you take off on them and try to re-direct and so on, as distinguished from truly original work.
Aaserud:Would you have any suggestions — I guess I asked you a similar question before — how to go about answering that question?
Treiman:It's hard. There may be some other people who will be able to. I'm an inhibited sort about these things, and I feel uneasy referring to specific projects where there may be classification delicacies.
Aaserud:I was wondering whether I could trace a project further up into the government into the decision process.
Treiman:Well, you may. I mean, the case of Christofilos may be a possibility. I don't know; maybe Dyson told you more. I feel uneasy. But there were cases. In that case, it was pure and remarkable invention. So I don't know how to answer you, except find somebody who's willing to tell you.
Aaserud:So you still think that JASON has the right to life.
Aaserud:How successful has it been on the other side; that is, successful in exposing physicists, or other scientists as well, to these broader kinds of problems?
Treiman:Well, very much so. The bulk of the membership are people who would not otherwise have been involved, in my opinion. There were some, as I told you, right at the beginning, who had already had consulting experience. In fact there was a group, as you reminded me, that were even talking about forming a consulting firm. But they really hadn't had much experience, and I think if it weren't for this outlet, the bulk of them, like the bulk of the physics community, would have gone on with their academic work with perhaps the odd consulting from time to time. The odd consulting is very different from going to JASON, because in the former you are exposed to the problems of the one agency that is consulting you, which is often a narrow exposure. The remarkable thing about JASON is that it's got a tremendous view of the whole picture. So yes, the answer is, those who belong to JASON now, and those who even belonged in the past, have gotten more exposure than any other way you could imagine.
Aaserud:But to what extent has that broadness been at the expense of the impact?
Treiman:Of their careers, you mean?
Aaserud:No, of the impact of JASON.
Treiman:Others can evaluate it. I think the impact on the whole has really been remarkably good. It doesn't satisfy us, because I and others set impossible standards. But I think it's not unfair to say — given that you put in only two months in the summer, and a little bit during the academic year — a tremendous amount comes out. It's not everything we would like.
Aaserud:But insistence on broadness and independence might conceivably lessen the impact.
Treiman:No, because as I told you, within JASON you pick your areas, and most people have picked things that they liked. But the broad exposure meant that they could pick more intelligently, and could borrow things from other areas as they need them. Not that somebody feels he must cover everything. So it hasn't hurt. It's just given you a bigger menu to choose from, and given you good colleagues to talk to. Typically, when you go to consult on your own, you're the one outsider. You're talking to the in-house people. And it's a very different relationship.
Aaserud:JASON, of course, was created at a very different time, with a very different atmosphere than you have today.
Aaserud:And at the same time, the physics community has expanded fantastically.
Treiman:In government, you mean? Or in general?
Aaserud:Generally, I'm talking about the educational function now.
Aaserud:And also the age of JASONs has increased.
Aaserud:So one would think that the educational aspect of it —
Treiman:— is less. That's what I said at the beginning. No question, except that there are new members. It's not that there are none.
Aaserud:There's a new chairman now, the first one who wasn't there from the beginning.
Treiman:Right, so there are new members. That's one statement. And the other is — you're right — there is less of that aspect to it. This is the other side of that aspect. Yes, they have been trained, and now they are serving in various roles, so you find JASONs on all kinds of panels and so on. As I said, they're members of the Establishment now. But not all. I mean, there are a number of us who just don't have time during the year. I stay away from such things — and I'm not the only one — just for time reasons.
Aaserud:Well, there are some more general questions. I think we have exhausted JASON, more or less.
Treiman:Well, feel free.
Aaserud:Just a question of opinion. To what extent do you think it makes sense to do such a study, as an example of the interface between physics and policy?
Treiman:I think it's an excellent subject, if done intelligently. I'd like to read it. I don't know what the literature on it is. There's a great deal from, of course, the war time, Los Alamos time, the bomb and so on, but I don't know of a good study — well, there must be — of recent times.
Aaserud:There's hardly any on JASON as such.
Treiman:No. I thought you meant more generally. I don't know you well, but I presume you mean to write a serious account, rather than a muckraker one and so on about JASON.
Aaserud:Oh yes. A serious historical study.
Treiman:And I think that's a good thing. When all is said and done, the severest critics of JASON are often the members themselves, and so I think sometimes we forget. This reminds me to not forget that I think on the whole, JASON has done good, and I'm not ashamed of it. And I can't give numbers, but the preponderant political view is quite toward the left. I see no contradiction. That's the narrow question of JASON. In general, the question of science and public policy is an interesting topic. I encourage you. I think that's a very worthy topic. I gather you start with JASON because it's best to start with something concrete, rather than pontificate about generalities. The only thing you'll probably find is that it's not only concrete, it's unique. So it may not give lessons about other forms of policy. But so what? Unique studies of unique organizations are interesting too, in the deeper sense.
Aaserud:Yes, and it brings me to people and issues more generally, even though it's a case in itself.
Treiman:Sure. It's a good choice, I think. Good choice.
Aaserud:Let's talk a little bit about my general project. To what extent do you think it makes sense to separate out physicists in science policy questions?
Treiman:That's changing. I think when JASON was formed, the physicists really were a special class, partly because they were the descendants — the more or less immediate descendants — of Los Alamos. The climate has certainly changed, and I think as a historical study, it's therefore interesting to choose the people who took the lead. But certainly now there's a wider community. One of the more remarkable things, I mentioned it before, but it might be worth saying again, that I discovered between my early membership and my return, was that I encountered a different community of people in the government laboratories. There's a fair amount of competence out there. These are the students we've trained, who have found jobs there. And that includes a larger cadre now of very intelligent engineers, of computer people and so on. That's a noticeable change between the sixties and now — and JASON has lived through that change. I still think, with my prejudices, that the cream of the crop are the physicists. But they're not so unique now. That's been eye-opening and a rather pleasant surprise. I'm pleased by that. There has been that change. You've chosen a good topic from that point of view, because you're watching a transition. I think the physicists were the right choice in the beginning.
Aaserud:When did the transition occur?
Treiman:Hard to say. It began just slowly through the sixties. It must have accelerated in the seventies. Some of it is for unfortunate reasons. There's money in defense, you can get jobs, and so students got jobs in government. That includes physicists, but engineers and others as well.
Aaserud:And of course it's not only a question of physicists and non-physicists. It's also a question of academic and non-academic, for example.
Treiman:There is now, that's right, a distinction that used to be less sharp, even among physicists. Increasingly you meet people whose background has been industrial. They're all academic in the sense that at some stage they had to get a PhD. I'm talking about the ones who are top professionals. Yes, there is that change, that's right.
Aaserud:JASON has mostly consisted of academics, and still does.
Treiman:JASON has consisted mostly of academics, right. Well, in fact, it's against the rule to take people from industry, to my knowledge. I think there's an exception or two that are grandfathered in.
Aaserud:Well, I guess it's a question of practicality, too. It's easier to get off during summer for an academic.
Treiman:Well, there's that, but there are plenty of people in industry whose firms would be very glad to let them off to belong to JASON. It's rather the self-interest that would be involved. If you're a scientist in a consulting firm, or one of the industries, then there's the danger that you will be, or appear to be, less disinterested. I think that's the chief reason. And the only way to get disinterested people is largely from universities.
Aaserud:And that's part of the official policy.
Treiman:That's the stated reason, yes.
Aaserud:Of course, you have some exceptions.
Treiman:I say, there are exceptions. Right. There are exceptions.
Aaserud:I think Robert LeLevier is one such case.
Treiman:He's the one, the only one, that I can think of immediately. There may be another, but I think he's the only one.
Aaserud:I should definitely talk to him.
Treiman:He goes way back and was somehow grandfathered in.
Aaserud:So there are natural reasons for the members being academics.
Treiman:Oh, that's utterly natural. The only other source you might get are some of the unclassified government laboratories. You might get some people from there. But in general universities are a natural source.
Aaserud:How serious attempts have there been to expand JASON towards different fields than physics?
Treiman:It has expanded, yes. It's less purely physics now than it was.
Aaserud:But still predominantly.
Treiman:I haven't counted. Yes, predominantly, but noticeably less than it was.
Aaserud:I did ask you whether you think theoretical physicists, in the nature of their education, background, intelligence or whatever, are the best candidates for that kind of thing. I asked you, did I, or did I not?
Treiman:No, you didn't ask me that. That's a different distinction. Now you're asking within physics, theory versus experiment.
Aaserud:Yes, I'm going back and forth.
Treiman:Fine, I just have to know which question I'm addressing. I would be hesitant to state a general opinion. As a matter of fact, JASON started chiefly with theorists, but that was partly historical. That's who the people were, and it was an Old Boy thing. There was no systematic canvassing.
Aaserud:But could it have come out of another group?
Treiman:I'm answering first the historical question. I think it was predominantly theoretical. As to what might have been, I'm inclined to say — it sounds arrogant — I think theorists make a better choice, simply because experimentalists' talents would have a harder chance to show themselves. They're talented in the laboratory. And so much of what's presented, by its nature, has to be presented, although it may deal with experimental issues, in a theoretical framework. So without in any way meaning to demean the experimentalists, I think just in the nature of it, it is somewhat easier for a theorist to be useful. On the other hand, if I were to walk into a place where they're building things, I would turn the view right around. Although a theorist might be able to understand the workings of it, an experimentalist would be able to look and just see what's going on more quickly.
Aaserud:So it was not entirely by chance that it was a group of theorists.
Treiman:Not entirely, but a fair amount of it; and there were experimentalists, after all, there; and there still are. Quite a few. Quite a few. But the preponderance is still theoretical, yes.
Aaserud:But that, of course, conceivably may change. I mean, theoretical physics has changed and has diverted into different directions, of course.
Treiman:But the distinction we're making there isn't about the particular areas of theoretical physics, just the theoretical way of doing things. Experimental physics has changed too.
Aaserud:Yes, but what I'm addressing here — it could be the age of the field as well as the nature of the field. It could be that when theoretical physics as a discipline expands and becomes more specialized in different directions, that you lose that kind of generality.
Treiman:Oh, that you lose generalists, you mean.
Treiman:That could happen, but I don't see it. I think changes that will matter are not so much that, but things that may endanger the quality of people going into physics. But the quality is still good, and good people ultimately are what determine what happens, not formal divisions by field. That we see especially in JASON, because the JASONs tackle problems often that have no reflection in their everyday lives. So intelligence is what counts, and a certain way of thinking, and a certain generalized training.
Aaserud:So it's the kind of people that a field attracts, more than the field as such.
Treiman:Yes, and that may change. Ultimately what counts is intelligence and some basic training. In fact, it almost hurts JASON, or JASON kinds of activities, if you're too specialized, which is what you're implying. I agree.
Aaserud:What about the kind of theoretical physicists? I guess it was mostly high energy physicists.
Treiman:It was mostly high energy physicists.
Aaserud:From the beginning.
Treiman:Right. That was noticeable. There was a noticeable shortage of the other major area, e.g., condensed matter physics, and that imbalance still remains. And that's one that can't be defended. It's just a fact. The situation is now improving.
Aaserud:Yes, but is that a fact of necessity or just an unfortunate fact?
Treiman:I say, it can't be defended. We'd be better off if we had more. We certainly have a wider spread now than at the beginning, but maybe it's not quite as wide as it ought to be, particularly in condensed matter physics. We have astrophysics. But not condensed matter to speak of. There's just one or two people, certainly a minority now.
Aaserud:Is that a reflection of the general interconnections between fields?
Treiman:No, it's not understandable, actually. The connections between particle theory at the academic level and solid and condensed matter are remarkably good. It's been one of the remarkable trends in recent years. It may have to do simply with the fact that condensed matter physicists are closer to the real world, by the nature of their fields, have other obligations for summers and so on, and are a little harder to attract. And it undoubtedly has to do with the fact that since JASON started with a particle theory bias, our connections — the Old Boy Network — runs a little more strongly in that area.
Aaserud:What about the success of attracting new people? Or lack of success? Or extent of success?
Treiman:I think that's a subject that's under much discussion. New people do come. There's a general feeling of not wanting to expand rapidly. There's a certain conservatism. I myself think it would be better if we increased the number some. It doesn't strike me as a major issue, but it is a bit of a problem. There's no question that JASON is aging. But there are some very bright new people, so you must not think that it's devoid of that, but maybe there could be a bit more. There are quite a few, in fact. It's not a small number. In fact, to put it bluntly, it's not so much that there isn't a good cadre of young people as that there's a growing cadre of much older ones. That's probably a better way to say it.
Aaserud:To what extent has JASON exposed you to a broader world outside JASON?
Treiman:Well, as I said, it's introduced me to the Defense community, to some extent to the military, and to be honest, for the rest, to other JASONs, but not beyond that. My heart is still in my normal academic life. JASON doesn't preoccupy me. When I go out for the summer, I work hard at it, and I have found it a humbling good experience to discover increasingly very talented people on the outside, because our tendency is to be very arrogant. I've discovered intelligent military people, something my whole upbringing led me never to expect. Quite intelligent dedicated decent people, which came to me as a shock. So it's been broadening, particularly for an academic who works in abstract matters. It's quite broadening to discover real people in the real world dealing with more concrete problems. Some of them are quite talented, who work for the awful military, but are quite decent people, working on the inside. I've met quite a few indecent ones too. So in that sense, it's quite broadening.
Aaserud:What about the relationship between physics and the Department of Defense generally? Of course, generally speaking since the Second World War the funding patterns have changed.
Treiman:The funding patterns have changed, that's correct. That's a big change. It's now NSF or Department of Energy and not the ONR or the Air Force, which I believe now are trying to come back in increasingly, so that's a very big change. On the other hand, our students increasingly find — particularly since it's hard to get academic positions, as you know — the industrial, which includes military, and to some extent government national laboratories, which partly includes military, partly not, the growing portions of physics now. The academic job situation is still static. It's thought that it will change in a decade or so. So increasingly one's students are finding jobs in that other world, although support comes decreasingly from that world — financial support, I mean, in the sense of supporting research. So yes, that's happening. Another change that's happened, of course, is Vietnam and its aftermath, which have made the military suspect among many people in physics. That's not an institutional problem; that's an individual problem. There are large groups of people who feel that any consulting for the military — and for some, any consulting for the government more generally — is a bad thing.
Aaserud:Do you see any changes in physics as such as a result of these trends?
Treiman:In physics itself? No, physics follows physics. It follows financing some.
Aaserud:I mean, if more physicists are industrial, it must have some effect.
Treiman:Oh, in that sense, yes. It's documented — the Brinkman Report reports it — that there is somewhat of an increase in applied physics support relative to basic physics. That's traceable to government interests in part, to military interests in part.
Aaserud:And of course, there could also be, in basic physics, emphasis on different fields, relatively speaking.
Treiman:Well, most assuredly.
Aaserud:Of course, it's hard to get a handle on these things.
Treiman:The general terms on which I think everybody would agree — and it's documented in the Brinkman Report — is, there is certainly a growth in what we would roughly call applied physics. That's not meant to be a pejorative term. For example, the free electron laser, because it has military applications. There's no question about that.
Aaserud:What about the development of big physics in relation to JASON, say? Are we saying that JASON represents, maybe not an earlier way of doing physics, but the informal seminar.
Treiman:That's correct. Yes. But that's of course because we're not trying to build things to do experiments. The growth of big physics has been felt mainly on the experimental side, because you need big equipment. So to the extent that what we do is theoretical, even among the experimentalists among us, we're not building or experimenting. Well, it's still true in academia among theorists. JASON does slightly have an old fashioned quality, though, not in the sense of building or not, but in the sense of not being highly organized. In comparison, say, with industrial labs, where there is more compartmentalization and well-defined responsibilities — you're responsible for this and you for that — JASON is rather more academic. It has an academic flavor, no question. It's filled with academics. One wouldn't dare tell another what to do.
Aaserud:But is that kind of a theoretical atmosphere not old fashioned academic?
Treiman:That persists still in universities. What you call old fashioned, I would call just the academic theoretical environment. It's true here. I wouldn't tell any faculty member what to do. I tell him to teach a course, but as for his research, I wouldn't provide direction.
Aaserud:So there's no systematic different way of communicating among the younger JASONs and among the older.
Treiman:No, I don't see any change in that. I think the best way to characterize it is not so much by old versus new as by academic. An academic freed of, you know, those responsibilities which have to be organized in academia, like teaching and so on, but doing research like at a good university. You're all colleagues.
Aaserud:You wouldn't say that has changed with the big physics.
Treiman:I don't think that's changed. No, I haven't seen that in JASON. There is that change in physics generally, of course. If you want to do experiments in high energy physics now, you must join a large team. There are tremendous social changes. There are modest changes among theorists. There are somewhat more multi-authored papers now perhaps than there used to be. But not major.
Aaserud:Well, relatively speaking, how important is the theorist now?
Aaserud:As compared to earlier.
Treiman:Quite important. Particularly in recent years. In particle physics, the unification of electric and weak interactions, the development of quantum chromodynamics — those are the works of theorists.
Aaserud:But the relationship between theory and experiment must change somehow.
Treiman:Here is a narrow answer to your question. In high energy physics, which is the prime example of big physics, there's been a big change, but the change is on the experimental side. It's simply that you need very big equipment, therefore large teams. A whole new sociology. Those changes are quite dramatic. They're an interesting subject in their own right. The change for the theorist in his way of operation is not so great. His importance, if anything, has magnified a little. It's an interesting question. You can argue that it's magnified, maybe unfortunately, because when high energy experiments were still moderately simple, a guy could run down, get a little time on the machine and try something. He didn't need the approval of the grand sachems, the theorists. Now there are committees; to get time on a machine is a very serious thing, and there are now committees, and those committees always appeal to the high priests, the theorists. I've been on such committees. It always bothers me that somebody listens to me. I say, "Don't take me seriously, but here's my opinion." So if anything their importance has been magnified, unfortunately.
Aaserud:That's very interesting. When I interviewed Richard Garwin, one of the main motivations that he gave me for going into industrial physics and to IBM was that academic physics became too big.
Treiman:In his area, that's correct. In high energy, which is what he was doing at the time, he has more freedom at IBM, particularly with his eminence. He can just play in the lab and do whatever he wants.
Aaserud:And it was exactly that playing around that he appreciated.
Treiman:It's not just freedom. It's also more money, I mean for equipment and so on. The academic experimentalists have a problem now. In fields of big science, they are starved for money, because it needs a lot of money. They have to form big teams, which is an unpleasant sociology. And apart from the sociology, they have to wait a long long time to get their runs. You can't just go and play. That's hard. Yes, that's certainly true. It's even true increasingly now in some of the other fields that we regard as small science. The distinction between small and big is a loose one. Condensed matter physicists now use beam lines at synchrotron light sources, and they use large piles, nuclear reactors, etc.
Aaserud:So it's more a difference between fields than a difference between academic and industrial.
Treiman:Well there is the point you make. Yes, I think it's chiefly fields. But it's partly, that university labs particularly are just starved for money now. Equipment is aging.
Aaserud:Because when I speak to industrial physicists, you know, the universities are criticized for being too divided up, according to the disciplines and fields, that you don't have the same kind of interdisciplinary motivation that you have in an industrial laboratory.
Treiman:I think there, they're talking across from physics to other fields, rather than within physics.
Aaserud:I think both.
Treiman:You think so? What they usually mean is chemists and physicists probably interact better in industrial labs.
Aaserud:Yes, but I don't think it's all that clear-cut.
Maybe not. Although the best universities still have the highest prestige. I mean, there's something about the academic life that is still highly regarded, and certainly at the theoretical level. Leaving aside always Bell Labs, which is an exception and is practically academic in its style, the great theoretical advances still come from the universities.