A Weird Insult from Norway: Linus Pauling, the Bomb, and the Ethics of Faculty Involvement in Public Affairs


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On October 10, 1963, the day the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty went into effect, Linus Pauling was awarded the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first, and so far only, person to win two unshared Nobel prizes. Pauling had won the chemistry prize in 1954 for his work in chemical bonding and molecular structure. In 1954 the reaction of the scientific community to Pauling's award had been enthusiastically favorable. An article by Maurice Huggins in Chemical and Engineering (C&E) News, the news publication of the American Chemical Society, noted that Pauling had "doubtless contributed more than any living chemist to the understanding of chemical phenomena" (Paradowski, 1990). His work on the nature of the chemical bond, the structure of proteins, and the molecular origin of sickle-cell anemia won him world-wide acclaim. Foreshadowing the public reaction to the award of the Peace Prize, the popular press also reported Pauling's difficulties in obtaining a passport and charges of Senator Joseph McCarthy concerning his "leftist associations." (Paradowski, 1990) Even with the negative political undercurrent, C&E News published a picture of a triumphant Pauling, a former president of the American Chemical Society, and his family on the cover of its January 17, 1955, issue.

In contrast, the reaction of both the public and the scientific community to Pauling's Peace prize was generally hostile. C&E News buried the announcement of the award in a small article on page 84. Lee DuBridge, President of Caltech, where Pauling had spent his entire career and was Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, issued a lukewarm congratulatory statement

The Nobel Peace Prize is a spectacular recognition of Dr. Pauling's long and strenuous efforts to bring before the people of the world the dangers of nuclear war and the importance of a test ban agreement. Though many people have disapproved of some of his methods and activities, he has, nevertheless, made a substantial impact on world opinion, as this award clearly proves. (Hager, 1995, p. 549)

Other than the members of his own research group, Pauling's Caltech colleagues were strangely silent about the award and no plans were made for a public celebration. While a few large newspapers, such as the Washington Post, and the smaller left- wing press lauded Pauling's accomplishment, the mainstream press was unusually critical. LIFE Magazine published a vicious editorial in the October 25, 1963, issue entitled "A Weird Insult from Norway," quoting the Senate Internal Security Committee which had called Pauling "the No. 1 scientific name in virtually every major activity of the Communist peace offensive in this country." LIFE went on to call the award "an extraordinary insult to America" and to characterize Pauling's position in the following words:

However, distinguished as a chemist, the eccentric Dr. Pauling and his weird politics have never been taken seriously by American opinion. Why should a committee of five Norwegians be so taken in, or so rude? (Davenport, 1996, p. 27)

Stung by the combination of criticism and neglect, Pauling soon resigned from his position at Caltech, an institution that he had served long and brilliantly, to join the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions founded by Robert Hutchins in Santa Barbara.

The public controversy over Pauling's Peace prize is mainly a reflection of the hysterical politics of the Cold War. The positions that Pauling took were considered by many to be at best unpatriotic and at worst treasonous. The perceived Communist threat was exploited by Senator Joseph McCarthy and others to create a climate of fear in the country. This history is well documented and is not my primary concern in this essay. Instead I want to focus on Pauling as an academic citizen and to consider the questions of academic ethics raised by his activities as a public political figure working for goals such as the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. For example, in choosing to spend most of his time and effort on political matters Pauling neglected many of his ordinary duties in teaching, research and administration at Caltech. He used his prestige as a world-renowned scientist and Nobel laureate to draw attention to his political cause. On the other hand, he achieved a result that was internationally recognized as important for humanity.

I will introduce these ethical questions through a brief historical account of the development of Pauling's involvement in politics after World War II. Following this history I will try to define the explicit ethical issues raised by Pauling's career and discuss them in the context of the roles and responsibilities of citizens in a democratic society as compared with the roles and responsibilities of faculty in a research university.


Linus Pauling entered Caltech as a graduate student in chemistry in the fall of 1922 and quickly established himself as a rising star. After earning the Ph.D. in 1925 he spent two postdoctoral years in Europe learning the new field of quantum mechanics, then returned to Caltech as a faculty member. His contributions to chemistry and biology over the next thirty years were truly spectacular and were recognized by many awards including the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. During World War II, Pauling interrupted his personal research to work on various government projects for which he was awarded the Presidential Order of Merit. He also gained a reputation as a brilliant teacher and wrote a popular introductory textbook.

Through the war years the sole focus of Pauling's life was science. As was the pattern of the time, his wife Ava Helen protected him from distractions that would interfere with his career. Even though she filled the traditional role of wife and mother, Ava Helen was a bright, restless woman, who read widely about national and international issues. In contrast to her husband whose father was a staunch Republican, she had been raised in a liberal-leftist family. As the Depression wore on she became an increasingly committed New Dealer and expressed her opinions to her husband whenever possible. The combination of his wife's conversations, the depressed economy, and his own reflections converted Pauling into a Roosevelt Democrat, who voted for Upton Sinclair, a socialist, in the gubernatorial election in 1934.

Pauling's politics moved further leftward during World War II. He was personally involved in the plight of European Jewish scientists as letters from friends and acquaintances desperate for help arrived in Pasadena. Responding to the rise of Fascism he read books such as John D. Bernal's The Social Function of Science and Clarence Streit's Union Now, both of which advocated world government. Bernal's book convinced Pauling that scientists could and should have an influence in public affairs and he began to give political speeches. At first Pauling was uncomfortable talking about subjects other than science, but the political arena gave him an outlet for his passions and his considerable oratorical skills and he soon grew to enjoy it.

In the '60s we called it a radicalizing experience; Pauling had one in the spring of 1945. The Paulings had been opponents of the internment of the Japanese-Americans. This was a very unpopular position. The left wing was strongly in support of the Japanese evacuation. Although individuals associated with American Civil Liberties Union opposed the evacuation order, the national ACLU governing bodies passed a resolution supporting the Government's right to remove citizens from "military zones" for national security reasons (Irons, 1983, p. 129). Ava Helen was asked by a local Los Angeles organization to provide work for a young Japanese man on his way from an internment camp to Camp Shelby for induction into the army. The young man worked for the Paulings as a gardener on a Friday and Saturday. On Monday morning, fourteen year-old Peter Pauling discovered a hate message crudely painted on their garage door: "AMERICANS DIE BUT WE LOVE JAPS. JAPS WORK HERE. PAULING." This was followed by hate mail and harassing phone calls, including threats of violence. The response of the local sheriff was, "That's what you get for hiring a Japanese worker." This infuriated Pauling. The incident with the gardener was the first step; the bomb was the second.

Hiroshima has been called an exclamation point in history. The horror of the atomic bomb attacks on Japan evoked feelings of revulsion and moral outrage. Pauling was part of the so-called "scientists' movement" after the war, a group of Manhattan Project veterans and others, including Einstein, who worked for international control of atomic energy (Smith, 1965). Pauling was strongly influenced by Einstein, who felt that it was important for scientists to do more than provide technical advice. Einstein, with his lifelong opposition to militarism, inspired Pauling to speak out on political and ethical issues. For Pauling, Einstein became a role model. It should be noted that other Manhattan Project scientists took different political pathways. J. Robert Oppenheimer, for example, remained an insider, attempting to influence policy as an advisor to the AEC (Davis, 1968). James Bryant Conant, President of Harvard University, also served as an advisor to the AEC and became a leading advocate for education for a democratic citizenry.

Pauling's resolve to become more deeply involved in public affairs coincided with the increasing hysteria of the Cold War and the rise of what came to be called McCarthyism. Pauling was outspoken in his criticism of the suppression of civil liberties. He fought the imposition of loyalty oaths. He did not hide his own left-wing sympathies and, as a result, was a target of several of the investigatory committees, both state and federal, during the '50s and early '60s. Like Paul Robeson and other public figures accused of being Communists, Pauling had trouble obtaining a passport. In 1952 he was unable to attend an important meeting of the Royal Society of London where his recent work on protein structure was to be discussed. There was even some doubt, as I said earlier, that he would receive a passport to allow him to travel to Sweden for the Nobel Prize ceremony in 1954.

Winning the Nobel Prize emboldened Pauling. His political views were never popular with the conservative Caltech trustees and administration, but he reasoned that his institution would not fire a Nobel laureate. He began to read and speak about the issue of fallout. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union were testing nuclear devices in the atmosphere and Pauling and others became concerned about the health effects of the radioactive products which were scattered to fall on an unsuspecting population. Pauling had visited Japan on his way back to Pasadena from the Nobel ceremonies and had talked to Japanese scientists about the health effects of radiation. Public concern over fallout was increasing, but Atomic Energy Committee (AEC) scientists downplayed the risks. Pauling, on the other hand, was convinced that the risks were more serious than the AEC was willing to admit and spoke and wrote about the dangers of fallout in every outlet he could find.

One of the radioactive isotopes contained in fallout was strontium 90 which is chemically similar to calcium, an important constituent of bones and teeth. In the mid-50s Pauling and other activists etched the image of children drinking milk contaminated with strontium 90 in the minds of the public. My wife remembers periods during her childhood when she was only allowed to drink powdered milk because of Pauling's effective campaign.

On May 15, 1957, Pauling gave a well-received antibomb speech at an honors day assembly at Washington University in St. Louis. After the speech he talked with two like-minded colleagues, physicist Edward Condon and biologist Barry Commoner, and they decided to give the scientific community a voice in the debate over the dangers of nuclear testing by circulating a petition. They drafted a brief and moderate statement entitled "Appeal by American Scientists to the Governments and Peoples of the World," that called for an international agreement to stop the testing of nuclear weapons. That night they made mimeograph copies and began sending them to scientists they thought would sign. Returning to Pasadena, Pauling enlisted the help of his wife and other volunteers and sent hundreds of additional copies. Within weeks he had received more than two thousand signatures including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences. On June 3 Pauling released the petition to the press and sent copies to the United Nations and President Eisenhower.

There was an effort to downplay Pauling's petition and to cast suspicion on both the author and the signatories. The old charges that Pauling's effort was Communist-inspired were raised in the press. General Leslie Groves, former director of the Manhattan Project, as well as some scientists like chemists Kenneth Pitzer and Joel Hildebrand of Berkeley questioned Pauling's scientific expertise, pointing out that he was not an expert on nuclear physics or on radiation effects and neither were most of the people who signed the petition.

Pauling went on to circulate his petition internationally. He hired a part-time secretary with funds from his own pocket to oversee the translation, copying and mailing of the document. By early 1958 he had more than nine thousand signatures from forty- three countries. Pauling presented a copy of the petition with the attached signatures to Dag Hammarskjold, secretary-general of the United Nations, while attending a Nobelists' banquet in New York City. He also held a press conference which proved to be a major publicity triumph both for Pauling and for the peace movement.

Despite this triumph, Pauling was frustrated by his inability to get his message into the mainstream popular press. While his opponents could have pieces published in LIFE, his replies were rejected. In March 1958 he worked furiously to complete a book-length manuscript that was published by Dodd, Mead under the title No More War! A curious combination of science, politics and angry answers to his critics, particularly Edward Teller, the book provided Pauling with a vehicle to make his position known to a broad audience.

By 1958 these activities had brought Pauling's relationship with the Caltech administration to a crisis point. As early as 1946, conservative Caltech trustees had begun to complain about Pauling's political activities forcing Lee DuBridge, Caltech's president, to defend Pauling. DuBridge's defense was based both on academic freedom and on Pauling's enormous success as a research scientist and teacher, which was largely responsible for the reputation of the Chemistry Division. By 1958 three trustees had resigned out of frustration with Pauling. In addition, Pauling was publicly attacking government agencies that Caltech depended on for research support. John McCone, one of the trustees who had resigned, was about to become head of the AEC, the primary funder of research in nuclear physics.

Pauling's public campaign to ban atmospheric nuclear testing had also begun to alienate his Caltech colleagues. Many of them, including DuBridge and Robert Bacher, chair of the physics department, agreed with Pauling's position on nuclear testing, but felt that he had ignored their more quiet efforts. As noted by Norman Davidson, one of Pauling's chemistry colleagues, "I think that there was some -- the word would be somewhere between discomfort and resentment -- that Linus didn't make an effort to generate a consensus of the other faculty members who had, in their own quiet way, been involved in advising the government about peace issues." (Hager, 1995, p.492) There were additional sources of tension. Pauling was also neglecting the routine duties expected of him as Chairman of Chemistry. He was usually away giving speeches and getting himself into the headlines. Finally, Pauling's research was not going well. His interests had turned increasingly to chemical biology, particularly to a project involving the molecular basis of mental illness. His pioneering ideas on the nature of the chemical bond were being superseded by molecular orbital theory which Pauling refused to acknowledge. Pauling was out of the mainstream of chemical research but, as chairman, still controlled space and resources. There was resentment within the department, but Pauling was never there to hear it.

DuBridge felt he had to do something to send a signal both to the trustees and the Chemistry Division that Pauling was under control. In a tense meeting he asked Pauling to moderate his political activities, a request that was refused. Failing that, DuBridge told Pauling that he would accept a verbal offer that Pauling had made a year previously to resign as Chairman of the Chemistry Division. For Pauling this was an opportunity to rid himself of administrative duties and spend more time on peace activities. On June 10, 1958, he composed a letter of resignation.

For the next four years Pauling spent essentially all his time working on peace activities and responding to the resulting criticism. He spoke on peace all over the world and organized an international conference in Oslo. In June 1960 he was subpoenaed by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, chaired by Thomas Dodd, and questioned about the Communist influence on his activities. His resolute stand against the committee under threats of indictment for contempt of Congress made him a hero in the peace movement.

One of Pauling's most outrageous actions came in April 1962. President Kennedy invited the Paulings to a dinner at the White House honoring the best and most creative minds in the nation. There were to be 175 guests, including forty-nine Nobel Prize winners. Pauling accepted the invitation but the day before the dinner he joined three thousand picketers organized by the Women's Strike for Peace in a demonstration outside the White House. On the day of the dinner papers from New York to Los Angeles featured a picture of Pauling carrying a sign saying, "Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Macmillan, We Have No Right to Test."

Pauling's campaign came to an end in the summer of 1963. Both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., sobered by the Cuban missile crisis, began negotiating in earnest, and by August a treaty was signed to ban nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under the sea. It went into effect on August 10, 1962, and on that date the Nobel Peace Prize Committee announced that Linus Pauling was to be awarded the 1962 Peace Prize. Pauling's efforts had been successful and finally had been acknowledged by the world.

Pauling's relationship with Caltech had deteriorated to the point that the tepid response there to his triumph caused him to leave Caltech for the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) in Santa Barbara. Although he technically took a leave of absence, Pauling never returned to Caltech, an institution that he had served for forty-one years. The position at CSDI was really not suited for Pauling; at the core he was still a scientist and wanted to continue his research. He spent a few years at the University of California, San Diego, moved briefly to Stanford, and finally opened his own research institute in Palo Alto, The Linus Pauling Institute for Science and Medicine, where he conducted his controversial work on vitamin C. Ava Helen died of cancer in December 1981. Pauling continued to live and work alone until August 19, 1994.


Pauling's crusade against the bomb and atmospheric testing raises several important questions in academic ethics. The most obvious, of course, is the issue of academic freedom. While questions relating to academic freedom will be part of the discussion, I want to focus on two less prominent issues. The first is Pauling's decision to spend a large fraction of his time in political efforts at the expense of his normal duties as a faculty member and administrator at Caltech which will be discussed from two perspectives, Pauling's and Caltech's. This discussion leads naturally to ethical questions raised by faculty involvement in other kinds of activities such as commercial entrepreneurship and consulting. These questions are usefully discussed in the context of the principles of conflict of commitment and conflict of interest. The second issue is Pauling's use, consciously or unconsciously, of his prestige as a Nobel Laureate in chemistry to further his political agenda. A broad underlying issue is the tension between Pauling's role and responsibilities as a member of the faculty at Caltech and his freedom and responsibility to act as a citizen in a democratic society.

At first, Pauling's political activities were modest and did not detract from his effectiveness in any of his university or scientific activities. In the late 1940s Pauling was Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech with the usual responsibilities that go with such a position. He had a large, active, externally-funded research program that involved many collaborators: graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, research staff and visiting scientists. As one of the most prominent chemists in the world, he received many invitations to deliver lectures at universities and scientific meetings. He also had teaching responsibilities. Pauling's early activities were not significantly different from those of a faculty member who served on a school board or was an active participant in a political party, except that his left-wing positions alienated some of the conservative Caltech trustees. The meetings and speeches occupied occasional evenings and weekends. When there were complaints about Pauling's positions, Lee DuBridge defended Pauling's rights as a citizen and did his best to protect him from the anger of the trustees. By 1958, however, Pauling had become consumed by the campaign to stop atmospheric testing and was spending essentially all of his time on that activity.

From several perspectives Pauling's behavior was problematical. First, neglecting the administrative responsibilities of the department chair adversely affected both the department and the university in a number of ways. Within the department, there was grumbling about issues such as space allocation and research priorities. Pauling's busy political speaking schedule made him unavailable for many of the usual duties of the chairman including the social activities and cultivation of prospective donors. Unfortunately, until DuBridge forced his hand, it appears that Pauling's ego got in the way of the sensible solution, which was to resign as chairman.

Second, while Pauling was willing to accept the personal consequences of his neglect of his own research program, it appears that he never acknowledged the effects of that decision on others. Since his research was funded by outside agencies, primarily the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, he had both ethical and contractual obligations to them to pursue this research. Students and other collaborators were dependent on Pauling, as principal investigator, to provide ideas and direction. While the research program never disappeared, it was certainly diminished by Pauling's lack of attention. Finally, although others could certainly teach his courses, Pauling was a gifted and inspirational teacher who deprived students of his unique insights.

Was Pauling's decision correct? As in all real-life ethical problems, the answer depends on which values are most important to the person making the decision. Pauling, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, and countless citizens thought that his heroic efforts and personal sacrifice were essential to the preservation of world peace. Others, such as his adversary Edward Teller, disagreed with his position. As a member of the Caltech academic community Pauling had ethical responsibilities to his students, colleagues, and to the institution but, unfortunately, he did not recognize these obvious ethical conflicts. He felt, with considerable justification, that his outside activities had global significance and nothing else really mattered. His single-minded pursuit of what he thought was right was both a strength and a weakness.

Caltech's position was also difficult here. Because Pauling was a major star, a long-time chairman of the department, and a Nobel Laureate, DuBridge was reluctant to challenge him. Pauling's research program and prestige were important to Caltech. Rather than deal directly with Pauling's failings as both a faculty member and administrator, DuBridge tried to convince him to moderate his political activities. Pauling was stubborn and egotistical and ignored DuBridge's more subtle efforts to change his behavior. Eventually there were confrontations that led to Pauling's angry departure.

Caltech's difficulties raise an interesting ethical question about the practice of science in major research universities. Creative, productive scientists are encouraged to build personal empires. Success in obtaining grant funds is rewarded with additional research space, reduced teaching and committee responsibilities, access to graduate students, staff support, and other benefits. While this system increases the prestige of the university it diminishes the sense of community that is a major part of the foundation for academic ethics. Three major principles of academic ethics, responsibility to students, colleagues, and the disciple, are eroded when a professor is encouraged exclusively to pursue private interests (Kovac and Coppola, 1997). For a long time Pauling's interests coincided with those of his department and the university so he was allowed free reign. As he became more absorbed in outside political activity, however, there was no sense of community responsibility to alert him to the developing ethical problems. The tension between responsibility to the university community and outside activity is an important issue today. The competing outside activity may be politics, as it was with Pauling, or it may be commercial entrepreneurship as it often is today.

Pauling's status, first as a world-renowned research chemist and later as a Nobel Laureate, was certainly an advantage in his political activities. Not only did his scientific prestige provide him with opportunities to speak about both science and other matters, it also gave his views additional credibility. This carry-over of prestige raises additional ethical questions. Pauling was certainly criticized for speaking and writing on issues of nuclear physics, health effects of radiation, and foreign policy that were outside his sphere of professional expertise. Much of this criticism was unjustified. Pauling was a compulsive learner and a brilliant thinker. When he became interested in something he immediately learned as much as possible about it, critically reading the relevant literature. As a result he was probably as knowledgeable about the issues as any of his opponents. On the other hand, authority carries weight and there were undoubtedly people who uncritically accepted Pauling's conclusions simply because of his reputation.

Since I agree with Pauling's position on this issue, I would argue that he was right in using his prestige to further his political agenda. Because his views challenged the AEC and government policy, they might never have been broadly heard had he not been a Nobel Laureate. His later advocacy of vitamin C as a cure for the common cold, cancer, and other diseases, however, I find much more problematical because it appears to have rested on a less secure scientific and public policy base. For similar reasons I am also troubled by William Shockley, a Nobel laureate in physics, who used his status to advocate the genetic inferiority of African Americans. The differences between these cases are subtle. Pauling argued that his long involvement in chemical biology justified his conclusions on vitamin C. Shockley probably felt that, as a scientist, he was able to draw reasonable conclusions from the available data on the relationship between IQ and race and that it was appropriate to use his prestige to draw attention to an unpopular idea. Many experts, however, felt that both men misinterpreted the data, drew incorrect conclusions, then used their standing as Nobel Laureates to mislead the public on important issues.

The strategy of using prestigious names to lend weight to an appeal is widespread. Pauling employed it in his petition campaign, collecting the signatures of high-profile scientists from around the world. It is common to see petitions signed by well-known figures ranging from Hollywood stars to Nobel Laureates in the New York Times and other leading newspapers. While it is essential that famous people be allowed to express their views on important public issues, there is no reason that their opinions should be any more influential than those of ordinary citizens.

What ethical principles should be used to decide when someone is inappropriately using prestige or reputation to promote an idea or cause? Even in science where the standards of evidence are clear and ideas are subject to rigorous experimental test, status and rhetorical skill are important in gaining recognition (Hoffmann, 1988). In social sciences and public policy things are even less clear, and the prestige and persuasiveness of the speaker can be much more important. Do I think that Pauling was right in using his prestige in the nuclear testing debate merely because I agree with him, but think that Shockley was wrong in using his prestige in arguing that African Americans are genetically inferior because I disagree with the conclusion? If Shockley came to his conclusions through an intellectually defensible series of arguments, why shouldn't he be allowed to advocate them in public, particularly if he believes that the issue is important? One of the core principles of both the intellectual community and democratic society is that of free and open debate.

Perhaps the only principle that can be safely applied is that of intellectual honesty, an essential part of professional ethics (Kovac, 1998). Conclusions that are based on good arguments must be admitted to the public debate. Scholars must guard against self-delusion, the selective interpretation of evidence to reach a fallacious conclusion. There are many historical examples of this, particularly in the human sciences though other fields are not immune (Gould, 1981; Close, 1991). The only safeguard I see is to maintain a culture of intellectual and professional integrity within the university, and ideally in the society at large, particularly in the mass media, so that ethical reflection is encouraged (Kovac and Coppola, 1997).

The broad question raised by Pauling's story involves the tension between the responsibilities of faculty as members of a university community and as citizens in a democratic society. While faculty are encouraged to engage in professional and community service, there are implicit limits on the nature and extent of these activities. Two important considerations are conflict of commitment and conflict of interest.

By conflict of commitment I mean that time and energy spent on outside activity can conflict with satisfactory performance of the faculty member's ordinary responsibilities. Pauling's political involvement represents one example of conflict of commitment, but there are many others. Much of the anger directed at Pauling was a result of his controversial political position, but a faculty member could equally well be consumed by a less controversial activity, such a membership on the local school board or city council. Another source of conflict of commitment that is increasingly important arises from the current push to have faculty involved in entrepreneurial activities. For example, a science or engineering professor who has a good idea is encouraged to take out a patent and start a small company to commercialize that idea. Developing a commercial product requires enormous effort so time can be drained from the non- commercial teaching and research activities of that faculty member. Private consulting can cause a similar problem. While all three kinds of activities can lead to conflict of commitment, the possibility of significant financial gain through consulting or a successful entrepreneurial activity can lead to additional ethical problems.

A second issue is conflict of interest. Pauling's political position and attacks on government agencies such as the AEC conflicted directly with the interests of Caltech. In the political climate of the time Pauling could well have made it more difficult for his colleagues to win research grants and contracts from the agencies that he publicly criticized. Pauling himself did not receive a federal grant after about 1950. Lee DuBridge and the trustees were certainly concerned that Pauling would scare off potential donors to the institute. Pauling's activities were potentially harmful both to the institution that had educated him and provided him with a professional home and to his colleagues and students.

On the other hand, faculty members have responsibilities to their personal values and to democratic society. Pauling had strong views on this matter. He believed that democratic decision making was a kind of statistical averaging process. Since the final majority position was always some sort of average, it was essential that all positions, even extreme ones, be represented in the discussion. Democracy could not function if any viewpoint was suppressed. As a result he was a fierce defender of academic freedom and the First Amendment.

The tension between responsibility to the university community and academic and First Amendment freedom is a difficult issue, in large part because of the McCarthy era. Speaking freely can bring harm to the institution that employs you. For example, Pauling's political activities caused the resignation of three Caltech trustees. Even legitimate public criticism of local government officials by faculty members can exacerbate tensions between the two. University-sponsored research on environmental pollution by industry can make it more difficult to negotiate research contracts. Faculty efforts to improve K-12 education might make it more difficult for the College of Education to place interns in the schools. All of these are legitimate research or civic activities. A legacy of hysteria of the McCarthy era, however, has made it difficult even to raise the ethical issue of whether faculty should consider the potential harm to the academic community of their research or their involvement in public affairs. Academic and First Amendment freedoms are essential to both the university and society, but neither is absolute.

It is certainly in the interest of democratic society to have faculty engaged in the debate on public policy issues. University professors are skilled in research and analysis and have much to contribute. Throughout history faculty have been important public intellectuals. Pauling was criticized because he spoke out on issues outside his area of professional competence. While there is some danger in this, important insights can come from interdisciplinary thinking. In addition, some issues, such as atmospheric nuclear testing, concern everyone.

As in all real-life ethical problems, the moral of Pauling's story is ambiguous; it depends on the context of values from which it is viewed. In his fight against nuclear weapons and atmospheric testing Pauling made a series of decisions. Many of them were criticized at the time; others can be criticized in retrospect. Pauling's story may also seem to reflect his lack of moral awareness of his responsibilities to the university he served. Pauling decided that his human responsibilities as a citizen in a democratic society were more important than the temporary neglect of his university responsibilities. Because of his academic reputation he was able to take an extra load of active citizenship that others could not afford. The result was an enormous step toward world peace. From my perspective, LIFE magazine was wrong; the U.S. should have been proud of Linus Pauling's Nobel Peace Prize because it was an example of enormous moral courage in pursuing an important political end.


I am grateful to Susan Davis Kovac, Janet Atwill, Brian P. Coppola, Charles Davis, Roger Jones, Robert J. Hinde, James N. Lowe, and Donna W. Sherwood for reading earlier versions of this essay and making valuable suggestions for its improvement.


The details of Linus Pauling's story have been distilled from the references listed in the bibliography. Only quotations have been specifically cited.


Close, F. J., 1991, Too Hot to Handle, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Davenport, D. A., 1996, "Letters to F. J. Allen: An Informal Portrait of Linus Pauling," J. Chem. Educ. 73, 21-28.

Davis, N. P., 1968: Lawrence and Oppenheimer, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Goertzel, T.; Goertzel, B., 1995: Linus Pauling: A Life in Science and Politics, New York: Basic Books.

Gould, S. J., 1981: The Mismeasure of Man, New York, W. W. Norton.

Hager, Thomas, 1995: Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Hoffmann, R., 1988: "Under the Surface of the Chemical Article," Angew. Chemie., Int. Ed. Engl. 27, 1593-1602.

Irons, R., 1983: Justice at War, New York: Oxford University Press.

Paradowski, R. J., 1990, "Linus Carl Pauling," in F. N. Magill, ed., The Nobel Prize Winners: Chemistry, Pasadena: Salem Press.

Paradowski, R. J., 1993: "Linus Carl Pauling," in L. K. James, ed., Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 1901-1992, Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society and Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Kovac, J. and B. P. Coppola, 1997: "Universities as Moral Communities," Proceedings of the 1997 Conference on Values in Higher Education, URL: http://web.utk.edu/~unistudy/values.

Kovac, J., 1998: "Professional Ethics in the College and University Science Curriculum," Science & Education, in press.

Smith, A. K., 1965: A Peril and a Hope: The Scientists' Movement in America, 1945-47, Chicago: University of Chicago.


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