Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Roger Dashen by Finn Aaserud on 1986 July 2,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Undergraduate at Harvard University, Edward Purcell as influential teacher; graduate work at California Insitute of Technology, Ph.D. in 1964; move to Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 1966. Most of interview concerns JASON: joined in 1966 at invitation of Murray Gell-Mann; projects for the Navy; work with Walter Munk; member of Steering Committee for four years; selection and types of projects; relationship with contractors.
I always ask people from the outset about their papers — the status of their papers, letters, manuscripts, notes; we’re very interested in that. We don’t have room for anything down in Manhattan, but we’re seeking to help to maintain that kind of documentation of the history of physics after World War II. Of course you’re too young to give away your papers yet.
The things relevant to Jason I imagine are all saved in Jason files here and there. I don’t think I saved any myself that weren’t part of Jason files. Most of my other things — my secretary has copies of almost everything at the Institute that I ever wrote from there, I think. They’re all on file there.
I’m thinking in broader terms than Jason — papers from your career generally speaking.
I threw away a few things when I moved out here, but I didn’t throw away anything of any consequence, I don’t think.
That’s unusual I think.
Of course I was there 20 years, though. I had a lot of time to accumulate things that were just sitting there.
With regard to your bibliography, I know that people who have this involvement in science policy often have all kinds of reports that are not fully published and are not represented in the bibliography. Do you have such things?
Yes, certainly all the reports done for Jason. Jason keeps track and keeps a file of those things. There’s an unclassified list of Jason reports that’s available, actually.
Yes, the titles.
Yes, titles and other things. Well, it’s a good question how much of the other stuff is available. There’s a couple of filing cabinets full of stuff at Princeton that nobody’s looked in for years, so I don’t know what’s there and what isn’t.
And that will remain?
That will stay there.
Will you maintain some connection with Princeton?
Sure. I’m actually on leave from there now. It’ll be there for a couple of years in any case.
I’m interviewing Roger Dashen in La Jolla the 2nd of July, 1986. We’re going to discuss mostly Jason, but I would like to start from the beginning to get this in the context of your career. You were born on the 5th of May, 1938, in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Did you stay there?
No, my family moved to Denver about two years later, I guess.
But you stayed in the state.
I stayed there and then my family moved to northern Wyoming and then to Billings, Montana, where I went to high school.
What was the background of your parents?
My father’s an electrical engineer. He worked for the US Bureau of Reclamation. He’s now retired. He built dams and irrigation projects and power plants in the West.
And your mother?
She was originally a school teacher but became a housewife later, and didn’t work in later years.
Was your family an important part of your motivation for choosing your career in physics?
I don’t know. I always liked science. My father, being an engineer, exposed me to some technical things younger, I guess, than I would have otherwise. But I always just liked science and mathematics. You have to realize, growing up in Montana at that time in history was not a terribly academically oriented place. Most things looked about the same up there.
Were there any particular teachers in high school or lower or higher?
Well, I got a scholarship and went to Harvard, planning to take electrical engineering or applied physics or something like that. A teacher I had my sophomore year, Ed Purcell, was teaching electricity and magnetism. It was such an interesting course that I think that’s what got me thinking about actually being a physicist rather than going into applied physics or engineering.
So Purcell was a crucial person.
He was a crucial person.
You got your AB at Harvard in 1960. You majored —
— in physics, yes. That was of course the Sputnik era in which there was a lot of publicity and vast amounts of money to go to college in science and graduate school, so that helped also.
Both materially and motivation wise, yes. And then you went to Caltech.
You went directly to the PhD there.
Yes. I actually had a traveling scholarship for a year after I left Harvard to travel in Europe — something called the Sheldon Traveling Scholarship. Some alumnus had left money to give the young graduates the proper education by sending them on a grand tour of Europe for a year, so I spent the year sort of hacking around Europe. Then I went to Caltech. I spent three years there, and got my PhD there.
Where did you go in Europe?
Oh, all over. One of the conditions of this traveling fellowship was that you’re not supposed to go to school any place. I had $3000 and $1000 of my own, and at that time it was possible to buy a Renaud Dauphine for $800. I came across a friend of mine. I ran into him in Paris. He had a similar fellowship and was studying architecture, so he and I drove around Europe a lot together. We went all over — stayed in Paris for six weeks and London for a month, I guess. Otherwise we were mostly moving.
What was the purpose of the fellowship?
It was literally to give people what used to be considered a proper Ivy League education in the twenties and thirties, when this was endowed. It included a Grand Tour of Europe. That’s what it was all about.
What did you get back from it?
Well, it was certainly an experience that changed my life. I’d never been outside the United States at that time. I didn’t think about, to speak of, physics or science. I tried not to for the year as much as I could, read a lot, and went to art museums and operas and all sorts of things like that, and learned a lot of history. So it was kind of finishing off the liberal education, I guess, that I’d partly had in college. In college, I partly had it and partly did not have it, because I spent a lot of time taking physics and math courses. It was a good thing to do.
And then you went to Caltech.
Then I went to Caltech.
That was when serious physics started.
Yes. Although I had taken all the first year graduate courses by the time I left Harvard, so I had sort of done all my coursework when I got to Caltech.
So you just went straight on to —
— more or less went on and did the thesis, yes.
Someone named Steven Froutchie who was new there at that time.
What other students and what other teachers were there?
Well, I got to know a lot of the Caltech faculty. Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynmann had a big influence on me. I worked a lot with Gell-Mann. I stayed at Caltech two years after I got a PhD. I worked a lot with Murray Gell-Mann and wrote several papers with him. Feynmann I don’t think I ever wrote a paper with, but he was always interacting with Murray and myself at that time. It was a lot of fun. It was a very interesting experience, being there.
What was your dissertation on?
It was on something which by now appears to be very old fashioned — a particular way of calculating a proton-neutron mass difference, which is certainly not what one would do nowadays, but that was the best you had to do at that point.
And the work with Gell-Mann in particular was connected with that?
No, that was with something that became known as current algebra, which Murray had invented, and he and I sort of helped develop the subject, I guess. And there was a lot of work on symmetries — old fashioned symmetries — what’s now called flavor SU 3 and things of that sort.
So that was in 1964 you got a PhD.
You stayed at Caltech until 1966, is that right?
And then you went to —
I went to the Institute of Advanced Study —
— in Princeton, where you’ve stayed since — until now, as a matter of fact.
What was your early exposure to science advising or science policy questions?
I guess there are two different things. There’s sort of doing applied physics and getting involved in policy, which are not necessarily the same thing. My first experience in applied physics was really during the summers when I was in college. It started in a serious way when I worked at Sandia Corporation in Albuquerque, starting the summer after my junior year in college, and continuing all the summers I was in graduate school — four summers or something like that. Needless to say, I never got involved in anything like policy there. I got some exposure to applied physics, which was fun. And I joined Jason in 1966, because it sounded like a good thing to do, I guess. Murray Gell-Mann and Fred Zachariasen of Caltech and lots of people I knew were in Jason. I always kind of liked to play at physics. It’s in many ways been as much fun over the years as purely academic physics.
Was it a gradual thing? I mean, the Sandia thing, was much earlier, right?
That was earlier.
It wasn’t a gradual way towards that?
No, I just jumped right in and joined Jason, although for several years, I was not terribly active in it. I was here for the whole summer of 1968. Other than that, I was not terribly active in Jason until about I don’t know 1973 or 1974. I used to come to some of the summer studies and —. Well, let me backtrack, and tell you what my first exposure, to science policy was; it was crazy. The summer after I joined Jason there was the study called Stratex(?) in l966. It was supposed to study the strategic posture of the US in the 1980s or 1990s — I’ve now forgotten which. It was designing antiballistic missile systems and mobile missiles and deeply buried missiles and missiles on submarines and airplanes and boats, the whole bit. And it was sort of a far out thing. It was an expensive thing. It went on for a year, and must have taken a noticeable fraction of the high level technical talent in Washington, which must have been involved in this for a year. Jason was involved on some sort of an advisory level. Somehow my older friends in Jason decided that it would be good exposure for me to be involved in this thing.
Who was that?
I don’t know exactly who decided that. But one of the roles of Jason has always been, and was more so in those days, to bring young people into the government business. The other thing that’s worth mentioning is that this is before the Vietnam war started to heat up seriously; it was heating up, but it wasn’t really out of control, and so there was quite a bit less tension between universities and government in 1966 than there was later. So it was a more of a natural thing to do, to bring some young person into the thing. Anyway, the Stratex study was really far out. I was absolutely amazed at all the stuff that was going on. I of course contributed almost basically nothing. Nobody really expected me to.
But you were formally part of it.
I was part of it. I went to Washington from Princeton about twice a month. I was just 28 years old. I hopped on the Metro — the train — from Princeton down to Washington about two days a month, and had to sit around and talk to all these generals and admirals, and vice presidents of TRW. All this scared the life out of me actually, if you want to know the truth.
So this was all Jason, even though it was formally separate.
No, I was doing this through Jason although this Stratex study was, I think, run by IDA; it certainly wasn’t run by Jason. Jason had been asked to come in in some sort of review role to review the work of different sub-panels. The whole thing was a several million dollar study that lasted something like six months or a year.
And Jason only contributed a part.
Jason was just asked to sort of come in and take part in the review sessions and review what the separate groups had done, and I guess that’s what I was doing. I don’t know; I was lost at that point.
That’s not a regular Jason activity; I mean, this is not summer study work or anything.
No, it wasn’t, but this is the sort of thing Jason often has done — to be involved on a sort of review level in the work of other larger groups; it has done this quite often, actually. There’s another interesting thing that happened at that time that was very clear to me after sitting there and listening to all this stuff: that we were about to get ourselves into trouble. Namely, the engineers were going to build more and more accurate missiles independently, whether anybody wanted them to, just because it was a fun thing to do and technically challenging. There was enough motivation to do it to keep dribbling out the modest amount of money necessary to do that. Sooner or later we were going to get ourselves in the bind that we found ourselves in about five or ten years ago — whenever you want to say it happened — that land based missiles became vulnerable to first strike by other people’s land based missiles. It was interesting that it was absolutely clear, listening to all these people, that’s exactly what was going to happen. On the other hand, I figured that they all knew it. And I’m sure that they did know it. They didn’t really want to talk about it, I suppose — I don’t know. But the funny thing is, you could tell from that study that we were building trouble into the system. And it was done largely to save money that we made more accurate missiles and furthermore were going to a basing concept, if you like, where we were putting five to ten warheads on a missile. When you can put ten warheads on one missile and each one of those warheads can take out one other missile with its ten warheads, you’re inviting first strikes, right? Well, everybody just went blithely ahead and did all this, and this was all fun and technology and everything else and it was cheaper. People used to draw these remarkable curves showing — I don’t remember exactly what it was — something like the cost per kiloton of warheads, which had a very shallow minimum. People would point to the minimum and say, “Well, that’s where we ought to be.” It would save 5 percent of the cost of the system or something like that. Anyway, that was a very interesting experience which in a way put me off permanently from worrying about strategic warfare and land based missiles and things like that. It’s all sort of unreal.
That was not part of Drell’s involvement, was it; that was separate?
Drell probably was involved in some level on that STRATEX; it’s hard to imagine that he wasn’t. But he and I were not in the same group anyway. Ken Watson is the only other Jason I remember seeing there consistently.
Maybe we could backtrack even a little more. What were the circumstances for your becoming a member of Jason? Who approached you?
Murray Gell-Mann asked me. But I think it’s something that it seemed like a proper upcoming young physicist ought to do. I mean, there was no reason other than it was a good thing to do.
It was an honor to be asked too, right, and so any physicist being asked at that time joined, essentially.
I think so. At least anybody who was not already so involved in something else, that they hadn’t time. At least anybody as young as I was, and as uninvolved as I was, certainly would have joined.
And most people who were asked were about that age, I suppose.
And you’ve been a member of Jason continuously since then?
Continuously since then.
Well, you didn’t participate in the origins of Jason of course, you were much too young for that then.
Were there any discussions, when you became a member, about Jason being the proper vehicle for this sort of thing? Was there ongoing discussion at all among physicists?
No. I don’t recall anything. I mean, Caltech was one of these places that had, I guess, at least, two, then three members; there were more people at Caltech in Jason then than now, so Caltech was one of the places that had some reasonable number of people in Jason. It was considered a perfectly OK thing to do. Also Caltech was not generally a political hotbed of any sort. It was not right wing, left wing or anything.
Yes, Zachariasen also made that point.
But the other important thing is that in 1966 — early 1966 when I was being recruited into Jason or late in 1965 I suppose it must have started the Vietnam War was in a much different situation than it was a couple of years later. The polarization between academic scientists and Washington had not yet occurred. Southern California was at that time filled up with aerospace companies and things like that. Most of the Caltech faculty consulted at Hughes or some similar place. It was just a normal part of life.
Yes, you can say that period from Sputnik to the Vietnam was like that.
Up until roughly speaking 1970. Things were getting pretty bad in 1970 — well, 1969 and 1970 I guess. There were tensions between the universities and Washington. There were even some in 1968, but the real sort of tension that I noticed was between 1968 and 1972 or 1973 — something like that.
And before that there weren’t any problems. All Jason work at that time was military essentially, right? I think ARPA was the only contractor, at least when you joined?
That’s right, although one of the projects I worked on, which must have been in 1970-71, was a big major study on, basically, the possible commercial applications of laser, which was an unclassified study; I don’t know who paid for it. The problem was that somebody in Washington decided the Japanese were going to take over the laser market if we didn’t do something. So we learned all about drilling big tunnels and filling teeth with lasers — all sorts of things. It was fun; I learned about lasers.
That was your exposure to lasers.
That was my exposure to lasers.
That’s interesting. To what extent was Jason for you and for other people joining at that time the first exposure to these things? It was essentially, wasn’t it?
Yes, I think so.
The organizational structure of Jason — there was a steering committee, there were senior advisors.
What was your part in that? Were you a member of the steering committee?
I was a member of the steering committee a few years ago — for my four year term or whatever it was.
That was more recently so I guess that ended four years ago or something; so it would have been from eight years ago to four years ago. It wasn’t in the beginning.
During your tenure — during particularly my special period of interest, of course — which members if any would you point to as being the most important?
Well, that’s a hard question, I guess. Well, Sid Drell and Dick Garwin, in a way. I think some day we will probably know that Ed Frieman and Walter Munk had more lasting influence than anybody else in Jason, I suspect.
They don’t make as much noise.
That’s the Navy people essentially.
Yes. And I’m trying to think who else I would say is important.
And in what ways, of course, too, if you could specify that.
Well, let’s see. I get a little fuzzy on the history of some of this, but Drell and actually Panofsky, who was a member of Jason at that time as I remember it, Garwin and Steve Weinberg, I believe had some real effect, on stopping the development of the original ABM system.
That was Garwin, Drell and Panofsky, essentially.
Yes. I don’t know. I haven’t thought about this in a long time. It’s hard to remember, actually.
And Munk and Frieman in a different way. Of course, they were the Navy people, and during your period, Navy became a contractor, I think. I don’t think it was from the outset.
And that made for some changes in Jason, I think.
Well, I’ve spent most of my time since 1974 working on the Navy things. The Navy became a contractor I guess about l975. I don’t remember exactly.
With the SRI involvement.
When they were still at SRI, yes. That’s right.
Shortly after Jason came under SRI.
Although there was previous Jason Navy involvement in the summer of 1968. Walter Munk organized a big anti-submarine warfare study. That was one of the few times that I spent an entire summer study at Jason during those years; it was an accident that that topic happened to be there. But I took part in that, and that was something that really fascinated me and kept my fascination ever since, I guess, in Jason. That’s been the set of technical problems that were by far the most fun. So Jason had quite a lot of influence in the Navy beginning in 1968 and 1969, although it’s become progressively more official; but I don’t know that it’s ever really changed in substance, ever since then.
But at that time it was ARPA funding, not Navy.
At that point it was ARPA funding, that’s right. I think the Navy funding came by later for two reasons. You see, there are two opposite sides to submarine detection. You want to hide your own so called SSBNs — missile carrying submarines; you want to make sure they can’t find them. You’d also like to go find the other guy’s submarines. For that reason it’s a very nice technical problem — you win either way. If you fail, you hide your own, and if you find them you succeed in finding theirs, so you do all right. On the other hand, there have been two parts of the Navy, the ASW part of the Navy and the SSBM security part of the Navy. And they simply wouldn’t talk to each other, and I think to some extent it’s been by design. During Ed Frieman’s tenure as chairman of Jason —
— starting in ‘73.
Starting whenever he became chairman; in 1973 I guess he became chairman.
After Hal Lewis, right.
One of the things Frieman did — the origins of which are a little obscure, but they have to do with things not going as well in the submarine world as you’d like – is that he got to know a lot of high level admirals in the Navy. One of the things they decided needed to be done was to get these two halves of the Navy talking together. One of the mechanisms — in some ways the main mechanism — for getting them talking to each other was to have them talk through Jason to each other. So Jason ended up getting contracts from both those parts of the Navy, which we still have today. And I think we probably also needed an infusion of money at that time also. Our relationship with DARPA has always been a little bit stormy over the years. It has its ups and downs, and I think at that time Jason needed a shot of money. It was nice to get a shot of money from the Navy, but a lot of it had to do with the fact of actually, in some ways, formalizing the Jasons’ work for the Navy which we’d been doing sort of on the side through DARPA before and also getting these two chunks of the Navy to talk to each other. They talk to each other very well now. That may turn out to be one of the most lasting contributions of Jason, actually, making them able to do that.
That’s a contribution that you wouldn’t immediately —
— have thought about, that’s right.
Do you think that Jason was used for that purpose?
Oh yes. What’s considered to be Ed Frieman’s work — when he was acting as the chairman of Jason and advisor to the Navy — was to bring these two people together and get them to talk. It was the first time they’d ever talked to each other.
This is the first time I’ve heard it. That’s interesting. You said something about problems with ARPA. Could you expand a little on that?
ARPA kind of a funny outfit, you know. Their task is to run off and do big expensive high risk things, some of which are reasonable and some of which are not. The program managers tend to change every two or three years, and the top leadership changes every time there’s a change in administration in Washington, and usually half way through an administration because they get tired of the job or go off and do something else — I don’t know what. Every time there’s a change, they’ve had to readjust to Jason somehow. During most of the history of Jason — this has not been true for the last seven or eight years — Jason went through a periodic cycle in which a new set of directors would come into DARPA who didn’t know much about Jason, decided they didn’t like Jason, and would complain about us and everything else. I guess nobody ever was annoyed enough to just cut us off, but then two or three years later, just about the time they would leave, they just loved Jason. Just when everything was great, they would leave and another one would come in and start all over again. Starting when a fellow named Bill Perry went to DARPA — which was quite a while ago, maybe six or seven years — we haven’t had these cycles so much. Bill Perry was there for quite a while. He has sort of an academic type temperament anyway, so I think he got on with Jason very well right away. I would say the same thing of Larry Lynn, who wasn’t the director of Jason in the last round, but in the previous set before this; but he was associate director. He sort of fit right in with Jason, and Bob Cooper, who is actually the boss, seemed to get along with Jason fine. Bill Nierenberg is big at going into Washington and shaking hands and being powerful and political and all of those things, and one thing Bill has done that’s very good is to tame all the heads of DARPA, so we haven’t had any trouble with DARPA heads recently.
But in my period, the main tendency was cyclical.
There was a big cycle of that, yes. The origins of it go back before I came into Jason, so I’m really not the one to tell you how this all started, but it was already set going before I got here.
Yes, I’ll investigate that with other people, and of course get both sides of the problem too. But that was essentially a personality problem more than anything else, at least on the ARPA side.
Finally, yes. And not being somehow connected into the right channels; I don’t know. The most remarkable thing I think about Jason is that it’s hung together for 26 years or whatever it is now. Given that there are a lot of prima donnas and strong personalities, the fact that it still exists is the most amazing thing. Something more remarkable — we still talk to DARPA and DARPA will talk to us.
The conclusions to draw from that for me at least remain to be seen. To what extent was the work in Jason a continuation of collaboration already done within the physics community in some sense? Certainly the persons were in many cases the same, although the projects may have been very different. What is the relationship in terms of collaborations?
Well, I don’t know. I’ve worked a lot with Walter Munk, who is an oceanographer, and I would never have worked with him if I hadn’t come to Jason, because I would never have met him. So that one would have never happened if I hadn’t been in Jason. He and I have since done some amount of just academic work together too.
That was more a follow-up of Jason?
That was more a follow-up. An opposite example, though — there’s a good friend of mine from Princeton, Kirk Allen, that I’ve done a lot of work with in Jason on totally different things.
And he will stay at Princeton, right?
He will stay at Princeton.
I can see him there, good.
You can see him there. In fact, he and I had worked together before either one of us came into Jason, so when we came into Jason, we knew each other and we were both very young. He came in 1967 or 1968; he was there in 1968 when I came to the summer study. He and I worked together on that summer study in 1968. So, that one was sort of the opposite — somebody I worked with all the time outside of Jason and also worked with in Jason.
You mention him as an example of the opposite?
The opposite of Walter Munk. Walter Munk, I never would have even met if I hadn’t been in Jason.
Into Jason and out of Jason, I see.
By and large I think people in Jason don’t work with people they normally work with outside. For one thing, Jasons are too scattered. I mean, I have some good friends from Berkeley that I work with in Jason sometimes, that I never see except during Jason meetings. Things like that. So most of the Jason work is completely separate from the academic work.
So the personalities are the same, but difference in work and of course the discontinuity of Jason work as opposed to the continuity of academic work, makes the relationship doubtful. What about change or constancy of membership during your tenure?
Jason membership changed quite a bit the first ten years I was in Jason — I guess the first half of the time I was there — partly because of the Vietnam War. A lot of people who had been in Jason dropped out. And it was also very hard to recruit younger people. We took in very few new members during the Vietnam War Period. So a lot of the people that were in then either dropped out at some point — got too busy, dropped out, moved to some place where they couldn’t do it anymore — or actually retired, a few of them.
To the extent that the membership dropped?
I’m not sure of this, but I think the active membership probably dropped somewhat between 1966 and 1974. The membership list probably didn’t drop, but my guess is that if somebody really did a count of how many man days were spent, or the number of people spending more than 30 days a year, you’d probably find out it was somewhat smaller. But there’s been a whole set of new people that came in since the early to mid-seventies. Since that wave of new people came in, it hasn’t changed very much. We incrementally add new people or whatever and the group changes slowly, but it hasn’t had that much of a change.
The average age increases year by year.
Year by year; that’s very true, probably. I think so.
It would be interesting to do a calculation.
Well, part of that is because at one point, Jason was a lot of bright people who didn’t know anything about applied science, saying intelligent things and saying some things that weren’t so intelligent. Jason to some extent has been spoiled by its success; there are people in Jason who have become leading experts in areas that are not their normal academic disciplines and who know so much about it that it’s no longer possible in Jason to be sort of the happy amateur, you know. You really need to know what you’re talking about, and that means it’s much harder. It’s actually much harder for very very young people that don’t have any experience outside academic disciplines to get involved. We still do it, but it takes them longer to assimilate and everything else. I think that’s a lot of the reason why the age has gotten higher. There’s sometimes a tendency to bring in some middle aged people who already have experience in government affairs and things like that.
But there have been efforts to renew the membership at times?
Oh yes, we do — we keep bringing in young people, but originally the manner of picking Jason members was to go out and find the brightest young physicists you could think of, independent of whether you thought they could do anything useful. We would invite them into Jason and then invite a few other mathematicians or engineers or something to round out the group. That really is no longer true. I think people would still like to get the very best young physicists, but there’s a lot more emphasis nowadays on bringing in people with different particular disciplines in physics, optics, plasma physics, or computer science — something like that — so for better or worse, we’ve gotten more professional, so to speak.
Is that a reflection of a change in theoretical physics or a change in the perception of how Jason should work?
Take the example that I really know a lot about, or more about than other things, which is the submarine business. I think it’s fair to say that there are probably no more than 50 people in the US that really understand, in a real sense, what submarine detection is all about; there’s 50 people in the entire country. I would say that seven of them were in Jason, probably. Except for Walter Munk, who’s an oceanographer, none of them knew anything about submarines when they came into Jason. So in that area and in some areas of high energy lasers — free electron lasers, things like that — it turns out that in a lot of these most important areas to the Defense Department, there are people in Jason that know more than anybody else. It’s gotten from the situation where a bright advisor is asking the right questions but doesn’t know anything about them, to a sort of real repository of knowledge on a lot of these things, and that’s changed the character of Jason in a significant way. It’s gone from being the sort of earnest amateur, who tries hard and sometimes has bright ideas or clever insights, into becoming the people that get asked technical details about how to do this or that in detail, so it’s quite a different thing.
That might be an expression of division of labor within the science policy or science advising community, because the agencies have gotten more expertise by themselves.
From members to projects. We spoke a little about projects, but maybe we should talk a little bit more about it. You were in the steering committee for a while at any rate. And you have some experience with how projects are selected. Maybe you could say a little bit about that, just in general terms what kinds of projects there are, how they’re selected, how that has changed in time.
It’s a lot easier for me to talk about the Navy projects, because I’ve been the program manager, so to speak — or whatever we call them — for Navy projects for some five years now, which means that I go out and find the Navy projects; and the CIA projects — there are several kinds of projects in Jason. There’s the general pot of projects from ARPA which ARPA suggests. Then there are Navy projects, intelligence projects, some Department of Energy projects and others. Most everything except the DARPA projects are handled about the same way. I’ll describe the way the Navy thing is handled. The DARPA projects are sort of peculiar; maybe we’ll come back and talk about that later. What happens is that I guess I go to Washington on business related to Navy things about once a month, while I was at Princeton. The trips include Jason meetings two or three times, sometimes on a special date for a day long trip from Princeton down to Washington just to talk to people about projects for Jason. There’s a couple of Navy panels that I’m on where I see these people, and there are five parts of the Navy that we do work for and get money for. I am pretty close friends with sort of the top technical people in each one of those departments. I just make sure that I go down there; I see these people all the time — either out here or sometimes they come to Princeton. Or I go down to Washington and see them. I spend a couple of days a month on this stuff year round, I suppose. I see them all the time, and I make sure that I go and see those five people and the people that work for them about three times during the winter every year. I spend two or three hours with them, finding out what’s on their minds, what are interesting problems. We’ve been doing this long enough that we can also suggest problems that they ought to be working on — problems that we could work on for them that are fun. There seems to be a sort of unwritten understanding between us and the Navy that the total net sum of money coming from all these people stays more or less constant, and we have never really had any trouble getting money out of them or finding interesting things to do. For example, they have two critical and very interesting tentative projects, one of which is in the stages of thinking about doing a serious enough study to decide whether they want to spend a lot of money to do it. And another one is in the process of doing the preliminary work to see if they can do something they would really like to do. Those are the two most important things going on in the submarine business, and Jason has a group involved in each one of them out here this summer. Those things, they came to us about. On the other hand, they are also both to some extent based on previous Jason work that was done five or ten years ago, in some cases, so it’s a natural thing to do. With the Navy, we’re sort of so coupled into the system that it doesn’t require any work. I mean, if they have a serious problem, they tell us about it, and if we have a good idea, we tell them. That, to some extent, is what happens. I don’t think that happens as well with other agencies. Sometimes it does. DARPA is much more of a mishmash. Once in a while, we get very heavily involved with some particular office in DARPA. For example, Norman Kroll and Marshall Rosenbluth did some very nice work on free electron lasers a while back, which was done for a particular office in DARPA; they had a three or four year period in which they were very tightly coupled into them. Other than that, the DARPA changes so fast. There just isn’t any way you can have the same relationship with DARPA that we have with the Navy, because the whole place completely turns over. And then another inevitable thing that happens eventually, is that a lot of these government agencies hire former students of ours or postdocs that have been at Princeton or something like that. There’s some reasonable number of people who leave the academic world every year and go into applied physics jobs. Sooner or later it’s inevitable that quite a few of them start working for government agencies, so we have our own moles in the system.
So it’s a recruiting ground as well as a means to do projects.
When the results appear, how are they presented? That happens at the summer meetings, right? They’re also published, of course, in some sense or other.
They’re published. Most everything gets published. There was a traditional two or three day summer session; insofar as possible, we tried to get every person or at least every subgroup to get up and talk about what they were doing. That hasn’t worked so well the last four or five years, partly because the two days in which we like to do it just simply is not enough time to talk about everything. You get into this conflict between making a coherent presentation of some subject that would take a couple of hours, and everybody wanting to get up and say what they did.
But there’s also the problem of different clearances.
There’s a problem, especially in the Navy business and the intelligence business, that there are different levels of clearance and it’s difficult to talk about these different things. In fact, one of the Jason problems which we’ve never solved is the fact that there are subsets of Jasons with some clearances that other ones don’t have, which annoys a lot of people; but that’s life.
Intelligence problems — who are the contractors there: CIA?
CIA, NSA, Naval Intelligence. I don’t know whether we have any other ones or not. DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, I think we also do work for sometimes.
That’s a relationship similar to the relationship to the Navy; is that so?
Yes, except it’s a smaller scale thing, I would say.
But it’s been going on for —
— a long time. A long time.
Since the early seventies, anyway.
Maybe even earlier than that. You talked about a couple of projects that you had been involved in before. Does that express your view of what were the main projects during your tenure that you were involved in, or do you have more to add?
The main things have been Navy ASW problems, unfortunately very few of which I’m able to talk about. The one I can talk about — one that was really a lot of fun, one that I probably spent the most time doing technical work on — was worrying about fluctuations in sound propagation in the ocean — mathematical problems equivalent to fluctuations. It’s what makes stars twinkle. If you look at light coming through the atmosphere, the turbulence in the atmosphere makes changes in the refractive index and it makes things twinkle, so that’s why stars twinkle. If you’re up in space and you look at stars, they don’t twinkle. And there’s a similar phenomenon if you have sources of sound in the ocean; under certain conditions they will twinkle on and off, so to speak. A bunch of us — four or five of us — spent about three years working on that particular problem. It’s a fascinating mathematical problem. I actually got so interested in it that I spent almost all of one academic year in Princeton working on it — not as a Jason problem, just as an academic research problem. I wasn’t getting paid for it by Jason or anything. And we wrote a book — not a very good book but a book — on underwater sound propagation. I wrote two or three articles on it myself.
Was that the Flatte book?
Yes, that’s right. Actually one of the better papers — not the best but one of the few best papers I’ve written in my life — was a paper in Journal of Mathematical Physics; I forget what it’s called “path integrals for waves in random media,” I guess. It was the result of work during nine months of an academic year plus probably a good six or nine months during summers and odd times. I got so interested that I worked on it all the time, so that was a lot of fun. I learned a lot, too. That’s an area in which, slowly but surely, Jason is having a big impact on academic science and applied science in general. That work on wave propagation in random medias sort of takes five years or longer to be digested by the engineers and the larger world, but it eventually happens, and that’s been a lot of fun. I have spent a lot of time over the last 12 summers or something like that working on a combination of finding the other guy’s submarines and hiding ours; it’s unfortunate. I can’t really talk about it, but that’s been fun. I mean, it’s partly oceanography and hydrodynamics, and it’s partly radar, partly optics and all sorts of stuff, so it’s sort of general scientific things — a lot of fun.
But you have been able to publish some of it.
Yes. Very little. Outside of that wave propagation in random media, there’s not very much. There’s a couple of things with Walter Munk that I published in academic journals, but three-quarters of my time was always spent doing academic research on particle physics and things like that, which I published anyway, so I didn’t worry about it. Besides, I had tenure anyway so why worry about it?
But you would have liked to if it were possible and if it wouldn’t come down to any conflict?
No. To be honest about it, I’m not a great fan of writing lots of papers. I don’t know how long my bibliography is, but I suppose 150 papers or something like that. After that, it’s painful to sit down and write a well written paper. It takes a long time. Let me just say something more about the publishing things. I’ve never had any conflict in Jason about publishing or not publishing what was classified. The average over my career was probably publishing six or seven papers a year anyway, and in a way it was a relief not to have to write things up to the quality of a publication. It’s easier to write a report that’s classified and goes to some government agency.
That’s probably true, yes.
Your friends won’t criticize your English when they read it. On the other hand, if I’d known I couldn’t publish the work that I did on wave propagation in random media. I suspect I would not have done it nearly as well. I would have done it, but I would not have pushed through to solve most of the problem. I would have done whatever was necessary for the particular issue at hand, and then stopped. But the fact that I could go ahead and publish it and all of that stuff sort of motivated me to really work the thing out completely. There’s a couple of other cases where I could have published. There’s no problem with classification in Jason on publishing something, but I just didn’t get around to it. I’ve been sorry that I didn’t, not necessarily because somebody else got credit for it, but if I’d published it and straightened things out then, I would have saved myself a lot of trouble trying to explain to people what the problem was in subsequent years.
We’re talking about main projects; wasn’t that the beginning of this? Does that exhaust essentially what you can say about that?
Pretty much. Well, there’s general things I can say about the submarine, warfare business in Jason. There’s a remarkable thing that happens in about the last 15 years; namely, ASW went from being black magic to a scientific subject. I think Jason is to a large extent responsible for that, not completely, because there are a lot of other good people in the Navy involved in it, but a lot of the original ideas and the push and whatever came out of Jason. It’s really been quite a change in the way things are done now. Unfortunately, a lot of this knowledge isn’t classified, but it’s not easy to get at because it’s not all written down some place. We’ve all been very lax about writing some kind of a long article that would explain all of it. But it’s really true now that you can sit down with an idea and make a serious technical judgment as to whether or not some far out idea has any chance of finding SSBM for example. That wasn’t true 15 years ago. Everything was just hand waving and black magic, and that’s been the result also of the Navy spending on the order of a billion dollars doing experiments. So one of the things that I think will happen in the future is, eventually we’re going to get rid of land-based missiles, which will be one of the better things that happens to the world. This former head of DARPA once made a suggestion during a Jason meetings — the best one I ever heard — that we should just tell the Russians that land-based missiles are causing a lot more troubles than they’re doing any good, because they’re just sitting here acting like targets to draw fire. We ought to go to the Russians and tell them we will throw away our missiles on a one to one basis with their land based missiles. They have more so they’d have some left when we threw all ours away. That way we’d reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world by a third.
Well, the problem with that of course is that the Russians are more dependent on their land-based missiles.
They’re more dependent on them. On the other hand, when we’d thrown all ours away they’d still have 700 or something like that, which is an advantage. But the reason we can do that is not just that we have a better Navy, it’s also that we understand a lot more about why you can’t find submarines than the Russians do. We know why you can’t find ours. And it’s also true that the defense is winning in the ASW business. It’s getting harder to find either side’s submarines. I don’t think the Russians know that, however; if you look at the experiments they do, it’s pretty clear they don’t know. They’re back where we were 25 years ago, where it’s all black magic.
So there’s more of a technological basis for change there than in Star Wars, say.
That’s right, yes.
To get back to history — we were talking about projects, and you were emphasizing of course the anti-submarine warfare thing. That’s a hard issue to get at for historians, because it’s Navy and very very restricted.
Yes, that’s right.
Do you think it’s possible at all to choose some kind of Jason project or series of projects as an example, to illuminate the first 15 years of Jason, without having access to classified material? And if so, what projects should I choose for such a project?
You want a big project or a little project or does it matter?
Well, something as representative as possible — that’s the main thing.
Well, a nice project that didn’t take a huge amount of time was the free electron laser work. That is maybe after the first 15 years but not much after.
No, it started before.
And I think most of that’s unclassified. There’s a lot of work on acid rain for the Department of Energy.
Yes, but that must be later.
That started after the first 15 years probably.
I would think so, because that’s essentially a civil problem. ABM, is that typical?
Most of the ABM work was really before my time, so I’m not the right one to ask. Well, it was going on the first couple of years I was in Jason, but I wasn’t very heavily involved.
It went on until the negotiations were done.
You should ask Drell or somebody about that, whether that’s representative. I think that probably is. It’s a little too early to write history on Star Wars yet.
Yes, it is, but of course ABM is an interesting precursor of that.
Yes. It looks to me like Star Wars is going back to ABM anyway. That’s what it’s going to turn out to be anyhow.
But the ABM involvement may not have been all that typical of Jason work.
Well, there’s been quite a history of Jason work on lasers — high energy lasers and things like that. It probably is pretty much accessible without classified things.
There is this historical project on lasers going on; I don’t know if you’re aware of that. But I don’t think that has treated the Jason involvement in any detail. I don’t think it has gone into that at all, and, well, you said that you were exposed to lasers through Jason.
Yes. But other people like Will Happer and Curt Callan I guess to some extent — I’m not sure who else — have sort of played a pretty significant role in all of the DARPA laser programs in the last ten years — especially Will Happer. So that’s another possible thing.
Of course he went into Jason just after my tentative end point.
He’s that recent; I didn’t realize that.
He entered in 1976, I think. We have touched upon this, but I’ll ask you the question anyway. To what extent has your Jason involvement affected your academic physics work? We talked about a certain case of that, but what about more generally?
Well, I learned a lot. I would say there is only one negative aspect, really, in academic work. Well, there is the thing, if you switch off what you’re thinking about in June, come out here and think about something else till mid-August, then go back and switch back into what you were doing, you lose a certain amount of creative thought in between. Whether that had any serious effect on my academic creativity, I don’t know. I mean, that’s the sort of thing you never know. You could argue that probably if I hadn’t done that, I might have had 20 percent more bright ideas or something. But something that really did happen, as I got older and got more involved in Jason: I discovered that I was traveling so much for Jason that I stopped going to physics conferences. Now, being at the Institute and in Princeton that was not a critically bad thing because that’s such a big center of theoretical physics that everybody comes to you — you don’t have to go to them. And I would go to Europe every once in a while. But I did discover after a while that I was beginning to lose individual contacts in experimental physics that I had had, for example; all the theoretical physicists, I always saw anyway. I stopped doing things like going out to Fermilab, or hanging around with the experimentalists, or going to Brookhaven, or going to CERN or something. I was just too busy going other places. And I sort of lost contact with some part of the theoretical physics community that doesn’t go through Princeton for one reason or other, or is not in Jason.
They exist, right. No, they really do. There are some Europeans for example who hardly ever get to the US, and some people in Berkeley. Berkeley, for example, is far enough away that you don’t see a lot of people from there. I always kept contact with Caltech and other places because I’ve been there. And I began to notice that there was a younger generation of physicists coming along that I didn’t know — people who had gotten out of graduate school in the last five or six years. Of the people younger than that, I think I probably knew 80 percent of the ones who really counted; if somebody applied for a job at the Institute, and if they’d been out of graduate school a couple of years, I probably knew them. After a while that ceased to be true and that was because I wasn’t going places and didn’t have a chance to meet them. That was the one negative thing it had on academic work; it was a slow but sure reluctance to travel any more than I was already doing.
It did take that much of your energies.
Well, it took quite a bit. It’s not so much that. I’ve been involved with the Schlumberger Lab in Ridgefield, Connecticut, for a long time, and I was spending a lot of time there. In fact, the last three years I had a special deal; I was supposed to spend 40 days a year there at the lab, which was nice because my daughter went to college an hour away from there. It’s too far from Princeton to go up and back in a day; it was more reasonable to go up and spend the night, and two days, and go up and see her and come back. That of course took even more time, but the problem was not the absolute amount of time that Jason took. One year I flew to San Diego ten times — something like that — and I go to Washington once or twice a month, it’s the traveling. What happens to me is that if there’s a meeting — if there is say an Eastern Theoretical Physics Conference meeting in Yale, which is a three hour drive from Princeton — I wouldn’t go. The reason I wouldn’t go to it is that I’ve been spending so much time running around the East Coast going to other things that that’s just something which is optional and gets left out. I must say, this isn’t just Jason; it’s part of getting old, or getting older. I spend a lot of time on the big supercomputer project we have at Princeton, running around on that thing. I think if it were just the other things and not Jason, probably I would have more time to go to physics meetings. Now, moving out here to San Diego, I will have to make time somehow to go to more physics meetings, because not everybody comes here.
But there have been work in physics that you wouldn’t have continued without Jason?
Oh yes. By and large I think it’s been very positive. I learn; I’m sort of an amateur oceanographer now.
Like a lot of people.
Yes, like a lot of people; that’s it. I learned a tremendous amount — almost everything I learned about statistics, statistics of random signals and things like that. It turns out the quantum field theory and the kind of statistics a lot of electrical engineers do are very similar. I learned a tremendous amount working through Jason.
If you look at your list of research in the American Men and Women of Science, there’s elementary particle theory, and quantum field theory on the one hand, and statistical mechanics and waves in random media on the other hand.
Yes, that’s it.
To a great extent that arises from Jason.
Yes, that’s right.
There has been some discussion in Jason, I have heard, about to what extent one should allow academic work and Jason work to overlap. What is your view on that, and to what extent have you been involved in that kind of a discussion?
Well, that’s never been a problem for me to speak of, because I come from a different discipline.
The oceanographers have a greater problem with that, but there has been some overlap for physicists as well.
There’s two problems. I mean, there’s the obvious conflict of interest problem — that you might get extra support for your own research through Jason. Now, most of the people in Jason, if not all of them, have plenty enough stature in the academic world that that really isn’t an issue. I mean, Walter Munk would get all the money he needs to do oceanography independent of whether he was in Jason. That’s an issue, but one in practice which has not been a very big deal. On the other hand, I think, over the years, a lot of the most productive and successful Jasons have been people who worked outside their normal academic discipline anyway, rather than people who worked inside of it. If your academic discipline happens to fit right exactly into something that’s very useful to the Defense Department or something, that’s fine. There’s a few people like that. But most of the people’s academic discipline is maybe important one year and not important the next year or something like that. My personal opinion is that people who come into Jason and have not learned to do something very well outside their own academic discipline, generally speaking, do not have as much fun nor have been as productive in Jason as the others. I think most people think it’s just an intellectually healthy thing to do something different when you’re here.
Well, generally speaking how broadening has Jason been?
I think very much so. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about applied mathematics and electronics and technology in general and even Washington politics — all sorts of things like that.
You’re going to have a longer commute now. I don’t know how that will affect you.
Well, actually it puts me at a big advantage, compared to a lot of my academic friends, because having worked with all these Defense Department guys all the time, I understand how Washington works, and what goes on at the National Science Foundation or the Department of Energy is just perfectly normal.
Yes, and you can bring that experience out here.
Yes, that’s right. It’s all the same thing. They’re all fighting over money and power and things like that.
What about how collaboration is done within Jason? How are most projects done? Is it a lot of people with one person chairing the group’s work? Is it pairs? Is it individual work?
Sort of all of them. I think most of it’s done by having some group leader who’s responsible for getting a report out, and then recruiting other people who would be interested in working on it; so it’s sort of getting them there by attraction. Nobody’s required to work on anything; you can work on whatever you want to. There’s a big enough list of things to work on that you can always find something interesting. The most common case is, there’s not enough people to work on all the problems, and some group leaders don’t get any people and those problems don’t get done.
Has there been any change in that over time?
I don’t think so. I think that’s pretty much constant.
What goes on at a Jason summer meeting? How is the business done? It starts with the briefings, right?
And then it’s hectic work for a period, and the presentation of results.
Yes. Well, that’s to a large extent true. On the other hand, I think probably half the work Jason does continues from year to year in some form or other. Like with the Navy work this summer, it looks all hectic and there’s lots of new briefings and everything else, except most of the people have known we were getting ready to do this for a year and have been getting briefings; we have even worked on it some over the year and things like that, so it’s not all brand new. The summer is sort of a pressure cooker. Everybody gets over there and talks and interacts and hopefully writes. And there are some projects that nobody knows a single thing about in the middle of June, and by the first of August they’ve somehow produced a report.
It must be very hard for an outsider to see some order in what’s being done in the middle of a meeting. To what extent are projects followed by the agencies along the way? Is it input of a problem, then the output, or is there interaction along the way?
They send out all their people to give briefings and things in the summer. They don’t have all that much time to react between the middle of June and the 1st of August. There’s not an awful lot of feedback unless we complain that we don’t know what we’re doing or something like that.
So there are not a lot of people from agencies trying to look over your shoulder?
No, but they usually come out — not necessarily the program manager but various contractors working for them or something like that. A lot of Jason work is review of what other contractors have done; that kind of stuff, is something that you can sort of guarantee you can do. There’s no way you can guarantee you’ll have a bright idea and solve some insoluble technical problem. You can guarantee that you will listen to 30 hours of briefings and think about the subject and talk to other people and write a critical or praising or whatever — you know, a three page letter about what all these people said. So quite a bit of what we do is in that category.
Oh, somewhere between a quarter and a half, I’d say. It depends a lot on the topics.
Has that been constant over time?
Yes, I think so, pretty much.
So there’s not more of a tendency towards evaluating others’ work now than before?
No, also that goes in cycles. When something brand new comes along — like to some extent the X-ray laser business in Star wars in the beginning, or lots of things in ASW, or the free electron laser business — and it is unknown whether there’s any chance it will work or not, there’s a tendency for Jasons to sit down and be scientists and engineers and spend the summer calculating and thinking and doing research. When something begins to work — if it works — after a couple of years it’s so big that there’s maybe a thousand people working all year round on it, and Jason’s technical input during the summer is not all that relevant. So what Jason tends to do in that situation is to go into the review mode, but then that’s pretty easy because they were in the thing when it got started in the beginning, so it’s not very hard to review it. Then Jason gets called in when all of a sudden there comes some insurmountable problem that Jason may or may not solve; when that happens, there’s no guarantee we can do anything either. Maybe we’re just as stuck as anybody else. There’s sort of a continuous cycling between doing research, getting in the review mode on the thing, and then the whole project sort of passing out of Jason. Somebody decides not to fund it, or if they fund it, then they go to some big production mode, and we’re no longer part of it at that point.
So a lot of the work consists of discouraging projects.
Yes sure. It’s two stages. In the beginning, it’s just that this thing won’t work — which doesn’t necessarily keep a lot of people from working on it. Then at the review stage later, it’s just saying that this may work but isn’t worth doing. That has less chance of keeping people from doing it probably. But yes, there’s a lot of critical work like that.
What about technical tasks versus policy questions? Of course the vast majority of work has been technical tasks, but have there been some projects on general policy?
Not very much; not very much officially. I would say that the number of written words which are policy compared to technical things must be not more than 5 percent or something like that, most of which not many people pay much attention to. But on the other hand, in a way there’s quite a lot of implicit policy in the technical work that Jason does and the way in which it’s done. That’s one way in which Jason is really different than normal Defense contractors, because Jason is sort of eternally willing to take the chance that everybody will get mad at us and not give us money next year. I don’t think you will find a technical document in Jason where the authors are saying something will work if they actually think it’s a bad idea if somebody would build it. Now, I’m saying the authors; the rest of Jason may think it’s a bad idea but at least the authors think it’s a good idea. By and large, the way Jason works, if somebody had an interesting technical idea that they thought would be bad from a policy point of view, it simply would never be written about. And that I must say is not true of Defense contractors in general. Defense contractors’ patriotism is largely dependent upon the amount of money that’s available for funding these things. In that sense, it’s not fair to Jason to say that not much policy work is done, because there’s a lot of implicit policy work done from that point of view.
Or explicit discussions, of course, within the group.
There’s a lot of explicit discussions within the group.
But would Jason as a group refuse to take up a project? Aren’t there sufficient differences within Jason that somebody might take it up?
I can imagine cases where Jason simply wouldn’t pick it up. Usually that doesn’t happen. I mean, there’s a tradition of tolerating what everybody says, and people are pretty reasonable about the thing.
Do you have any examples of either case? Well, if you have I should turn the tape over.
I don’t know that I can think of a concrete example or not. It would be useful, to ask somebody who’s been on the steering committee a larger fraction of the time than I’ve been in Jason. But I think there’s a generic sort of thing. Jason has stayed out of chemical and biological warfare, for example. I think if somebody asked us to do a study of the advisability of using our ballistic missiles for first strike attack, we wouldn’t take that either, because that’s a bad idea even if you can write a technical argument that proves that it won’t work in the end. If somebody in Washington wants to prove that they will work, they will quote Jason as having written on it and claim it’s classified or something like that. Oh, I don’t know; I’m sure there’s lots. I know there are examples like that, and I don’t know enough details, so I shouldn’t be the one to ask.
Who would be the best to ask that question?
Ed Frieman has been on the steering committee a lot over the years. Who else?
Goldberger was the first chairman of course.
Dick Garwin would be another good person. He’s been on the steering committee a lot. Find somebody who’s been on the steering committee. The steering committee terms are three or four years, I guess. There are quite a few people like Ed Frieman who’ve had at least three steering committee terms. The steering committee makes the decisions about, will we work on such a thing or not.
I’ll keep that in mind. Have different political views in Jason played any role in choosing or not choosing projects; not choosing projects I guess is the most likely result of that?
I don’t think so, probably. Jasons make a lot of noise about political views, but I think by and large they tend to think about the same, actually.
Well, during the Vietnam period, probably less so.
Yes. Well, if anybody in Jason thought the Vietnam War was as good idea, they certainly didn’t say so in those days!
Well, there are still some Jasons who don’t regret that, I guess, but they’re in the minority.
What about the demand for secrecy versus the traditional openness in physics as such? Has that been a ground for conflict or problems?
No, but I don’t know why; I think I just got used to it. Especially working on the submarine things, there’s almost nobody you can talk to, but what you do instead is, you develop another network of 40 or 50 people you can talk to about it. They may be the only ones in the country that you can talk to about it. So, it’s funny, it’s peculiar; you can’t talk to somebody who wanders into your office, but then you have these others.
Well, of course it’s something you know when you go into that kind of work anyway.
Yes. But when you get a bunch of people together who do have clearances for the work, you get the same kind of freewheeling open ended discussion that you would have in a university environment anyway.
It might not be all that different; in physics too there are after all a limited number of people who know something about it.
That’s true. That’s a good point, in fact. In most of the academic problems that I’ve worked on, at any given time there probably were not more than 20 or 30 people in the world that I really wanted to talk to about that particular problem. So in that sense, it really isn’t that different. In most of the frontier academic research there’s a handful of people working on this and a handful of people working on that, and there’s a little bit of communication, but when you’re sort of pushing back the edges, there really aren’t that many people to talk to about what you’re really interested in. Somebody else will come into your office and you tell him you have this neat idea and everything and isn’t this a lot of fun? And they’ll say, “Yeah, that’s great” and ask questions, but you don’t learn an awful lot from that. It’s just from a few other people. So in that sense, it really isn’t very different.
What about discussion of Jason related problems in public? I suppose most Jasons have preferred to keep a low profile. That hasn’t been the case with some Jasons, of course. Has that been a source of conflict within Jason or between Jason and the contractors?
The only time I ever had any trouble with it myself was in 1973 when my family and I took a trip around the world that lasted six months; in fact, it was all Near East, Middle East, Far East. We’d been to Europe an awful lot already. I got in some pretty difficult, nasty situation in India and Japan on that trip. It was unpleasant. There are a lot more interesting things happening to people, certainly, in places like that and Europe. I just happened not to go to Europe for two or three years. The summer of 1972 my youngest child was born, so we stayed home in Princeton. I guess I was out here for two weeks in Jason. The next summer, we took the six month trip around the world in the Far East — mostly in Asia and the Middle East — and we were so tired from traveling, we didn’t go anywhere for a couple of years. The Institute for Advanced Studies doesn’t have any students or anything like that, so I haven’t got that kind of exposure there. Aside from this one trip through India and Japan, where I was a little bit amazed at the anti-American — and anti-Jason in particular — feeling, I wasn’t really exposed to any of it, so I sort of lived in a real ivory tower. But there were some sort of nasty incidents in Delhi, where I stayed for a month, and in Kyoto. Other than that, there weren’t.
What expression did it take?
Well, I was giving a lecture in Delhi, and some guy leaped up and was about to attack me on the stage, throwing things and things like that.
Oh, books and I don’t know what. A bunch of people jumped on him and stopped him. I don’t know what all he would have done — probably nothing, I don’t know. But Delhi University was in a lot of internal political turmoil at that time anyway. And I had no other trouble anywhere in India. This guy had been a postdoc in the US and hadn’t gotten a permanent job here and had gone back. I don’t know to what extent it was Jason or whether or not I was just another expression of the political turmoil in Delhi at that point. In Japan there was a lot of anti-Jason feeling, having to do with the fact that Jim Bjorken must have been a member of Jason at that time.
Was he? I wasn’t aware of that.
Yes. He either was still a member 1973 or had just dropped out; I don’t remember which. I was scheduled to go to Kyoto for a month and Tokyo for a couple of weeks, and there’s something that I didn’t even know was happening. There was a conference in Kyoto a month before I got there, at which Jim Bjorken had been asked to come and give some fancy invited talk — to be the keynote speaker so to speak. The leftist political movement in Japan started a lot of flak. They got a Jason list. I shouldn’t say leftist, it was anti-American in Vietnam or something like that. They got a Jason list and discovered Bjorken’s name on it. All this got in the papers, and it got brought up to the council of the Japanese Physical Society. The Japanese Physical Society was forced to uninvite to come, which of course for Japanese is a very difficult thing to do. So this was on everybody’s mind, and when I showed up in Kyoto, it was decided that if I were going to give any lectures or stand up in front of anybody, I should sit down and negotiate with all the graduate students. I had two or three meetings in which we all sat around the table, and we talked with the graduate students, and I guess there were some postdocs and things like that. They didn’t seem to be interested in talking about politics. They were worried about whether it was all right to mix pure and applied physics in your mind at the same time. That I thought was a little bizarre, since Japan seems to make all its money out of applied physics, but anyway, I didn’t quite understand that. I kept a low profile in Kyoto. Then it turns out that there was a definite political spectrum in Japan — Osaka was on the far right and Nagoya was on the far left. Sox I didn’t go to Nagoya because everybody said I’d have trouble if I went to Nagoya. By the time we got to Tokyo, everybody in Tokyo was sort of middle of the road or something. Everything was fine in Tokyo. I could give lectures and everything there without any difficulty.
Was the discussion conducted in English? Did you have any interpreters?
No, it was in English. There was a lot of turmoil going on in the University of Kyoto at that time also. I also wouldn’t be surprised if these students were just sort of part of a general movement going on in Kyoto, if they sort of been told to do this, and if they didn’t know why they were doing it; but they all got there. It was funny, but it was OK. That whole thing was kind of unnerving, especially the one in India was unnerving. There was a lot of turmoil, and it wasn’t clear whether my family and I were really safe there in Delhi.
Oh, really? There weren’t any mass demonstrations or anything; it was this guy.
There was the guy, and there were some bunches of demonstrations around and all sorts of things. We took off and went to Kashmir for the weekend, which we were going to do anyway, and then I came back to Delhi. I was going to stay there another three weeks, and just came over to the university a bit here and there, you know. But it wasn’t something that I sensed was necessarily anti-Jason; it was just a lot of turmoil in Delhi University and I happened to be there.
It’s hard to distinguish.
Have there been cases of, people in Jason being outspoken on Jason related issues in public? I’m thinking particularly of Garwin, of course. He’s probably the most obvious case of that; there may be others. To what extent has that been discussed in Jason?
Oh, that comes up all the time. I mean, Garwin causes us trouble because the government people sometimes get annoyed at him. Dick, unfortunately, sometimes gets carried away and is not very tactful. I’m not talking about his written articles and things like that, but he’s not very tactful when he sometimes attacks people in public and things like that. Most of us wish he wouldn’t do it that way. On the other hand, as long as he remains technically honest and talks about what he believes is true, I’m sure Jason will always stand behind him. We told General Abrahamson and people in the Star Wars office that Dick is part of Jason, so he gets him along with the rest of us. Now, there are some agencies that have special clearances that they won’t give Dick. Well, to be really more honest about that, agencies that have these special compartments like the Navy or some of these intelligence things usually will give somebody a clearance if they’re really going to work on it. And they will give a few other people clearances just to get their input and advice, in order to balance things out on Jason. The latter category of clearances, lots of people will not give Dick. Usually they will give him something if they think he’s really going to work on it. He’s a very bright guy. They tend not to clear him in for his own information so to speak.
Right, which would be easier for other people.
That’s right. So that causes a certain amount of trouble, and on the other hand, that’s something that Jason has chosen; it’s something you really can’t fight. I mean, it’s not your civil right to get a clearance into something; if they don’t want to give you one, then that’s that. You can argue if they take it away, but you can’t do very much if they don’t want to give it to you. Jason has, just sort of by default, I think, decided that we’re not going to try to fight the battle of making sure that all Jason can get cleared in all projects, because it’s not a feasible thing.
Although that would be the ideal, of course.
That would be ideal, but it’s probably not practical, and it’s a battle we’re not going to fight. So that means that sometimes Dick doesn’t get into things, and other people don’t get into things.
And people don’t get clearances as Jasons, they get clearances as individuals.
Sometimes they get clearances as individuals, that’s right. Yes, that’s right, they get them as individuals.
And there’s never been a request from the agencies for exclusion of people from Jason; that’s not the way it works.
No. There’s a condition to have a top secret clearance in order to be a Jason. People are brought in on a three year probationary period, I think, during which time it’s required that they be able to get a top secret clearance. If they couldn’t do that, then I suppose — it’s never happened — they would have to drop out. But agencies are not allowed to tell us we can’t hire somebody. They’ve certainly tried to tell us that we couldn’t have so and so work on something by refusing to pay him for it. That we can get around by paying him out of some other source and having him work on it anyway. The only place that they’ve had direct tuning of who did what was in handing out of special access clearances.
So the order of things is that you get a person that you think is good and then leave it to the agencies to check into the security business?
That’s what the trial period is for?
Well, and it’s also to see how they fit into Jason. A lot of them have top secret clearances before they’re ever involved in anything of that sort.
You wouldn’t take in somebody who there obviously might be problems with.
Probably, yes. Well, for example, we’ve sometimes talked about bringing in British citizens. There are two or three people who are British citizens in the US who — if you strain the rules hard enough — you can get top secret clearances for. But it requires keeping separate sets of documents and stuff for them, and that just turned out to be unfeasible. So we just said no, we wouldn’t make them Jason members.
Then NATO clearances and US clearances —
— are different. So if we found somebody who, for some peculiar reason, wasn’t clearable, that would just presumably mean that he couldn’t become a member.
But there haven’t been any instances of that, that you know of?
Not that I know of, no.
What about the relationship of Jason and Jasons with the physics community? Has there been any discussion on a general basis on that? Of course Vietnam was a special case.
Yes. Not in recent years. In fact, I think a pretty significant fraction of the physics community would like to be invited to be in Jason, to tell you the truth. That wasn’t true during the Vietnam period, but I think it’s true now. That’s necessarily the youngest people, but the people who are getting in their late thirties or early forties and are sort of looking for something new and interesting to do that they haven’t been doing for ten or fifteen years. I think there are quite a lot of them who would like to be asked, but on the other hand Jason just can’t do all that.
Well, it doesn’t want to be any bigger, right?
Yes, it doesn’t want to be any bigger. The sort of Young Turks in physics, the bright young guys in their late twenties and whatever — I don’t really know what they think. I’ve unfortunately, to some extent, as I got older, lost direct contact with people that age, so I’m less sure what they actually think.
But has there been different views of Jason in different generations of physicists?
I think the real difference was during the Vietnam War period. I went into Jason in 1966, two years after I had a PhD. I think most of the people that same age now would probably say, “Yes, some day it would be fun to be in Jason, but I’d like to spend the next five years having time to worry about academic research,” and things like that. So I think it’s less obviously the thing to do than it was in 1966. It’s also got to do with the simple fact that in 1966 there were so many tenured jobs around. I already had tenure in 1966 so I didn’t have to worry about publishing or perishing — things like that.
How unique do you consider Jason as an institution combining basic research and government advice? Is there, or has there been, anything like it?
Not really. Not that I know of, anyway. There are endless numbers of government science advisory panels, but they tend not to do any actual scientific work themselves. They strictly perform a review and advisory function.
And the constancy of it, and the relationship to academic physics too of course, makes it pretty unique. At least from the outset, the majority of Jasons were theoretical physicists.
I guess they still are, though not to the same degree.
Not to the same degree.
Is that because theoretical physicists are particularly well suited for the task, or is it because it just happens to be theoretical physicists who started this?
I would say both, really. There’s a tendency now to hire people that, if not theoretical physicists, can talk to theoretical physicists, because it just makes communication easier. If we were to bring in an economist, we would simply all have a difficult time talking to him or her on a serious level. An applied mathematician or an electrical engineer or something is not bad.
And there are examples of that.
A serious chemist is another question. I mean, a real nuts and bolts chemist is a different sort of character. Of the kind of work that Jason does, I think it’s pretty hard to find people who are better at it than theoretical physicists.
Has there ever been a discussion of broadening the constituency?
Well, we’ve had chemists and occasional biologists, and we have enough electrical engineers, radar people, and computer scientists, although electrical engineering and physics are very similar. The two disciplines don’t look all that different from each other anymore. There’s talk of it, but I don’t think it will ever be done, because the problem is, if you broadened it out to include biology, you’d probably have to double the size of the group, because then you would have to get about as many biologists as you have physical scientists in there. Then you would wonder why you don’t just make two different ones, you know, which you’d have anyway.
Well, part of the motivation for Jason, at least at the outset, was to expose the new generation of physicists to science advising.
And perhaps to be a springboard for other activities to that effect. To what extent has it succeeded in that?
That’s a good question, actually. In Jason, maybe 20 people sort of my age down to 10 or 15 years younger who have gotten almost so tightly coupled into the Defense Department that in some sense we’re like the woodwork in the Pentagon, rather than outsiders. Which has certainly been a very good thing. Now, on the other side of it, that’s only maybe 20 people. With the growth of physical science 20 people in 1945 is approximately a lot more than 20 people now.
Yes, you could say that!
To have the same impact you would probably have to have two or three hundred now, considering the increase in the size of the government. There’s a lot more people in Washington to advise, for better or worse, than there were then. So I think in some sense, yes, that it’s been a very positive thing. On the other hand, Jason having remained small and everything else grown, the number or people that Jason produces as advisors gets diluted by the system a lot, I think.
So the answer is, maybe.
Maybe, maybe not. You will see people who are in Jason being on the Defense Science Board or in the White House Science Council or things like that. In that sense, they’re in as important roles as you can be, short of being a full time professional. You may someday see a former Jason as the President’s Science Advisor. On the other hand, probably not, because most Jasons would think that was a waste of time. You see Jasons on lots of National Academy committees and things like that. But on the other hand, it really is true that it’s numerically a very small number of people. Washington’s appetite for advice or whatever you want to call it is much bigger than that.
Well, the majority of Jasons is and has been people who value their academic connection and academic work too highly to take the full step, I think.
Yes, that’s right. They wouldn’t go in full time. But even if they did, you just can’t believe the number of science advisors and consultants running around Washington. Jason just sort of is tiny by comparison to all of that stuff.
That brings us to the crux of the matter, in a way. How important has Jason been? What difference has it made?
Well, I think I know mostly about the Navy work, since that’s what I’ve been very much involved in. I think that Jason has really been important in the first order, so to speak, in that. I mean, will be a long time before anybody really knows about it. But I think there is no question but that Jason has had a fantastic impact on security of the SSBNs and ASW in general. If I want to be positive about it, I think what’s going to come out of this probably in five years or ten years is an understanding in the White House or someplace that the missile carrying submarines are impossible to find, and will remain so for as far in the future as anybody can imagine. People will get more relaxed about things like SDI and some of these crazy dense pack things and whatever. What I hope is that in the end that’s going to be the first step to some sort of serious arms control. You can throw away the land-based missiles and forget about them. Jason has been the origin of a lot of the good ideas in finding other people’s submarines. A lot of our ability to find other people’s submarines is also due to Jason. Yet we’re losing fast on that ground, although our ability to find other people’s submarines is eroding less rapidly because of Jason than it would have otherwise; it’s eroding quite a bit, but it’s eroding less rapidly. In other areas — I think of technical things like free electron lasers — Jason is very important. I think also, although DARPA would never admit this and this is strictly off the record, that Jason has been a very good influence on DARPA in keeping those guys from getting too crazy. Jason’s got the kind of technical talent that you can’t find many other places. That technical talent — has had a beneficial effect on DARPA, in keeping those guys obeying Newton’s Laws and things like that in their schemes, which they would not have done otherwise. You probably know that there’s something else about Jason which I’ve avoided talking about; that was the famous barrier in Vietnam. I know very little about that. I was involved in that the first summer I was in here. But Jason surely had an impact on that, but I hardly knew anything about it. There are plenty of other people in Jason who will talk to you about that. Jason certainly had an impact there. Whether it was positive or negative or anything else, I don’t know.
That’s a very interesting thing because it reached the headlines and that’s what Jason is known for.
Yes, that’s right.
It was what you were known for in India and Japan, probably, too.
Yes, that’s right, oh yes. But there’s a lot of other things like the U.S. not building this dense pack scheme — this crazy scheme of putting all the MX missiles in a compacted formation out in Wyoming or something — or the racetrack they wanted to build in Nevada. You know, there were a lot of people, most Jasons included, who thought those were not very good ideas, to say the least. How influential Jason was as compared to other groups and other people, it’s hard to say. Jason certainly contributed to making sensible decisions on those things. I hope that when the time comes, Jason will contribute to making a sensible decision on whatever we do about Star Wars — whether to build it or not build it. I think Jason has been very useful in helping to guide the overall development of high energy lasers and lasers in the Defense Department and been involved in the X-ray laser and things like that. And there are quite a few isolated intelligence cases which to a large extent were cracked by Jason efforts.
Is there a way to compare the impact of Jason to the impact of other advisory groups or people?
I think the only other advisory group that plays a really serious and consistently front line role like Jason is the Defense Science Board; that’s quite a different thing.
That’s not physicists essentially, but there may be some.
It’s often people who were trained as physicists, but are now vice presidents of corporations. It’s not so much policy as where should you put your money; should you go out and build up A teams or something like that, you know. The Defense Science Board has quite a lot of clout.
More than Jason?
Well, I would say in the short run it’s got more than Jason, at least outside the Navy. Jason has a lot more clout in the Navy than Science Board, but in the aerospace business I would say that in the short run, if the Defense Science Board makes a study and says something negative, it probably has a much bigger impact than a Jason report saying it’s negative. This is to some extent, I must say, because the Defense Science Board is populated by the big defense contractors who are also connected in Congress, of course. But they’re not all that bad. I mean, if the vice president of Lockheed says that this project is stupid, it probably is stupid, in the sense that it will have huge cost overruns and things like that. In the long run, there’s some doubt in my mind whether the Defense Science Board has very much long term impact on all that. I would guess that someday history will say that Jason had more long term impact than the Defense Science Board, because of the fact that the Defense Science Board has tended to be reacting to what’s happening now. The Defense Science Board doesn’t tend to get involved in the research end of projects and carry them on for a long time. It could very well be that Jason is more important, but the difference is negligible anyway because neither one counted anyhow!
It’s possible. But to decide on that kind of question, where should one go in terms of interviews, for example? I will have to go outside of Jason anyway. I’ll probably go to some leaders of agencies, some people who have had very close connections both with Jason, and with furthering the ideas of Jason into the political arena.
Well, there’s a fellow Herb York here at UCSD; have you talked to him?
Yes. Not as much as I should, probably, but we’ve talked.
There’s a fellow, Bill Perry — a previous head of DARPA; have you talked to him?
No, I haven’t.
He’s left DARPA and he’s in the venture capital business I think in San Francisco. He would be a very worthwhile person to talk to. He’s got sort of an academic, contemplative mind. He was from the intelligence world before.
What was his tenure in DARPA; do you remember?
He left four or five years ago and was there for a good four or five years. He was the head of DARPA. He’s a little bit out of your fifteen years period, but he certainly would have seen the effects of what we’ve done. The previous heads of DARPA were over there for shorter periods. There was a sort of chaotic period in DARPA before he was there. I would say, talk to him and ask him who he would recommend talking to from previous DARPA generations. Let’s see. The last director of DARPA, and his associate director, would be worth talking to — Bob Cooper and Larry Lynn. They have a consulting company in Washington, D.C. that I don’t know the name of. From the early days, there’s a fellow — I guess he’s retired now — named Al Flax who worked at IDA in Washington. He was the head of IDA at that time. He still lives in Washington. I was just trying to think — you’ve talked to Ed Frieman? He probably could tell you somebody to talk to. I’m not quite sure who will tell you everything. There’s a guy named Phil Selwyn who was the head of the Office of Naval Technology who I think might be interesting. He probably wouldn’t have the kind of perspective that you’re really looking for, but would have an interesting one. He’s somebody about my age who kind of grew up with Jason. Ed Frieman can tell you who; it isn’t clear to me who will talk.
If anybody, that’s right. It’s not that it’s all so secret it’s just by tradition taciturn.
I have an appointment with Jack Ruina.
Oh yes, he would be good.
Yes, he’s good. Let’s see — there’s a, oh, what’s his name? It slips my mind. He just retired as a two star Air Force general and has known Jason for a long time. I can picture him but I can’t remember his name. I’m sure somebody will mention him anyway. He was an Air Force general — a PhD — and he’s one of these people; he’s a few years older than me. There are two kinds of people I think would be interesting to talk to. There are people like Al Flax who were sort of part of the establishment when Jason got started and have seen it go along. There’s now another class of people like this Phil Selwyn — people who are about 45 to 50 now — who sort of grew up with Jason; when they first went into the Defense establishment, Jason had been started a few years ago, and so they’ve sort of been there interacting with it ever since. They can sort of tell you what it’s like from the trenches.