Oral History Transcript — Dr. Lynn Sykes
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Interview with Dr. Lynn Sykes
Lynn Sykes; July 28, 1997
ABSTRACT: Family background and early education; how he became interested in science; his fatherís career as meteorologist, then air traffic controller; living with his motherís parents, meeting his fatherís parents and their influence on him; influential school teachers and extracurricular activities; hobbies; religion; reasons for choosing Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1956Ė1960); joining a fraternity at MIT and choosing earth science as his major.
Doel:This is Ron Doel and this is a continuing interview with Lynn Sykes. Today is the twenty-eighth day of July, 1997, and weíre continuing this interview in Snedenís Landing, New York. I know you mentioned a moment ago off tape that you wanted to add one name that we could not remember in our one interview before this, the preceding one.
Sykes:And that was William Colby. He was a former director of the CIA. Probably two sessions ago, when we talked about test ban verification, I had mentioned his name as a person who had been very supportive of arms control and had testified at the same time that I had.
Doel:I believe I asked you at the time. Had you had any direct contact with him?
Sykes:I saw him informally at a meeting at Princeton that Greg van der Vink organized.
Doel:You had mentioned, again off tape, that you wanted to talk a little bit more about the changes in administration at Lamont since the time of Manik Talwani, What have been some of the principal differences in the later administrations when you think back compared to the way Lamont was run in the times of Talwani and [W. Maurice] Ewing.
Sykes:Well, I think that Barry [C. Baring] Raleigh, was a person who spent a lot of time finding out what was going on scientifically, keeping up with things and going to a lot of seminars of various groups. He then representing Lamont principally at meetings of government agencies. And that was certainly true of Ewing as well. Ewing certainly kept up with what various people were doing.
Doel:Which were the most important meetings, say even in Barry Raleighís time, that he was attending? Or the most important groups that he was meeting with?
Sykes:The National Science Foundation, U.S. Geological Survey whom he had worked with before.
Sykes:He certainly had to learn about the whole area of climate studies and marine geology and geophysics. But I think that he did get up to speed quite quickly in those areas.
Doel:You felt confident in his ability to represent the institution scientifically.
Doel:And you feel that was generally accepted, a general feeling on the part of the Lamont community?
Sykes:I think so. I think that he canvassed a lot of people, including senior people like myself. But I think that he wanted to know what some of the younger scientists were doing, and did keep up with that. I would say that some of the changes after that were that, Gordon Eaton as well as the new director, Peter Eisenberger, rarely came to seminars — even in areas that, for example, with Gordon, were areas in which he had worked as a geologist in the western United States. So that neither of them attended very many seminars. A very tiny number in fact. Including the Friday afternoon colloquia.
Doel:And their absence was noticeable?
Sykes:I think so. And I think then that their lack of knowledge of what was going on was greater. Another change that I think happened and that was that at the time of Barry, that is when he came in as Director, it was appropriate that he would spend much of his time with federal agencies, because they still remained our prime source of support. They still do today, but I think that by the time that he left, it became apparent that we needed to go after other sources of support. It was certainly hoped by the search committee for Gordon Eaton of which I was the vice chairman and Charlie [Charles] Langmuir was the chairman — that the ability to raise funds was one important, one of the most important criteria. Still the idea of good solid scientific judgment was another one.
Doel:Thatís interesting. You felt that this was the search in which that really for the first time became a major defining characteristic.
Sykes:Well, it came out and was enunciated very clearly and conveyed to the Columbia Administration when we conducted the search that resulted in Barry Raleigh becoming Director. It was something that the administration accepted, Columbia, in words, but they didnít give him the tools in terms of having people devoted to raising funds. As I mentioned in the previous interview, in fact, the fund-raising part of Columbia put several road blocks in his way of raising funds.
Doel:Because they were also competing for the attention of these patrons.
Doel:Do you remember any particular attempts that Raleigh would have made that were thwarted in this way? Did he discuss any of those with you, or were you?
Sykes:No. But certainly, he was looking at petroleum companies as a major source. Not only did he have the complication of Columbia not wanting him to approach them without its consent, he also had the problem that about a year after he became Director, the price of petroleum went way down. It has stayed down so that itís not been possible for directors to have much success in going to the petroleum companies to raise very much money.
Doel:Right. Thatís certainly an important point. And Raleigh was also maintaining an active research program, wasnít he? Or at least kept his hand in his own research [cross talk].
Sykes:In a small way. He did have one student, Chris Marone, who he worked with with Chris [Christopher] Scholz. But I think itís fair to say that he probably didnít spend more than two percent of his time on research.
Doel:How in a, either say over a typical week or similar interval, how did he divide his time? How much time was spent, for instance, going to these meetings of government agencies? What proportion of time say?
Sykes:Well, I would imagine that he was attending various meetings probably on the average of once every ten days. For a day or two.
Doel:Did you regard yourself as one of his principal advisors during his directorship at Lamont?
Sykes:Yes. I mean, he certainly consulted me about a number of important problems. I am quite sure that I wasnít the only one. There were a number of people who he was consulting.
Doel:Iím curious when you say that what you remember as being some of the critical problems that affected Lamont?
Sykes:I think it had to do with fund raising from various government agencies. One of the issues that was of critical concern to me was the administration of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. Principally, the fact that NSF [National Science Foundation], which had a component of about ten million dollars a year for fundamental research, essentially just put that money into their kitty and used it as a cash cow for getting a whole bunch of different things going. Several of them were quite far from what I regarded as being earthquake related, as stipulated under the mandate of National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program.
Doel:And these were decisions made by a board or by the particular program directors?
Sykes:They were made at a level just above the program directors. In this case by Jim [James] Hays, not the Jim Hays of Lamont, but Jim Hays who had been at Harvard, and who became Director of Earth Sciences Division at NSF. I think that he very much saw basic research as being very, very basic. He tended to be rather suspicious of seismology as being an applied science. I think that Hays, coming from Harvard that had a lot of its own money for research conducted by faculty members in the earth sciences, had not been a very good publisher. He had not been a person who had that much experience in writing and receiving grants from NSF. So I think that he was not well enough aware of the [funding] problems of active research scientists. He felt that the only way to get a lot of new money into the earth sciences was with several very big projects. I think we may have talked about this before.
Doel:We did indeed. And you raise some very interesting observations about the question of scale in programs within NSF. One thing I was very curious about was what you regarded as being the, both the areas that were clear strengths and areas that also were weaknesses of Lamont in terms of disciplinary developments during Barry Raleighís term.
Sykes:I think at that time that seismology was still moderately well funded. It wasnít as well funded as it was in the 60s and early 70s. I think that the writing was on the wall since there were a lot more institutions that had graduate programs in seismology that the money for small grants, particularly when corrected for inflation, was going down. So that has continued now for twenty years, that the amount of money available has consistently gone down from NSF.
Doel:What other areas at Lamont, what other fields at Lamont seem to be particularly strong yet in the 1980s?
Sykes:It was clear that climate change and geochemistry were strong areas and that there was going to be, as there has been, growth in those areas. I think even by Barryís time that marine geology and geophysics was an area that was in trouble. We, in fact, had only two professors in that area Dennis [E.] Hayes and John Mutter, who Ė-
Doel:Became the acting, interim director of Lamont.
Sykes:Thatís right. A number of people who were adjuncts in those fields are my contemporaries. Weíve had a problem that people who are now in their forties several of them were not faculty members — have left Lamont. They had to because of the difficulty of getting funding, so-called ďsoft moneyĒ in marine geology and geophysics.
Doel:Do you feel that that decline for marine geology and geophysics had to do with differences in intellectual challenges or was it changes in the funding climate, driven by other constraints?
Sykes:Well, I think it was the changes in the funding climate. The directorate level of geosciences at NSF placed more emphasis on global change but certainly not on natural hazards. In fact, marine geology and geophysics were so successful with the plate tectonic revolution, that there werenít as many really top scientific problems to work on thereafter. Some attempt was made with the Ridge program to develop other sources of funding. Charlie Langmuir in geochemistry was very successful with that program in getting funding. But I think that a lot of work switched over to geochemistry and petrology.
Sykes:I think that one of the best two decisions that we, as a department, made — that is now the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences — was to look for a top notch petrologist. In fact, we ended up getting two in Langmuir and David Walker. Having the Storke Bequest that was given to the Department helped out immensely both in attracting them and getting them set up in terms of equipment.
Doel:You mentioned the Storke Bequest I believe just in passing. Did you play any role in bringing that to the university?
Sykes:No. It really dropped out of the sky. In fact, the administration at Columbia didnít even let the department know that it had dropped out of the sky for about six months. Storke was a graduate of the Department, and the particular bequest was for a mine in, what was then southwest Africa, now Namibia. That property had a lot of ore, but the mine was not particularly highly valued because of the political climate in that area. I think it was a good decision that Columbia decided rather quickly to sell it and not to take the risk of a major war breaking out in Namibia. It certainly would have been politically hazardous for Columbia to be seen investing, or having a piece of property, in an area that was under the control of South Africa.
Doel:Certainly. Those were major issues in the mid-1980s.
Doel:Iím curious. When was the decision made for the Departmentís name to become Earth and Environmental Sciences? How did that come about?
Sykes:Well that happened only within about the last eighteen to twenty-four months.
Doel:Thatís what I wanted to be sure. This is in the very recent period.
Sykes:Thatís right. We were beginning to develop a stronger undergraduate program in environmental sciences. Barnard had made the appointment of Stephanie Pfirman as a professor. It was clear that we were getting a lot of undergraduates who wanted to work in environmental sciences. A lot of things in global change involved the environment. I have always claimed that natural hazards were an appropriate part of a program of environmental science.
Doel:Was there much discussion within the Department or debate over whether that was in fact appropriate within environmental sciences, or did most people agree?
Sykes:Oh, well we went through several different permutations of possible choices in names. I think that there was not much disagreement in arriving at the new title. It was clear that adding planetary sciences was no longer appropriate as some departments had added twenty years ago with the hype of space exploration. That was not our area anyway. Then just before that, Lamont changed its name, which was something that Gordon Eaton instituted. There really was a question whether the ďgeologicalĒ should be changed to ďearth,Ē which it was. But the word observatory — I felt and others felt — had always been a confusing term. People wanted to know whereís the telescope. I think that we really couldnít come up with another title that was quite appropriate. So we kept the word observatory but changed geological to earth. Most people regarded geological observatory of having to do with people who went out and looked at rocks.
Doel:But it was short hand for the field sciences in some sense.
Sykes:Thatís right. Even though, of course, geology technically represents all of the earth sciences. That was not how most undergraduates viewed the field. That was not how most citizens did either. I think it was a good choice, of moving to earth.
Doel:Was that Gordon Eatonís idea? Or was that one that you and others brought to?
Sykes:No. I think that that was one that he did promote. He did ask advice on that. I do remember talking to him and giving him some input on that.
Doel:You felt in favor of it?
Sykes:I was in favor of it.
Doel:Do you remember any significant dissent concerning that?
Sykes:There was a little bit of comments of, oh we should stick with geology because technically thatís what it means. That itís the study of the entire earth.
Doel:Clearly that the name issue was a very important one in the earth sciences from the 1960s on. Many departments changed names, and the question of what the field encompassed was certainly under debate.
Sykes:Right. So any way, I thought that was a good change. I donít think that there was significant opposition to it.
Doel:When Gordon Eaton came on board, or perhaps I should ask even before then, what was the reason that Barry Raleigh left?
Sykes:In fact, we covered this in the last interview.
Doel:Thatís right. We sure did. I beg your pardon. Let me just ask, when Gordon Eaton did come in, did he have ideas on introducing new areas, new fields at Lamont, or scaling back on existing ones, or did he feel comfortable with the structure of Lamont as it was?
Sykes:I think he seemed to feel fairly comfortable with the structure as it was. He had been interviewed by the search committee. I think the search committee, and particularly the representative from the Columbia administration, felt that he was about the only one who we interviewed who had a lot of breadth. He had been president of Iowa State. Previously he had been either a dean or provost at Texas A&M. He came and talked and was interviewed by the search committee. I think we were impressed by how he had, or claimed to have, turned things around at Iowa State by putting more money into biotechnology in the agricultural area. That area that is quite crucial to the economy of the state of Iowa. And the process by which he went about doing that.
Doel:Did any of you who were part of the senior staff on the search committee go to Iowa to talk to other people or see?
Sykes:No. I think that was a major problem that we didnít do enough canvassing there. We knew of his record of work in the geological sciences. I think that we took his statements about what he had done without checking them out enough.
Doel:Clearly, your perception was one of having been misinformed, at least or mislead, on certain claims that Eaton made about his achievements.
Sykes:Well, I think one thing that became clear after he arrived at Lamont. One of the people who he brought with him was Michael Crow, who is still at Columbia. I think Michael, who had been a major in the philosophy of science, had been very instrumental in Iowa in making sure that Iowa State ďgot its fair share of government funding.Ē I think it was a third rate university trying to move up to second class and doing so by cultivating the members of congress from Iowa. I think Mike had a lot to do with that with Gordonís help. But I have the sense then that a lot involved ďporkĒ and making sure that Iowa State got its fair share. I think a different problem exited when they arrived at Columbia since Lamont and the Department were up in the top rank. The criteria that you apply then are not the same as when youíre trying to get from third rate status up to second rate. Youíre not ďlooking for your share.Ē You should be trying to define national agendas, using the input from top-rate people who were already in Columbia at that time, and continuing to try and attract the very first-rate people. I think that that was an area in which Gordon [Eaton] fell down. Gordon was on numerous governmental committees. But I think one problem was that he couldnít say no when he was invited to be a member of various committees. He was away too much and on too many committees that were of little consequence. I think that he didnít spend the energy that he had in the right places.
Doel:What areas of Lamont do you feel suffered particularly from that kind of leadership?
Sykes:Well, our group in seismology and tectonophysics did. I think geology, that was Gordonís area of prime interest himself continued to suffer.
Doel:In the sense of not being able to retain the top people or not to bring in sufficient funds?
Sykes:We faced declining funding from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey as well as from the Department of Defense which supported work in test ban verification. So I think, in fact, he [Eaton] was chairman of an advisory committee to Jim Hays at NSF, for the earth sciences division for one crucial meeting that had to do with the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. Gordon had been prepped by several of us about the problems NSF had in not using what we thought of as earthquake money in a knowledgeable way. After the meeting, Gordon said, well I had another meeting that I had to go to, and I couldnít stay for the whole meeting. Jim Hays was then off the hook and nothing changed in terms of the funding of the earthquake program or how those funds were used. I think that Gordon wasted his energy by ritually attending too many meetings, and in not realizing that in running a first-rate institution that you really had to lead with new and important ideas and programs.
Doel:Did you feel that there was a lack of vision in Lamont leadership in those years?
Sykes:I think that the new ideas were not being conveyed to Gordon. He wasnít soliciting them or finding out that much about what were new and exciting things that people were doing. So that I think that the lack of vision was his. That particularly showed up with a meeting that we had to discuss new directions that he arranged to have at the IBM Palisades Conference Center. Most of the senior research associates, professors, and a number of the younger scientists attended. Iím not sure if any graduate students were invited. Gordon put up a chart of the amount of money that was coming into Lamont, and said, oh, this is a great thing; our funding is continuing to grow. He had merely asked Ellie Wellman, who was the administrator at Lamont then, to give him some total figures. They were, in fact, contaminated by several very large grants that had just happened to have come in in a given year. Gordon was quite unaware of the immense problems that people in marine geology and geophysics, solid earth, geology, seismology, and tectonophysics, were having in terms of raising funds. Particularly those people who were on soft money, or who were nearly totally on soft money. And I think that the worse problems were for people in MG & G [Marine Geology and Geophysics] who were not faculty in having to write six to eight proposals a year. They were spending a very large amount of their time and energy in writing proposals for which even these very good people had only about a third or a quarter of their proposals funded. And so I think Gordon [Eaton] was just not very aware of what a huge burden it had become for these scientists to try and support themselves.
Doel:How did that compare to seismology in that time? How many grant proposals, for instance, do you recall writing in a typical year during Eatonís administration? I should say weíre talking about the early 1990s, late 80s.
Sykes:Right. Probably writing something like five per year.
Doel:Of which how many would be funded?
Sykes:Probably about three. That was the point in which funding from the Air Force for test ban verification was pretty good. Paul Richards and I both had funding there. But that is an area that has become much worse.
Doel:What efforts were being made to communicate to Eaton this situation in MG & G and other divisions that were having problems raising soft money?
Sykes:I think what happened at this meeting was the sense of total amazement that he didnít know this.
Doel:Shared by those who were in the audience.
Sykes:Shared by those who were in the audience.
Doel:Who had called the meeting? Was this by Eaton or by staff?
No. Gordon had called it to talk about new directions. In fact, it had been prompted by a paper that I had written, probably about a year before. So I had decided, and this was at the time Gordon was director and probably about a year before he left, in which I was concerned enough about future directions in all of the earth sciences, that I felt that I needed to write down my opinions. I found that as a scientist that Iíve always been more successful in writing things, re-writing them, and coming out with a clear, succinct written message, than I am in extemporaneous oral discussion. So as I sat down to do this, I thought of it as being a few page document, but it turned out to be about a thirty page document — with a few tables — in which I then outlined what I thought were some of the main problems facing us in terms of funding, of lack of jobs for Ph.D. students, and that university jobs were exceedingly difficult to get, i.e. tenured professorships. It looked as if that would be the case, for at least the following ten or twenty years simply because so many universities had filled up their tenure slots by the 1980s. By then we were graduating good students as were many other schools. These newer students could not get jobs, or they couldnít get the type of job that they wanted. I felt that we needed to look at the culture that we impart to students, and that culture I think at that time, was that a masterís degree was worth nothing. It was a something that was given to someone who did not have the capability of going on to a Ph.D. — it was kind of a booby prize. People who were successful were those who received a tenured position at a prestigious university or who went to work for a strongly science-based federal agency, like NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] or the U.S. Geological Survey.
It was my contention that there were not going to be very many new jobs in those areas and that the petroleum industry would never come back to the point where it was circa 1973. With the very large layoffs from the petroleum industry and most of the new petroleum being found abroad, the petroleum companies would never be the major hirers in the future that they had been prior to 1975. So it was my contention that we needed to look at other rewarding careers for students. I felt that areas that involved various societal applications, whether they be natural hazards or interactions with people in international affairs, economics, were things that we needed to pursue. Of the federal agencies that were likely to be doing more hiring — and this was just as the Clinton administration had come in — it was clear that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had been given a new mandate. That is working with natural and man-made hazards, and trying to mitigate them by doing things to reduce losses before the accidents or natural events happened. That was enunciated as being FEMAís new prime responsibility. Prior to that their main responsibility had been preparedness for a nuclear disaster or war.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. Did you, when you were writing this, and this you say was about 1992, that you prepared this 30 page document?
Sykes:I have to think back. It was about four years ago.
Doel:Okay. Around the beginning of the Clinton administration?
Sykes:Thatís right. By then it was certainly at least six months into the Clinton administration, maybe a year after he had appointed James Lee Witt as head of FEMA, He had been Clintonís head of emergency services in Arkansas. Thus, he was a person who knew the president and had access to the president, which people in FEMA had not had before.
Doel:Interesting. Did you happen to know him?
Sykes:No. I didnít know him.
Doel:Iím curious as you were writing this document. It would be very interesting to see a copy of that. Did you find that you were representing views shared by other faculty members and other researchers at Lamont, or did you feel that your views differed from theirs?
Sykes:I think in the beginning it was clear that there probably was a lot of opposition, not outright opposition, but it was more that people didnít want to think about these issues. And they preferred just a continuing going on as if things had not changed. And yet I did find support from a number of my colleagues.
Doel:Who are you thinking of in particular?
Sykes:I certainly did from Walter Pitman. In the beginning, I didnít discuss it with a large number of people. But I then wrote this document and circulated it to a few people. I think those few people that I circulated it to were quite supportive.
Doel:These were people such as Walter Pitman and?
Sykes:Iím not quite sure who else it was.
Doel:Iím curious, do you recall anyone else raising these issues in the way that you were? Or did you feel that you were more or less alone in doing so?
Sykes:Well I felt that. I mean, Walter Pitman said, hey, weíve got to change. Weíve got to get more involved in people who will be using data from the earth sciences and information from the earth sciences. So I certainly had in Walter a supporter of my particular views. I think some of this was percolating. I then told Gordon Eaton that I had written this document. He was quite interested and wanted to see it. When he read it, he said that he was very impressed by it. We then had one meeting which he chaired at the Pearl River Hilton, or Sheraton, whichever it is, for a day for essentially a half to a third of Lamont. It consisted of the groups in seismology, tectonophysics, geology, and marine geology and geophysics. And so I believe that the document had been available through the Directorís office for those who would like to see it. A number of people did get it. As I remember, there werenít any students who were invited. No. Iím wrong. I think there were at least two senior graduate students who were there at that meeting. Gordon used the paper as a focus to start to talk about new directions. He singled out a number of my key recommendations for discussion.
Doel:Well, after yet another brief interruption.
Sykes:I might say that a few of the other points that I made in my manuscript were that we needed to convey to students a different culture of what was important and that merely ending up in a university job, or with one of the science-based governmental organizations was not going to provide enough jobs for really good people. We needed to convey the idea that people who work on various societal problems, like with FEMA —
Doel:The international relations aspects.
Sykes:— World Bank, etc., that those were valued contributions that people could make and that those things should be regarded as first-rate jobs rather than as ones suitable only for those that cant make it in these other jobs. Given the small number of likely jobs at the universities and these government agencies, students would ďvoteĒ by not coming into Ph.D. programs.
Doel:That raises a very interesting point. How were you thinking that this might be done in practice?
Sykes:Well one of the things I suggested was that we needed to think about forming more top-notch masterís degree programs. And that —
Doel:Distinct masters programs.
Sykes:Right. And one of them might be earth sciences and public policy. Now the School of International and Public Affairs at about that time introduced a new option for some of their masterís students that had to do with public policy and the environment. But the people who were accepted for those programs, while generally very mature and very bright, typically had little if any science or mathematics. Lamont agreed, or not Lamont, our Department agreed that we would teach one course, in which four people from our Department have continued to teach that course. But it was essentially the only course in which those graduates get any science or any notion of dealing with numbers or graphs. So I felt that we needed to have a situation in which we would accept people who already had good undergraduate scientific, mathematics or engineering credentials. They could then go on either to a straight masterís program in earth and environmental sciences, or earth and environmental sciences and public policy. That is something that we still have to steer towards. [Interruption for somebody at the door]
Doel:You were saying that you were — Weíre continuing after another very quick interruption. That you wanted to see a masterís program developed that emphasized much more of the quantitative and physical sciences in which the department represented.
Sykes:Right. So that we would train people that were strong in science and in public policy, if that was the area in which they decided to work.
Doel:Was this the kind of initiative that Mike [Michael I.] Sovern supported? He was president of Columbia at that point wasnít he?
Sykes:No. If it was, it was certainly right at the end of his term. So.
Doel:And right before George Rupp. Or perhaps at the time George Rupp comes on. Was there much support from that level of the university for these kinds of?
Sykes:I sent my document to Mike Crow. And I got back a short note from him that he agreed with many of the things that I said in my document. That was definitely before Gordon left. And Iím not sure to whom Gordon circulated it within Columbia. I think probably not much above him. The provost never said anything to me about it.
Doel:This is Jonathan Cole?
Sykes:This is Jonathan Cole. One of the things that I did put on the document was it was for circulation within Columbia only. I did make a number of criticisms of federal agencies, particularly the way in which the National Science Foundation had conducted their business, especially the way that they used their funds under the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. I had some pretty strong statements about the need for new and creative leadership, both at the head of Earth Sciences, which was the position held by Jim Hays, and the position above him at the Directorate of Geosciences which involved oceans, earth and atmosphere, that [Horace N.] Correll headed. I had found with the earthquake problem that Correll seemed to be solely interested in global change and that whatever Jim Hays decided with respect to national hazards or earthquakes, Correll did not make any attempt to listen to others or change those points of view.
Doel:I wanted to ask you. Were there others outside of Columbia and Lamont with whom you did discuss these issues? Or felt comfortable discussing these points?
Sykes:Well, I think that with the general decline in funding. Yes. I discussed that with a number of people. One of the things that I did discover was that there were a group of senior people who then become ďlog rollersĒ for their own programs. It was very difficult to talk with them because they were interested in supporting their own initiatives, whether it was deep drilling or the IRIS [Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology] program of seismic stations, which I thought was a very good big initiative. But the people who were involved, particularly those running those initiatives, were not interested in making a wave at NSF. I felt that the deep drilling had accomplished very little for the large amounts of money that had been spent there.
Doel:Iím wondering if any other universities seemed to you to be already moving in this direction or were succeeding at this kind of reorganization?
Sykes:Well, it was pretty clear that a number were moving to hire people in the area of global change, and, in fact, hired a number of our graduates. MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] did decide to put more money into professorships in the earth and atmospheric sciences. But I think really that they did not have a full debate about the question of where their students were going to find jobs. They still have not come to terms with that issue. They thought that somehow that if we are excellent, our students are automatically going to find tenure jobs. But I think that the reality is that there are not many jobs available, even for the very best people. I was aware that Princeton [University] had apparently received money for environmental sciences. I thought that they were ahead of us in this area as of two years ago. When Iíve talked to people at Princeton, they thought that we were well ahead of them. I think Stanford [University] has attempted to put more emphasis on environmental sciences. A lot of places have. But I think perhaps more by rote, and not having a debate on the next level, well what do we want to do in this area. About twenty years ago some departments of environmental sciences were created that generally attracted undergraduates who couldnít make it in some of the harder sciences — biology, chemistry, physics, etc.
Doel:It became a weak field in the sense of the students that it was attracting.
Sykes:Thatís right. Then you have the Reagan administration coming in and really cutting off funds for alternative energy sources.
Doel:One of the things I wanted to make sure that we got to cover was the reaction that you felt was coming out of that meeting when your ideas were presented by Gordon Eaton to the broader, the senior scientists.
Sykes:I think it was mixed. That there were probably about half of people who agreed with a lot of the things that I had to say. They were from both divisions of Lamont that had not done very well in terms of funding. I think they realized the really big difficulties people on soft money were having getting funded. There were other people who felt quite strongly that we should stick with ďour strengths,Ē which was a Ph.D. program that would train people in pretty much the same way we were doing now.
Doel:Who seemed to be the leaders in your view of that more traditional view of Lamont? Who were the vocal leaders of that viewpoint?
Sykes:I think John Mutter tended to be pretty conservative. Later on with some of these issues, I think Charlie Langmuir was. After Peter Eisenbergerís arrival, Dennis Kent was too, which rather surprised me. It may have been a question of difference of personality because I didnít think under Gordon Eaton that Dennis was so strong in his views. I think that some of the geologists, even though very poorly funded, didnít seem to want to see things change.
Doel:Interesting. You mentioned Walter Pitman as being one of the supporters. Were there others who stand out in your mind as advocating this kind of change?
Sykes:Well Kim Kastens did. She then took the lead at about that time in instituting a new masterís program in environmental science and journalism. It is a joint effort between the Journalism School and our Department. Students come for a masterís program for two years. They spend their first year in our department but work on writing and getting familiar with scientific issues of societal relevance. They then spend their last year at the Journalism School. It has been very successful.
Doel:How many students have gone through that program? Of course, as you say this is a very recent.
Sykes:We are only in the second year of that program. The first year had two students, but I think that itís attracted some top notch students. I think it has the capability of growing. I would see it as a prototype of what I imagine could be done with other disciplines and their societal relevance.
Doel:Other multi-disciplinary undertakings.
Sykes:I think consistently a problem has been to find the right people in those other disciplines at Columbia or elsewhere with whom to collaborate. At say the level of the Provost, some wonderful words about these things are stated. Itís very clear in universities that strong interdisciplinary efforts donít happen that way. It takes some active collaboration among people who want to work together.
Doel:You mention Kim Kastens was one of the principal people involved in the link between the Department and the School of Journalism.
Sykes:Yes. She was the principal person.
Doel:Iím curious if you had played a role in that.
Sykes:No. I had not.
Doel:Were there other efforts that you had, other masterís programs, that you did feel particularly responsible for?
Sykes:What we still do not have is an active masterís program — other than one in which we take in students whose objective is just to get a masterís degree.
Doel:And this remains something that youíre advocating.
Sykes:It remains something that Iím advocating.
Doel:You had mentioned earlier that when, that Gordon Eaton wasnít getting new ideas up front that you needed at Lamont. Wasnít aware of new initiatives that were going on. Iím wondering when you think back, what sort of things was it that he wasnít aware of?
Sykes:Well, as I mentioned before, he was not aware of the tremendous plight of something like half of the senior research associates, who did not have tenure, of their just being able to meet their salary requirements.
Doel:That this was a crisis going on at Lamont that he wasnít aware of. You say that that was something that very much concerned the Lamont community.
Sykes:I mean, it more than very much concerned them. They were absolutely astonished and then very hostile to the fact that Gordon somehow just didnít get it. Gordon [Eaton], like Barry [Raleigh], had come from a very different environment. Both of them came of age as young Ph.D.s, and then matured in the U.S. Geological Survey, where once people had worked for a couple of years, they received tenure. Itís only very recently that there has been this RIF-ting process of Reduction In Force in the Geological Survey, where itís been possible to fire anyone. Barry [Raleigh] described for me that he spent nearly a year trying to fire one person in the earthquake program who was doing an abysmal job. That person fought back, and he just had to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get rid of that person. Very different views existed in the Geological Survey. People rarely wrote proposals, or if they did it was a half page thing that they would dash off. They didnít have to compete like university people have always had to do, for scarce federal grants and contracts.
Doel:Was that meeting then a real turning point in Eatonís administration? Was there a marked lack of confidence among the staff in Eatonís scientific leadership?
Sykes:Well, there were, as I said, two meetings. The first was for half of the staff which Gordon chaired. I thought he did a good job in bringing out the issues and getting some discussion. He certainly pulled out the key issues from my paper for discussion. I went away from that meeting feeling quite good. He then later convened the meeting at IBM Palisades, in which he then put up those figures. That meeting was for all of the Ph.D. scientists at Lamont and faculty, as well as a few administrators. That one is the one that did not go well for him. He put up figures saying well weíre not doing so badly at all.
Doel:And confidence clearly ebbed after that.
Sykes:Right. And after that, I think that there were a number of people who clearly felt that Gordon needed to go.
Doel:How quickly after that did come the end of Eatonís term?
Sykes:I think it was several months. His name had been, I think, on the short list submitted to the Secretary of Interior for being Director of USGS. I think that at first that he had declined to have his name put forward. After the meeting at IBM when he started to hear stuff from people, and some of them were not very kind in the way or what they said or how they distributed it. I think that he was angry — justifiably — in the way it was circulated, but I think not in terms of the substance or what was said. So he then put his name forward to the Secretary of Interior, and very quickly was then picked to be the Director of USGS. He still had to go through confirmation by Congress, but I think that that was something that was more a formality of an afternoon of presentation and cross-examination by a Congressional committee.
Doel:You mentioned a moment, and I was quite curious. About the way in which this information these few things were being circulated. What sort of things were you thinking about?
Sykes:Oh, I think that a few people circulated things by e-mail, in which it was clear that that format lends itself to people forwarding things and them getting all over.
Doel:So he was aware of these circulating e-mail messages.
Sykes:Right. I had decided that after my experience with Talwani, that I was not going to get involved in saying things behind someoneís back. While I felt that Gordon was not being responsive, it seemed to me then that thereís a good chance he was going to become head of USGS. I think that if he hadnít taken that job, there would have been a major revolt.
Doel:Did you communicate some of this — your own concerns — directly to Eaton at the time? Was he one of those that you spoke to?
Sykes:No. I had felt that my views on these issues had been communicated in my paper and in the discussion, mainly the one we had at the Pearl River meeting. My views were well known to him as were the problems that we had with federal agencies, the need to broaden our financial support, and of jobs for students.
Doel:Right. In your view were there any other factors in which, areas in which Eatonís leadership seemed lacking? I wonder, for instance, how accessible he was given the extent to which he was traveling and attending meetings.
Sykes:Well, I think that he was generally regarded as a person who would say nice things and ďmake nice,Ē and people would often leave his office expecting that he was going to do something, and he then didnít do anything about those issues. So he was kind of Mr. Nice Guy, but he didnít follow through on things. I think a number of people became more aware of that as time went on.
Doel:Was there a sense of who might then become Director of Lamont as Eatonís departure to the Survey becomes clear?
Sykes:Well, he announced his departure pretty quickly. I mean, his transition from putting his name forward until he was chosen as Director of USGS, happened pretty quickly. We knew about that right away, before his confirmation by Congress. It was fairly clear that he was going to leave, Columbia then did move to put together a search committee. I had been on the three previous search committees, so I was quite adamant that I didnít want to be on another one. And I wasnít. Also, at about that time my wife became quite ill, and so I devoted relatively little energy to the question of the search. I kept in contact with a few of the — with two people on the search committee. The chairman as well as Art Lerner-Lam from our group who were on the search. I think that they had quite a large list of names. They asked us opinions about them.
Doel:These are the external, candidates external to Lamont.
Doel:Or as well as internal.
Sykes:I think that there were two, or perhaps, three candidates from Lamont. John Mutter, who was then the acting director, Dennis Kent, who under Gordon occupied a new position as essentially associate director. That may not have been quite the title, but he was second in command. He was supposed to oversee problems related to science, but he wasnít given any money to do this.
Doel:So you felt this position never worked as it might have.
Sykes:It never worked as it might because he wasnít given authority and particularly money. I think Dennis was named as a possible candidate, but I think that he decided by then that he didnít want to do it. I think Dennis [E.] Hayes was a possible candidate from within.
Doel:How was John Mutter selected as the acting director?
Sykes:Well, I must say. I either forgot or donít remember how that happened. He was on the executive committee. And that appointment was made by the Provostís office. I think Mike Crow had quite a bit to do with input there.
Doel:What. [interruption] Weíre resuming after a very quick interruption. What sort of a Director was John Mutter when he served as acting director?
Sykes:I had considered him to be very much an interim director. A lot of the big decisions about changes, at least ones I had advocated, were essentially put on hold. I think that he served well in terms of continuity. During that particular time that there was not a big effort made with new directions.
Doel:Were there discussions already about what has now become the Earth Institute concept, of integrating the different — broadly different — aspects?
Sykes:Yes. That really happened from above from Mike Crow, who became the associate provost for science, who formed a global sciences initiative. Lamont was involved in that. My sense was, however, that Mike was looking for multi-million dollar projects, and that that was where his focus was. What became the International Research Institute, the concept of examining and then making predictions of El Nino happened at that time. Mike pushed that very much. It was a consortium with Scripps [Institute of Oceanography] I think that John Mutter pushed it as well. John Mutter had to spend a lot of his time dealing with Biosphere II, which I think the basic decisions, again were made not by him, but by Mike Crow and others in the administration to go ahead with this, having Columbia essentially run Biosphere II.
Doel:What were your feelings about Columbia taking on the management of Biosphere II?
Sykes:It was an issue in which it really came to the fore, and the most of the discussion happened both when I was on sabbatical between one and two years ago, and when my wife was very sick. I made a decision that I just could not get involved in all of the daily politics of that issue. Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker was a prime mover there. I felt that there was some interesting science to be done. I had not visited Biosphere II. Wally and one of his students were instrumental in finding out why the original Biosphere II had failed. Wally became a prime advisor to the Biosphere II enterprise. I was concerned as to whether such a large facility could attract enough money — research money, and money from grants and contracts — to support things other than education. I think that so far itís been successful in attracting students, and perhaps students who we wouldnít get otherwise who are interested in going there for an ďearth semester.Ē The ramping up of the number of students who we would have there, undergraduates, I think has been successful. Iím not sure if anybody has a clue as to where sufficient money would come from for running research there. The original deal with the Bass family was that Columbia would run it for a certain number of years, but the Bags family still owns it. I donít know what will happen at the end of that time. Peter Eisenberger has said to the faculty that Biosphere II will succeed. Perhaps a leader has to say that. But itís not clear to me how, in the research area, that it will succeed. If there is not much money brought in for research, where are the other funds going to come from to continue to operate this big facility.
Doel:Iím also curious about your views of Peter Eisenberger and his vision for Lamont.
Sykes:Well, when his name came up — and it came up to me by way of members of the search committee — from what they told me, I was very enthusiastic.
Doel:What were you hearing about?
Sykes:I was hearing that he was broad. He was a quick learner. That he had been at Exxon. He had been head of material sciences at Princeton. That a number of people that the search committee had asked, gave rave reviews about him. So that sounded good to me. But again, that was at a time in which my wife was dying and I could not get very involved in the process of evaluating him. I didnít do any probing to find out opinions about him. There were probably six months of negotiation between Columbia and him. I thought that he had been quite successful in getting Columbia, really for the first time, to put a lot of financial resources and faculty appointments behind the idea of the Earth Institute. I thought that Lamont would be one of the centerpieces of the Earth Institute, and that its purpose would be to do a number of the things that I advocated in my earlier document. We had a workshop for one day at Arden House for probably twenty-five or thirty people. After Peter [Eisenberger] had accepted, I had asked people on the search committee if Peter been shown my document. I wanted him to see it. I finally found out at that meeting that yes, he had seen my document, and he liked it. So certainly for the next six months I was rather elated that it looked as if we had found someone who had been able for the first time to get Columbia to put earth and environmental sciences high on their agenda, to recognize that this was a major field for the twenty-first century, and that we needed to have interactions, significant ones, with other disciplines. Then we and I saw very little of Peter. I had a couple of meetings with him. Just after the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed [in September 1996], someone had suggested — I think Art Lerner-Lam — that Paul [G.] Richards and I brief Peter about this. We did, but Iíve received no feedback at all. I think that one of the big disappointments to me — and itís not that it should have come from Peter — but many people at Columbia were aware that Paul Richards and I had been working for a long time to try and effect a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. While several of my individual colleagues congratulated me after the treaty was signed at the UN, no one from the Columbia administration did. Faye Yates, head of publicity, has not used it at all in any Lamont brochures or even press releases. That is something that I consider to be a major accomplishment. Certainly for myself and Paul Richards, but for Lamont and Columbia but no one has followed up on that part.
Doel:Do you feel there are other philosophical differences that you have with Eisenberger in terms of his direction of Lamont and the Institute? Clearly youíre pointing out that in a number of particulars that you have concerned with you havenít felt that there has been a response.
Sykes:Well, Peter has spent very little time at Lamont. He has not come to more than one seminar. He has made some appointments to positions within the Earth Institute that have appalled many people in other departments at Columbia. I think some people — many people — at Lamont also have been quite appalled.
Doel:Are you thinking of [Graciela] Chichilinsky, for instance?
Sykes:I was asked by [Geoffrey] Heal, who is one of the people who essentially moved into the Earth Institute facilities in Low Library, by e-mail that he had heard I was a person interested in chaos and complex systems. He said there was going to be a conference for the Earth Institute, would I be willing to give a paper? So I e-mailed back, having no specifics about what was to be involved other than the topic, that Chris Scholz was a person who was much more involved in this subject than I was, So he e-mailed me back, fine, I will contact him. It turned out that Chris was unavailable at that time and.
Doel:Was unavailable at that meeting.
Sykes:Then all at once I got in the mail a brochure about this conference. It was to be a big one, organized as the first one for the Earth Institute, and called ďManaging Planet Earth.Ē That was the first time that that title had appeared. I attended the symposium. I was quite appalled at a number of the speakers who were invited.
Doel:I wonder if I could ask you which ones in particular, what issues you felt had not been well handled?
Sykes:Well, I think that formally the organization of this conference was by Geoff Heal, and I think by Graciela Chichilinsky. They spoke at length, the two of them, at this conference. A number of people were invited who were pure mathematicians, as if this was the answer to the, societal involvement in the earth sciences. I certainly came away with the sense that was not the direction, the prime direction, in which we or the field needed to go. I came away from that conference tremendously disillusioned in the directions of people who were involved downtown with the Earth Institute and with what appeared to be its future directions. It was clear that a number of other faculty from other departments were worried and concerned.
Doel:Did you have conversations with people in other departments?
Sykes:Yes. Both during that meeting and afterwards. And with people from my own department.
Doel:And in your view, the impression was fairly uniformly negative of the issues?
Sykes:Yes. Right. I think that the general impression was that having an Earth Institute and opening up the earth and environmental sciences to other disciplines was a great thing in principle, but it looked as if we were going about it in a grossly wrong way.
Doel:Have you attempted to communicate these ideas directly to Eisenberger in recent months?
Sykes:No. But I think that at this point, I want to go off the record.
Doel:We could have this part of the interview closed.  Okay. Let us mark this then that we are back on the record. And I did want to ask you about another topic that you had indicated you wanted to discuss. The way in which your psychoanalysis after your divorce from your first wife had come to influence you and influence your scientific work. When was that?
Sykes:We got divorced in 1969. So I was thirty-two at the time. We had ostensibly broken up the year before. I was living in New York City at that time, as I did until I moved to Snedenís Landing in Ď75. I think that it took me a while to get my grounding emotionally. I got involved in psychotherapy and worked with a person for a number of years, but not continuously — Leonard Hochman, who has a Ph.D. in psychology. He was not an M.D., and he worked in bioenergetics.
Doel:That was his approach.
Sykes:That was his approach to psychotherapy. I think that I was having enough emotional problems having to do with the marriage breaking up, that I was glad that I got help. Delving into ones own soul and psyche is by no means an easy exercise. It involved a lot of help. I felt that is one area post Ph.D., in which I grew the most. It certainly led me to be more outgoing with other people. Itís lead me to a realization that in science, the thing that I do best is using my intuitive senses, of having the germ of a thought about something and then ďsleeping on it.Ē Giving it time to germinate on perhaps the back burner, and then of realizing it at what point it is time to really delve into and work on that subject. It took me a while to realize that I was not a person who instantaneously came up with a new idea. Also, I was not a person who was that good in terms of verbal repartee. I was much better at letting my intuition and subconscious work on something, but on something for which I had the scientific preparation and the tools. It would be silly for me to think, however, that my intuition could find a cure for leukemia.
Doel:But within the areas in which you are most familiar and work in.
Sykes:Right. And then of having a sense of what are really important problems to work on. In fact, I think that that was a major, very positive attribute of Ewing that he conveyed to Oliver and then to me. It is that you donít have to be a great genius in order to make absolutely major contributions in a field. It involves selecting the right problems and knowing whether you have the skills or could put together the skills, yourself or with someone else, to make a major contribution. That and using my own intuition were, in fact, real skills that I had. Also of being able to size up other people. Having gone through a period of self-analysis, I often can see in other people things that they may not see themselves. In evaluating other people, particularly if one is making an appointment to tenure in which they are likely to stay for thirty years, you want to know not only certain scholastic contributions but also that the person has some other good attributes like emotional stability and curiosity. So I think that I discovered through the psychotherapeutic process some of my own skills that I hadnít owned up to.
Doel:I think thatís a very interesting way of putting it. I was curious when you had mentioned before about your recognition that the strength came from deeper contemplation rather than more rapid repartee among ideas. Had that been something that you were consciously trying to do earlier on, or that you felt in some sense encumbered to do in order to be?
Sykes:I think that there was the sense that if you are a really good scientist, you could quickly come up with the solution to a problem. If someone asks you a question, you could give them the right answer instantaneously.
Doel:And conversely if you canít do that, then somehow youíre deficient in the process.
Sykes:Thatís right. I discovered that there are people who have those other skills that are better than mine. I do not have quick repartee type skills. Sometimes those people that do end up proving that the ďPope and I are one.Ē
Doel:Thatís a good way to put it.
Sykes:Of having some time for contemplation and not necessarily, ďjust thinking.Ē A full contemplation at both the conscious and unconscious levels stands me quite well in terms of evaluating other people.
Doel:How long were you actually in psychoanalysis?
Sykes:Probably a total of about twelve years but not continuously and at different amounts of time per week at different times. One of the shortcomings was that the person I worked with in bioenergetics concluded the problems I have with my neck, and have had going back now twenty to twenty-five years ago, were psychosomatic. He never suggested looking at the medical side. It was only much later after I finished working with him, in fact, when I went to a chiropractor with pains in my neck, that he had a x-ray taken and discovered that I had a ruptured disk in my neck — osteo-arthritis, the mechanical wearing away of disks between the vertebrae. That results in the squeezing of various nerves that come out in those areas. I was able to do some other work to try and reduce stresses that can make that condition in my neck worse. So my sense is that I spent more time in psychotherapy than I might have or needed to.
Doel:Had you realized —?
Sykes:Had I realized that here was a problem that was of physiological origin, it could been attacked in other ways than psychological.
Doel:Did that come as a relief to realize that the underlying medical cause of the neck problems?
Sykes:I think so. It didnít make my neck problems go away. I did make a decision about five years ago to cut back, because I was having so many neck problems. I cut back on the number of committees that I agreed to serve on, particularly away from home, not to write as many proposals for money, and to be more choosy about the things that I was working on and people that I worked with. So those have helped. I think it also involves in a certain sense ďacting my age.Ē At fifty-five as I was then and sixty as I am now, it is stupid to be acting as if Iím thirty years old.
Doel:And to feel a little more comfortable in assuming.
Sykes:To feel more comfortable in new roles. If it hadnít been for this progression of things, I would not have decided to continue working on the test ban as much as I have. These helped me to see the political, psychological, and economic aspects of the ways people were opposing a test ban. I probably would not have written the document on the future of the earth sciences at Columbia.
Doel:But the process of being in psychotherapy broadened you sufficiently so that you could take on these kinds of challenges. Iím probably not putting it very well. But that, it gave you something that you didnít feel as strongly before that allowed you to get through what were clearly very difficult and very new kinds of experiences outside of the traditional scientific career.
Sykes:Thatís right. Essentially giving myself permission. And also of realizing that, hey, I think I have more of a perspective on issues of where the field is going than many other people do. Having been in my field now thirty-seven years, I can draw upon that perspective.
Doel:Iím curious if, did you consciously select bioenergetics as the approach? Were you considering others like psychodynamic —?
Sykes:I started working with one person, probably for about nine months, who turned out not to be very good for me. She essentially had some of the same problems I did. [Laughter] She then recommended this other therapist. I think that for me, and a good aspect about bioenergetics is that it attempts to get at and look at the whole body. For example, breathing very shallowly can often be a result of some trauma, psychological trauma, from early childhood. Opening up various parts of the body then leads to opening up of some of these memories. For me with bioenergetics, I explored other parts of my body than my head, I found that I was a person who spent a lot of time thinking and using my head. So it was probably not just by chance that I became a professor and an academic. That was a place where I felt comfortable, and so it was uncomfortable exploring other parts of my body, places where there were tensions. It is frightening having those open up.
Doel:Itís very unfamiliar.
Sykes:Very unfamiliar. And yet, it was a breakthrough that was very helpful to me, to open up some of those aspects. The first therapist that I worked with, I could essentially trick her by the fact that I was smarter than she was. Hence, I defeated getting help that I might otherwise have received, but I donít think that I would have gotten that much really good help from her anyway.
Doel:Iím curious if during your analysis or since, whether you read [Sigmund] Freud or other analysts?
Sykes:Yes. I read some Freud when I was an undergraduate and then again when I was in psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, I took some classes at an institute called the Workshop Institute for Living Learning, WILL. This was about early to mid-seventies. It was an organization of therapists of quite different backgrounds who organized groups. I took two different classes, one of which was in group dynamics. In fact, it helped me very much to see how groups function or donít function. It involved knowing the length of time people can pay strong attention to something and of impediments to groups accomplishing goals, and what needs to be done to facilitate goals. That helped me a lot when I was head of the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council. I realized that we had things that we needed to accomplish. I made sure that by the end of the meeting, that we had some good wrap up sessions and that we came to a consensus. Rather than just having the meeting peter out from lack of energy.
Doel:Thatís a very interesting observation and of course this is something that we will be talking about in detail tomorrow in our next interview. The earthquake prediction work. But you found that this was consciously something you were able to apply as you moved into more and more leadership, committee and other positions.
Sykes:Right. It has happened in many different ways. In discussing the document about the future of Lamont I realized things that you can and cannot accomplish through group dynamics and that other people essentially have to be willing to engage in the process. If everybody else is hostile, you are not going to accomplish much.
Doel:Iím curious as youíve grown more aware of yourself through psychoanalysis and your experiences, do you sense that you are one of the few scientists that have gone through analysis, or are there comparative number who have?
Sykes:My sense is that very few have. In fact, when my marriage broke up, Walter Pitman, who used to ride with me from New York City up to Lamont, told me about having been in therapy before he decided to come to graduate school and how helpful it had been to him. So he put a bug in my ear. I had the sense that he was a well adjusted person and that it had helped him. But my sense is that relatively few of my colleagues have been involved in any type of psychological counseling or intervention. Iím not sure if its Plato words ó ďan unexamined life is not worth living.Ē So Iím very glad itís a process I went through and that I made the decision to spend money on myself and put the effort that I did into it. The decision to go into therapy happened with pain from a marriage that had failed. I remarried in 1986. I had been divorced for a long time before I remarried. I was married for ten years until my second wife died. I can see things that for people who have not gone into therapy, how it can freeze them, when youíre talking about a career that extends over several decades. Some people are not able to adjust to new things or new ideas. I think even as I look back at plate tectonics, and that was before I was involved in any therapy, that at least I was able to realize that here is something really big, and I have something to contribute possible. Someone like Walter Pitman did the same thing. There were several other people at Lamont who could have really jumped in and made some major contributions to plate tectonics who didnít. I think a lot of that had to do with personality.
Doel:And emotional strength in some of these other issues that weíve been talking about. This is a very interesting theme. Is this something that you have advocated either to the scientific community or to other individuals in the sciences? Clearly it seems to you that there is an important link between progression in a scientific career and that kind of personal insight.
Sykes:No. Itís not something that I have done but it is an interesting thing to think about. I guess itís not something that I have felt that open in talking about with other people. Interestingly enough, I did have one student who was working with me and Jack Oliver, twenty some years ago, who I thought had some major, major psychological problems and who I was sure had not been involved in any therapy. So I suggested that he go into therapy. And he explained to me that he had been in therapy for about five years.
Doel:Sometimes one encounters that.
Doel:Well this has been an extraordinarily rich session. And I do want to thank you very much. And again, I should put on tape that the portion that you have asked to be closed will be so honored by Columbia University and you will be receiving the transcript for the full interview once that is done. Thank you again, very, very much.
Youíre quite welcome.
Pages 323–342 and the recorded portions of the interview form which they were produced will not be made available to others for research or other purposes.