Science and state

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. In it, Rep. George Brown, a California Democrat who chaired the House Science Committee from 1991 through 1994, discusses his own support for the project and its declining political fortunes. He cites a lack of international participation as a reason why the SSC failed to retain support, noting the space station had politically important participation from Russia, and also that Congress never backed the SSC with authorizing legislation. He explains that he refrained from trying to blunt aggressive oversight pursued by Science Committee Republican Sherwood Boehlert, and he observes that he himself was not influenced by accusations of project mismanagement and also suggests such accusations were not broadly influential. Brown asserts he was one of a small number of members of Congress who supported the project for scientific reasons rather than its potential benefit to constituents, and he argues that most members would not find the scientific case for it compelling. He states that the departure of prominent Texans from Congress and President George H. W. Bush’s loss in the 1992 election removed essential sources of support for the SSC.

Interviewed by
Steven Weiss
Interview date
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. In it, former Rep. Howard Wolpe, a Democrat from Michigan, discusses his opposition to the project through to his departure from Congress in 1992. He states that he was skeptical of the project prior to his engagement with it as chair of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science Committee. Wolpe and the subcommittee’s top Republican, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, used their investigative powers and platform to build a case against the SSC, and Wolpe indicates that Rep. George Brown, the chair of the full committee and an SSC supporter, did not interfere with them. Wolpe recalls his dismay over the SSC’s management and the failure to garner international contributions. He reflects that defense of the project came mainly from the Texas delegation, which he remembers as being well organized. Wolpe also praises the work of his staff members on the SSC matter as well as other oversight matters, such as management of national labs and the integrity of the National Science Foundation’s workforce statistics. He notes that after his departure from Congress, staff member Bob Roach was a key player in moving oversight to the House Energy and Commerce Committee under Rep. John Dingell. Wolpe further states that opposition within the physics community to the SSC helped him deflect accusations that he was not a strong supporter of basic research.

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Location
Washington, D.C.
Abstract

This interview was conducted as part of the research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. In it, former Democratic Louisiana senator Bennett Johnston discusses the politics surrounding the SSC, primarily from his point of view as chair of the Energy-Water Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, though he also oversaw the project in his role as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He is accompanied in the interview by former Appropriations Committee senior staff member Proctor Jones. Johnston discusses the budgetary politics surrounding the SSC and opines that it was a convenient target for lawmakers casting themselves as budget hawks. He states that he did not regard growing cost estimates as indicative of mismanagement, partly because early estimates were unreliable, nor was he perturbed by an absence of foreign contributions. He suggests the project suffered from a lack of strong supporters in the House who could make the case for it on its scientific merits in the way he did in the Senate. Jones recalls that Johnston pressed the Clinton administration to express support for the project, and Johnston questions the story that the administration proposed a choice between the SSC and the space station. Jones and Johnston state that they did not object to the administration’s proposed stretch-out of the project schedule, despite its likely cost impacts, because it would have kept year-to-year costs down. Johnston criticizes scientists who argued the project would detract from smaller-scale science, stating they misunderstood how appropriations are allocated.

Interviewed by
Lillian Hoddeson & Michael Riordan
Interview date
Location
Universities Research Association, Washington, D.C.
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. It primarily covers physicist John (Jack) Marburger’s experiences as the president of the State University of New York at Stony Brook between 1980 and 1994, including his service between 1988 and 1994 as chairman of the Board of Trustees of Universities Research Association (URA), the consortium that operated Fermilab and oversaw construction of the SSC. Marburger discusses his perspective on the termination of the Isabelle collider project at nearby Brookhaven National Lab and his service on URA’s Council of Presidents, as well as URA’s development of proposals to manage and operate the SSC in 1987 and 1988. He recounts the unusualness of the Department of Energy’s stipulation of a teaming arrangement with an industrial partner, linking it to a changing management culture at DOE associated with environmental contamination at nuclear weapons production sites. He also offers detailed memories of the selection process for the SSC Lab Director and the SSC Central Design Group’s discontent over the process. Reflecting on construction of the SSC, he criticizes DOE oversight of the SSC project as heavy-handed and disruptive. He remembers URA’s resistance to pressure to dismiss SSC Lab Director Roy Schwitters as criticism of the project grew, but he also suggests that Schwitters should have been paired with an experienced high-level executive. In addition, Marburger recalls deliberations behind major changes to the SSC’s magnet apertures and beam injection energy, as well as behind a decision not to descope the project. As the interview concludes, he opines that hype surrounding the project detracted from its credibility with key players in Congress and the scientific community.

Interviewed by
Lillian Hoddeson
Interview date
Location
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. It also covers a range of other topics concerning George (Jay) Keyworth’s service between 1981 and 1985 as science advisor to President Ronald Reagan. Keyworth recounts his previous career at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, his selection as science advisor, his access to White House policymaking via counselor to the president Ed Meese, and his own interactions with Reagan. He notes that Reagan had a faith in technological ingenuity as part of a broadly optimistic outlook on humanity. Keyworth also discusses his strong relationship with engineer and executive David Packard as well as deliberations concerning stealth technology, missile basing, the AIDS crisis, and space policy. He expresses disdain for the space station and space shuttle programs and his regret that the Reagan administration did not do more to reform NASA. He recalls spending political capital securing White House support for basic research, including the SSC and funding increases for the National Science Foundation. He argues that Brookhaven National Lab’s Isabelle collider was poorly justified whereas the SSC was an ambitious and inspiring project. Keyworth asserts that he was able to commit the White House Office of Management and Budget to pursuing the SSC before he was assigned full-time to working on the Strategic Defense Initiative ballistic missile defense program in 1983.

Interviewed by
Steve Weiss
Interview date
Location
Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. The quality of the audio recording was poor, resulting in a significantly flawed transcript. In the interview, David Goldston discusses his work as a Republican staff member for the Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, and particularly his efforts on behalf of Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of New York to exert congressional control over the SSC project and ultimately to erode support for it. He stresses Boehlert’s general support for scientific research and the specificity of Boehlert’s objections to the SSC, and he notes it was deeply unusual for a science issue to become the subject of a major dispute in Congress. Goldston details maneuvering in committee and on the House floor to place targets for cost and international contributions in the Superconducting Super Collider Project Authorization Act of 1990. While the act did not become law, he notes how its provisions became an important reference point in portraying the SSC project as slipping out of control. He also assesses the legitimacy and political utility of various arguments surrounding the project, such as its status as a “Cold War” project, the dissent among physicists over it, and supposedly lavish spending at the SSC site. The interview concludes with a discussion of the SSC dispute moving into the appropriations process and appropriators’ inability to counter the political momentum building against the project.

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan and Steven Weiss
Interview date
Location
Washington, D. C.
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider project. It mainly addresses Adm. James Watkins’s experiences as Secretary of Energy in President George H. W. Bush’s administration, focusing on his perception of the value and management of the SSC project. Watkins had previously served as Chief of Naval Operations (the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. Navy) and as chair of President Ronald Reagan’s Commission on the HIV Epidemic. Watkins recounts that his earliest months as secretary were dominated by the expansion of environmental remediation at Department of Energy nuclear weapons production sites and that he regarded DOE project management capabilities as poor compared to the Defense Department. He states that he first focused on the SSC when a change in its magnet design precipitated an increase in projected cost and that he questioned whether a design change was necessary. He asserts that early SSC cost estimates were unrealistic and that international contributions should have been secured earlier. He reflects that his imposition of his own oversight structure on the project stemmed from his lack of confidence in scientists or DOE to manage large-budget projects. Watkins stresses his own high regard for the SSC and scientific research, and he recollects Bush’s personal support for the project and the difficulties encountered in maintaining congressional support and gaining support from Japan. He castigates the physical sciences community for infighting and criticizes scientists’ skills in advocating for themselves politically, pointing also to his own work on behalf of ocean scientists following his time as secretary.

Interviewed by
Michael Duncan
Interview date
Abstract

In this interview, Mike Duncan of Optica speaks with physicist, engineer, and inventor Peter Schultz. Schultz recounts his early life in New York and New Jersey, and his education at Rutgers University, where he began studying the physical properties of glass. He describes his early work after graduate school in glass science at Corning in New York, and how that work evolved into research into fiber optics with Bob Mauer. Schultz describes the development of fiber optics over the course of the 1970s, and its industrial and commercial importance. He recounts his move from Corning to other companies working on fiber optics in the 1980s, SpecTran, and then the Germany-based Heraeus, where he became CEO of US operations. Finally, Schultz discusses consulting work in Russia, and his visit to the White House to receive the National Medal of Technology from Bill Clinton.

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview dates
March 22, 1997 & March 31, 1998
Location
University of Texas at Austin
Abstract

This pair of interviews was conducted as part of the research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. The first interview begins by examining Schwitters’s perspective as leader of the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) while the initial design phases of the SSC project were unfolding, including his preparation of briefing materials on the project and service on its Board of Overseers. Schwitters also discusses early SSC cost estimates, his service on the National Academies site-evaluation committee, and his selection as director of the SSC Laboratory. He addresses the disappointment of some that Maury Tigner was not chosen, negotiations for Tigner to be deputy director or project manager, and Tigner’s departure from the project. Schwitters reflects on considerations in the development of the management & operations contract proposal, personnel-recruiting difficulties, and the tension between industrial and scientific styles of project management, including Tom Bush’s management of the SSC magnet program. The first interview concludes with a detailed account of difficulties in working with the Department of Energy, and particularly Office of Energy Research Director Robert Hunter, in assembling the lab’s senior management in early 1989.

The second interview begins with Schwitters recalling the selection of Texas as the SSC site, the disappointment of some that Fermilab was not chosen, and his own willingness to relocate to any of the final candidate sites. Schwitters also discusses the recruitment of Helen Edwards to lead the SSC accelerator program and Tigner’s preferred choices for various key roles at the lab. Schwitters reflects on difficulties surrounding magnet development, Bush’s poor relationship with Edwards, and his own desire to avoid design risk and a protracted accelerator commissioning. He discusses in detail the decision to redesign the magnets with a wider aperture, including his conviction on the basis of simulations that it was necessary, and the factors driving the growth of cost estimates around the redesign. Schwitters also addresses considerations involving proposals to descope the SSC to reduce costs, difficulties in assembling a strong management team, and the shortcomings of Sverdrup as a construction subcontractor. He also reflects on his relationship with the Department of Energy, Energy Secretary Watkins’s reaction to cost increases, and Ed Siskin’s performance as DOE’s project manager. Near the conclusion of the second interview, Schwitters reflects on his goal of creating a new scientific community around the laboratory.

Interviewed by
William Thomas
Interview date
Location
American Institute of Physics, College Park, Maryland
Abstract

In this interview, former Niels Bohr Archive Director Finn Aaserud reflects on his career, including his work as a postdoctoral historian at the American Institute of Physics. Aaserud discusses his education in physics at the University of Oslo and his decision to focus his work on the history of Max Planck’s concept of the quantum. He recalls his decision to pursue a degree in the history of science at Johns Hopkins University, with Russell McCormmach as his advisor, and his research on Niels Bohr’s leadership of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Copenhagen in the 1930s. He reflects that some scholars, particularly those invested in Bohr’s image as an intellectual, objected to the portrait he presented of Bohr as a skilled fundraiser. Aaserud recalls his move to AIP and his experiences working on the history of the JASON science advisory group. The interview concludes with Aaserud’s memories of receiving the offer to direct the Niels Bohr Archive in Copenhagen, his experiences in that role, his editing of Bohr’s collected works, and the history of the strong relationship between the archive and the Center for History of Physics and Niels Bohr Library & Archives at AIP.