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Interview of C. Barry Raleigh by Ronald Doel on 1997 December 17, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/22588-2
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Discusses childhood and upbringing in Arkansas and Arizona; his undergraduate education at Cal Tech and Pomona College; graduate work at UCLA; his impressions of David Griggs; his postdoc experience in Australia and the geophysics research there; research in earthquakes and high pressure research; his work a Lamont-Doherty and Columbia University; the development of the El Nino model and other climate research; among other topics. Also prominently mentioned are: Lynn Sykes, Mark Kane and Manik Talwani.
This is Ron Doel and this is a continuing interview with Barry Raleigh. Today is the seventeenth of December 1997 and we're continuing this recording at the University of Hawaii. Speaking of administrators, I was curious what kind of relationship you had with Columbia's administration when you were considering the job at Lamont. How well did you come to know Mike Sovern, for instance?
Mike Sovern was a hands-off guy as far as the operations of the university was concerned. He delegated that to his provosts or provost later, and took care of the outside stuff and, I thought, did it quite well. He was always encouraging and helpful, but if I ever went to him trying to get something, I would end up with nothing but direction to the provost's office.
It sounds like that's something that happened on a few occasions.
Right. And actually, I think he did right. That's the way it should have been. My relations with him were excellent. I had no problems.
How did he view Lamont as part of Columbia?
I think like most Columbia administrators, he regarded it as a wonderful asset. A little bit of a cash cow. Something that because it didn't cost them anything net, they were quite happy with, and were really inclined to let us be as autonomous as we needed to be. Really, I think, as far as the operations of the Lamont were concerned, I had more freedom to do what was needed than any institutional director I've heard of. It really was remarkable. And the fact is that Lamont also, in my experience, ran better than any institution like it anywhere. It really ran well.
What do you think accounts for that when you think back?
When I think what?
Accounts for that.
We had no unions. That's not the first thing, but this is not in order of priority.
We were dependent entirely on grant and contract income to support almost everyone except the sixteen faculty that the university supported at Lamont. So there was this spirit that comes when you're out there alone and realizing that you must depend on the institution and depend on each other to survive. It creates a kinship and camaraderie that is really quite wonderful. So people pull together. Even the buildings and grounds people worked hard and they cared about the institution. They liked working for me. It really was a test of their capabilities and their strengths, to be independent of the university. It was a good thing and something I would love to accomplish here, but it's not quite so easy. [Laughter].
Who was provost at the time? Had —?
It started with two provosts. Fritz Stern was provost for the academic part of the university.
I should recall his name too. We'll get that.
You'll get it. It will come to me.
[Peter] Likens was the other provost. Peter was an engineer and Fritz was a historian, of course. And Fritz was a great guy, but he didn't understand the faintest thing about science and why it cost so much. All he needed was a typewriter and a little travel money. So whenever I needed to get something done, I would wait until Fritz left town, and then I'd call Peter and say, Peter, Fritz isn't here, well this thing is kind of urgent and can you help us. Peter was no dummy. Of course, he realized what I was doing. He was helpful, but he did remind me from time to time that, really Fritz was my provost. Then finally they consolidated into a single provost job with Bob [Robert F.] Goldberger which really made a lot more sense.
Did Fritz Stern ever come out to Lamont?
Yes. When I was giving my inaugural speech, if you will, Fritz was out there. I think Peter might have been, although I'm not sure. But Sovern wasn't there. There's a painting at the end of the big hall at Lamont where I was giving the talk. Somebody had said, Ewing I think, that it was a painting of Sir Walter Raleigh, which I doubt, but anyway it could have been. I said something to the effect at the end of the speech that Raleigh had actually been incarcerated by his queen, and then beheaded by a later sovereign. I said I was anxious that Mike wasn't here; drew a laugh from the audience who knew that Mike had assigned Peter the job of firing Manik [Talwani].
Not necessarily a good signal at that point.
Well, actually, I don't think that Sovern was ever out there that I know.
Is that right?
Yes. But it didn't really matter.
How much contact did you have with Neil Opdyke during the transfer?
Oh, I walked in the office and we shook hands and talked for about an hour, He handed me a bottle of Maalox and left. [Laughter] But I'd known Neil for a while. I have enormous respect for him. But he was clearly glad to get out of the crossfire, go down to Florida.
Indeed he went to the University of Florida.
At that point. I'm curious too, as I recall Margaret Swan had been the administrative assistant under Manik Talwani, and she stayed on during —
Yes, I kept her on. And got a secretary, and then changed that secretary. But, yes, a secretary and Margaret. And I had really to do some work with Margaret to change some of the things that, you know, didn't make much sense to me, but she was adaptable.
The way things were handled within Lamont?
Well, I mean everyone has their pluses and minuses; Margaret was a bit of a dragon. It wasn't all bad actually. She certainly kept people at bay if they were difficult. I liked her.
I wonder if that was something that you deliberately tried to, and I shouldn't say change in the sense of prejudicing your answer, but there had been some concern under Manik Talwani's administration that the administrator was kept distant from the rest of the staff. How important was it for you to keep an open door?
Well, I actually ended up seeing a lot of people. But the first thing I did after a little time there was to appoint assistant directors for different disciplinary segments of the institution. And I tried to use them as funnels for requests for funds and so on. I didn't want people just kind of wandering in the door and saying they needed a hundred thousand for something. I didn't think I knew enough, frankly, to make a good judgment in most cases. So we had these associate directors who then formed the executive committee. And I threw out the elected executive committee. It was established to try to strengthen the representation of the staff with the director's office, but, frankly, if you have an executive committee that's elected to look over your shoulder, your instinct is to not show them anything and to do what you want to do. I think it was a mistake for Manik to continue that as well. So I got a group of people that I'd appointed, with one elected member. And they were people with clear responsibilities for a segment of the staff at Lamont. They could argue and plead, and do all the things that were needed. But they were people with whom I could work and in whom I had placed responsibility. It was a much more functional executive committee — small story. Gordon Eaton called me after about a year of being there, and he said he was meeting with the executive committee. They had some issue. And he asked them to vote on it. And he said, they were stunned into silence. This wasn't something they'd been asked to do very often. I had to remind them that, from time to time, because they're all smart, aggressive guys who want to grab hold of things and run with them, and did, in many cases, extremely well. But I had to remind them from time to time that I was the one where the buck stopped. If something went wrong at Lamont I was the one that got fired. So if I was going to take responsibility, I was also going to take the authority that went with it. They took it with good grace and our relations were generally, I think, okay except for occasional stress. But it's the normal stress that comes with issues that are vitally important to people, especially the stresses in keeping up with federal funding and research.
Clearly that was a major issue that came during your administration of Lamont.
Yes. Well, I think federal funding has always had its ups and downs. Certainly during Ewing's time it was easier. He got these large block grants and ran with them. When I got there, as I said earlier, the marine geology and geophysics had been flat for some time, and the Office of Naval Research was clearly slowly phasing it out of their funding. A whole large segment of what had been the pinnacle of Lamont activity for a long time had begun to suffer. And still suffers. It's not anybody's fault. It's just what happened. So there were stresses at that time that hadn't really appeared before, or had only just begun to emerge. The ship funding was a problem. The Verna had been laid up by NSF. Manik had driven the ship for another year, trying to keep it in operation over the objections of NSF, and they didn't fund it. Manik's tactic didn't succeed in forcing them to. So when I got there, we had two big problems with finances. One was the debt to the university from the unfunded ships' operations. The other was the egregious blunder they made in buying a Vax computer on borrowed money, on which the interest rate at that time was 21 percent. So we had this enormous debt to pay off. The ship issue was not bad, because Manik had set aside a sum of money from the endowment income and from the Industrial Associates to pay for that. To top it off, when I got there there were no annual reports. And although I'd come from the federal government when nobody had financial reports, I felt really exposed. So I got an accountant named Russell, he was formerly the comptroller at Columbia, Teachers College. He had recently retired, but we offered him a job for a year to bring the books up to date. By the end of about a year, Russell had about ten years of financial reporting completed, which helped a lot. You could then see how the money had moved and what had happened to it. And about that time Columbia sent us a bill for the cost of operating the ship; at least a year, year and a half after I got there.
Extraordinary that it's that delayed in any case.
It was a testament to Columbia's fiscal ineptitude, frankly. And I was delighted frankly that they gave us that long — I put Russell onto the issue of responding to that call for the funds. Russell delivered a work of the accountant's art, which said that instead of four hundred thousand dollars, we actually owed them thirty-three thousand dollars, nine hundred, thirty-three nine twelve, or something like that. And accompanied by this voluminous report. And I knew and Russell certainly knew that it would take Columbia a year to figure out what we'd given them because their own books were in such disarray. And sure enough it took that long. We negotiated back and forth, and finally ended up paying them about two hundred thousand dollars. In the meantime, the five hundred thousand that Manik had set aside in the stock market now was rising like mad. It was now worth about a million dollars. I learned something about higher finances.
I'm sure you did. You also had the problem of the [Robert D.] Conrad no longer being on par with other major oceanographic ships and finding a replacement.
Yes. Yes, exactly. And the same thing is happening to us here at Hawaii. And, of course, it was the oldest of the set of Agor vessels that had gone to academic or research institutions by the Navy. And it was due to be replaced. They did finally decide to build new, larger ships to replace them. We applied for one and didn't get it even though the Conrad was the first in line to be replaced.
Was that a real surprise to you?
Yes. That was a shock to me. I understand now why it happened, but at the time, I didn't.
Do you feel it was the political situation with NSF?
No. I think what happened was that the Navy or ONR had decided, without being explicit, that they were going to concentrate the ships at a few locations. Those locations being ones where there was a lot of navy funding in place. Now, Scripps, Woods Hole and University of Washington, who got the first ship, all had major research laboratories doing classified research in the Navy for a lot of money. And we were getting only a very small amount of ONR funding. And I was told later that the real basis for the decision, as it was again, when we competed for the next one, had to do with the level of ONR funding. That was one of the principal criteria, one of the most heavily weighted ones. I thought Lamont clearly deserved to be the next one in line. Most people were surprised by the decision. So then we set about finding a replacement somewhere. That's a good story sometime. But it was near the end of my time there.
When Lamont did acquire the navy ship, the Bernier[?].
Yeah, right. That was fun. When I first got to Lamont, the private funding issue, of course, did come up. The foundation that had been our biggest benefactor was, of course, the Doherty Foundation. We had been keeping all our endowment funds in an account run by someone who was related to someone in the Doherty Foundation just because they had given Ewing so much money. Their performance was not very good. So I called the lawyer who really represented the Doherty Foundation and asked him if we could get some more money from them. He said no. He was kind of a gruff old guy.
Was this [Chauncey] Newlin?
What's the name?
Yes. That's right. I'd never met the guy, so I just said, well, so much for that. And then we proceeded, along with Columbia's development office, to select another manager for our portfolio and really pressed them to put the principal into equities. The stock market was very poor through '81. And they did. And, of course, the market really took off in '82, and we did extremely well and doubled the value of the portfolio, while still spending five percent per year roughly on other things. Without any credit to me, we just lucked out with a good stock market like a lot of other people did. I was leading to something. Oh yes. I went to see Hank Walter.
At the Vetlesen.
At the Vetlesen Foundation. And he was, of course, the president of International Flavors and Fragrances. So, I went to his office for lunch. And when I was driving down there, I was thinking I was going to ask him for eighty thousand dollars for a new instrument the few biologists we had wanted. But I was kind of musing over the climate issue and when I talked to him, for one reason or another, I started talking about that. Hank got really quite caught up in it all during lunch and a good cigar, we kept talking about climate. I forgot to ask him about the eighty thousand dollars. About a month and a half later Hank called up and said, well, we're going to give you guys a million dollars if you can match it to establish your climate center. So I was stunned, and of course delighted. I discovered that when you're about to ask for something in five figures, you can always ask for something in six figures, and who knows? But what made it happen was the fact that Hank himself got so caught up in the idea. He was contributing to it while we were talking. I hadn't really come with such a well prepared scenario that there was no room for his participation. And that's an essential lesson for fund raising. You need to give them a chance to feel like they're part of the action.
To really listen to what they are saying.
Yes. George Rowe took over later and George took it quite seriously also. He went to Scripps and Woods Hole and came back to see us. And George was the one who said, it's my impression that Lamont runs a lot better than these other places. And then we got another large chunk of money for climate research from them just before I left.
I'm curious what the idea was that you had when you were thinking about as you drove down towards Hank Walter's office?
Well, I think I'd been writing something. I don't know whether it was for the yearbook or what it was, but I had picked up on this wonderful collection of different research activities that all clustered around paleoclimate; clearly exciting, and important. And Wally [Wallace S. Broecker], of course, is the leader of that activity, the intellectual leader. But I didn't have any crisp, fully formed ideas about what I wanted to do. What we did, of course, was take the Vetlesen money and make an endowment out of it. It generated income each year that could support a post-doc. Wally and later Mark Kane and others who were doing work of that sort, decided how to spend the money. So it was their little endowment to play around with — useful money to have. I'd like to say I had this really well thought out scheme, but I didn't at all.
I was curious when you came to Lamont whether you thought that Lamont might invest more in environmental studies than they were doing?
Actually, the only thing I thought was something that Lamont might pursue a bit more was studies in things that had happened from Pleistocene to the recent. And that really does involve climatic variability as much as anything else. But I don't think the word climate had ever crossed my lips before I went there except in the normal conversational sense. I just had a kind of intuitive sense that that was an area where they could make some progress.
Yeah. Did you come to know Gordon Jacoby?
I was wondering if he was contributing to the ideas of building this as an activity.
To some degree. I had gotten interested in Gordon [Jacoby]'s statistical work on, based on tree rings, which established probabilities for droughts; rain fall variability. And even though one mightn't have any more deterministic basis for predicting, the climate might change in some way, at least you had some statistics. So, in fact, when we got moving on this, I was trying to raise more money. I imagined that you could take curves of the world food supply as a function of time, and the world population's demand on food as a function of time, and that during periods like the droughts of the 30s, the modulation of the supply curve might actually bring it down to intersect with the demand curve. I thought we could use something like that to sell our case. So I got some agricultural economist from Columbia along with Wally and Jim Hays, to meet together and see if they couldn't proceed towards producing a paper with the same hypothetical graph of this sort as a call to the world that climate research was really quite important. I saw Wally the next day and I said, “How did it go?” And he said, you know, he said, we sat there together for about a half an hour. He said, “I couldn't understand a word the guy said.” And finally he just went on back to Columbia and that was that. The two cultures issue is still a problem, but it's getting less so I think. People finally are beginning just to understand each other, scientists and social scientists.
I was curious if your perception was that that kind of activity was seen as not really hard science and something that didn't belong at Lamont by other senior people.
I think some of the more far-sighted people like Wally would certainly accept that the economic and social implications of the work that he was doing has considerable importance, and somehow needs to get translated. Guys like Mark Kane, of course, are obviously very aware of this. But it's just that you don't have any time to educate the social scientists. So you keep doing what you do best. There are other problems. You don't get anywhere if you start publishing articles on matters you know not too much about in journals that nobody has heard of in your field, and so on and so on. So all the rewards of National Academy and big prizes and all these nice things don't come to people who publish in journals quite outside their field. It's extremely rare that people can bridge that gap and do it successfully.
It's the problem of interdisciplinary or multi-disciplinary work.
Yes. We certainly haven't solved that one yet. Though Peter is trying, I believe. But it's a really rocky road ahead, I think, before it becomes successful.
As you say, the reward structure is set up on disciplinary, rather than problem centered lines.
How did you feel about the biology programs that were at Lamont?
I thought it was fine as long as it was biological oceanography, blue water biology. I didn't see that marine biology in the strict sense had much chance of succeeding at Lamont. It was too small. There were too many marine biologists, all underfunded at that time especially. So I kept it just barely chugging along. There were a couple of good people: John Marra in particular and Hugh Duckwell, who left. I wasn't much of a supporter. Of course, I really didn't like biology very much. [Laughter]
As you had mentioned earlier on, yes. Of course, it had never been as large a component at Lamont as it had been at Scripps.
No or Woods Hole either.
You had mentioned off-tape yesterday what it was, a little bit of what it was like to be living in the director's house at Lamont. I did want to ask you again, on tape, what that experience was like.
Well, I mean, everyone knows where you are. You're extremely visible. I had a garage built so we could park our car in the garage instead of leaving it out in the snow, and of course, everybody commented on it. You know, having spent money on the garage. You're exposed in a way that I really didn't like and my wife when she finally was able to start her professional career. She got her Ph.D. while we were at Lamont, finished it off, and started private practice. She had an office across the river in White Plains. But then she also had a few people she saw over on our side of the river, the Lamont side. And so she used that separate room to see clients there. Right away people say, oh, they are using the director's residence for their own business. I thought, oh god, so what? We live there, you know. You're subject to a kind of scrutiny and somewhat un-thoughtful critical view of your use of that house that makes it, I think, not a good idea to live there; much better living somewhere else. Living a normal, private life without being quite so visible to everyone.
In a social sense was it hard to shut the door in the evenings? Did you find it [cross talk]?
No. I — it wasn't so bad and occasionally it was really quite convenient if you wanted to get somebody over and see them, you know, outside of the immediate context of the laboratory itself. So that was valuable. But certainly that small value didn't outweigh the disadvantages. Of course, I came there fresh out of a marriage, and I certainly didn't have any money to buy a house at that point so it was more than just a convenience, it was almost a necessity at the first part of our stay there.
And how did your wife Diane feel about —?
She hated it. She didn't like it at all — and socially difficult. You don't really see a lot of people that way, so you're socially restricted. So we never developed the kind of circle of friends and acquaintances that we have here, in New York. Not to say that there weren't some, but still not anything like here. She also didn't like it because it wasn't hers. She didn't feel she could make her own nest. Of course, as I said, I loved the place. Somebody else mows the lawn and shovels the snow. Terrific. If something broke, they fixed it. I didn't have to. But I think in retrospect, it would have been better to live somewhere else.
You know, when you first got to Lamont, I'm curious how you got to know the different work being done in the different branches of Lamont? Clearly it was something that as director you wanted to figure out. I'm just curious how you did.
Well, I read the collected publications for one thing. When I was first there, I was alone so I had all this time at night to read and get up to date. I looked at a lot of historical stuff and got up to speed somewhat that way. And I talked to people. Walk around and find out what they were doing. It's not that hard. Now, admittedly, just because you know what they're working on doesn't mean you fully understand how they got to that point. There are fields, like oceanography, that I really didn't know anything about. But a lot of them I did. Certainly the geological, the magnetics, and the seismology, rock mechanics were quite familiar. It wasn't all mysterious. But I didn't know anything about atmospheric sciences or oceanography.
And that was something that you were rapidly becoming acquainted with during the time that —?
Yes. Well, it also became clear that there was a lot of potential for growth of the institution in those fields, related in some sense to the physical basis for climate variations. When opportunities came along to grow those in that direction, I jumped on those more quickly than perhaps I might have if marine geologists came along. Mark was a good hire, for example.
Yes. MIT had made just the world's greatest blunder in not giving him tenure. They would hire two people for one tenure position and then only one of them would get it. They didn't give it to Mark. And so we snapped him up. And it was just a great hire. It turned out to be exactly the sort of person that we needed. He's done marvelously well. And he's a great friend as well; really a wonderful guy, interesting. Mark and Wally and Paul Richards, Dennis Kent, perhaps one or two others who I could talk to in a kitchen cabinet mode to get advice and talk ideas over with. They were intellectually some of the real leaders at Lamont. But I didn't want to have them formally administrating. Dennis Kent did. He was associate director. But the others did not. They were really most helpful, I think, in letting me kind of establish the intellectual framework in which decisions ultimately got made.
And you mean decisions generally about Lamont, or in this particular growing area?
No, I think generally. New directions where the most interesting science might be. How we needed to equip ourselves and who we needed to hire to bring that about.
That's interesting. To hear the group of people who you felt were part of that kitchen cabinet in the sense that it seems as if it's a newer generation at Lamont than it had been.
Yes, except for Wally.
With Wally's exception.
But Wally's always been kind of out in front. He's the franchise. Roger Anderson, I worked well with him. Roger and I did some things together. He was a really good guy — different.
What are you thinking of when you say that?
Well, you know, he's an Oklahoma boy. And he still talks like that. He was just a wonderful, energetic, hard driving guy. He always wanted to have his own little domain where he ruled. As a matter of fact, when the ocean drilling program was forming and the old deep sea drilling program had terminated. There was a lot of contention about where different pieces of this new program would go. Roger had gone up to Woods Hole and gotten cornered by Dick Van Herzen and the director up there at the time, John Steele, and they said, Roger, we ought to get together and Woods Hole will bid on the bore hole instrument development and we'll sub-contract to you for bore hole work. And Roger bought into it. When the actual splitting up of these activities took place, by the board of JOIDES [Joint Oceanographic Institute for Deep Earth Sampling], I managed to look around so that Roger had a separate prime contract for bore hole logging. The instrumentation development, Woods Hole could have that. But, then it turns out, as I knew, that all the other countries who participated in this program would not want to see instrument development take place in only one institution. They all wanted to play in that game. So that part went away. But we did get the logging contract. Roger then became the head of it.
It worked very well. We came out of the process extremely well.
I was thinking back to 1984. You had edited the book that came out on the continental drilling.
Yes. And that was, of course, very international. Comparatively of Japan, Germany.
And that's become so actually. Remains. But with others pushing it forward. It was Roger and Mark Zoback from Stanford who had been a student with us at Menlo Park when I was there who pushed me into starting that program. I didn't want to take on something like that. But scientifically it appealed to me a great deal. So we formed a corporation and persuaded NSF to help start the program with some funding, and start drilling some holes. It turned into something quite terrific. Lamont, through Dennis Kent primarily, has been able to capitalize on the program very well. They drilled holes into the Jurassic lake basin in New Jersey. And now we have one out here. Not very continental I would say, but they have just started drilling over at the big island to drill through the whole sequence of volcanos of the Mauna Kea series — Wonderful experiments.
When you were making that initial set of tours around Lamont, I'm curious which of Lamont's divisions seemed to you to be particularly strong and which ones you felt concerned about that weren't?
Well I thought that geochemistry, isotope geochemistry, and petrology, particularly when we hired Dave Walker, was just excellent. Charlie Languir was really first-class and, of course, Wally and Jim Simpson. Later, of course, Peter Schlosser, who Wally persuaded me to go after. All have turned out really well. And that's still very strong group. The paleomagnetics group has changed — Paleoclimatic activities. Bill Ruddman and others had really done well. Jim Hays. But it was reaching a point where one didn't quite know where it was going to go next. Then Rick Fairbanks really picked up that torch and carried it extremely well. Seismology was strong and it remains strong. But it wasn't clear that expanding it a great deal was going to lead to something new and wonderful. It had lived partly off the earthquake prediction program which I thought was in trouble. And off of nuclear test detection, which was beginning to get resolved, primarily by Lynn [Sykes] and others. The new Iris program was developing and it looked like it might have some funds. The direction in seismology was changing toward global seismology. We didn't have great strength in that particular field. Marine G&G had a very strong group of people, but I was worried, of course, about its ability to survive in the funding climate that we had. I tried to help as much as I could with stabilizing the funding for seismic reflection group. It has survived. But it's still troubled by the way NSF funds the seismic reflection work. Marine geology I was concerned about. I didn't see where they were going to go, except in the development of basin models for oil exploration. We did have some strong people in that. Tony Watts. Micro-paleontologists who looked at small bugs in marine sediments were having a lot of trouble, unless they were using them for oxygen isotope studies for paleoclimatic work. There wasn't much to be done about it. It was just going away slowly. For a place like Lamont to survive, it has to be really opportunistic. And yet, at the same time, of course, you don't simply wait on opportunities to occur. The position as director, it became quite clear to me early on, gave me a bully pulpit in Washington from which to try to help guide and even generate new programs. In some cases that was very successful. So I spent a lot of time down there.
I was curious about that. When you say, I was curious, which programs were you thinking of when you said that some of those efforts you...
Well, the continental drilling program's an excellent example. I remember going to Polar Programs one day with, John LaBreque to sell them on a big program. He wanted to do aerial geophysical surveys across from southern South America through the Antarctic. So we went to see the director of it, Peter Wilkness. Peter listened to the story, understood my presence there to be seen as strongly supporting the program.
And by the end of it he turned to the program manager and said, well, it's a good program, it's a good institution that wants to do it, and figure out a way to fund it. This is NSF. You never say something like that.
Certainly not in the 1980s.
But it got funded. GPS geodesy is yet another example. We had an opportunity to present to the President's Science Advisor when Reagan was President, new opportunities in our field of science. And Chuck [Charles L.] Drake and I and Don Anderson and a few other people were asked to come down to Washington and write this thing.
And this was to George Keyworth?
It is to Jay Keyworth exactly. So I managed to slide into that continental drilling, but also global positioning system geodesy.
Again, we'll get that. We'll make sure it's on the —
Okay. Anyway, we had gone down to Washington to try to get the agencies interested in geodesy and to helping us form an institutional structure within academia to fund GPS geodesy; to buy some of the receivers, to do some experiments. And we actually started this consortium, UNAVCO, (that ended up in Colorado when Roger Bilham left) especially to do GPS geodetic work for geological reasons. That report was an opportunity to get out on the street the notion that this was a totally new way to carry out geodetic observations. I was particularly interested in geodesy because Menlo Park had been a leader in crustal strain measurements. These are just examples of what you can do out of places with the reputation of Lamont; being close to Washington helps. It's being there.
Being there is.
Ninety percent of success.
Certainly it's a much greater challenge from Hawaii.
Yes it really is. Believe me. It's much more difficult, and we just don't have the same accessibility.
I'm curious. You had also brought into Lamont Loren Cox to —
— to do development work. I'm curious how that came about.
That came about because our Industrial Associate level of funding was dropping. The oil prices had dropped. They were consolidating companies and merging. They were much more reluctant to plunk down fifty thousand than they had been in times of high oil prices. The guy who organized the program was an old Lamont geophysicist. I mean, from the old days of Lamont. And frankly he wasn't doing a very vigorous job of it. And I attributed some of these losses to that fact. So I met Loren Cox through Diane. He had been in the Peace Corps same time my wife had, and he was in charge of the energy program at MIT. So I hired him away and put him to work on trying to keep the Industrial Associates running well. He did restore several companies back to the fold. But as far as development in general was concerned, he wasn't very effective. Over time and certainly by the time I left, the Industrial Associates funding was barely staying even and probably diminished seriously since I left. So I think Loren's leaving there was natural. He probably should have left by the time I did. But he was helpful on other things. For example, when we acquired the Bernier, Loren was really good at hustling the Canadian Petroleum Company and equipment to go on the ship.
I'm curious whether you felt that part of Lamont's culture which had always been separate from Columbia, whether there was too much isolation; whether you wanted to bring more of Lamont into public visibility, whether you saw that as a problem.
I didn't want to bring it a lot closer to Columbia. I mean, our separateness was an advantage. The autonomy that we had was partly being out of sight. Being more closely allied to Columbia, I could see drawbacks. Norman Mintz wanted us to fold our endowment back into the Columbia endowment. When I looked at the Columbia endowment, I realized that they had used it to buy all this property in the Morningside Heights area which they were then using as subsidized rental apartments for the faculty. So the return on their endowment was like three percent. And we were, here we were in fifteen, twenty percent in the stock market. Getting too close to Columbia would not have been productive for us.
Yes. I just decided we were better off keeping that comfortable arm's length.
I was thinking particularly of public visibility.
Well, public visibility is different. Yeah, I thought we needed more.
I understand you were the first person to put a sign out that actually indicated from 9W that this was the direction to Lamont.
No, actually, I had a little sign so that within Lamont itself you, people could find my driveway. And that was regarded as, I don't know, they thought it was strange. No, the signs, we did have some sort of sign there all the time I was there saying Lamont. But it wasn't too obtrusive. Then the guy who was in charge of buildings and grounds put a huge anchor out there, which we had to remove; it was a very bad error of judgment.
Because that's signaling one particular branch of Lamont versus others?
Yes, well I think it was just corny looking and in bad taste. The guy did not have good taste. We did try to do a little more getting in front of the public. I thought to raise money we would need to. We started doing a newsletter, which turned out to be really well received among fellow scientists and the people in the funding agencies. But it was a little too technically difficulty for most of the reading public. So I don't think it did a lot of good there. And I don't know that we got a lot of return for that. It's hard to measure. I thought a lot about whether we should hire somebody to do PR for us and finally decided against it. I don't know whether it would have done us any good or not. Maybe it would, maybe not. But, for example, a good example, when Mark Kane and Steve Zebiak had developed their deterministic model of the El Nino process, we spent a lot of time talking about it, trying to see what the potential flaws in it might be. But he had retrospectively predicted accurately the previous six or seven El Niños, and done so a year in advance using the model. Of course, in running the model in real time, we started seeing indications in 1985 that there would be an El Nino in 1986. He began to include this in talks he was giving to colleagues [words garbled]. I had frequent experience representing the USGS on the matters of earthquake prediction on TV. And one of the things that was obvious after a time was that you had to be extremely careful to say not only what you knew, but what you didn't know. And not afraid to say, we don't know this. But also not to let rumors about potential earthquakes grow without checking them with as much factual information as you really had at your disposal. Because the press are always a little too eager to make a positive construction out of something that most scientists would consider far too poorly supported by data. We began to hear rumors that Lamont was predicting an El Nino. This now was a topic which had, of course, a significant economic impact. I said, look, we've got to have a press conference. And at that point I think he had submitted the papers to Science, and Science turned it down. Their first paper on this prediction of El Nino was sent it to Nature who did publish it, thank God. But we had the press conference. Walter Sullivan was there. Slept through the whole thing and wrote this perfect article about it, wonderful guy, just unbelievable.
I was going to ask how well you knew him.
I knew him very well. We had dinners at his house. And we really got to be good friends. I liked him very much. I'd known him before from Menlo Park. And the press conference duly recorded this thing. Mark did a nice job of presenting it. I talked a little bit about the implication for climate changes associated with El Nino. Then as soon as the article came out in the paper, NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency] also issued an El Nino watch, which is sort of the lowest level of their warning that something may happen. And then at that point, the temperature, which had begun to rise along the coast really flattened out. From like April to August it remained flat. And Mark was walking around the campus looking awful. I mean, just had this gray, drawn expression on his face. He was depressed. So finally NOAA publicly withdrew their watch. The lead guy called me up, not the director, the head of the environmental research lab, called me and said, you know, you guys have really done a terrible thing. He said the fishermen are not going to be able to get loans for their fishing boats this year because an El Nino now is expected because of what you guys did. He said you should make a public recantation. And I said, well, I'm not sure about that, Joe, but we'll think it over. And, of course, as soon as they withdrew their watch announcement, the temperature started rising again [Laughter]; literally to the day. Then of course the El Nino did occur and everything was fine. And it really followed the scenario that they had predicted rather well — Interesting story. Prediction in science is a very dicey game. But certainly it puts the scientist at great risk with his colleagues, which was, of course, what Mark was concerned about.
But it also puts Lamont in a different position than it would have been had you not decided to raise the issue. It clearly, it needed to be dealt with, but how one does it.
Yes. I think it had to be publicized simply because there were rumors. And rumors are far more dangerous than whatever factual reality you can bring to bear on the question. Actually, I went down to — I was going to South America anyway — and I stopped off in Peru. I went to see the government scientists who were already making their own prediction of an El Nino. This was about April, 1986, shortly after the press conference. So we weren't surprising them at all. But going public with the prediction before it actually appeared in a published article, is something you don't want to do without really strong reasons.
Of course, the other area which you already mentioned where policy was very closely linked with the work on one part of Lamont was what Lynn Sykes was doing for the, both for the test ban treaty and the nuclear power source.
Yes. It was so solidly based on excellent seismological evidence that it was clear that they were, they were on a really good hunt. And they were going to win. And against a really recalcitrant bureaucracy that was trying to pretend that we needed to keep testing bombs.
Yes. Sounds like you and Lynn Sykes had discussions about what he was doing.
Oh sure. Oh sure. And it was something I understood well. And I really thought they did a marvelous job: One of the more impressive pieces of science in the interest of public policy that I've ever seen. They were rewarded for it. And they got a lot of publicity and won a medal from the American Federation of Scientists.
Do you feel that there were elements within Lamont that felt this wasn't an appropriate area for Lamont to be investing?
I don't know. There might have been, but I never heard any rumblings about it. Of course, I was the last to hear a lot of things.
Did you feel that way?
You always are, you know.
How did you work to overcome that? At times that you recognized that you weren't getting information that you —
Well, I was reasonably confrontational. I never minded having people in my office, one to one, or two to one, or whatever it was, kind of dealing with them head on about things. And if some issues like space were beginning to be a big problem, I would just go out and walk through the whole place, room by room, until I saw a way to resolve it. Once in a while, this hands-on stuff gets you in a position where people will come and talk to you. They're nervous about it because the result might not be in their best interest.
Did you make a point of getting to the colloquia at Lamont?
Yes, the Friday ones?
Yes, I went to a lot of those. I didn't go to any of the ones during the week though. You know.
You run out of time.
You run out of time. I tried to teach part of a class, actually. I found it as desperate. I would be, not new material but its material, you know, that you used a lot in your science, but you haven't really thought it through in a way that would make it perceptible to a class and so teach it for the first time. Really my first time, just excruciating.
Yes. I was going to ask what that was like for you.
I have tried not to repeat it. I don't think I did the students a great service by taking that on. But it was, I mean, I kind of had to do it to know what other people were going through. I had to do some teaching. But I haven't repeated that error here except for the occasional class where I step in for someone else.
You had mentioned the climate research earlier, how involved was the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences in that?
It was a kind of interesting relationship. They wanted us for protection against NASA's moving them down to Greenbelt.
And that was under active consideration?
It was certainly under consideration. But they didn't want the embrace to be too close. They liked to use us a body shop to hire for them, because NASA wouldn't give positions. So we would hire somebody with their money. That was Jim Hansen's modus operandi. He wanted to keep his own group close by and not have this monster up in Palisades absorb them. So they stayed down where they were — 115th Street. Relations were cordial, but not close.
Was Rob Jastrow still a part of that entity then?
I was the one that actually ended up getting rid of Jastrow. Did you know that?
No, I didn't.
He was teaching and he had a very popular class. Hundreds of kids took it. But the astronomers hated it because they thought it was a really third rate class, and so, not good astronomy. For some reason he ended up working half time for us. And that was before I had come so I was handed the situation. He decided then to go to Dartmouth for one semester each year, and I just cut his, our component of his salary in half. After all, if you go on half time, I'm not going to pay you full time. He walked into his class and announced he was resigning. He was infuriated. So he left and Sovern, of course, called me and they were concerned. It was a very popular class and this guy was walking out of it. I wasn't in the slightest bit upset about it. I thought it was a coup. I was delighted he had actually reacted so strongly. He was a very public figure of course. We were both on Good Morning America once, very early in the morning. My wife came with me for some reason. We were in the green room together. And he came out and said “how did it go?” He said “did they actually put my name up, you know, the lettering on the screen?” And she said, “yes, it said Robert Jastrow, astrologist.” He said, “What?” And, of course, my wife kind of blurred the distinction between astronomer and astrologer. But he was absolutely livid. Hah! I got her outside afterwards, not knowing she had screwed up. I said, “Honey,” I said, “that was genius. How did you keep a straight face?” She said, “About what?” [Laughter] Anyway, Bob was one to place a lot of currency on his public appearances.
That's a very telling story. How was it that you were on Good Morning America?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, always earthquakes. It's a topic of never ending fascination to the media and similarly to the people who look at the media.
I know our time is going to be running tight very soon, so I wanted to try to pull a few last questions here. 1988 your director's report, you were stressing policy issues. You mentioned Frank Press and the National Academy and the ways in which funding ought to be invested in the private research centers as opposed to some of the government ones.
Right. And then I went and joined the enemy.
I was curious what sort of issues prompted you, what you were thinking about when you sat down to write that director's?
Oh, I had been concerned because Eric Bloch, who had been head of NSF, had dinner with, along with Bill Merrell, who was assistant director, for earths, oceans and atmosphere. And Bloch had said to me what would you think if NSF were to say to you that we're not going to fund your scientists for more than two months of your summer salary. And it wasn't the first time I'd heard this. It had been kind of circulating around Washington. Bloch had a very abrasive, direct style. And I said, well, I said I would go get the director of Woods Hole and the director of Scripps and we'd go down to Washington, and we would kick the butt of whoever it was that was trying to destroy our institutions with Bill Merrell [laughter], you know, grimacing behind Bloch's back. But Bloch was great, and said, oh, okay. Well, that's good to know. He was great at eliciting truthful response. But I was concerned about that. And I was concerned that we were, we were entirely self-supportive, and distinctions based on quality, of course, are what keeps a place like Lamont alive. But if you have a lot of tax money to support your institutions, it's a little easier to sustain the good people. And I've spent a lot of time, as you probably know from some of the historical stuff, on trying to make sure that we had more support, institutional support, for our scientists, our faculty, than we had when I got there. Raising a hundred percent of your salary is more and more and more difficult. And it was clear to me that it was going to get worse, not better. So I was trying to arouse the institutions that funded us. Say listen, these private institutions are really worth support. They provide for us in a way that the public ones may not. And I included Woods Hole. So it was a kind of an alarm signal, but it was also an attempt to arouse their conscience about keeping places like Lamont vigorous and alive with funds. They have done pretty well actually.
You, please go ahead.
Near the end of your term at Lamont, in the late 80s, I'm wondering, did the challenges that you faced seem different than when you had arrived at Lamont earlier in the decade?
To some extent, although the challenges don't vary all that much. I mean, my challenge when I got there was figuring out how the place worked and how to make it work better. I finally thought I had that pretty well figured out. I even had fairly well figured out how to deal with Columbia by that time. Then it was just a matter of trying to find funds, and promote Lamont, keep the program vital and alive. And make sure you hang on to the best people; all the usual things that everyone in a job like this faces. In fact, my relations with Columbia were really pretty good. I can't complain. Bob Goldberger and I got along very well. And he was helpful. And Jonathan Cole was super. I wrote them all letters when I left telling them how great I thought they were. I really did. I wasn't joking. I wish my relations with the administration here were as good.
At the end of that 1988 director's article, you had said how glad you were for the privilege of being able to stay and serve.
Absolutely. I meant it too. I loved the job. That place was a wonderful institution, the people there very much worth serving. It's hard to articulate these things sometime, but I tried telling Mark Kane something to the effect that the process that people are engaged in while they are doing the science is worthy of supporting, fostering, keeping alive in any way you can. It's one of the few things that human beings do that yield a real, honest-to-god product. Most of what we do intellectually, we seem to go around in fairly large loops until we come back to finding we'd thought of it before. Science is not that way. And I suppose I was trying to justify the fact that I had invested so much of my energy and time supporting the institution rather than doing my own research. But everybody regrets that to some extent. I wanted him to know that I didn't regret it. That this was extremely important to me and it was worth my time.
I did want to ask simply what factors prompted you to take the position here. That is the last question.
It's complicated. I felt I'd gotten a lot of things done and I was happy about it, getting the ship and all these. Climate research was going extremely well. Lamont was actually in good shape. When I left, it was in better shape than it's ever been. At least financially and the morale was good, and there was excellent research going on. Good, new people had come on board. All the right things were there. Actually my wife was unable to get licensed in New York to practice because the professional school she'd gotten her Ph.D. from was not finally accredited until one year after she got her Ph.D. Well, I mean it's a stupid thing, but she's a superb professional in her work but was not even allowed to take the exam. So that was one motivation. I don't like New York particularly. I never really enjoyed living there all that much, although the city was great. We'd go into the city and have fun. But as a community, outside of the research institute itself, there really wasn't one that I felt part of; nor did my wife. And I liked the west. I wanted to come back out west at some point. Also, I was fifty-five and, you know, I thought people are going to stop asking me for dates pretty soon, if I don't move pretty quickly. So this opportunity came up while my being at Lamont may have improved the place. It really would always be a great institution. Here I think my role in creating something new is really significant. The school is doing extraordinarily well and it has an excellent faculty. I wanted something I could call my own. I really helped make that happen.
And here being, we should say on tape, the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii.
At the University of Hawaii, yes.
There are many more issues I'd like to cover with you at some point, but thank you so much for all the time.
You're welcome. I'm delighted to talk about Lamont anytime.
And you will be getting a copy of the transcript as soon as it's prepared.