John Kendrew (1917-1997)

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John Kendrew building a model of myoglobin. Credit: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

[Ed Note: Today we remember Sir John Kendrew, who would have turned one-hundred years old on March 24th.]

The Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University was an exciting place to be in the 1950s. While James Watson and Francis Crick worked themselves into a frenzy in their race with Linus Pauling to discover the structure of DNA, lab-mate John Kendrew worked quietly alongside another future Nobel laureate, Max Perutz, as they too competed with Pauling in another arena: the molecular structure of various proteins.

For Kendrew however, this pursuit was not considered to be a competition against Pauling. Rather, he felt his corner of the laboratory to be working in tandem with researchers at Caltech in their joint pursuit of a common goal. For Kendrew, whoever got there first was beside the point. Indeed, when Perutz and Kendrew received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry – one year prior to Pauling’s receipt of his Peace Nobel – Kendrew credited Pauling as having been a source of inspiration and direction for his work on the atomic structure of myoglobin.


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John Kendrew and Max Perutz, 1962.

Sixteen years Pauling’s junior, John Cowdery Kendrew was born in Oxford, England on March 24, 1917. He received an appointment for study at Cambridge in 1939 and was working on reaction kinetics before the outbreak of World War II called him away to support the Allied effort.

By the time that he had reached the rank of Wing Commander in the Air Ministry Research Establishment, Kendrew had developed relationships with several important scientific contacts. Perhaps chief among these colleagues was the crystallographer J.D. Bernal, who also influenced Pauling’s protein work in the late 1930s. Bernal encouraged Kendrew to contact Max Perutz at the Cavendish Laboratory once his military service was completed. After receiving similar advice from Pauling, Kendrew began working with Perutz in 1945. His early research at the lab was conducted in support of his Ph. D. thesis – an x-ray diffraction study of hemoglobin in fetal and adult sheep.

In the late 1940s, Kendrew and Perutz established the Cavendish MRC Unit for the Study of the Molecular Structure of Biological Systems, and together they attacked the chemical structure of proteins using X-ray crystallography, with a particular interest in whale myoglobin. Although the research excited Kendrew, he was sometimes perplexed by the cross-disciplinary nature of what he was trying to accomplish. In a later interview with the Journal of Chemical Education, he remembered, “one of the problems was the lack of professional label. By profession, I was a chemist working on a biological problem in a physics lab.”

Nonetheless, Kendrew and Perutz were avidly pursuing the structure of keratin when the Pauling family visited the Cavendish in 1948. Pauling himself had done some preliminary work on the protein about ten years earlier, but after failing to build a satisfactory chain, he had abandoned the effort and moved on to other structures. Seeing the steady progress that Kendrew and Perutz were making reignited his own interest in the structure. Not long after, while lying in bed with a severe sinus infection, he worked on a rough sketch of a keratin model, which eventually inspired his signature proteins breakthrough: the alpha-helix.

Shortly after Pauling published his landmark 1951 paper, “The Structure of Proteins: Two Hydrogen-Bonded Helical Configurations of the Polypeptide Chain,” in which he introduced the alpha and gamma helixes, Pauling invited Kendrew to visit Pasadena and lecture at Caltech. Kendrew, impressed and eager to discuss Pauling’s findings, made preparations to stop in southern California as part of an already scheduled trip to San Francisco and Seattle. The visit proved thought-provoking for both scientists, and Kendrew returned to the Cavendish brimming with fresh ideas.


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Peter Pauling, 1954.

In their early exchange of correspondence, Pauling’s communications (as was typical) were usually formal and brief. On the contrary, Kendrew’s enthusiasm about both his and Pauling’s work is spelled out in long, detailed paragraphs. In due time, Pauling’s writing broadened not only in length, but in a personal dimension as well.  Importantly, between a letter dated October 8, 1956 and another written on November 22, 1957, Pauling switched from referring to his correspondent as “Dr. Kendrew” to “John,” and Kendrew responded in kind.

Without doubt, one catalyst for this shift was Kendrew’s mentorship and guidance of Linus’ second-oldest son, Peter Pauling, a budding crystallographer who was pursuing his doctorate at the Cavendish. Despite his promise and pedigree, once Peter had settled in, many scientists at Cambridge had begun to express concern about his level of commitment to and interest in his work.

Amidst a flurry of letters from Peter’s Cambridge professors that ranged from outright condemnation of his behavior to genuine concern for his future, a 1953 letter from Kendrew comes across as amiable but firm. In it, he expresses serious doubts about Peter’s ability to attain a Ph.D. unless he undergoes “a considerable revolution during the summer.” The message also urges the elder Pauling to alter other travel plans and come to England to address the matter in person. Ultimately, Pauling declined to do so and, fortunately, Peter initiated the revolution for which Kendrew had expressed hope. A year later, Kendrew penned another letter in which he assured Pauling that he had observed in Peter’s work both a genuine interest and a more stringent ethic.

Kendrew was not merely a fair-weather supporter of Peter’s endeavors. When Peter ran into serious personal trouble at Cambridge in 1955, Kendrew proved invaluably resourceful. Most notably, he helped Peter transfer his fellowship and remaining doctoral research to the Royal Institution of London, where former Cavendish chief Sir Lawrence Bragg was now directing the Davy-Faraday research lab.  Kendrew and Bragg later assisted Peter in moving yet again – this time to University College, London – when he could not complete his dissertation in the requisite amount of time allotted by the Royal Institution.

In a number of letters, Pauling repeatedly expressed his gratitude to Kendrew for so carefully tending to Peter’s well-being and educational progress, choppy though it was. These circumstances only served to cement a friendship between the two; one that developed alongside the great professional respect with which they had always extended to one another.


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Kendrew posing at a proteins conference held at Caltech, 1953.

On the other hand, Caltech and the Cavendish regularly found themselves to be in professional competition with one other, and this did lead to occasional friction between friends. In one instance, Kendrew sought out Pauling’s assistance with a rather complicated labor shortage that had partly been caused by Pauling himself. Shortly after Peter’s departure from Cambridge and Bragg’s resignation from his leadership post in the Cavendish, Kendrew wrote to Pasadena, asking for assistance. The gravity of the moment was especially amplified for Kendrew, who was presumably a tad annoyed by Pauling’s having convinced a mutual colleague, Howard Dintzis, to leave the Cavendish for Caltech the previous year. In his letter, Kendrew made a request:

I am writing to ask whether you would be good enough to let me know if you hear of any good man who would like to come to work on the myoglobin project in the near future. As you may have heard from Howard Dintzis, owing to a continuation of unforeseen circumstances I shall be totally without collaborators from January onward.

Pauling replied kindly, but did not include any recommendations.


In 1957, Kendrew succeeded in delineating the atomic structure of myoglobin. Two years later, Max Perutz successfully mapped the structure of hemoglobin. When Lawrence Bragg approached Pauling with the idea of nominating Kendrew for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Pauling suggested that the award be split three ways between Kendrew, Perutz, and Robert Corey, a colleague of Pauling’s at Caltech. Bragg disagreed and instead nominated the British chemist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, a pioneer in X-ray crystallography. Ultimately, Pauling’s final nomination of Kendrew and Perutz in 1962 included Hodgkin as well. As it turned out, Kendrew and Perutz split that year’s prize, and Hodgkin took the 1964 award for herself.


The remainder of Kendrew’s career was spent working less directly on scientific research and more intently on public policy. Like Pauling, Kendrew believed that scientists bore an obligation beyond scientific research and discovery. As he expressed in a 1974 interview

[Scientists] have special knowledge, and their most important responsibility is communication; because it is bad enough to try and foresee the effects of some scientific or technological advance given all the facts, but without them it is impossible…it is all the more important for scientists to communicate and make what they are doing understood at the government level and publicly through the media.

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Wall of Honor at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory.

In the same year that he gave that interview, Kendrew helped to establish the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, where he acted as director until his retirement in 1981. The lab has since created the John Kendrew Award to recognize and honor outstanding contributions made by the laboratory’s alumni.

Continuing Objections to the Persian Gulf War

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Linus Pauling with the Dalai Lama at a meeting of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Santa Barbara, California, April 6, 1991.

[Part 2 of 2]

By spring 1991, Linus Pauling, at the age of 90, had established himself as a leading critic of the United States’ military incursion into the Persian Gulf, an engagement that had been dubbed “Operation Desert Storm.” Having already published a series of paid advertisements in national and regional media outlets urging the U.S. to pursue a diplomatic solution to Saddam Hussein’s military occupation of Kuwait, Pauling issued his most detailed argument against the conflict in a talk titled “Reflections on the Persian Gulf ‘War.'” This lecture was presented at a meeting of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation on April 6, 1991 and attended by the Dalai Lama, among others.

Components of Pauling’s argument against the war were discussed in our previous blog post on this subject. In today’s post, we’ll dig a little bit deeper into some of the specifics conveyed by Pauling in his April speech and touch on other noteworthy activities in which Pauling engaged as he publicly argued against armed conflict in the Middle East.


Pauling began his discussion of the Gulf “War,” as he termed it, by mentioning the New York Times advertisement that he had placed in January.  He confessed that the multiple ads that he had commissioned were not likely to make a significant impact, but that he felt a moral obligation to speak out.

He then starkly emphasized that the current war was not in fact a war, because

In a war you have opposing forces that fight and there are deaths on both sides and finally one side wins. In the old days perhaps this was a demonstration of the democratic process – the side with the biggest number of fighters won.  [Operation Desert Storm] wasn’t a war. This you could call a massacre or slaughter, perhaps even murder.

Pauling continued by querying the audience, if this is what the practice of war has become, then what shape might future wars take on? For Pauling, the US had set a dangerous precedent for the future: use force to install the government it wants and then leave.

As he dug deeper into his analysis, Pauling made connections to World War I and World War II by noting that a new generation of leaders could have ushered in World War III, but that this was averted through the development of weapons that were increasingly destructive by many orders of magnitude.

The current conflict, however, was different in how it transpired.  First, it was mostly initiated through air power – a dramatically one-sided offensive consisting of some 150,000 U.S. sorties resulting in the deaths of only about 150 American soldiers. Second, the U.S. had previously supplied Iraq with old and outdated weapons for use in its lengthy war with Iran. As a result, American military planners knew that their weaponry was far superior and would not be threatened by Iraqi stockpiles.

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Pauling speaking at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation event, Santa Barbara, California, April 6, 1991.

But the crucial question for Pauling was how many Iraqis died?  Pauling estimated the number to be around 300,000, a total which, he emphasized, included children, the elderly, and other civilians. He continued the math by pointing out that these numbers equated to a casualty ratio of 2,000 Iraqis killed for every American.

(Later analyses suggested Pauling’s numbers to be inflated. According to one, the “Gulf War Air Power Survey,” (1993) conducted by Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen and commissioned by the United States Air Force, about 22,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in combat. Further, the Iraqi government estimated 2,300 civilian deaths as a result of the air campaign.)

Given casualty rates so high and so wildly out of proportion, Pauling begged the question: does a war like this make the U.S. and President Bush terrorists?  In asking this, Pauling explained

Terrorists are people who make an ultimatum, a demand of some sort in the form of an ultimatum threatening to kill hostages or other people if the demand is not met.  What did President Bush do?  He issued some ultimatums that were absolute, that by a certain date the Iraqis would have to withdraw from Kuwait, or else.  And ‘or else’ consisted in our killing 300,000 Iraqis, two thousand to one.  It seems to me that our country has become a terrorist country on a very large scale.

Instead, Pauling urged that the U.S. seek out an alternative, one that would create “a future worthy of man’s intelligence” and provide clear evidence that “we are a moral country.”


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The remainder of Pauling’s activism against the Gulf War consisted primarily of co-sponsoring or otherwise participating in a variety of petitioning efforts. One of them, “The Scientists Statement of Concern,” which was initiated by Pauling, was signed by forty-seven scientists in the US, Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, Great Britain, and Switzerland. Another, “Scientists and Engineers for Peace in the Middle East,” emphasized the need to pursue social justice and economic development as a route to stability in the region.

A final piece authored by Pauling during this time period deserves mention, in part because of its unique comparison of two very high profile events that were current in March 1991. Simply titled “A Statement” and dictated on March 26, Pauling’s text began

On the 3rd of March 1991 and on many succeeding days there was shown on television a remarkable sequence of pictures of an event that occurred in Los Angeles, California. A young man, 24 years old, had been traveling at high speed in a car. He had been chased by traffic officers, and had finally been run down near Los Angeles. He got out of his car, and apparently had fallen onto the ground. He was surrounded by 15 police and traffic officers. Although he was not resisting, he was beaten by three of these officers, wielding clubs. They struck him 57 times, breaking a bone in his leg and causing many cuts and bruises. The other 12 officers, including the sergeant in charge of the three who were doing the beating, did not intervene.

People all over the world were incensed at this display of brutality. No cases of law violation were filed against the young man who had been beaten. Some of the officers were charged with having themselves violated the law. At the present time the Chief of Police of Los Angeles is under pressure to resign, because of his toleration of this case of police brutality as well as of other cases.

There is, however, another case of egregious brutality that has not been criticized in the same way, but that has instead been welcomed with approbation. This is the case of the overwhelmingly one-sided assault by the United States, abetted by other countries who were to some extent browbeaten into their attitude, against Iraq.

Describing Operation Desert Storm as being “even more one-sided than the attack of the 15 police officers” against Rodney King, Pauling continued his statement in a vein very similar to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation talk that he would give less than two weeks later.

The First Gulf War: Pauling Speaks Out

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[Part 1 of 2]

Sparked by Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, and his subsequent refusal to comply with a U.S. demand that he withdraw from the region by mid-January 1991, the first Persian Gulf War began on January 17, 1991 with an operation known as Desert Storm.

In the lead-up to this military engagement, Linus Pauling established himself as a prominent critic of American posturing in the Gulf.  Just shy of his ninetieth birthday, Pauling returned to the world stage first by publishing a broadly circulated statement and open letter addressed to President George H.W. Bush, and later by giving a collection of interviews and speeches excoriating American policy in the Gulf. This body of activism reflected the anti-war stance that Pauling had assumed for more than four decades and served as a final demonstration of his ambition that war be ended once and for all.

Pauling’s initial pieces included little in the way of discussion of the precise issues at hand, but instead used the Persian Gulf War as an opportunity to highlight and amplify his broader views on war and peace. Later on, as battlefield engagement became a reality, Pauling’s writing and rhetoric made greater use of concrete examples in developing a specific point of view that resisted the American military campaign.


Pauling’s opening salvo, “Stop the Rush to War,” took the form of a full-page advertisement that was published in the New York Times on January 9, 1991. In this publication, Pauling emphasized that ultimatums or deadlines issued to the Hussein regime were unlikely to prove helpful. Instead, Pauling felt that the situation called for negotiations and economic pressures, which would ultimately lead to a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

For Pauling, one thing was clear: war would not work. In the Times piece, Pauling argued against military conflict by employing the fear of the potential use of bombs, poison gas, lethal bacteria, and even nuclear weapons, which would release fallout all over the world.  He argued that no cause could ever justify this kind of war. As an alternative, Pauling encouraged the reader to take personal action to persuade their leaders and those of other nations to stop the build-up to war.

Pauling’s New York Times appeal prompted the drafting of a petition that was authored in conjunction with the Institute for Peace and International Security in the United States and Naturwissenschaftler für den Frieden (Scientists for Peace) in Germany.  Pauling also contributed a greeting message that was read at the Naturwissenschaftler für den Frieden Congress, held in Muenster on January 28, 1991. In it, Pauling emphasized that international involvement was crucial to promoting peace and ending the threat of war.


On January 17, 1991, President Bush announced that the defensive posture that had been assumed by the U.S. military since August 1990 (“Operation Desert Shield”) had shifted into a phase of active combat, the aforementioned Operation Desert Storm. The next day, Pauling authored “An Open Letter to President Bush,” which called for specific actions to be taken in order to stop the further escalation of a war that had now effectively been declared.

The open letter appeared in the January 24th and 28th editions of Roll Call, a Washington D.C.-based newspaper that claimed readership on Capitol Hill, where it was delivered twice weekly. In addition to its publication in Roll Call, a copy of the letter was sent directly to the President.

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Albert Schweitzer and Linus Pauling at the Schweitzer compound, Lambéréne, Gabon. 1959.

Employing a series of concise statements, Pauling made it very clear that to kill and maim is immoral, as is war in general. He further explained that war causes human suffering and that it is our job as humans – and certainly as world leaders – to decrease the amount of suffering that exists in the world. In this, Pauling reflected the point of view of Albert Schweitzer, a philosophical role model for Pauling whose emphasis on minimizing human suffering emerged as a crucial component of Pauling’s thinking and rhetoric during his years as an activist.

Similar to the previously published “Rush to War” piece, Pauling also emphasized his fears over the unintended consequences that might arise should a collection of terrifying weapons of war be deployed. Likewise, he concluded once again that negotiation was the just and moral route to peace in the Persian Gulf.


 

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Linus Pauling, 1991.

Pauling’s next major statement on the war came in April 1991 and was delivered in the form of a speech titled, “Reflections on the Persian Gulf ‘War.'” Pauling gave this speech in Santa Barbara, California at a meeting of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which was honoring him with a lifetime achievement award. In it, he collected a series of ideas that he had been developing over the previous months, and also issued a more pointed critique of the Persian Gulf War as a specific and perilous moment in human history.

Later excerpted in an article titled “Use Strength for Morality” and published in the July-August 1991 issue of The Human Quest, Pauling’s talk began with an analysis of President Bush’s so-called “New World Order,” which Pauling defined as depending upon rule through terror and the installation of friendly governments in strategically important foreign nations.

Pauling’s lecture also reflected an earlier interview with TIME magazine in which he had questioned the concept of a “just war.” In the conversation, Pauling explained that war may be justified when the suffering brought about by the act of war yields more long-term benefit or a higher purpose than the levels of suffering already extant in a given region.

With respect to the Gulf War, Pauling was deeply concerned that the Bush administration had failed to discuss issues of human rights and democracy in the country of Kuwait. Instead, the White House had only made the case that the family of the Kuwaiti emir needed to once again be restored to power.

For Pauling, the U.S. should have been far less concerned about the emir’s circumstances and much more interested in supporting democracy for the Kuwaiti people. As in his earlier statements, Pauling reemphasized the moral imperative for the United States to apply diplomatic and economic pressures in bringing about change. The chosen alternative, military incursion, would lead only to the waste of human lives and the possibility of escalation from conventional war to nuclear engagement.

In Pauling’s view, the clearly superior route for President Bush was to align himself on the side of morality.  Were he to do so, Bush could proclaim that “I set such a high value on human life and morality that I have decided the time has come to enter into discussions about all these world problems and save tens of thousands of lives.”  Likewise, there should be no concern about losing face. Indeed, Pauling argued that the “macho” stance for President Bush would entail a shift away from his pro-war policy, because it would take far more courage to resist war than to escalate it.

Pauling further delineated his previously expressed point of view arguing against ultimatums. In Pauling’s estimation, a series of threats were never going to prove persuasive for Saddam Hussein, whom Pauling judged to be lacking any fear over the potential deaths of soldiers or civilians. Likewise, the need to shift toward discussion was only exacerbated by the strong possibility that military conflict in the Gulf would serve to inflame the long-simmering Arab-Israeli conflict. With the end of the Cold War now at hand, the moral role of the United States as the dominant world power was to discourage regional wars rather than actively engaging in them.

The Pauling Blog Turns Nine

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This week marks the ninth anniversary of the founding of the Pauling Blog, a project that, as we’re fond of pointing out, was created to help publicize the issuing of a postage stamp. In the years that have followed, the blog has evolved significantly to where it now stands as a resource of consequence for those interested in studying the life and work of Linus Pauling and his milieu.

The Pauling Blog is a product of the Special Collections and Archives Research Center at the Oregon State University Libraries. SCARC, as we are more commonly known, consists of twelve professional staff and fifteen student assistants who pursue any number of activities that support our five major collecting themes: the history of OSU, the history of science, natural resources in the Pacific Northwest, multicultural communities of Oregon, and rare books.

These days, the bulk of our outreach related to Linus Pauling centers around this blog, and we are lucky to have two students on staff, working a total of about 20 hours per week, whose primary job responsibility is to research and write in support of the project. We have found that it takes a commitment at about this level to maintain a weekly publishing schedule of well-formed posts that average about 1,000 words each. The two students who currently write for the project are just the latest in a long line of contributors — over the years, dozens of individuals have written pieces for the blog.

Though the resources required to produce at this rate are not trivial, we are glad to say that there is no slackening in the institutional support that drives the Pauling Blog. As such, our readers should continue to anticipate the appearance of fresh content just about every week for the remainder of 2017 and beyond.


As we create more content, our viewership rises and, in 2016, we averaged more than 10,000 views per month for the first time in project history. These numbers certainly don’t put us on a par with, say, the Huffington Post, but we are proud of the niche that we have carved out within the history of science blogosphere.

Today’s post is #615 and, as with last year, we are celebrating our birthday by shining the spotlight on a few favorites that more recent readers may not know exist. For our eighth birthday, we linked to eight sets of posts from 2008-2010 that we felt deserved a second look. Today, for our ninth birthday, we present a list of nine that first appeared in 2010 through early 2013.

  1. Introduction to Quantum Mechanics (2010). A four-part series examining the writing and impact of one of Pauling’s first books, the influential Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, co-authored with E. Bright Wilson, Jr. and published in 1935.
  2. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee Hearings (2010). A five-part series on Pauling’s June 1960 SISS hearing, coupled with three more posts on his second hearing in October, stand as an important contribution to the historical understanding of an extremely trying chapter in Pauling’s life.
  3. The Pauling FBI Files (2011). An in-depth analysis of Pauling’s lengthy Federal Bureau of Investigation file and, by extension, of his life as an object of government surveillance.
  4. Kevorkian, Pauling, and a Twist on Capital Punishment” (2011). A single post on Pauling’s correspondence with Jack Kevorkian and Kevorkian’s idea of providing condemned prisoners with the option of donating their deaths to science.
  5. Vitamin C and the Common Cold (2011). Four posts that dig into the science behind Pauling’s belief that Vitamin C can do wonders for those who are fighting colds or who wish to avoid them altogether.
  6. The Story of Ralph Spitzer (2012). The struggle of Ralph Spitzer, a brilliant protégé of Pauling’s who was persecuted here at Oregon State for his political beliefs, is spelled out in three posts.
  7. The Quasicrystals Debate (2012). This is probably the most ambitious piece of science writing that we have ever attempted. We are very proud of these four posts, which take on a complicated but fascinating controversy from the last years of Pauling’s life.
  8. Crellin Pauling (2012). A biography in two posts of Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s youngest son who, sadly, was the first of the Pauling children to pass away.
  9. Pauling’s Patents (2012-2013). A sprawling set of thirteen posts focusing on Linus Pauling’s many patents and patent disclosures. Topics covered include cold fusion, rocket propellants, superconductivity, and improved road signs, among many others.

Much more of this to come. As always, we thank you for reading.

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Pauling’s Birthday as a Media Event

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Los Angeles Mirror, March 1, 1961.

In addition to Albert Einstein and perhaps a small handful of others, Linus Pauling stands today as among the most famous of twentieth century scientists. Strong evidence in favor of this claim resides in the more than 3,000 newspaper clippings related to Pauling that are held in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, a corpus of material that is bolstered by an additional 2,700 scrapbook leaves, themselves mostly comprised of newspaper clippings as well.

Today, as we celebrate the 116th anniversary of Linus Pauling’s birth on February 28, 1901, we thought it might be interesting to spend some time with all of those newspaper clippings and trace the evolution of Pauling’s birthday as an item of note to the world’s journalists. In so doing, one is also able to delineate differences in the ways that Pauling, as a public figure, was perceived by the media and its readership over time.


Pauling received national media attention for the first time in 1931, when he won the Langmuir Prize from the American Chemical Society at the age of thirty. Newspaper accounts of that award referred to him as a “Prodigy of American Science,” a headline that was used repeatedly in 1946 following Pauling’s receipt of another ACS award, the J. Willard Gibbs Medal.

As Pauling grew older and far more famous, newspapers across the country became increasingly interested in him as a person. When he turned sixty years old on February 28, 1961, the Los Angeles Mirror published the first birthday article that we’ve been able to find in our collection. The write-up, which describes Pauling as “Caltech’s famous Nobel Prize winner in chemistry” focused mostly on his peace work, with which he was heavily involved at the time.

In 1976, on the occasion of Pauling’s 75th birthday, the San Francisco Examiner produced an article commemorating the day. Thus began what would become an almost twenty-year trend: birthday articles on the popular scientist. The 1976 article described Pauling as “cordial and charming, never vindictive.” It also commented on Pauling’s work with vitamin C, focusing especially on its potential applications with cancer.


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Chicago Tribune, February 22, 1981

When Pauling’s next big birthday, his 80th, rolled around, the newspapers were there once again to celebrate with him. This time, more than eleven different papers from across the country published articles honoring Pauling. His dedication to widely disparate passions earned him the title “scholar-peacemaker.” Writers also described him as “high energy,” despite having eight decades of a busy life in the rear view mirror. His well-known outspokenness was also frequently commented upon as being a fundamental tenet of Pauling’s personality. One paper, The Fremont-Newark Argus, wrote

He’s always been a bit like a feisty puppy: sinking his teeth into an idea, enthusiastically tossing it around and defying anyone to grab it away. That vigorous and stubborn approach to science – and life – has made Linus Pauling a near-legendary figure.

Four years later, the newspapers were publishing articles to mark Pauling’s 84th birthday. Undeterred by his increasing age, they noted, Pauling was staying as busy ever. He continued with his peace work, notably participating in the Peace Ship Assistance mission to Nicaragua the previous August. Journalists, however, seemed mostly interested in Pauling’s work on vitamin C and the controversy that it provoked, labeling him as both a maverick and a pioneering spirit. Thinking along these lines, The Worcester Sunday Telegram postulated

His unrelenting refusal to admit defeat and his persistent crusades have, over the years, stirred up lingering hostilities of passionate proportions in some scientific and political circles – and a kind of folk-hero reverence elsewhere.

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Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1986

The following year, when Pauling turned 85, parties and other gatherings filled his calendar for the weeks around his birthday, and newspapers were once again there to document both the proceedings and the popular view of Pauling. More than ten of them published celebratory articles about the “great dean of science” and wrote of Pauling’s enjoyment at being the center of attention. Multiple reporters likewise noted that, although he had gotten older, Pauling’s humor and self-confidence, not to mention his outspoken habits, had not dissipated.

Pauling was also clearly remaining as busy as a man half his age. As an article in Oregon Magazine pointed out,

It’s hard to argue with a man who keeps up active research, runs his own institute, tours the nation giving dozens of major addresses each year, and has just written a new book – and will celebrate his 85th birthday on February 28.

Though Pauling still conducted scientific research mostly in theoretical chemistry, this component of his life was more frequently mentioned as being a part of his past. Quite clearly, vitamin C was keeping him in the news during the 1980s.


It was 1989 and Pauling was celebrating his 88th birthday by the time the media seemed to realize that he was getting older. Heralded by journalists as one of the most important scientists of all time, Pauling’s good humor and outspoken tendencies continued to intrigue, as did his involvement in discussions regarding nuclear issues. He was also continuing his study, and defense, of vitamin C, and the controversy that his opinions had provoked twenty years earlier had not declined.

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Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1991

As he turned 90 years old, Pauling was commonly portrayed as being “the everyman’s scientist.” In 1991, at least forty-seven articles were published in commemoration of his birthday. Newspapers referred to him variously as an “aging guru,” “something of an oddball,” and a patriarch of the very scientific establishment that was so vehemently disagreeing with him. The Chicago Tribune, for one, urged one to consider

a tendency to serious messiness, a devotion to hard work, promotion of a couple of theories hardly anybody else subscribes to, a habit of writing directly to the U.S. president when he’s angry, and a happy delight in discovering things that nobody knew before, and you have the full package: the grand old man of science.

Other papers called him a celebrity, a gadfly, a genius. Scientists and medical professionals interviewed for some of these article disagreed, one of them calling the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine a “den of cracks.” None of this seemed too important to Pauling who was still continuing work on his three passions: chemistry, peace, and vitamin C. The media also seemed inclined to think that, after thirty years of effort, his support of ascorbic acid was paying off – to journalists anyway, the work appeared to finally be gaining some acceptance.

February 28 of the following year, 1992, was Pauling’s 91st birthday, and it did not go unmarked. His maverick tendencies were again noted. Another year older and in the early stages of declining health, Pauling had become more solitary, spending much of his time either at his Big Sur ranch or closer to the Bay Area at the Institute. The newspapers, which had earlier commented on his pleasure at being the center of attention, now described him as being more comfortable when alone. Even still, Pauling remained extremely active. As an article published in the Arizona Daily Star reported, the nonagenarian was “still publishing scientific papers, still working in the laboratory, and still touting the virtues of C.”

Linus Pauling clearly made an impact not only on matters scientific and peace-related, but also on the average American’s view of what a scientist could be. His persona as a celebrity was both reflected and enhanced by the regular media coverage that attended both his professional activities and his personal milestones. Though now gone for more than twenty-two years, his impact is still strongly felt. Likewise, through newspaper articles and more than 4,000 linear feet of additional materials held in his papers, the Pauling legacy will remain carefully preserved for future generations of scholars, admirers and, yes, journalists.

Vitamin C and Heart Disease: An Open Question

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A note on LDL cholesterol and Lipoprotein (a) written by Pauling on his office chalkboard.

[An analysis of Linus Pauling’s research on vitamin C and heart disease, part 4 of 4]

In June 1992, Linus Pauling visited the Texas Heart Institute, after which he accepted an offer to write an editorial for the organization’s journal. He completed his short piece, “Can Vitamins Help Control Heart Disease and Strokes?” in March 1993, a little over a year before he passed away.

The Texas Heart Institute article turned out to be Pauling’s final public statement of consequence on the question of ascorbic acid and cardiovascular health. In his text, he argued once again that, although physicians had long known that arterial lesions cause heart disease, they had not yet accepted the evidence that lesions are brought about by low levels of vitamin C in the blood. This consensus had been maintained despite a widely accepted understanding that vitamin C is necessary to repair bodily tissues via collagen production.

Unfortunately for Pauling, the research required to clearly to shift scientific opinion was not forthcoming. Pauling realized that a major study needed to be funded to show a strong relationship between intake of larger doses of nutritional supplements (especially vitamin C) and even greater preventative or therapeutic health benefits for victims of cardiovascular disease. As the idea’s chief proponent, Pauling would have seemed to be a primary figure in attracting grant funds for such a study. However, in part because of the intense controversy over Pauling’s previous work with vitamin C and the common cold, and vitamin C and cancer, Pauling’s reputation had been badly marred within the medical mainstream, and research dollars had become very difficult for Pauling to source.

Partly as a result, his and Matthias Rath’s work stressing the importance of vitamin C as a key factor in combating heart disease was perhaps a case of too little, too late. Though the tandem had succeeded in establishing a general sense of the potential importance of vitamin C in heart disease prevention, the circumstances surrounding their work were not ripe enough for the duo to develop a more complete and lasting understanding of the types and levels of nutrients needed to ensure optimum heart health.


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Linus Pauling giving an interview at Deer Flat Ranch, September 1993.

Other material considerations further compounded the problem. For one, at precisely the same time that the cardiovascular work was gaining traction, the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine was in the depths of dire financial straits. Furthermore, Linus Pauling was now nearly 93 years old and in declining health. As he battled with the cancer diagnosis that would ultimately claim his life, Pauling realized that could no longer go on assisting Rath. Meanwhile, Rath’s relationship with others in the Institute had fallen into turmoil, and the Linus Pauling Heart Foundation, which Rath directed, was withering on a vine of financial insolvency.

Rath was ultimately asked to leave the Institute amidst a period of legal disarray, partly a result of his having never signed the Institute’s mandatory employee patent agreement. In the wake of his departure from the Institute, and following the death of Linus Pauling in August 1994, the Unified Theory of Human Cardiovascular Disease largely slipped into obscurity, though some echo of it has remained in the public consciousness.


In the years that followed Pauling’s death, the Institute’s cardiovascular program continued to investigate the role that nutrients like vitamin C, E, and B6 might play in limiting oxidative damage brought about by low density lipoproteins (LDL) in individuals suffering from atherosclerosis. Similar work is on-going today in multiple laboratories.

At present, the scientific understanding of the importance of vitamin C in preventing or treating heart disease remains somewhat mixed. Although vitamin C does not appear to directly lower blood cholesterol levels, evidence exists that it does significantly lower low density lipoprotein and Lp (a) levels, which in turn helps to protect arteries from blockage by these cholesterol-carrying molecules.

Total blood cholesterol may also lessen with increased vitamin C intake due to the fact that vitamin C is an HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor, meaning that if vitamin C levels are high, the body manufactures less cholesterol. Additionally, vitamin C’s benefits to the body as both a primary collagen producer and as an antioxidant contribute to what most studies agree to be a significant, though still not fully understood, protective effect against heart disease when taken in doses of 400 to 2,000 mg daily. As in Pauling’s era, this level of supplementation is far above the current Recommended Daily Allowance for adult men and women, which is 60 mg per day.

Likewise, the interaction between lysine and vitamin C that many of Pauling’s case study patients found to be highly therapeutic – with anecdotal reports of actual reversal of atherosclerosis in certain patients – has not been investigated further. And so it is that, more than twenty years after his death, Linus Pauling’s ideas on the impact that nutritional supplementation might make on heart health remain just as tantalizing and out of reach as they were when Pauling was alive and active.

The Unified Theory of Human Cardiovascular Disease

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[An examination of Pauling’s research on vitamin C and heart disease, part 3 of 4.]

In early 1991, Dr. Howard Bachrach of Southold, New York informed Linus Pauling of experimental results indicating that lipoprotein (a) [commonly abbreviated as Lp(a)] binding to arterial walls could be suppressed through the use of supplemental lysine. In the weeks that followed, Bachrach continued to exchange information with Pauling and his colleague at the Linus Pauling Institute of Medicine, Matthias Rath, in hopes of determining if lysine, vitamin C, or some combination of the two might not only prohibit but actually reverse plaque accretion in vitamin C-deficient guinea pigs.

A breakthrough came about on February 28, 1991 – Linus Pauling’s 90th birthday – when Rath reported to his colleagues his finding that Lp(a), as synthesized in the liver, was in fact regulated in an unknown way by the amount of vitamin C present in the body.

Lp(a) was understood by Rath and Pauling to form from low density lipoprotein (LDL) and Apoliprotein A-1 [abbrevied apo(a)] in the liver in amounts largely determined by the rate of synthesis of apo(a). This rate of synthesis was increased by low vitamin C concentrations in the blood. Rath and Pauling published the finding in Medical Science Research, arguing that plaque formation was not caused by LDL cholesterol, as previously thought, but lipoprotein (a) instead. Crucially, high doses of vitamin C was identified by the authors as being central to reducing these dangerous lipoprotein (a) levels.


This discovery formed the basis for what Pauling and Rath would eventually call their Unified Theory of Human Cardiovascular Disease. Fundamental to this framework was Pauling and Rath’s belief that cardiovascular disease was a degenerative disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. The theory also put forth that humans’ inability to synthesize their own vitamin C drove the disease, though it was also aggravated by genetic defects and exogenous risk factors, such as free radicals introduced by cigarette smoke or oxidatively modified triglyceride-rich lipoproteins exerting a noxious effect on the vascular wall.

Further, lipoprotein (a) was put forth as an evolutionary surrogate for vitamin C in animals – like primates and guinea pigs – that no longer produced their own ascorbic acid. This collection of species shows much higher levels of Lp(a) in the blood, a characterstic seen by Pauling and Rath as serving as an ad hoc biological mechanism used by the body to repair damaged tissues through deposit on weakening arterial walls. Too much Lp(a), however, leads to plaque formation, causing angina, heart attack, and stroke. A lack of vitamin C thus leads indirectly to the deterioration of arteries.

From there, the researchers argued that this problem could be easily fixed if only the recommended doses of vitamin C were increased to levels many times larger than those prescribed by the federal government. Were the body enabled to make use of supplemental vitamin C to produce collagen – as all animals that synthesize vitamin C internally do – humans would be much more efficient at repairing damaged arterial walls. Indeed, vitamin C could function not only to strengthen arterial walls, but also to reduce the amount of Lp(a) being produced by the body and consequently – as a co-factor in the hydroxylation reaction that converts cholesterol to bile acids – lowering the amount of free cholesterol in the blood as well.


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Published in the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine Newsletter, March 1992.

To Pauling and Rath, the logic supported their theory was clear. Critics, however, demanded large clinical studies to support the claims, and this was research that the Institute, which was struggling mightily for funds, did not have the resources to pursue.

It was at this point that other interested researchers took up the torch. One of them, Dr. James Enstrom at UCLA, led a 1992 study of over 11,000 human subjects. Enstrom’s work indicated that those individuals who regularly took supplements of vitamin C at federally recommended levels enjoyed significantly lower rates of heart disease than did those not subscribing to a supplementation routine. This data led Enstrom’s team to wonder – in tandem with Pauling and Rath – whether larger doses would achieve an even greater protective effect.

In 1993, hoping to add additional support to the hypothesis, Pauling published three case studies in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. Each study focused on individuals who had suffered from severe cardiovascular disease and undergone surgical procedures, including heart bypass. The individuals in question had read Pauling’s papers with Rath and had decided to try adding lysine and vitamin C to their diet. In certain cases, members of the study group had already been taking fairly high doses of vitamin C and then added lysine.

The 1993 data clearly were not anything like controlled studies and were reported on anecdotally by Pauling. Further, the amounts of lysine and vitamin C ingested varied significantly between individuals, but was generally in the range of between 3 to 6 grams per day of each supplement. Many within the study group reported rapid relief and positive responses.

Though far from authoritative, the published case studies did help to bolster Pauling and Rath’s position, attracting increased interest in the work. However, the duo also received plenty of letters, some filled with irritation, from people who had incorporated supplementation and saw no positive change. Some correspondents, in fact, were getting worse.