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Interview of Lee DuBridge by Finn Aaserud on 1986 February 14,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Deals mainly with DuBridge's professional affiliations starting before World War II as member of National Research Council (NRC). War work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Lab and relations with other groups, e.g., at the British Telecommunication Research Establishment (TRE). President of California Institute of Technology after Robert Millikan. Relationship with military. Establishment and chairmanship of President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC); affiliations with PSAC and other organizations; PSAC's impact on science policy. Work with evolution and funding of Public Television, including James Killian's and Edward Land's roles. Also prominently mentioned are: Robert Andrews Millikan, Richard Milhouse Nixon; California Institute of Technology, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Research Council, National Science Board, National Science Foundation, Project Vista, United States Army Signal Corps, United States Army Atomic Energy Commission, and United States Office of Defense Mobilization.
We are going to discuss the involvement of American physicists in science policy after the Second World War, specifically as it has pertained to DuBridge's career. I think this is particularly pertinent because DuBridge's involvement in those developments has not been covered very much in the literature otherwise. So that maybe we could start talking about the early involvement and the early experience of such matters before the world war, to the extent that you participated in them. I don't know whether you would point to specific experiences or involvements that you had at that time.
No, before World War II I don't believe I had any connection with the government or other policy institutions. I was on committees of the National Research Council, but they were dealing wholly with technical problems, and I was engaged in one of them. It wasn't even physics, mostly. But it was something of a research problem to verify or not an issue which had been raised by researchers in Germany, and it sounded a little crazy, and they decided to start a research program to prove it out and we proved that it was crazy. But that's my only contact with the government, what you might call a quasi-government thing, the National Research Council.
So that involvement was specifically devoted to that problem.
And nothing else, there was no general—
—yes, I was on another Research Council committee, but it was just general discussion of the health of research in the United States, and I don't even remember many of those discussions.
In 1938 you became Dean of Arts and Sciences of the Faculty in Rochester. Did that involve any involvement of the sort?
No, that was purely a local problem of the health of the institution itself: faculty salaries, fringe benefits, faculty appointments, faculty morale. And strengthening the quality of the faculty. Rochester was just in the birth pangs of being a research institution.
Yes, but in the local sense it involved the development of physics.
Yes, as well as the whole university, of course, except the medical school; I had nothing to do with the medical school. But during my tenure there we were building biology, geology, psychology, chemistry and engineering.
Also before World War II you were pretty involved in editorial activities in different journals. The American Physics Teacher, that was the first, I think, and then Physical Review and Review of Scientific Instruments. I don't know if there were more. DuBridge: My editing activities simply involved the reviewing of scientific merit of papers submitted for publication and the choice of referees and general mechanisms for insuring the quality of the scientific journals. When I was editor for the McGraw-Hill Book Company of their International Series in Physics for a while.
Where did your interest and involvement in that come from?
I was simply asked to serve. And a lot of other people were, you know. There weren't many physicists in those days. There were only a few of us who were considered to be eligible.
But that exposed you to some more general problems.
Yes, yes. And that led me into being a member of the Council of the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Physics.
OK, and that was when?
Well, during and just to the end of the war. I was president of the American Physical Society in 1947. I was elected in 1946 just as the war was ending.
That was postwar, but you came in through this earlier development.
Yes, I'd been involved in committees and boards before that.
Well, it says here that you were with the Physical Science Division of the National Research Council for six years, from 1936 to 1942. Is that correct?
Yes, I think so, but that was not a very active or a demanding job.
No, that was by no means full time.
No, not even a tenth time.
Then we come to the war, and I'm not sure to what extent you have explained in other places the background and your own reasons for accepting your position at the Radiation Lab in Boston.
There was nothing to it. I was simply called and asked to serve, so I did. At that time, it was clear that we'd better be ready for a war in Europe in which we might be involved. Already Bush and Conant and the others had organized the National Defense Research Committee, and the scientists were aware of that, though not aware of what they were doing specifically. And as a matter of fact I, along with the heads of other physics departments, simply wrote to Bush and said, "Any way we can help in our physics department, let us know." I don't think that letter to him had anything to do with what finally happened, because what finally happened was an agreement between Alfred Loomis and Ernest Lawrence who were members of the NDRC Microwave Committee in trying to decide just who they would ask to be the director. They, after consulting others—I don't know whom-decided to ask me. Ernest Lawrence called me up at Rochester and asked me to come to New York and talk to them.
OK, that's the background for that. When was this?
1940, fall of 1940. And I actually went to MIT in November, with a small corps of others who agreed to come.
Yes. The work of the Radiation Lab of course has received very scant attention in the historical and especially in the journalistic literature as compared to the atomic bomb effort at Los Alamos.
Yes. I know.
So maybe we should dwell a little on that.
But there are places where it's described in some detail. There's a book on Scientists at War, isn't it called, that describes the Radiation Lab activities, and Henry Guerlac of Cornell wrote a very extensive but unpublished account. Have you seen that?
I haven't seen it. There are plans for having it published.
It was written and Henry hoped it would be published. But as he wrote it, it got bigger and bigger and took longer and longer, and by the time it was finished, two years after the war the publishers said, "Oh, nobody's interested in reading about war science any more, we've heard enough about it."
Could you compare your involvement at the Radiation Laboratory to your earlier experience of physics? That must have been quite a radical change.
Oh, it was very different, yes. I'd been working on the photoelectric and thermionic emission from metals, and later on nuclear reactions, using a cyclotron at Rochester. When I went to MIT, I found a very advanced electronics and microwave technology with which I was totally unfamiliar, and most other people were too. We had used oscillators on the cyclotron, but they were very different, different technology and different purpose. All that was in common was that we were using Maxwell's equations to determine how electromagnetic radiation behaves.
Yes. It was a rather successful effort, though.
Well, it worked out fine. The British magnetron was the secret of the initial success, and we set out to work at once to improve and get that into large scale production. We continually improved it all during the war and made it for shorter wavelengths and so on. And then we started adapting it to various radar applications, and though we started with only one, we ended up with a hundred or so different radar applications and different radar equipment.
How important would you say was the involvement of physicists, specifically I guess as compared to engineers, in that development?
Oh, it was all physicists to start with. Later, we hired a number of engineers. There were a few engineers, especially some of those around MIT, that had had some experience in microwaves and higher frequencies. When the Radio Research Laboratory, so called, was started, Fred Terman of Stanford was called in to the Radiation Lab to set up a separate group on countermeasures, but everybody felt that that group ought to be fairly isolated from the radar people, and isolated from everything else, because that was especially secret. And so after Terman had organized his group at MIT, it was arranged that he move it to Harvard. Now, Terman being an engineer had recruited mostly engineers. I being a physicist had recruited mostly physicists. It was really a personal thing. I just took on all of my good friends in physics and he took on all of his good friends in electrical engineering, so the two labs had a very different flavor, that way. But they were engaged in somewhat similar activities.
Yes, and you had a pretty active interrelationship between the two?
Fairly. But we were told that we shouldn't be too interactive.
That raises another question of course of the secrecy problem and how that affected the work there.
As a matter of fact, the secrecy thing, although it scared us a bit at first because we were given such hair-raising tales about spies, and how careful we had to be, it turned out that most of these tales were unfounded. We had no direct problem with espionage or leaks. There was no Klaus Fuchs at our laboratory. So even up to the end of the war, what was really going on in the radar field was a pretty good secret. Some general things about radar had already been published and were widely known because there were so many people using it in the military. But there were no unauthorized leaks to the Germans or Japanese or Russians, as far as we knew.
But the size of the project increased beyond any limits that you had previously planned?
Yes. We had started with the idea, we would have 30 or 40 people, but we ended up with 4000. That was simply because so many ideas popped up, and because the initial radar sets that were developed proved to be so useful and to open up such wholly new fields in the military area, that one idea just followed another like that. And we had some very inventive people, like Ivan Getting and Luis Alvarez and I. I. Rabi, and they were always coming up with new ideas about new applications.
To what extent did the increase in size affect your own work experience and work tasks?
Well, it just meant that the task of keeping track of everything was greater, but there was such a good feeling in the Lab; it started with just a group of very close friends, scientifically close, and then they called in their friends and they called in theirs. So that within the Laboratory, it was an extremely congenial working group. And it was very exciting, because as new things came along, we could see their importance and their scientific and technical interest. It was so exciting that wholly new kinds of radar technologies developed—like the microwave early warning, like some of the bombing radars and sea search radars and so on. There was a continual air of excitement and new things going on. We had a meeting of all the group leaders, of which there were 30 or more, every week or two just to exchange information. There was no secrecy within the Lab. We did not try to keep secrets, except for the countermeasures work during the brief period it was in the MIT Lab. We made every attempt to spread information within the Lab and not to keep it isolated or compartmentalized. And that was part of our success, because the ideas that developed one place spread to another one and suggested new ideas there, and when the people working on sets found new problems, they went to the receiver group or the transmitter group and so on, and said, "Look, can't you make us a better thing, to do this or do that?" Sometimes they would come back, "We've got a better receiver for you, why don't you try it?" and so on.
That must have been a very different experience from an academic environment where you're not aiming towards a specific goal as you obviously were here.
Yes, of course. This was applied physics, of course; it was quite different from the nuclear physics we had been doing just to investigate the nuclear properties of various atoms.
But that transition wasn't particularly difficult?
No, no, it really wasn't.
And obviously the physicists succeeded in doing it. It was mainly physicists who were involved?
Practically all of the group leaders and division chairmen were physicists, yes. And many of their first level subordinates were. But then we had engineers and technicians and women who were clerks and technicians, and a great body of women who were just doing nothing but putting electronic circuits together. We were assembling huge numbers of electronic circuits for various purposes. Then we helped set up a radar training school for the military. We weren't directly involved in that except in helping it get set up downtown.
OK. What was taught at that school?
Well, how to run a radar set. Just to get the military men familiar with the principles of radar and the operation of particular radar equipment. So they had samples of different kinds of radar equipment there to work with. How to repair it and how to use it, what it was for, and all the rest of it. That was absolutely essential, because an untrained man sitting in front of a radar in an airplane would be completely lost as to what to do with it. Especially if anything went wrong.
You emphasized the openness of the Laboratory itself. How was the relationship with other war efforts, specifically with Los Alamos?
Well, there was very little official relationship with other areas, but we had a very close relationship with many industrial companies that were working on things connected with radar, either manufacturing radar components or radar sets. We had a lot of relations there. We had an extensive collaboration with the British radar group. The Telecommunication Research Establishment (TRE), which was the British equivalent of the Radiation Lab, organized in somewhat the same way, mostly with physicists from universities. But they were in civil service and we weren't. And we had very intensive collaboration with our military people. We had military liaison officers at the Lab all the time, some full time and others who came in on extensive visits. They were up to four star generals who came to see what all this was about and how it worked-what its advantages and problems would be and what tactical and strategic uses it had.
Yes, it's amazing how successful this was, from the perspective of your education, and of your original career plans, of course. Could you say something about how the physics education that you had was helpful for such a specific project?
No, it was no help at all, in that sense. I just had a standard course in physics and a standard research program for the PhD, and all I ever thought about was going into a university physics department and spending my life in teaching and research. That was my intent, and that was what I did for the first 14 years after I got my degree. But there was nothing they could have taught me in graduate school to prepare me for radar, or for a big administrative job.
But would conceivably another group than the physicists have done such a successful job?
I think so. In fact they did. There were tremendous advances in chemistry, in chemical warfare, and other things related to chemistry, and of course the nuclear bomb project involved a tremendous amount of very sophisticated chemical work, done at Berkeley, Chicago and other places, as well as Los Alamos, so that the chemists were a very key part of that. And then there were the purely chemical projects around the country. So the chemists were mobilized, and they didn't happen to coalesce into such a large single laboratory as the Radiation Lab-that was a special case. But there were other very successful laboratories—some of the best chemists in the country, all the best chemists in the country, were involved in one or more of them, starting from James Conant at the top, and going right down through the line. But I don't know much about the specific activities of the chemical groups.
But there had been some developments toward the radar before the war?
In the military in the U.S. and in Britain. I don't think anybody in the U.S. universities dreamed of radar. There was a small group at MIT working with high frequency radio communication and generation, but the radar idea had never hit. But it had hit the people at the Naval Research Laboratory, with the Breit and Tuve experiment on the ionosphere. Then they detected aircraft going by when they were just trying to measure the height of the ionosphere. And that started the Naval Research Lab on the Navy radar program, which was very good, although it was entirely with long waves because they didn't know how to generate shorter ones then. Then the Navy results were transferred to the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and they were soon making long wave radars for anti-aircraft gun control.
But these were physicists again, Breit and Tuve.
It started that way, but no, the military hired their own people. They didn't work the same way we did at all. In fact, they would get technically trained officers to run the various labs-either Navy or Army. The Naval Laboratory had a good many civilians. I don't think Breit and Tuve stayed on very long in the actual development of radar. They went into other things. But they did continue there at the Naval Research Lab.
Yes. How was the interrelationship between that laboratory and the Radiation Laboratory?
Well, after we got started, it was very close. Very close with the Signal Corps, too. Their laboratories were in Virginia at Fort Monmouth, I believe. With the Naval Research Laboratory, we had visits back and forth all the time; we tried to keep in close touch. Neither the Army or Navy tried very much to get into the microwave area, though, because their experience and their equipment and so on were in the longer waves which had plenty of applications too.
Yes, so there was a division of tasks there.
No sharp division. They were free to go into microwaves any time they wanted to, of course, and they just thought that it would be better for them to specialize in where they were, but keep in touch with what we were doing, so as not to overlap.
Of course this was a very very strong new experience for the physicists who were involved, and it's a general question to what extent the war experience shaped the physicists' role in what I call science policy and their own understanding of that role. That's a very general question, of course, but it's clear that the postwar period became very different from the prewar period, and essentially through that experience.
Well, sure. That was the first time that most physicists had had much contact with government operations or military operations. There was a sprinkling of physicists in the Naval Research Lab and Signal Corps laboratories and many industrial labs, but the academic physicists had been pretty well isolated from government, and especially the military, until the war. Then, bingo! they came together in a hurry and very closely. At first I think there was a little suspicion on both sides. I mean, we didn't know each other and didn't know the way the others worked, and we were a little uneasy about the military insistence on secrecy and security. They were a little concerned that we didn't pay enough attention to that, that German spies would come and get all our secrets. And also they had a different feeling about how you approach a new thing. We would come to them for example and say, "Look, we've got a new idea about a radar you could put on your airplane and search out submarines," or something like that. They would say, "Well, we don't seem to have any military requirement for that. I don't find one any place in the book." Unless there was a military requirement written down some place, they weren't interested. We had to say, "Well, if there isn't one, there ought to be, now, look here—" Rabi, for example, was especially good at pounding the table and saying, "Look, you guys, here's something that's going to be valuable to you and here's how you can use it." He was very eloquent in his discussions. There were others who were, too, and the military people stationed at the lab soon caught the spirit of the lab, and there was a very good Navy officer and a very good Signal Corps officer there and a good Air Force officer. The Air Force developed especially good relations under General McClellan, whose office was in Washington, but who came to the Lab frequently and we went to see him frequently. He was our intimate contact on general matters of development of new radar equipment and its manufacturing, use, training and so on. So for the first time the physicists were thrown into contact with military and government activities, and we were on many military committees. I was on the radar committee of the Combined Chiefs of Staff (which meant the British, American and Canadian military staffs), which discussed the general uses and requirements and policies in regard to use of radar. That was a new thing for me, and for one or two others who were on that committee, to get into these high level discussions, and I got very well acquainted with some of the officers there who were great guys. Well, I think that the military also developed a good deal of confidence in the scientific community. They said, "Gee, these guys aren't so dumb after all, look what they've done." So after the war, there were many military advisory groups set up, Army, Air Force, Navy, and they all invited the various people whom they'd got acquainted with during the war—Radiation Lab people, Los Alamos people, what have you—to join their advisory groups. So I was on an Army group, a Navy group, an Air Force group, and so were most of the other leaders of the war effort.
Yes, I would like to talk a little more in detail about your involvement there. On the part of the physicists and scientists before the war, it had been a very strong reluctance to involve themselves in government matters. It was a strong reluctance against any kind of funding, support, involvement.
No, it wasn't that, at least not in my experience. It was simply that we weren't even asked to be involved in any government enterprise. Nobody even thought of coming to a physics department to ask for people to serve on advisory committees for the government or be involved in government affairs. I would have had no resistance, I don't believe, to doing it, if it were something within my field of competence. But, you know, the question never arose. We went about our business and the government people went about their business. The only contact with government people that most of us had was with the National Bureau of Standards. There were some fine scientists in the National Bureau, and we always had our American Physical Society Washington meeting at the Bureau, in its old location, and got acquainted and heard many papers from Bureau of Standards people and followed their work with great care. That was the nearest we got. I think some physicists were involved in advisory groups for the Bureau. I never was. That was about the only government agency that I recall before the war in which there was scientific connection and collaboration.
As expressed in the funding structure the government was very little involved.
There was no funding. There was no funding of university research by the government.
It was the heyday of the foundations.
The foundations and companies and so on. The National Research Council, when it undertook a task at the request of the government, or maybe just on its own initiative, would raise money for it, maybe from the Rockefeller Foundation, maybe from companies and so on, to finance some investigation of a particular problem at a university or universities. They were usually not government funds.
No, and the National Research Council was founded as largely independent of the government.
It was independent, a part of the National Academy of Sciences. It was the working arm. During World War I, it was the National Research Council which was the NDRC so to speak of World War I, and all of the military and scientific work during the war was under the National Research Council.
Yes, and the people most prominent in that, including Millikan and Hale, I think were very set at maintaining that independence.
Oh, sure, still are, as far as the Academy is concerned. They do work for the government, but they are not government.
Yes, but in other ways the relationship has become a lot closer, of course.
Yes. It's true, Millikan was even against the National Science Foundation, when that was being proposed.
May be we should go on and talk about the institutions and the work in what I broadly call science policy immediately after the Second World War, and the origins, goals, efforts, interrelationships, and in particular of course your involvement in these new institutions, and also involvement in other ways. I don't know which institutions, which developments, you would start with and which you see as most crucial in that.
Well, as I said, I was on advisory committees for all three of the services, but I never, I don't now, think of my participation in those as being very significant. The most significant thing I got involved in after the war was what became the President's Science Advisory Committee. This was originally a Science Advisory Committee for the Office of Defense Mobilization, and was under the chairmanship of Oliver Buckley. Buckley and I had known each other for a long time, and he invited me to be on that committee. We met frequently and that was the one place where we did talk about national policy, especially as far as defense was concerned then. But on the other hand, Buckley had interpreted his directive to just be a kind of a standby committee to consider what might happen if we had another mobilization problem, to mobilize scientists again for a war, who would we call on to lead the various groups and so on? Well, of course, we wrote down some names and then put them away in a drawer and said, what the heck, we can't do this sensibly when we don't even know if there's an emergency coming or what kind it will be or where, and what technologies will be required and so on. So I'm afraid we let that job lapse. But we still got talking about the importance of various things, such as the defense of the country against missiles, the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear defenses, and the development of protection against air attacks, radar warning lines and so on. We, on our own initiative, got interested in these things, and started setting up groups to study them and talk about them more carefully. Finally, when Dr. Buckley retired for health reasons-he died a year or so later-the committee asked me to serve as chairman. Actually, the committee was not supposed to elect its own chairman, because we were under the Office of Defense Mobilization, but Arthur Fleming was a nice guy. He agreed right away to accept the committee's recommendation that I be the chairman, but I said, "I want to make it clear that we think of this committee as reporting directly to the President through you and I hope that's your feeling too," and he said, "Of course, so we will make contact with the President"—Eisenhower then—"and your committee whenever you think it's important to do so." And he was very very good about that, and we had many meetings with the President.
That in effect made you the Presidential Science Adviser.
It was almost that, yes. Not officially because it was a part time job. I was chairman of the committee. We met once a month, maybe for a couple of days, though we did organize little special working groups on special problems, who spent more time on it. So we were a fairly active committee, at the Presidential level, during my tenure, which was about five years after I was appointed.
This was in the early fifties?
Until 1957, about. Then Rabi became chairman.
The committee was established in 1951 and then you became the chairman in 1952, I think.
Something like that. I became chairman almost at the same time that Eisenhower was elected President. Just by coincidence.
Yes. I would like to talk a little bit about the developments before that, because it must have been a very important period, in the sense of getting the physicists back to the civilian or the peace work bench again, and how to organize physics immediately after the war. There were a lot of organizational developments, and I've noted that you expressed a strong concern for maintaining basic research within a university context, for example, and about the relationship between the military and basic research during peace time. This all relates to the development within the Office of Naval Research, I guess, and the establishment of such institutions.
My involvement in that aspect was somewhat indirect. I was a member of the Naval Research Advisory Committee for just a couple of years, and before I left Rochester—I was at Rochester for just a few months after I left MIT before I came to Caltech—we had started a new cyclotron project which ONR had agreed to finance. We already had a little cyclotron but this was to be a much bigger one, of course. But I left then just as it was getting under way. The Navy, through ONR, was financing research in the universities quite effectively, and they were doing quite well, but we all felt—those that I was associated with, including the President's Advisory Committee members—that not all of the basic research in the universities should be supported by the Navy or by any of the military services. There should be a civilian agency. And this exactly was Bush's proposal in his Report to the President on "Science, the Endless Frontier." So we got behind that proposal of Dr. Bush. Now, it was a complicated story—about how that finally developed into the Science Foundation, how the first version of it was vetoed by Truman because he wanted the director appointed by him and not by the board—but Bush had insisted that—like what was then the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics—it elect its own chairman, and its own director, and its own staff. But Truman didn't believe that was the way to go, and there was quite a controversy about that. Then there was what I consider a gross misunderstanding on the part of some of the scientific people about one phrase in the Atomic Energy Commission Act that allowed for a military chairman of the Commission. There was the big fuss. Some said they were going to hand over peacetime nuclear development to the military, and there was a big fuss, so much of a fuss that they changed that wording in the act. But there was also a controversy about the Science Foundation Act, about the administrative element of it, and whether the director should be elected by the board or appointed by the President. But it was finally passed. Then I was appointed as one of the first members of the board.
Yes. There was another report in addition to Bush's which at least in name bears some resemblance, that is "Toward New Horizons," the report written by the General Science Advisory Group of the Army Air Force, where you contributed also. How were the visions of those two reports interrelated? That came out of the von Karman-Arnold Committee, and the visions there pertained only to the military, correct?
That was the continuing relationship between science and the military.
So you don't see any conflict or direct relationship between these reports.
No, I don't recall any relationship there at all. One was for pursuit of a civilian agency to support civilian scientific research in civilian institutions. The other was how the military could pursue their research pertinent to their ends. The ONR was doing both, though very much later doing basic research was outlawed. It's coming back, though.
I saw some correspondence relating to the establishment of the National Science Foundation, and I remember that when Alan Waterman, who became the first leader there, was asked to become a leader, he made a condition that there would be some kind of relationship between the NSF and the Defense Department, that the NSF would be able to provide help at the request of the Defense Department. I don't know how that condition worked out in practice, whether that had any practical effect or not.
I don't think it did. Because in the meantime the military services were setting up their own Research Advisory Committees and research establishments. And I don't recall that they had any occasion to call on the Science Foundation for research support. I do recall that in the arguments before Congress, the arguments for the National Science Foundation were partly based upon national security questions, and by having a strong science base, this would be valuable in case of future conflicts, and it would be valuable to the military to have a stronger base of science, as in the last war we kept saying. If it hadn't been for the basic scientists in the last war, we wouldn't have had radar and the atomic bomb and so on. And we ought to be prepared with a strong base of science for future emergencies. That was one of the arguments for the Foundation.
It was not your argument for the Foundation?
It was one of them, yes. I mentioned that in one of my testimonies. At one session of the Congressional committee, Dr. Bush asked me to testify, and said, "You might state especially the national security aspect of it," and while the National Foundation was not to be engaged in military research, it was still creating a base of science in the country which would support the military in future emergencies.
But as far as I remember, you saw the National Science Foundation as releasing science from the military.
Yes, because I argued that it was wrong to have all the basic research in the universities supported only by military. That was thrown in my face again by Senator Mansfield when I was Science Advisor and he was trying to get the basic science out of ONR by the Mansfield Amendment. I talked with him and argued against that. Then in an interview published in the paper he quoted me as saying that I was against the military support of basic research and quoted my arguments way back then when I was arguing for having something like the National Science Foundation, in addition to the military.
The Atomic Energy Commission, of course, came before the National Science Foundation, and you certainly played an important role in the General Advisory Committee of that.
Well, it was an important committee. But it was a powerful committee too, because of people like Conant and Rabi and Fermi and Seaborg and the rest.
Yes. It was you, Conant and Oppenheimer who were elected for the longest period, at the inception of the General Advisory Committee.
Yes. There were two, four and six year periods. That was Dr. Bacher's doing; he was on the Commission, and it was of course his job to insure the selection of good scientists for the advisory committee, so he's the one who selected me and Rabi and Oppenheimer and gave us the longest terms.
Yes. Could you say something about the role of the AEC, and the GAC within the AEC, in relation to the organizations that were already going, like the ONR? And the division of tasks and their impact also.
Well, it seems to me that the AEC pretty well isolated itself from the other scientific activities of the government. And I don't recall any special connection. Of course, ONR was supporting research in nuclear physics on the university campuses. But that was all published, and if any of it was of interest to Los Alamos, they were free to use it. But I don't think the NSF undertook any research activities specifically at the request of AEC, or that AEC ever even suggested that they should. The GAC was anxious to have the AEC itself support basic research in universities as well as applied research, to supplement the work of the ONR and the Science Foundation later.
Yes. I saw some debate between the ONR and AEC specifically pertaining to nuclear physics, where the ONR was afraid of the AEC taking over their responsibilities for that, because the ONR wanted as broad a base as possible.
Well, I don't remember that particular argument. It may have been there but I wasn't involved in it, I don't believe.
The National Science Foundation had a slow birth. It started out with very little money. Maybe you can describe its origins?
Well, everybody was very excited about its being started, but the budget request came up and it was slashed to just a few thousand dollars, and the administration said, "Well, this is just to get you organized." Our attitude was, "Organized? How can you organize if you haven't got anything to do?" You can't just sit there and say, "You'll be the head of this and this and this," when there's nobody to work for you or no tasks or no money. So it was kind of a sad time, but they finally came across and gradually it was built into a stronger organization, though there was always a fight in Congress to get the appropriations increased in those days. I know they practically threw me out of the hearing room one time when I said, "You've got to look forward to a billion dollar budget some day for the National Science Foundation, because the way in which science is evolving, it's just going to take that much." Well, it was years before it got to that, actually. But it was getting there fast at that time. But the Congressmen didn't like that idea.
What was your specific involvement in the creation and development of the National Science Foundation?
Well, only that I was very close to Van Bush and the others who were pursuing it, and at Van's request I testified once or twice before a Congressional Committee, advocating the creation of the Science Foundation. And then I was a member of the first National Science Board; what was the term there? I think there were two, four and six year terms and I had a four year term. It was subject to renewal, but I declined a reappointment and retired after four years, though years later when Killian came in and was Science Advisor, he tried to strengthen the National Science Board by asking me to come back, which I did for another six year term. And I was up again for renewal but Johnson turned that down. He didn't make any renewals for appointments that year. I would have been chairman of the National Science Board if I had stayed on. My release came without any warning. I had called some of the people in Washington. I said, "Look, am I still on the Science Board or am I off?" and they said, "Well, it's on the President's desk; you'll be reappointed, so come on to the meeting," which was next week. So I went to the meeting, and went in to see Leland Haworth who was then the director, and said, "Well, what's happened?" "Well," he said, "the President decided not to make any reappointments this year."
That was when?
Well, Johnson's administration. I never can remember dates. I'd been on six years, and this was to renew my appointment for another six.
But it was much later than the period we're talking about at any rate.
Yes, this was later.
So, in the end, the National Science Foundation developed as the Foundation that you and others had hoped?
Yes. As you said, it was slow in getting the adequate financing, but it gradually did, and it's certainly played an increasingly more important role in basic research in the country.
But it has never played the most prominent role of supporting institutions for basic research, has it?
Oh, I think so. What else has been more important? Well, of course, if you're talking about atomic energy, the AEC and the Department of Energy have put more dollars into nuclear physics and the big accelerators and so on, yes.
It is perhaps the diversity of the support of basic science which characterizes the American scene.
Yes, that's true. It's worked out to be all right. Since the AEC was itself a civilian not a military organization, there was not the resistance to the support of basic science by the AEC. And they were anxious to be in on it too, as you say, even too anxious to suit ONR. But while the AEC had military responsibilities and had a military liaison officer and all that, a substantial part of its work was unclassified nuclear research.
Yes, and that was because of the physicists essentially.
Well, I suppose. I suppose. Certainly that was the advice of the General Advisory Committee. But Dr. Bacher was on the AEC itself for several years when they were getting their policies formulated.
I talked to him yesterday and he told me about his efforts to argue for a budget for basic science within the AEC, at its very beginning. And although it was in the charter, it wasn't planned that way. VISTA, that was another involvement of yours in the early fifties, at about the same time as the creation of the Office of Defense Mobilization Committee. So I was wondering whether this was a reflection of general developments.
No, this was an idea of some of the officers in the Tactical Air Force who had had experience in Europe in the Tactical Air Command, and saw the importance of the radar developments for example and other things—infra-red, what not—in military work, especially for tactical use, and combined with the Army, which was of course the user of the tactical air power, because the Tactical Air Force was intended to support the Army. That was not always a very intimate or friendly relationship, but that's what it was. However, the Army and the Tactical Air Force came together to Caltech and said, "We would like to have a more careful study of the relation between ground and air forces in view of new technology and new ideas and new possibilities." In order to make the thing definite, they said, "Assume that there is danger of a Russian attack on Central and Western Europe. How would we face an attack against tanks, airplanes and all the rest? What would be the measures that we should develop?" So we at first said that that's a purely military problem, and is nothing for Caltech to be involved in. Then they brought some of their high-powered people from Washington here and met with our board of trustees and told them it was essential to national security that Caltech undertake this project and we should be patriotic and do it. Well, there were members of our board who agreed that it was the thing to do, and with some reluctance all agreed. But we made sure to place it off the campus, at the Vista del Arroyo Hotel, which gave us the name of Project VISTA. I notice the Vista del Arroyo Hotel has just been taken over to a new activity now, but it has been owned by the government ever since it was taken over in World War II.
Project VISTA lasted the summer of 1951, is that right?
Yes. We got started on organizing and getting the thing started and getting our space prepared at the Vista Hotel, and then brought people in from other universities around the country, asking them to take a leave of absence for the summer or to spend their summer with us. The peak of activity was during the summer. We took many field trips to Army and Air Force installations to see what was going on, and three or four of us took a trip to Europe to talk to the Tactical Air Force people there. We wound up the work some time during the fall of that year, writing the report and getting it out. I don't remember just when it finally got into the hands of the military.
How many people were involved?
Oh, I don't know; a couple of hundred; I suppose, altogether, at the peak.
And you were the administrative leader?
Yes, although Willie Fowler was the project director, so called. I was sort of chairman of the board and he was the director of research.
So he had more direct contact with the research side of it.
Yes, he spent essentially full time there for a number of months.
Was that also mainly physicists involved in that?
Yes, mainly, not entirely.
Well, to what extent was this an isolated event and to what extent was it part of a general kind of activity?
It was a purely isolated, unique event; nothing like it had happened before here in my experience, nothing like it happened afterwards. There were other things around the country, special efforts. MIT had one or two, to investigate air defense of the United States and things like that. But for Caltech this was a unique event.
Yes, so there wasn't much of a relationship between this involvement and the other national activities that you were talking about.
No. Except insofar as some of the people I got acquainted with in one connection, I also had to deal with in the other, but that was trivial.
So in that respect it was very different from the war effort.
Yes, we didn't do any research. This was a study program.
More of a consulting effort?
We turned in a report, "Here are things that we recommend that you develop or look into or adopt, or what not." We issued a whole series of volumes on various subjects. One of them was the use of nuclear weapons in tactical air operations. And that got us into trouble, of course.
Yes, but these were more policy things than anything else.
Yes, we did no research or developing of new equipment or new ideas; we had no laboratories. It was a pure summer study, as we used to call them. There were a number of these around the country in various areas.
To what extent was your expertise in physics employed or used?
Well, the expertise was the Radiation Lab expertise, not physics as much. A good many of the people involved were at the Radiation Lab at Los Alamos or other places. Willie Fowler was in the Rocket Project here at Caltech, and so most of the people who were here had some experience during the war in war research activities. But we didn't do any development of new things, we simply pointed out new technologies that the military ought to develop or use.
Yes, but in that respect it was also very different from the radar project, just because you did not develop any specific new technology, or anything of that sort.
That's right. It was a very short term thing. Comparatively.
Maybe we could backtrack a little bit because we have not talked about the origins of your presidency here at Caltech, and I noted that you said in your "Memories" somewhere, that you accepted that position in part at least because you felt that after coming back to Rochester, it wasn't as easy to take up your former research as you had expected. Could you elaborate a little bit about that, how your experience at the Radiation Laboratory affected your career in that sense and what was difficult in what ways?
Well, after I went to MIT in 1940, I was completely separated from all teaching and my own research. I had to recruit people to do research and development of various radar components and equipment, but I was an administrator and not a research man. Furthermore, this was in a field wholly outside of nuclear physics where I had been doing my work at Rochester, and so at the end of the war, I had piled up five years of administrative experience but zero years of research and teaching experience. In the meantime, nuclear physics at Los Alamos and Chicago and other places had gone so far beyond where it was when I left that I realized it was pretty hopeless to catch up very easily and be really active. Furthermore, I didn't think that the facilities at Rochester would be enough to do very much anyway. It turns out they were, later, but it wasn't sure at that time. And I also got a little reaction against large scale university activities, and I wasn't anxious to be at Rochester in charge of a very large cyclotron project with millions of dollars and lots of people and so on. It happened that way anyway. And then when I started teaching I just found that I was out of practice, and the simple laws of physics that I used to rattle off—now it was, "Gee, how does that go? I've forgotten." And it was very embarrassing and very frustrating. So it only took a month or two of pressure from Caltech—from Max Mason especially, "You've got to come, Lee, you've got to come,"—before I thought, "Well, that's the thing to do. That's where my talents lie now and my experience." So I did.
Do you think the war experience had a different effect on different generations? Maybe I should explain myself a little better. People in your generation took on administrative jobs to a great extent, of course, whereas the younger generation were hired very young into projects at the more technical or physics level, so they were able to do physics work in relation to the war. People I've spoken to, like William Nierenberg and Herbert York, just to mention two arbitrary ones, were deflected from their education into the war effort, and then after that they were able to complete their Ph.D.s, sometimes with experience from the war effort that fed into their Ph.D.s, so that they gained scientifically from the war effort, whereas your generation may have lost scientifically. Would you think that's a sensible generalization?
Well, I don't regard my experience as a loss, because I had a much more fulfilling career here than I would have had at Rochester. It was lucky for me, because I was more equipped for this kind of administration than I was for doing research anyway. So I never was sorry. In fact I was very happy in this transition. And a few others, you know, followed the same route. Others, like Luis Alvarez, went right back into university research and to conspicuous achievements in basic science after the war, right up until now. On the other hand, Ivan Getting, who was one of the valuable members of our laboratory, also went into administration, first at the Raytheon Company, then later at the Aerospace Corporation. As did Si Ramo, who was a physicist and electrical engineer. At GE during the war, he made microwave magnetrons and developed new ideas for them. He was a very good "bench engineer" and designer and developer. He started his own company, with Dean Wooldridge (now TRW).
Yes, there are exceptions of course. I don't mean to say that there's a general rule.
All kinds of things happened. Careers were changed, there's no doubt about that, but in various ways.
But the experiences of the generations of course were very different.
The point is that the number of physicists grew so enormously during and just after the war years that those senior people were just automatically pushed up the ladder to supervise the work of the younger people.
Yes. You spoke about your negative reason for accepting the Caltech presidency. What were your positive reasons?
Well, I'd been there for two years as a National Research Council fellow, in 1926 to 1928, and had a great love of California. My wife did too. I knew the people here. I knew the Willie Fowlers, the Charlie Lauritsens, the Carl Andersons, and the rest of them very well. Max Mason who was on the board of trustees and was directing the Palomar project, was a teacher of mine and a good friend at Wisconsin, and we maintained friendly contact through the years. I had great admiration for Robert Millikan and what he'd done. In fact, I chose to come out here as a Research Fellow to work with him, because I got acquainted with him when he visited Wisconsin and was impressed with him as a person and as a physicist. He was one of the great physicists of the country at the time, and it was a privilege to be in the same group with him. And I knew this same spirit still existed that Millikan had started, and that many of the same people were still here, but there were new ones who had come in, some of whom I also knew, either through war experience or otherwise, or just as physicists in the Physical Society. So I accepted the position with enthusiasm, once I realized that it was the thing to do, and I was never sorry.
Did you have any expectations of the position in terms of experiencing or creating science policy in the sense that we have been talking about?
No, I just thought of it as a job of building, continuing to build, a great scientific institution that Millikan had started. He'd laid the foundation, and if I could add on the first story, that would be a great satisfaction and a great achievement.
To what extent do you regard your presidency here as a continuation of Millikan's, and to what extent are there differences?
Well, there's a lot of both. I think the general spirit of Millikan persists to this day. "Murph" Goldberger gave a speech just the night before last for the Associates where he mentioned again how Millikan's work at Caltech was so important. It was one of Murph's best talks, giving the history of Caltech. Maybe you could get a copy of it.
I'm very interested. I wasn't aware of that.
He had a manuscript. I'm sure if you checked with his secretary or checked with him you could get a copy of it, if you wanted to look at it. He pointed out how Millikan had taken a little technical trade school and, with Hale's persuasion and help, had built it into a major scientific institution in a period of twenty-odd years. So, my job was to carry on, and I did. I didn't try to initiate any brand new policies, but new policies were naturally brought in because science had changed. There was the revolution in biology coming along. There was the new revolution in nuclear particle physics, chemistry, geology, paleontology, seismology, as well as engineering, astronomy. You know, science had changed, and was changing rapidly during and after the war. It was a challenge for Caltech to keep at the forefront of these new developments and to capitalize on them and to be a part of them. So it was an exciting period; it still is. The only difference of opinion I had with Millikan was that he was very much opposed to accepting government money for research, and was opposed to the idea of the National Science Foundation. I had some polite arguments with him on that score. But we went ahead anyway, and of course, used whatever government funds were suitable and available, for the things we wanted to do. I made one administrative change, which Dr. Millikan urged me not to make, but everybody else agreed that it should be made. He called himself Chairman of the Executive Council. The trustees said that's a meaningless term so you're going to be "President." I said, "All right." When we came out here, the Executive Council still existed, and a number of the trustees were saying, "This Executive Council business is silly. It consists of some trustees and some faculty people and some of the faculty people are not even the chairmen of their divisions, so they're put in the position of being on the Executive Council above their division chairmen and at the same time reporting to the division chairmen; you know, that's administratively crazy." So I told Dr. Millikan that I felt that the thing to do was to replace the Executive Council, a combined group of faculty and trustees, with an executive committee of the trustees and a separate steering committee of the faculty. So that's what I did, although Millikan said, "Oh, you can't abolish the Executive Council, that's very important." But I did. And so that worked out fine. We had the executive committee of the trustees, which could carry on in between trustee meetings, and then we organized the division chairmen's committee, which is now called the Institute Administrative Council. We just called it the "committee of division chairmen," although we included two deans, the dean of the faculty, which at that time was Ernest Watson, and the dean of students. I think even the dean of students was not included at first. We just met in my office as a committee to decide on faculty, institute, research and teaching problems, faculty appointments, salary scales and so on—all the internal problems of the institution, many of which of course had to later go to the board for their approval and financing.
Were these largely cosmetic changes? What effect did they have?
I don't think they had any visible impact on the campus as a whole. I think nobody missed the Executive Council because the faculty hadn't seen much of it anyway. And the faculty I talked to—even those who were on it, like Wally Sterling—said it's the thing to do; it's an upside down arrangement to have members of the faculty on the council above their own division chairmen. So there was no objection even from the faculty members on the council. They approved of it. And that's the way it went.
Well, we've talked for a long time since you mentioned your work as Science Advisor and your involvement in the predecessor of the Science Advisory Committee.
The Office of Defense Mobilization. At first the Advisory Committee reported to the director of ODM who was Arthur Fleming at that time, but through him to the President. He took us to see the President when we wanted to. He either took me or took the whole committee sometimes.
What was the origin for creating that committee?
Well, that was done by Truman, about 1950, I would guess. He just thought that there ought to be a committee, as I said, to look at the possibilities of science mobilization during a period of emergency. Now, who advised him to make that move, I don't know. Maybe Dr. Bush did. I don't know. All I know is that Dr. Buckley as chairman came to me and said, "I've been asked to organize this committee, and will you join it?" So it turned out that was a fairly pregnant move on Truman's part, and of course it created a committee which had a great history until Nixon abolished it.
Who were the members of the original group, and how large was it?
Well, it was about ten, ten or twelve. I can't remember the names. I know Robert Oppenheimer was on it. I know Rabi was on it. Bacher wasn't because he was then on the Atomic Energy Commission. And Jerrold Zacharias was on it. Jerry Wiesner, I think. He was at some times. I think he was originally. I can't remember. Some place in my files, I've got a picture of us meeting with President Eisenhower, but I don't know where to put my hands on it now. It was a good group. Buckley had picked a good group, and I just inherited it when I became chairman. I didn't make any specific changes, except those who resigned or retired. We replaced them. We may have enlarged it slightly. I've forgotten.
It was mainly scientists and among the scientists mainly physicists.
Yes, but we had chemists, and later—but not until much later—biologists were included. Well, no, we did have an MD medical research man, Dr. Robert Loeb who was a very wonderful guy, but he worried at various times, saying, "I'm a little bit lost here, this is all physics, and we don't have much biology and medicine involved." Later they did, but not during my term, because we devoted ourselves largely to national security measures. But when I went back as Science Advisor to Nixon and talked to him about the committee and its activities, he was a little surprised that the committee spent so much time on military technology. He said, "Oh, the Defense Department has all the advisory committees they need for that." I said, "Yes, but an advisory committee within the military establishment becomes a part of the establishment, and not an objective outside judge. It was Eisenhower himself who said that the greatest value of the Science Advisory Committee was that he got an external judgment from them, independent of the pressures and prejudices of the military services." But Nixon didn't see it that way, and so he wanted us to go more into the civil things, environmental problems and things like that. We didn't, however. I mean, we kept on with our defense work.
What were the tasks that were taken up early on, at its establishment? Were there any specific tasks that Truman had thought of in particular?
No. He just said, as Buckley interpreted it to me at least, "You're a standby committee, to be ready in case of a future emergency. You'll be able to come out and say this is the way to organize the scientific establishment." So we monkeyed around with that for a while and saw it was a little fruitless. Then we, on our own initiative, undertook some studies of what then was a worrisome thing, defense against Russian air attack, and how enemy bombers could come over the Arctic Circle into Canada and then the United States. We had no way of detecting them on the way. So we began thinking about that kind of a problem. And although we did not invent the DEW line at that time, it was later invented as a result of our initial work. We talked about other radar defense mechanisms, and about the design of suitable fighter and ground-air, anti-aircraft facilities, and to what extent there should be a defense line in Europe. We did do some of the same things that they did in VISTA, as a matter of fact, as far as the European theater was concerned. So we took our own tasks; we made up our own tasks. Then, when Eisenhower became President and I became chairman, we went to him as a group and outlined what we proposed to do. He liked that very much, and told us to go ahead. I remember we set up the Gaither Committee and a couple of other study committees. On one occasion, the Gaither Committee reported to the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff and top military officers—a whole room full of people in the basement of the White House, with Eisenhower presiding. Now, I can't recall our report specifically, but it concerned questions of defense technology that seemed urgent at that time.
As specific instructions you originally had none other than to stay alert in peace time, outside of an emergency situation. Then you defined your own projects more or less?
Yes. But then, often when we talked to the President, he'd throw out a suggestion for investigation that we would usually take seriously.
Which other organizations did you have close contact with within that committee? You reported to the President, of course. Were there some other agencies you worked with?
Well, in connection with our various studies, we invited people from the Atomic Energy Commission, from the military services, to come and brief us and talk to us about their ideas, their needs, their thoughts about what should be done, how we could help, and whether they liked our ideas or not. So we had rather extensive discussions with the military people and the Atomic Energy Commission.
How much of your time did it take?
Well, it was not tremendous. I think we met for about two days once a month. That sort of thing.
Yes, but in the meanwhile there was some work on the side in preparation for the meetings, I guess.
Yes, there was some of that, of course. Sure. But we had a very good secretary, Dave Beckler, who really carried on between the meetings, gathering ideas and opinions and requesting papers from various people that we'd suggested should be presented at the next meeting. He would line up the people to come to the meeting. He was very good at being the general secretary, and he remained that until the whole thing was abolished.
It was essentially national security questions that you were taking up in this earlier period.
At that time, yes.
I mean, it was not a body for developing or arguing a physicist's or a scientist's own concerns in any way?
Oh no. No, the Science Foundation might have been a place where those things might have been argued, or the Atomic Energy Commission when we were talking about research support, but no, the Science Advisory Committee was never a lobbyist for science as such. I thought we were through with that particular point, as to whether we were an advocate of the welfare of scientists, or simply an advocate of the military and the government generally taking advantage of scientific developments, especially in defense and security.
Yes. You said that Nixon understood the relationship between the military and your group differently than Eisenhower did. What I was going to ask was, to what extent did you encounter disagreements with the military establishment during the early period in your evaluations, and to what extent did you resolve such conflicts, if there were any?
I don't remember any real conflicts. We certainly had discussions and possibly even arguments about the relative merits of this or that, and we expected the military to do what they did, and then we'd say, "Well, it's a good idea, but it's not practical because of this reason, maybe you could change it." I remember they used to always be saying, "Remember, the stuff that you produce is going to be tramped in the mud by a bunch of GIs that don't know what the hell it is. How is it going to survive that?"
Did you have any contact with Congress at all?
Yes. At first the Science Advisory Committee was a purely self-sustaining committee reporting to the ODM and the President. Later, just about the time I retired, about the time that Killian came in as the full time chairman and as Science Advisor, it was realized, first, that the committee ought to have a permanent staff—it had some but only a couple—and, secondly, that it ought to have Congressional recognition, and by the same token therefore report to Congress. And so came the act to create, under the purview of PSAC, the Office of Science and Technology, OST. That was the operating, working arm of the Science Advisory Committee. Killian set that up, and they soon had a large staff, about 30, working for the committee and developing programs and ideas and papers, and also developing Congressional testimony on various items. Sometimes the members of the committee would testify to Congress, and sometimes a staff member would do it. We had some very good staff members in OST. But this was after I left.
That was in the late fifties, after Sputnik at any rate. The reorganization was in part a response to that.
Yes. That's right.
During this same period, when you were a member of the original Advisory Committee, you were also a member of the National Science Board and maybe you could tell me a little about that; what that consisted in, and how it related to your other science policy work.
Well, the National Science Board had its own problems. It was the governing board for the National Science Foundation, and its job was to develop research support for academic basic science. It did it, of course, by letting it be known in the scientific community that funds were becoming available for basic science. Soon applications of course began coming in, inquiries coming in, and it was the job of our staff to sort them out and present them to the Board which decided which areas of science we should be active in and how to review the various scientific proposals, and set up peer review committees to recommend the most worthy proposals for support.
Yes. So who were the members of that Board?
How many were there, in the first place?
Well, that was set by law. There were 24 members I think, plus the director of the Foundation, making 25. The director of the Foundation was an ex officio member of the Board. So it was a sizeable group. The terms were six years, with the possibility of one reappointment. Very few people stayed on for 12. Actually Det Bronk has the record for the longest term—nobody can repeat it, because he was originally appointed for four years, then accepted a reappointment for six, but since his first appointment had been for an incomplete term, he was eligible for another six year appointment, so he served 16 years, and the last several years as chairman. But it was a good committee, with people like Ted Hesburgh and Det Bronk and later Bob Dicke, and then of course there were some sort of political appointments. Truman wanted a representative for every part of the United States, so he had to look hard to find representatives from states where there were not many strong scientific institutions. And of course there had to be ethnic and racial diversity. So, the political requirement in the law that the Board should be widely representative of all aspects of America—and Truman's own political preferences—produced a Board that some of us didn't think was the best possible group for the purpose. There were some disagreements in some of the meetings about policy. Some of the members from the lesser known states and lesser known institutions thought that they weren't being given adequate attention in the research funding, and that the money went to Harvard and MIT and Princeton and Caltech and didn't go to Oklahoma or Mississippi.
Were there any changes in practice as a result of these decisions?
Well, yes, I think we were forced to make some concessions, give some grants on the basis of something besides top excellence. Later on, when I went on the board the second time, there was a strong pressure for the Science Foundation to help second class institutions build themselves into first class research institutions, and so a great deal of money was spent on institutions which were not in the top category, but in the second category, to help them develop personnel and laboratory facilities to become better. Well, unfortunately that effort, though it had a good deal of success at first, was finally aborted and left some of these institutions with a lot of people and a lot of equipment that they didn't have any money to support later, because the funds were cut down after they'd got themselves started on the upward road. It wasn't an entirely happy situation.
It was a good start that had good potential but was aborted.
There was no continuity because when the funds went down by Congress action, that just left some of these institutions high and dry.
Which were the institutions that were most strongly affected?
I don't know which ones now.
PSAC was established separate from ODM in 1958?
That was the time of Sputnik. Right, 1958.
How strong was the effect of that change in practice? You did say that the earlier committee did report directly to the President to some extent.
Yes. Well, that depended a good deal on who was chairman of ODM, and some of the other people in ODM were not as cooperative as Fleming was, and I think the gap between PSAC and the President widened, and it took Killian to bring them back together again, which he did.
Yes. So the committee experienced different periods of influence; the influence was very different at different times depending on the ODM essentially.
It became very much greater of course when Killian went in as Science Advisor.
Yes. Then you were not a member.
You became Science Advisor again in 1969 under Nixon. You indicated before that Nixon had an entirely different attitude to the group.
Yes. And his staff had a very different attitude too. The staff was entirely politically oriented, and to them science had no political importance, and therefore the Science Advisor had none, or PSAC. They were further irked because some members of the Committee would sometimes make public statements which were at variance with some of the administration policies on supersonic transport or anti-ballistic missile defense, and so on, and the staff was very much irked at that. They thought that all the members of PSAC should be loyal to the President and speak only his opinions. Well, there was a problem there, and I was embarrassed by it too, because on one or two cases PSAC members did speak out in direct opposition to administration policy. I thought they should have resigned from the committee before they did that.
You said that Nixon thought that committees within the military were sufficient. Had there been a development, before that time, where these committees were gradually taking over the influence that PSAC had, or was this just a personal opinion of Nixon's that didn't reflect any previous development?
I think it was that. I had very little contact with PSAC during the period from 1960 to 1969. Don Hornig was Science Advisor just before I was and before that Jerry Wiesner, and I had almost no contact during those years. Maybe under Johnson the military people were using their own science advisors and not referring to PSAC so much because Johnson and PSAC didn't get along very well either.
No, Johnson and Nixon were kind of the low point for the scientists.
How would you compare your work during your earlier period as chairman and the later period, in terms of topics taken up, in terms of relationship with the administration generally?
Well, the relations with the Nixon administration were not very close, especially with the staff. It was the same staff that went to prison later for political dirty tricks that I had to deal with, and they weren't at all interested in the scientific questions that I was trying to discuss with the President. Yet when we met with the President—the committee as a whole, or I personally—the President himself was very cooperative and very interested and asked a lot of questions and made a lot of suggestions as to what we might be doing. The staff usually stalled those things or tried to. Eventually, it just created a wall between the committee and the President. Just as I was leaving, that wall was pretty high, and poor Ed David wasn't able to penetrate it either.
I'm not knowledgeable about these relationships, but what was the way from the committee through his staff to the President, how did that work? You always had to go through staff?
Well, to make an appointment you had to go to the appointment secretary. At first, Nixon told me, "Now, you make an appointment, and I want to see you once every week and have an hour's talk," and for a while that worked. But then apparently some of the staff, either Haldeman or Ehrlichman, got to the appointment secretary—who was a very nice and accommodating guy, but I've forgotten his name, although he later was a part of the gang—and said, "Look, let us know when the Science Advisor wants an appointment with the President and we'll find out what his agenda is and decide whether we'll make the appointment or not." So I was stalled, and was told by Ehrlichman maybe or Flanagan, "The President isn't interested in that and he's busy this week so let's forget it."
And that problem hadn't occurred in the earlier years.
No, no. Certainly it never occurred when Killian was there. I think Hornig had somewhat the same problem with Johnson.
But there were no personal problems with the President himself?
No. As long as I could talk with him, we got along fine.
Yes. And was there any difference between the importance of the questions that you took up during the early period and the later period, or your own ability to choose the questions?
Well, yes, there was a big difference in both respects. We could choose our own questions, but we often saw in advance that it wasn't going to do any good, so when we talked about military problems, instead of trying to break through to the White House, we would go directly to the military people. I used to have lunch with Secretary Laird and David Packard every week or two, and we would talk about various things, and if things had come up, having to do with air power or nuclear weapons or what not, we might ask Laird or Packard to set up a little meeting for us with the appropriate other officers, and we had a number of those meetings in which members of PSAC presented their technical arguments about a new airplane or a new air policy or something of the sort, or the supersonic transport, directly to the military people, rather than to the President. That's where it would do the most good anyway, and we had complete access to them. So Melvin Laird and I became very close, and Dave Packard, and the Assistant Secretaries for the services in charge of research. They had a luncheon meeting every couple of weeks or so to which I was invited, to meet with the Assistant Secretaries for research of those three services, and the Defense Department too.
Right. That was lunches or discussions that were taken up by you, that was no part of the way the decisions should move?
Well, we always felt that a good deal of the PSAC influence could be exerted at the lower levels, and that we should not bother the President with everything, and that we could have a good influence by presenting to the responsible people lower down ideas which they might implement or not, or for which they were responsible but didn't need to go to the White House for approval.
Yes, and there was full acceptance of that method by the White House.
Oh yes, we never found any problem there.
No. How would you evaluate the importance of PSAC and its predecessor, and how serious was it that it was discontinued?
Oh, it was a national disaster! I think it was a real disaster that that whole thing was wiped out. Because I think it played a very important role—varying in influence, depending upon who the President was and who was around him—but on the whole, it did a great deal for national policy on security and national policy on science.
Yes. So would you consider it the most important forum of scientists with an impact on science policy?
It was, yes, during its effective years. It certainly was. In fact, it was the only impact that the scientific community had directly on the White House.
Yes. Well, you have been involved in other committees and in other capacities, of course, and I'm not in a position to judge the importance of that for what we are talking about, but you're welcome to add to my list.
No, I don't have anything to add. I think you've covered the high points.
You were trustee of RAND for example from 1948 to 1961, I have on my list here. What work did that consist of, how much and what kind?
Oh that's so long ago! The original board of trustees of RAND was organized by Rowan Gaither who was asked to be chairman of it. He was my assistant director at the Radiation Lab; another member was Alfred Loomis, who was my boss at the Radiation Lab; (he was chairman of the NCRD microwave committee). It was a strong group, another kind of a PSAC in a sense—some of the same people, and with many of the same interests. However, RAND had more people from the aircraft industry, of course, and was involved mostly in studying military air problems, including later guided missiles, and so on. I think RAND was, and still is, an important aid to the government in working up policies for application of technology to security problems, and to other problems. They go into other problems besides defense now. At first it was all military.
Like PSAC did too, yes.
That was a very interesting interlude for me—my RAND years. But I was more of a passive member of that, because it was dealing with a lot of things I was not familiar with, like aircraft problems.
Was that because the trustees weren't active in practical questions?
No, because the questions they were involved in were not questions where I was very competent.
But you were after all a trustee there for 13 years.
Yes, they had, what was it, six year appointments, I guess, or something.
And you were also a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation for a few years.
I wonder if that involved any particular—
—no government policies involved there. That was just discussing what the Rockefeller Foundation should do around the world.
Yes, but they also supported science of course, but maybe not physics any more at that time.
I think they had largely withdrawn from physics, because they thought the government had done that, but they supported biology, and in fact, before I was on the Rockefeller Foundation Board, they supported the original chemical biology program here at Caltech, with Pauling and Beadle leading a program of collaborative efforts between biology and chemistry. Warren Weaver was the assistant director of the Rockefeller Foundation for many, many years, and he was my teacher of mathematics in Wisconsin, and a close personal friend of mine all his life. He actually was on the staff at Caltech for a couple of years way back.
Yes, and Max Mason too came from Wisconsin.
Yes, Mason and Weaver were close to each other at Wisconsin. Mason was the physicist and Weaver was the mathematician. They wrote a book on electromagnetism together, "Mason and Weaver," which might have been a terribly important book, except it came out just as quantum mechanics was breaking, and so many of their ideas were out of date already by the time the book was published. It was kind of sad. And I remember Mason used to hold his head and say, "We just missed it!"
Still it was used a lot for educational purposes.
It was a good textbook in electromagnetism, yes.
Well, Weaver wasn't too fond of quantum mechanics either, I think.
Well, maybe not. It came too late for him to appreciate, as many of the older physicists found it difficult for them to—
I don't know if that was a reason for him leaving for administrative work?
Oh no, no. See, he came to the Rockefeller Foundation on Mason's invitation, when Mason was president of the Rockefeller Foundation. He invited Weaver to join him as assistant director for science. He then stayed there, until he retired just a few years ago. He died shortly thereafter.
Yes. He moved to La Jolla. I never saw him down there. His health failed and I never saw him.
Yes. But it's interesting that the physicist Mason turned the Rockefeller Foundation towards "experimental biology," as they called it.
That's right. That's true, yes. Yes, he was very strong at it. It was because there was a medical problem in his family or his wife's family that got him intimately involved in medical problems, and some very difficult ones that bothered him. He said, "There ought to be a better program of research in these areas," and I think that was one of the things that stimulated him to do it.
I haven't heard that, but there was a view at the time that physics had come so much farther than the life sciences, and the life sciences should catch up.
Yes, and that the government was taking over the physical sciences. As a matter of fact, they were shortly to take over the biological sciences too, when NIH came into being.
Yes, but the experimental biology program stems from the mid-thirties, so it preceded the government involvement in physics as such.
But this is an entirely different story, interesting though. Another important involvement of yours which might go under the very broad rubric that I call science policy is your involvement in public television. Maybe you could say a little about that?
Yes. I've forgotten what year it was (around 1965), but a small group in Los Angeles decided it would be a good idea to have in Los Angeles an "educational television" station, one of whose principal functions would be to broadcast educational programs to the schools. And the schools would help pay for that service, and we would broadcast it to the public, but the schools especially would use it in their schoolroom work. But then also there would be educational programs for public use, good music, good drama, good public discussions and so on. I had no contact at all with television or educational television, but the woman who was in charge of our radio and television activities at Caltech, in the public relations department, was connected with this initial committee, and she asked me to join the committee and become chairman of a committee to organize an educational television operation in Los Angeles, so we did organize channel 28, KCET. Since I got involved in that, they invited me to come on the National Educational Television Board, which at that time was the Educational Network. They would produce programs for national distribution. At that time there was no distribution by radio. It was all done by, as we called it, bicycling the reels around the country. We'd tape the programs or put them on movie film, maybe, and then ship them around the country, and different stations would get them in turn. Educational television became more and more popular, as they were making better and better programs, and finally it came to the attention of the Carnegie Corporation that there was no real national effective effort at good educational television, and that the commercial television was not serving all the purposes it should, in terms of public education and enlightenment and worthwhile enjoyment. So Carnegie appointed this commission to study educational television—the Carnegie Commission for Educational Television. Jim Killian was the chairman of it. I was made a member of it. Edward Weeks, the editor of Atlantic Monthly, was a member. And quite a number of other people I can't remember. You could look it up some place probably. And we talked about this problem for a year, I guess.
Which year was this now?
I don't know, it must be in my biography some place that I was on the Carnegie Commission in a certain year. I don't remember. But well, let's see—KCET recently celebrated its 20th anniversary year, I believe, so it must have been about 1963, I think, or thereabouts that I started with KCET, and then maybe a year later on NET, then maybe a year or so after that on the Carnegie Commission, 1965 maybe or so. We evolved the idea of government support of educational television, and invented the name of "public television" rather than educational. That just gave you the idea of the school room. We wanted this to be a public service for the schools but also for the public, and you see what has happened now. So we proposed in a report called "Public Television" that a government program be established and we proposed the organization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the membership and the funding and so on. Congress finally passed it. Jim Killian and I and Edward Land, who was also a member, testified in favor of this idea at a Congressional committee, with a very favorable reception. After some argument they adopted it, though as with the Science Foundation they didn't fund it very adequately at first. Anyway, it has finally grown. Nixon wasn't much interested in it, so he did not promote it much, and Johnson didn't either, but it went along, and certainly is vastly better than anything, which we had before. So it was a great thing, and I know many people, including myself, who listen to nothing, practically, except public television programs. There's so much junk on commercial TV.
Including me also, yes, absolutely. I enjoy the MacNeil-Lehrer Report.
Yes, we manage to switch our dinner around that every night. Tonight we're going to listen to the Eleanor Roosevelt program.
So the physicists were strongly involved in that also. That was an unexpected result of the physicists' science policy involvement, as far as I'm concerned anyway. Well, Killian isn't a physicist.
No, but he was very active in the science and Ed Land was a member of the Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) too, for a period, and also the Carnegie Commission.
Are these typical people behind this?
It was Killian who was asked to serve as chairman, and he essentially chose the members, with the consultation of the Carnegie Corporation Board. So he chose among his friends that he respected. He had known Edward Weeks of the Atlantic Monthly quite well.
How involved were you in designing actual programs, or deciding on actual programs?
Not at all on actual programs. What we did was to propose the structure. We talked about the types of programs, music, drama, good educational programs for schools, programs in science and the arts, a broad range of cultural programming. But we didn't specify specific programs. We just proposed to the Congress a structure which would be established to carry forward this idea.
But there was little experience beforehand in designing the kind of programs that you wanted?
Well, NET of course had been doing that for some time but with very very meager funding. Also, about that time, came the possibility of transmitting programs by wire or radio across the country, so that we had simultaneous programs in New York and Los Angeles. Thus a real network was coming into being—the Public Broadcasting System. So this superseded the NET. But NET was a good predecessor. It opened up the field, and showed what kind of programming could be done, even with limited funds.
Do you think this effort has been important in promoting science to the public?
Well, there have been some marvelous science programs. Channel 28 in Los Angeles has done more in showing science programs than any other station here. They've got a whole series of programs, as you've probably been seeing, in the scientific field, a series of programs on the earth. We saw one the night before last—a marvelous program which showed the relation between the formation of the earth and Saturn, the planets, the comets, even the extinction of the dinosaurs, and so on. And the Cosmos program of course with Carl Sagan. People thought that was a kind of a failure because it cost so much, but actually it was one of the most widely shown series of any. So, I'm very proud of the Public Television Service. I only wish that it had a little more intelligent support at the high levels of government.
Yes, yes. I think one of the weaknesses, as far as I'm concerned, is that it's too dependent on British productions.
And that provides a skewness, I think. There are certainly a lot of good things that could be made here.
That must be partly because of the economic restrictions.
Of the cost. Sure. Producing a good television program is an expensive business in this country. I think that they can do it cheaper in England, for some reason or other. I don't know whether the salaries are less and all that sort of thing, but somehow or other, they seem to do it. Of course that's a government supported thing there, too—BBC.
In the country I come from, Norway, there's the opposite situation. I mean, there we import American programs because it's cheaper and because we don't have the facilities and money to do our own. It's Dallas and Dynasty and all that.
Well, fortunately what we get from BBC are good programs, good drama, and I guess we're getting now the mystery program, Sherlock Holmes Series, I think that's a British production too. And Masterpiece Theater.
I guess I have become sufficiently an American myself, now, that I feel a bit embarrassed that the good things have to come from somewhere else.
Well, I know. I'm glad we're getting them, but I wish we could do more on our own. Because some of the things the Americans have done have been great.
Oh yes, absolutely.
We've got the talent all right, if we just had the support.