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Interview of Frederik Zachariasen by Finn Aaserud on 1986 February 12, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4992
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Joined JASON at Drell's invitation; JASON providing technical, not policy, advice; mode of work in JASON; early JASON projects; JASON and the physics community; JASON under IDA, SRI, and Mitre.
The first meeting of JASON I went to must have been winter of 1961, probably. Yes, that's a couple of years after it began, I suppose.
You were invited to join?
Yes, at the same time I came here to Caltech. But I had been at Stanford, and Sid Drell was already in JASON, and so he suggested that I join it. The invitation stuck even though I came to Caltech.
So you must have been one of the youngest people in JASON at that time.
It’s a long enough time ago. I was even young, then, yes. I was 29 or something. Boy, that’s very young. That’s terrible.
Well, you had some experience before then with science policy.
Not really. When I was a graduate student, I spent summers at Los Alamos under their graduate student program or whatever it was called. I was there for I guess two or three summers, so I learned something about certain kinds of physics as applied to certain weaponology. Other than that I had not anything to do with anything. Well, I had worked summers at RAND. That must have been 1958 and 1959, or maybe even 1960; I don’t recall exactly.
Was that important for your decision to join JASON?
No. In fact, what I was doing at RAND was plain ordinary physics. I mean, I was just doing the stuff that I do normally. I just happened to be working with somebody at RAND, and we were working on particle physics. It wasn’t even classified, I think. I mean, that work wasn’t, certainly. I don’t think I was involved in anything classified at RAND at the time.
OK. So you came to California, and you were approached by Drell.
Yes, I was at Stanford after I got my degree. I was at Berkeley for a year and then at Stanford, and Sid Drell who was involved in JASON, suggested that I join JASON. It seemed like a good idea; it was money, and why not? So I did.
It was still a pretty new organization.
I didn’t know anything about it at the time, except what Sid told me. I don’t remember what he said particularly, just that most of the people who were involved in it, I already knew. So if they were doing it, it must be OK.
It was quite an impressive group of people who joined at that time. How many people were members then?
I can’t remember. Just roughly, I think it was about the same size as it is now. I don’t think it was very different.
40 to 50 people, something like that?
Something less than that, between 30 and 40. Which is, I think, what it is now. I don’t even know how many people belong to it now, but it must be around 40.
Yes, I think that’s the average number. I haven’t gotten a detailed list.
I don’t remember either, over all the years, that there’s been any major change in the number of people. People come and go, but the total number has stayed fairly constant, I think.
Even the membership in terms of persons has remained rather constant, right?
Well, there are some people who have stayed through, but there's been quite a bit of turnover, too. I mean, a lot of people I can think of who were members of JASON originally, have left. A lot of them left in annoyance over the Vietnam War, and then others left for various reasons independently of that.
But it was never a big revolution. It was rather gradual, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was all pretty gradual. I don’t remember any great change. I mean, there was never a year that all of a sudden the membership doubled or halved or anything like that.
You’ve been with the group since you joined?
Yes. Still faithfully go in the summers. In the long term you eventually expect to write something about this?
Yes, that’s what I hope to do. Well, Nierenberg has had an effort; you probably know about that.
Well, he has had somebody he has imported, I guess, with the idea of writing some sort of history of JASON. This person was around briefly last summer, as I recall, but I don’t think I ever talked to her.
No, that aborted, as I understand.
Somehow that didn’t seem very serious. Whenever Bill talked about it, it seemed like some passing fancy.
But he seemed genuinely interested.
I think he is. Yes. I don’t know if anybody else was terribly interested.
Will that conceivably lead to problems, do you think, in pursuing such a thing?
I don’t know. I mean, there is a certain reluctance on the part of a lot of the people in JASON to talk to the press. Now, that’s different I think from talking to somebody who's writing a history, especially if it’s mostly a history about the early years of JASON, rather than recent. But for example, I remember last summer, there was somebody from Time Magazine who wanted to come and interview people about JASON with the idea of writing some article for Time. We had a long discussion about that, and a lot of people were very reluctant to talk to this person.
What was the outcome?
I think he finally talked to a couple of people, but he never came around to JASON itself as far as I know. I never talked to him anyway.
Did it amount to a big article in Time?
I don’t think there even was an article. I don’t remember ever seeing anything. I am sure if an article had appeared, somebody would have mentioned it, and I would have looked at it. But I don’t remember it.
There are several things that I find particularly interesting about JASON in relation to my study. I do not think that it is the typical expression of physicists involvement in science policy after the Second World War.
Oh no. Science policy isn’t really the right word, I think, for JASON anyway. I think of science policy as being people involved with advisory committees to DOE or something suggesting building a new accelerator and things of this sort — or with the NSF; people spending money for different teaching programs or whatever. JASON never had anything much to do with policy except in a very indirect way. It’s supposedly something that just works on technical problems for various government agencies.
But it had policy implications, of course.
Well, these things are never completely separable. Certainly everybody forms policy opinions about a lot of issues. But on the other hand, JASON has certainly never officially recommended policy, as far as I know, or had any influence on policy either, for that matter. Somehow, I think it would damage JASON’s effectiveness on the technical issues in a way, because then people would start being suspicious about using it. They’re reluctant to use a bunch of people who are trying to mess around with making policy or influencing policy, rather than just giving advice about technical issues, so I tend to think it would be damaging for JASON to try to really do that in an overt way. On the other hand, as you say, these things are not completely separable, and there’s no way you can avoid having some policy implications on certain kinds of things you study anyway.
But I think JASON provides for the historian some kind of intermediary between the policy and the physics as such.
Well, technical constraints have to influence policy in some ways or other; the fact that you can’t build something or other means that certain policies cannot be pursued, for example. But that usually is left unsaid by any JASON report. All it says is, you can’t build this, or it violates Maxwell’s equations, or something. Most of the stuff of course that JASON deals with is such small scale little stuff that it has no policy implications to speak of. But once in a while there’s something of larger importance, and that has some sort of indirect implications, which are usually left for the reader.
One of my motivations for taking up JASON is that I would like to maintain at least part of one foot in physics, by asking how science policy relates to the pursuit of physics. Outside JASON a lot of people or physicists who have gone into science policy have done this leaving physics and going to some official or advisory position.
It’s very easy to lose sight of the relationship to the work in physics, and I think JASON provides a possible inroad there.
Yes, for many of us, like me for example, the physics that we do in real life has nothing whatsoever to do with the kind of physics we do for JASON. I mean, I work on high energy particle physics, and that is something with zero application to anything that JASON has to do with. For some of the other people in JASON, the oceanographers for example, their actual real work and JASON work is much the same; it’s somewhat hard to separate whether they’re working for JASON or working for the university. But for most of us, it’s really quite different kinds of things. There really isn’t any overlap at all between my regular research and JASON.
Not even in an indirect way, that one feeds the other?
Not really. The thing that has happened to me, which I actually find very enjoyable, is that I’ve learned a fair amount about oceanography from in particular Walter Munk and some of the others through JASON. I’ve actually done some work with Walter on that subject that has nothing to do with JASON. It’s somehow become a secondary subject of research, if you like. I don’t spend a lot of time on it. Walter and I have written a few papers for the journals on oceanography, so there’s been feedback in that direction, but there’s been no feedback from my own field of research into JASON.
No, but it has guided your interest in some sense.
A little bit, that’s right, and actually I find a lot of the kind of stuff in JASON really quite interesting. It’s a kind of physics which I don’t normally do. Physics is a very compartmentalized kind of field, where people work very much in a particular area and know nothing at all about the rest of physics. In fact, this is a serious problem here with students; they’re so narrow, and JASON at least for me has been an opportunity to learn about a lot of different kinds of things besides particle physics, and that’s very interesting to do. JASON problems really come in two kinds. A lot of stuff is just reviewing complicated things that other people are doing — to give advice as to whether this is a decent research effort or not — to some government agencies. But a smaller proportion of JASON projects are real physics problems, where you can actually sit down and do fun research. That’s mostly unclassified kinds of stuff, but it’s motivated by problems that the military or somebody else in government are interested in. And that kind of thing is just like doing real research — not real research in my own field, but its real research anyway, and mostly unclassified; you can publish it or do whatever you like with it. One such thing, in fact, we even wrote a book about, having to do with acoustics in the ocean and so forth that was actually very interesting. I mean, we learned a lot in doing that. It was fun doing it. It was a real research effort. It was respectable science, and we wrote this book, and that was good.
Do the JASONs have freedom to choose projects?
Pretty much. The way it works is that various people in various agencies come and display a problem or two, usually by giving a talk at one of the two winter meetings in Washington. Somebody may come and give an hour—long speech on some subject they would be interested in having JASON work on; some speeches are like that. Some are for the purpose of just giving information to JASON for general background information, but often people will come and sort of lay out a problem or class of problems, and then sometimes somebody in JASON or some group in JASON will pick up that subject and work on it during the next summer. Other things are sort of self-generated. I mean, after years of experience, people in JASON know a lot of problems that are interesting and just work on those without any particular request from anybody. Once in a while there are big studies, when some agency asks for a several year study involving quite a lot of people in JASON. So the problems come from different directions, and there may be little tiny problems that one person works on for a couple of days or big ones with ten people working them for two or three summers.
How is that divided up within JASON?
By just whoever wants to do what.
On most problems you interact not work-wise but discussion-wise?
Well, not all but most of the briefings are open to everybody, so whoever’s interested can come and listen to a particular subject. Then at the summer study there’s always several days devoted to everybody describing to everybody else what they did or what’s going on. People are interested in what everybody else has been doing, so there’s a pretty good flow of information within JASON as to what everyone is doing, even to the people who are not working on the particular subjects. There are a few subjects, not very many, which are closed off or compartmented so that only people in JASON with special clearances have access to them. The Navy is very famous for being paranoid. It likes to put even Newton’s Laws into some little box in a corner which nobody is allowed to know about. They’re very peculiar people, the Navy people. But apart from the Navy, there’s very little that’s in boxes.
Has there ever been a case of a strong science policy concern relating to specific projects? I guess Vietnam aroused a lot of concern.
Well, it aroused a lot of feeling, and it wasn’t that JASON had any ability to make any input about policy particularly. There was a big JASON study; JASON was part of an even bigger study having to do with the attempt to inhibit infiltration of people from North into South Vietnam. But altogether in JASON, like anywhere else in the US, Vietnam generated a lot of strong feelings, and there was a lot of discussion within JASON about whether JASON should resign en masse publicly, or else they should write letters. We did write letters to various groups — I guess it was Johnny Foster who at that time was DDR&E — complaining about Vietnam and objecting in various ways.
As JASON’s, or as individuals?
I think there was even an official letter written by the chairman of JASON, which of course then had to be stated in not too strong terms, because it had to reflect views acceptable to everybody in JASON. Just subjectively, I think that the opposition to Vietnam in JASON was something like 95 to 5, at various levels. There were very few people in JASON who endorsed American policy. There were probably a couple, but not more than that. The degree of discomfort with US policy was varied with the rest of the people. A fair number of people quit.
The general approach within JASON has been to avoid that kind of public outcry.
Yes. It was certainly recognized by those people who wanted to just resign publicly that that would destroy JASON. And there were a lot of people who were quite willing to pay that price, I think.
It’s certainly an unresolved moral issue, whether one should act from inside or outside.
It was very hard to do anything inside, I must say. A lot of people told themselves that, oh yes, they were having influence inside. It’s a little hard to see any of it.
Threes a lot of correspondence on that relating to Vietnam. I’ve seen a semi-publication prepared by Bruno Vitale, the physicist, which is called The War Physicists — a very strong denouncement of JASON. It’s very biased of course in that respect, but it has provoked a lot of good correspondence from a lot of JASONS.
Yes. During that time there was, of course, hostility on certain university campuses; there was a lot of hostility to JASON members who happened to be there — a lot of trouble at Columbia, for example, affecting JASON people there. Those people at the universities who were violently opposed to the war assumed that anybody who was willing to work for this disgusting and vile government at all was just as disgusting and vile as the vile government. And they had a point in a way.
I don’t know if that’s coming up now. I’m not going up to the recent period, but Star Wars obviously arouses some of the same feelings.
I don’t know; there are enough people in JASON who have taken public positions against Star Wars and written articles about it and so forth. I certainly don’t think JASON is viewed by anybody as a proponent of Star Wars. If anything, it is the other way around. In fact, there is a certain amount of hostility within the government towards JASON, or certain particular JASON members, because of this open hostility to Star Wars. The SDI office tries to prevent Dick Garwin from going to various briefings and from having access to Star Wars information, which the rest of JASON will not tolerate, of course. Here at Caltech, during the Vietnam thing, all the students were basically unconscious. They’re usually unconscious about everything. So here there was not the least bit of annoyance for anybody that had to do with JASON. In fact, there was really no hostility to Vietnam on the Caltech campus to think of. Caltech is a very peculiar place.
To what extent has the compartmentalization of physics influenced the role of physicists as science advisers? One of the difficulties of a study such as this is to find to what extent an emphasis on physicists in science policy makes sense. Physicists in science policy obviously interacted with a lot of other groups, both scientists and non-scientists. JASON is an example in which the main persons certainly were physicists, even theoretical physicists. More generally, though, do you think it makes sense to limit a study of science policy to physicists? And if so, have physicists retained the influence that they got immediately after the Second World War?
It’s true that JASON was begun by theoretical physicists, and that was the dominant ingredient in JASON certainly in the early years. But these were all people, remember, who had been involved in the bomb project during the war, and they were therefore all people whose knowledge of physics was relatively broad. Certainly, on the scale of physicists who are young now, those people were a lot broader in science or in physics in particular than the ones now. The ones now are much narrower, generally. None of these are hard and fast statements. Obviously there are some people now who are very broad too. But at least if I look at people in particle physics, they are now far narrower than the people who were in particle physics 20 years ago, especially the people who were involved in the bomb project during the war, who of course learned a lot of stuff besides particle physics. And I wonder if it isn’t true that JASON benefits much less relatively from physicists now than it did before. The newer people really tend to be people not from theoretical physics so much as they used to be, simply because theoretical physicists now are narrower people and have much narrower background and really don’t know anything except their own specialty.
Do you think that reflects a general trend in the influence of different fields?
Well, I’m not sure. I don’t know as much about other fields, obviously, and maybe it’s not as true in other fields. Maybe they are still broad enough. The ones I know best are the oceanographers, and I think they’re a lot broader in general, certainly broader than particle physicists. Particle physicists are maybe not really the right kind of person to have in JASON. In fact, I think among recent people who’ve joined JASON, there haven’t been any particle theorists for some time, and that’s probably a good thing.
You’re a person who managed to do both.
When I was a graduate student, I spent several summers at Los Alamos, and that was necessarily a broadening experience, compared to graduate students now. Graduate students now just don’t do that anymore, at least ours don’t. They just sit here grinding away on their indices, or whatever they do, and they don’t go off in the summer to different places where they would learn different kinds of physics. So I think they end tip very narrow people, compared to even what I was when I was that age, and certainly compared to what Goldberger and Watson and people like that were, all of whom had been involved much more broadly.
To pose the question differently, would it have been possible to form a similar group or an equally influential group of people from other fields at that time?
You mean, dominated by chemists, for example?
Or engineers or whatever.
I don’t really know. There was an attempt, you know, that I don’t know very much about, by ARPA to set up an. analogue of JASON in material science, which was called Mason, I believe, and I guess it even still exists. I think it never became as influential as JASON did. It was solid state types primarily. You should ask Murph about that. He may know more about it than I do. But that would be an example of an attempt to do something like that not run by physicists, which I think didn’t work as well.
I don’t know to what extent these things are classified, but what were the projects that you started out with in JASON? What can you tell me about the early projects you were involved in?
The earliest projects that I remember had to do mostly with antiballistic missiles and so on. You know, that was back long before the first ABM treaty, and there was a certain amount of interest in that subject. At that time people didn’t really understand the physics of re-entry very well, and they didn’t really know about what you could resolve with radars, and there were new techniques involving radars for measurement and so on. That was the time just at the invention of the HBT technique, and I remember some various things having to do with trying to see whether that was relevant to discrimination, and things of that sort. I don’t remember very well, but it seems to me that that was one big class of projects. You’re talking about 15 to 20 years ago now. Memory goes after all. Then there were at that time also a few things involved with submarine detection.
They were very primitive and certainly I think every one of them was totally wrong, but there were all these rumors floating around about how you can detect submarines, all of which have always turned out to be wrong. At that time there were some statements and rumors, and old wives tales and so forth, so we studied that for a while, and came to the conclusion that it was all garbage. I must say that that technique is still around. The fact that you say something is garbage usually doesn’t get rid of it. JASON is not very effective from that point of view, because it’s very hard to kill anything. You can point out that something violates Maxwell’s equations, and everybody says, “So what?” and they keep on giving money to it anyway. The military really spends a lot of money without thinking very much, and trying to prevent them from wasting money is hard, because they don’t really care much.
Has the argument been heard sometimes?
Oh yes, once in a while you can save them some money. Once in a while you say something is real garbage, and they actually do stop spending money on it. But a lot of the time when you say its garbage, they spend the money anyway.
During the period of discussing ARMs, did such advice mainly concern technical ARM-related questions?
Oh sure. It was never an issue of policy — of whether you should or should not deploy this. Later on when the big ARM debate came out — before the ARM treaties were signed with the Russians and when we were seriously talking about deploying an ARM — then a lot of people from JASON — Garwin in particular — did a lot of testifying in congress, and writing articles for the press and so forth, on this subject. They did that as individuals, not as spokesmen for JASON. JASON certainly never had any position as a group one way or the other about it. Individual JASON people had opinions, of course, all of them. Again I’m guessing, but I believe that probably you would find that again, nine out of ten people in JASON were opposed to deploying an ARM. But JASON itself as JASON only made technical statements about the efficacy of this or that discrimination method, or this or that ARM system or whatever.
They involved themselves in these technical matters disregarding what their view was of ARM in general?
Yes, that’s right. But that’s the same thing as takes place now with the Star Wars thing. Again, I think if you took a vote in JASON, you would probably find nine opposed and one in favor; I’m guessing. But JASON does have a contract with the SDI office, and we do get briefings from them, even if they’re reluctant to give the briefings to Garwin, and we do write reports for them about certain technical issues they’re interested in. But those are all purely technical; there are no statements in them that you shouldn’t deploy this or whatever. It may be again that there’s an inference from the fact that you say you cannot do the midcourse discrimination or something or other — for example, if you said that — which would have an implication for whether or not you should go ahead with Star Wars. But nobody ever says you should or shouldn’t.
JASON has contracts with quite a lot of government agencies. A lot of the stuff is unclassified. I’d guess that two-thirds of the total amount of JASON work is unclassified.
That has developed in time, right? It started out mostly with the Defense Department.
I think that’s correct, yes, and we’ve evolved into a lot of non-DOD contracts since then.
Is that before or after the ten year period, do you think?
It probably is mostly after. Yes, that’s probably more recent. But we have had a lot of things for the FAA, a lot of things in DOE, some of which of course may have been classified, but a lot was not. I’m sure you can get a list. Well, you’ll eventually talk to the JASON management. You’ve talked to Nierenberg. He’ll probably give you a much better breakdown of how much of the stuff we do is for which agency and so on.
Well, we talked about JASON not being real science policy in the traditional sense of that term. To what extent has JASON served as a springboard to that kind of position?
You mean, people going from JASON to science policy bodies?
Yes, and the other way too; what has the relationship been? There are a lot of JASON people who have involved themselves in other more traditional science policy matters.
Have there really been so many? I don’t know. Ed Frieman of course went to be director of research for DOE or something, for a while, but I don’t think there have been very many JASON people who have gone on to actual positions in the government.
York, for one.
Yes. But he’s not really a very active JASON member either. He hasn’t ever really been. I mean, he is sort of one of the grand old advisors to JASON. He’s around once in a while, but he’s not really been interested in or taken part in very many of the technical projects that JASON does.
How formalized is the membership? Is there a hierarchy of membership, some active members, some not so active members?
No, there are really only two categories. There are regular members, the people who actually do work and show up, and then there are the Great Men; I think they’re called senior advisors or something. They are sometimes people who used to be members of JASON and don’t come any more. Murray Gell-Mann for example or Herb York or Charlie Townes; various people like that. Then again, you can get a list of who they are. I don’t remember exactly. But that's the only distinction.
But there are some people who are drawn in for specific problems, kind of a consulting basis?
No, no. Well, once in a great while we do have somebody for one particular study for one summer who has some expertise. That's very unusual. And that’s usually not somebody from a university, that’s somebody from some government thing, giving particular advice about some very specific kind of issue. Mostly it’s just the regular JASON people from universities who work on anything, whatever they want to.
Is there any other such group that you have collaborated with or competed with or have some special kind of relationship with?
Not that I can think of.
You see JASON as pretty unique.
Quite unique. I don’t think there’s anything parallel to it, and I certainly can’t think of anything that would compete.
I’m asking you this in part because I would like to get to as much records as possible of this. Nierenberg has made an effort to collect the records, and he’s placed a lot of records in the MITRE Corporation. I think Joanne Gibson who was to write the history did that work. Unfortunately for me the first ten years of records fill about one box and then there is on the average one box per year after that.
I’m not surprised. I think it was really run as a very informal organization, especially at the beginning, and that’s still true. There's very little in the way of bureaucratic infrastructure in JASON. It runs much more easily somehow than a university does.
But it was formally part of IDA from the beginning, right?
Yes, and then part of SRI. Those are just arrangements for administrative purposes. That is, you have to have some organization which will take care of writing the letters and signing the checks and handling the accounts, that sort of thing. And so originally it was set up in IDA. Then because of some limits that the Congress put on spending by these FCRC organizations, many years ago, IDA thought it would he best not to have to have JASON. This was because JASON took a piece out of the limited size they had available, and so we moved to SRI which was not subject to that kind of limitation. And then a few years ago there was an internal difficulty between SRI and Nierenberg, or SRI was charging too much overhead or one thing or another, so then we moved to MITRE. Those changes are all from the point of view of the membership relatively unimportant in the sense that the bureaucracy seems to work rather smoothly through all these transitions. There isn’t a big difficulty. Certainly I see almost no difference between the bureaucratic arrangements with SRI and those with MITRE. Everything runs just the same as it did before. I think the major problem was just that SRIs overhead rates were higher than MITREs, and ARPA was unhappy about having to spend such a large fraction of its money for JASON to support SRI overhead.
But the connection with ARPA has been retained, right?
Oh yes. But that’s not an administrative connection; that’s just the biggest single contract we have. But I think the ARPA contract is less than half the total JASON contracts.
It is now, but it wasn’t at first.
Originally it was perhaps everything. But I think by now ARPA is down to less than half. The Navy is a fairly large contractor, and there is a whole bunch of other things — little contracts with a lot of people.
I guess I could dig this up, but I’m asking you anyway because I’m lazy and it’s nice to get some sense of it. When did the breaks with IDA and SRI occur?
Let’s see, the transition from SRI to MITRE was fairly recent; that must be three years, maybe four years ago. I have to think back. Well, it must have been more than ten years ago that we switched from IDA to SRI. Ten or 12 years maybe roughly speaking.
OK, so the first ten year period —
— is all IDA. The first ten years is certainly all IDA.
So you wouldn’t be optimistic, in other words, when it comes to tracing records in other places?
Well, IDA probably has something or other. You should look there, I imagine.
Nierenberg included a search there. I don’t think he found more than some letters. He didn’t go there or make anybody else go there, but he was very disappointed — essentially they claimed they had nothing.
Murph must have a lot of letters in some file or other. Charlie Townes must — those guys who really started the whole business. Charlie in a way I suppose is more responsible for it originally than anybody else. I suppose they have in their own files a lot of correspondence relevant to it. Maybe Bill has already approached them; I don’t know.
Probably, but I should check that out. I don’t have that clear exactly.
I have a folder in here. It may be rubbish; I don’t know.
From which period?
I don’t know how recently I emptied out my file. It probably doesn’t go back to the first ten years.
Since the records seem to be so scarce I would be interested in anything.
Well, I could look. I don’t think there’s anything that old though. I just don’t have room to keep all that stuff from a long time ago.
When I get into the nitty-gritty of that, it could be nice as a point of reference.
I’m happy to search if you want me to, to see if I have anything.
Thanks, because as you say these things are long ago and it would help the memory a lot.
Yes, that’s right. Certainly when you question, I sit here now and try to remember even what we worked on back then and I can barely remember it.
And such small things will help the association process. Who do you consider most important of other people I should approach? We’ve talked about Goldberger of course and Townes.
Yes, that’s very important, and Charlie Townes is very important. You’ve already talked to Ken Watson and Keith Brueckner and so on and Nierenberg; and Hal Lewis at Santa Barbara you should talk to.
I’ve tried to call him; I haven’t got a response. He’s not a member any more.
No, he's not any more a member, but he was one of the founders and was chairman for a very long time too of JASON, so he is certainly somebody you should talk to.
And there’s a full time position as administrative head, isn’t there?
Yes, there is, except that the person who has held that for the last ten years or so has just left, and we still haven’t found a replacement. He’s still in Washington. You can certainly talk to him, if you want the first ten years, what you should do is talk to Dave Katcher. Bill must have given you his name. He was the full time administrative head in the beginning, and also John Martin — he was Katcher's successor — and that’s probably still in the first ten year period.
They would supply a different perspective. They weren’t physicists, they were administrators?
Jack Martin is a physicist. Both of them actually probably had PhDs in physics. I know Jack Martin does. He has in fact written a book on re-entry physics. That was his specialty.
Do you have a list of publications and vitae for yourself?
You can get one from my secretary. I don’t remember very much of the early JASON period, and I think you really would be better off to talk to the people who actually were there at the founding, like Brueckner, Watson and Goldberger.
But it’s good to get as many perspectives as possible.
Even if they’re lost in the fog of memory?
Yes. I was at the Aerospace Corporation and talked to Daniel Whitcraft there.
I don’t know the name.
He has some administrative position there. He’s been there from the beginning, and he knows a lot about their history. He’s pretty high up in the administration. He’s not a physicist or anything, but he has a good overview over what’s been done there. I had a very useful interview with him. However, he couldn’t tell me much about interaction with JASON. I was thinking perhaps that that kind of group would have some interaction. Do you know about anything of that sort?
I see people who from the other side interacted with JASON — that is, people in the government. You probably should talk to Johnny Foster. He is, I believe, at TRW here in Los Angeles, and he was Director of Defense Research and Engineering.
York’s position; York was the first one, yes.
And I think Foster was after York, and he interacted a lot with JASON and individual JASON people for quite a long period of time. He probably has some insight from the government point of view about JASON's relevance, if any. And then you might talk to some of the old former directors of ARPA from that time. I don’t remember who they are any more, but you could find that out.
Yes. It would be nice to get this from other sides as well. What about the relationship of JASON to the physics community, the other way?
Well, during the Vietnam War, as you mentioned, there was a lot of hostility on the part of a lot of people at some universities at least, to people in JASON. I suppose that was more true of people like students and so on than it was of colleagues on the faculty, although there was some of that too. But mostly, I don’t think, there’s any particular reaction. There’s no particular hostility any longer, I think, from the rest of the faculty to JASON. That was just a Vietnam phenomenon. I don’t think anybody minds any of us being in JASON as far as I know. In fact, once in a while you get somebody who comes around and says, “I would like to join JASON; why don’t you get me into JASON?”
What about at the origins of JASON — was there a discussion then about whether JASON was the appropriate kind of forum to do that kind of thing?
I don’t really know, because I was a small child at the time. You have to ask Murph.
Well, I got some indications from Brueckner, I think it was, who talked about a discussion of JASON being too inbred, too into itself, that it did not involve general discussion of problems with students and other faculty.
Well, there has been even within JASON a certain amount of self-worry about whether there is enough turnover, whether we get enough smart young people in, and so forth. But actually I think we’ve been getting in a reasonable number of very good young people over the last few years — and not particle physicists, by the way.
That’s been a passing phenomenon.
I think that was a phenomenon from the beginning and has not kept on.
Brueckner told me that Hans Bethe and other people made that kind of criticism from the outside. They were never members, I think.
Actually Bethe still is, I think, one of those called a senior advisor that I mentioned to you. He’s been that all along. So it’s true, he’s never been an ordinary JASON member, but he’s had this distant connection. We almost never see him at JASON meetings, but he has shown up once in a while.
Have you been burdened by the classification problem, in terms of communicating with other physicists, in terms of publishing, in terms of going abroad?
No, not at all. It’s never made any difference. Well, first of all a lot of JASON work is unclassified. Most of what I do myself has been unclassified. It’s been on oceanographic subjects, and as I mentioned, Walter and I have written a few papers for the open literature. We’ve written this book. Most of the stuff is just open. I give talks about it at universities and so on. I find that’s not a constraint at all.
So you think it might be conceivable to write a believable or valid history of JASON without having access to classified material.
Yes, I think so, because details which are actually classified are not particularly relevant to the subject. You can talk about what subject it was without violating any classification.
I would have access to them?
Yes. I mean, the fact that one is working on antiballistic missiles or anti-submarine warfare or something, that’s all unclassified. The details of the particular project may or may not be classified. Most of the reports have unclassified titles, for example, so you could get a list of unclassified titles of the reports, even if the reports themselves are classified. There is some huge list of JASON documents I’m sure you can get hold of, and that will give you a pretty good feeling for what kinds of things we worked on. I don’t think the fact that the details are actually classified matters very much from the historical point of view.
I do not plan to go into the nitty gritty details of the projects anyway.
And as far as my own work goes, the stuff which I’ve done in JASON which is classified is so different a subject than anything I work on normally anyway. The fact that I couldn’t talk about that to colleagues doesn’t make any difference, because I wouldn’t have talked to them about it anyway. It just isn’t something that they’re interested in.
It might be easier in your case to distinguish between JASON and non-JASON work.
Yes, that’s right. If you’re one of these oceanographers, where the distinction between their real work and their JASON work is much murkier, they might have this kind of problem, I suppose.
However, I don’t think Munk indicated that he had that kind of problem. I don’t remember how explicitly I asked him that, though.
Anyway, certainly for somebody like me, that’s not a problem at all.
Do you think JASON has changed, in their approach, the kinds of people? We were talking, for example, about the compartmentalization business.
Yes, as I said, I think there has been a trend away from the people who founded JASON — namely, these theoretical physicists — to a broader collection of people from different disciplines, which is a good thing. Aside from that, I guess I can’t really think of any fundamental change. I don’t recognize a kind of secular change in how JASON has operated over the years. It seems to me it’s much the same now, as it was.
Is there a systematic pattern of the influence of JASON throughout the years, do you think?
I always think it’s been fairly small, uniformly fairly small.
There haven’t been high points, low points?
Oh, I suppose there have been. It’s a question of what you mean by important. There are certain small subjects where JASON has had a lot of influence — with the Navy, for example. But they’re all fairly localized issues. They’re not something you can talk about as some global important policy question the whole nation faces. It’s more a technical issue that’s within the Navy about a certain type of system or something. Yes, on that sort of thing JASON can have an influence.
On the other hand, these are tangible questions that do have an impact.
Yes, they’re tangible questions that involve certain amounts of money — not entirely trivial amounts of money — and JASON has had some impact with the Navy stuff, which I’m most familiar with, in recent years anyway. This is getting away from the first ten years that you were interested in.
Well, I should have some perspective anyway.
On the one hand, JASON has begun research programs, which the Navy has started up, and kept on going for years as a result of JASON work. These have grown to fairly sizeable things. On the other hand, occasionally, not very often, the Navy has also turned off some things which it had been doing on JASONs recommendations. JASON is an influential part of the Navy technical community. And I suppose the same thing is true within some of the other government agencies.
Has JASON been competing with other agencies? You said there hadn’t been much of that generally speaking, but have there been instances where a problem to solve has been given to other agencies as well?
Well, it’s different in a way because JASON is a not-for-profit company. It’s not a private company out to make a buck or build something for the Navy, which is where they really would make their money. Therefore, JASON is in a sort of unique position as far as these various private companies are concerned. The companies are usually very concerned about proprietary secrecy. It is much more important than government classification. And they hate to talk to each other, but they’re all pretty much willing to talk to JASON about what they do, and allow JASON access to their proprietary information, because they know JASON isn’t going to do anything with it in the sense of competing with them or threatening the possible loss of a contract or whatever. So the contractors are pretty open with us. We don’t really compete with the contractors. It may happen that JASON does some study which is pretty superficial and just the beginnings, but has a lot of ideas in it which are not very well worked out; in only a few weeks you can’t work out such ideas in detail. Or the project requires a lot of experiments, and JASON doesn’t do experiments.
Then what may happen is that the Navy for example will on the basis of the JASON report decide that it should put some money into this particular research effort, and what it will do then is give some contracts to various private companies to pursue research along these lines, as outlined by JASON. Then what will often happen is that the Navy will ask these contractors to come back and give progress reports to JASON over the next one, two, three years — whatever — as to how things are going on this subject which was begun by JASON. JASON then keeps up with what’s happening, but not in the sense of doing very much more creative work on the subject. Rather, JASON is monitoring what the other people are doing because it’s gotten to be more complicated; it’s gotten to be big experiments which involve a few million dollars, and gotten to be big computer calculations and stuff that JASON doesn’t normally do very well.
How far do JASONs involve themselves in the development of the ideas; do they at all?
Usually only by this sort of watching. That is, they get brought up to date once a year on what people have been doing, as far as the development of an idea is concerned. I wouldn’t want to call JASON’s role supervisory, because it’s not that we have any particular authority over these contractors or anything like that. We just give advice to the Navy as to how the thing is going and whether the contractor is doing a good job and so on.
But the actual doing of the contract is completely up to —
— the contractor, and the contract between the Navy and the contractor may have been motivated by some JASON work. As I say, JASON may monitor what goes on, but it’s really nothing to do with JASON any more. And that’s a typical mode of operation. But it doesn’t always have to be something which JASON has begun either, although that happens not infrequently. Quite often also it will be that the Navy or whatever service organization has already let contracts for some particular thing, and it’s not sure that they’re going well or that it’s a good idea. Then they ask JASON to review this particular program.
As in the case of Maxwell’s equations.
Right, if the contract is for developing something that violates Maxwell's equations, then you say that; and then they say “Well, I don’t care.” There have been a number of lunatic things that the government was perfectly willing to pay money for. And contractors are perfectly willing to make proposals that violate some fundamental physical principle and so on.