The Kennedy Assassination

One in a series of Kennedy motorcade photos sent to Pauling by Raymond Marcus.

As was detailed in our previous series of posts, Linus Pauling’s relationship with President John F. Kennedy was, at times, badly strained. But despite the tensions that existed between the two, Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963 came as a significant shock, and led Pauling to join his wife, Ava Helen, in sending a letter of “heartfelt sympathy” to Jacqueline Kennedy on both of their behalf.

From early on however, it is clear that Pauling was very interested in the particulars of Kennedy’s death, the investigation that ensued, and the suspicions that surrounded the entire affair. Indeed, a review of the materials that Pauling collected on the Kennedy assassination suggest that he might reasonably have been termed a conspiracy theorist, and that he believed that there was likely an alternative explanation for Kennedy’s murder that went beyond what the government had issued.

As is well known today, just hours after Kennedy was shot, a suspect named Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested by Dallas police. After being apprehended, and while in police custody, Oswald himself was fatally wounded by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner. Because of the high profile of the assassination and lingering questions about Oswald’s role, an official investigation was commissioned. The product of that investigation, known as the Warren Report, declared that Oswald acted as a lone gunman and that he was singularly responsible for the killing.

With this, the U.S. government declared the case to be closed and, in the years since, it has not continued to investigate the assassination in any public forum. Of course, many people disputed the Warren Report’s conclusions, some believing that Oswald was set up by the government and others arguing that Oswald acted with accomplices. Pauling, it seems safe to say, was among those casting doubts, if a minimally active one.

The inside front cover of Pauling’s copy of the Warren Report.

One early sign that Pauling questioned the official account is scribbled in the margins of a 1964 Saturday Evening Post article written by D.C. political journalist Stewart Alsop, hypothesizing that Oswald had no connection to the CIA. In the piece, Alsop steadily builds upon this idea until, midway through, outright concluding that there was no association. Next to this paragraph, Pauling noted in his trademark loopy print, “How does Alsop know?” If nothing else, this interjection indicates that Pauling was keenly interested in the specifics of the Kennedy case and the evidence surrounding his murder.

Pauling’s intrigue was such that he began to query others about the assassination. Among these correspondents was a law firm, Waldman & Lobenthal. Pauling also made note of having called Raymond Marcus, an outspoken critic of the the Warren Report. After their phone call, Marcus sent Pauling a series of photos and documents, requesting his “comments on the material,” which in Marcus’ view pointed towards a conspiracy.

Pauling likewise saved numerous articles that either suggested a conspiracy or highlighted perceived flaws in the Warren Report. Pauling even subscribed to the newsletter circulated by the “Assassination Inquiry Committee,” a group that flatly rejected the Warren Report and sought to find a hidden truth about the Kennedy assassination.

Time moved forward and Pauling’s work and life circumstances changed, but he maintained an interest in the assassination. In 1975, a dozen years after Kennedy was killed, a nonprofit organization called the Citizens Commission of Inquiry was created to

make the American people, the media, and the Congress aware of the obfuscation by the CIA, FBI, and other federal police organizations of the facts surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy […] hopefully to culminate in a Congressional investigation into the cover-up of these facts and the assassination itself.

Pauling was specifically sought out by the commission and asked to set up a team of scientists who could analyze the evidence surrounding the case. As it happened, Pauling was in Australia when the letter was sent, and by the time he returned a replacement team had been created.

Nonetheless, Pauling kept tabs on the group’s continuing work. Most notably, Pauling’s papers include several blank petition forms urging support for the Citizen Commission of Inquiry’s mission statement. While it is unknown whether or not Pauling actually circulated the petition, a 1976 letter from Mark Lane, the group’s lawyer, offers thanks to Pauling for his “encouragement” and “contributions.”

From the documentary evidence, one might surmise that Pauling was only minimally involved with efforts to debunk the official explanation of Kennedy’s assassination, but his interest in the topic was certainly strong. At times he seems to have provided support for various initiatives, and he consistently monitored the work of organizations that sought to demystify or debunk the findings of the Warren Report. From Pauling’s papers we are not able to discern, for certain, his true beliefs about the assassination, but at minimum it is reasonable to conclude that he did not agree with the official reckoning of this pivotal moment in American history.

Science for Life and Career

Linus Pauling, 1950

[Wrapping up our series on Linus Pauling’s rhetoric as it related to the development of post-war science. This is part 5 of 5.]

Academic research as a career.” Chemical and Engineering News, November 1950

This 1950 article was written by Pauling as the twentieth installment of the American Chemical Society’s “Careers in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering,” column published in Chemical and Engineering News. “Careers” came out weekly and featured advice from leading scientists for college students and recent graduates. Pauling’s contribution, “Academic Research as a Career,” focused on the values, characteristics, and practices necessary for a scientist to succeed in a college or university setting.

Pauling began by suggesting that “A career of academic research…is the best of all possible careers, for those people who are suited to it by nature and disposition.” In exploring this notion, Pauling defined academic research as basic rather than applied, and advised that young scholars interested in an academic career avoid getting too bogged down in applied research projects sponsored by industry. He then noted that most academic research is carried out in universities, although a few non-affiliated research institutions do exist. As such, the academic scientist should be prepared to spend a portion of their time teaching. They might also expect to be paid considerably less than a peer who was employed in an applied research setting in the same discipline.

Pauling’s ideal academic researcher was characterized by several main personality traits, first and foremost

…a deep curiosity about nature, [and] a consuming desire to know more about the world; in short, he must have the scientific spirit. He must be a scholar by disposition. It is good also, if he is to be a teacher as well as a research man, that he have a strong desire to communicate his knowledge to other people.

Pauling also differentiated between the characteristics of scholarly interest and scholarly aptitude, citing interest as the more important of the two but acknowledging, of course, the usefulness of aptitude. Even still

…experience has shown us that some men who could not be described as brilliant students have become outstanding figures in academic research. Such a man might be a gifted experimentalist, or a careful, penetrating analyst of fundamental theoretical principles.

Pauling likewise encouraged young scientists to find a specialization and devote themselves to becoming an authority in that niche, but not to focus too narrowly and to maintain active research interests in other subjects or disciplines. Doing so would allow one to more fully experience the primary advantage of an academic career: the freedom of research. For Pauling’s “scientific spirits,” the promise of intellectual exploration was sure to make the career a worthwhile choice, despite the lower salaries.

Lastly, in order to prepare for an academic career, Pauling advised that students seek out as broad and fundamental an education as possible. For Pauling, this included developing a proficiency in the major languages of scientific research and publication (in 1950, French, German, and Russian were itemized as being the most important). Students should also be prepared to work toward a doctoral degree, and Pauling recommended studying with multiple faculty members on several distinct phases of a project, rather than selecting one faculty member to oversee their entire PhD process. Overall, Pauling found the greatest indicator of success in an academic position to be temperament – one is either suited to the work, or they’re not.

The significance of chemistry to man in the modern world.” Engineering and Science, January 1951 

Later reprinted under the title, “It Pays to Understand Science,” Pauling originally wrote this 1951 article for UNESCO, but it also appeared in Caltech’s monthly, Engineering and Science. Pauling began the piece by justifying his claims regarding the significance of science – and particularly of chemistry – for the average citizen. He then put forth a proposal for science education that resembled the way that math is now taught; that is, beginning in kindergarten with simplified, foundational concepts and working steadily up through each grade level.

Pauling’s model was tailored to the objective that students, by the time they finished high school, would have built a solid understanding of each of the branches of science, and would be capable of pursuing them at the university level if they so desired. At the time that Pauling was writing his piece, most students were not formally introduced to science until they had arrived at college, and most non-scientists had at best a rudimentary comprehension of basic scientific concepts that intersected with their lives in the forms of electricity, synthetic materials, the effects of gravity, and the like. But because most chemistry is done at the molecular and atomic levels, non-scientists tended to have less of an understanding of it than of the other sciences, which are more readily observable to the naked and untrained eye.

Pauling also recognized and pointed out that many advertising campaigns functioned on the principle that almost everyone has a very elementary understanding of chemistry, but no practical comprehension of its application. By way of example, he offered the following:

[The reader] is asked to buy wonderful new green medicines, containing chlorophyll. [The advertiser] hopes that the reader will remember that chlorophyll is the wonderful substance in the leaves of green plants, that purifies the air. He hopes that the reader does not know…that chlorophyll that has been extracted from the plant has, so far as any scientist has been able to discover, no action as a medicine, no activity whatsoever. Moreover, he must be hoping that the reader of the advertisement will not even think enough to ask why he does not eat a green leaf…in order to get his chlorophyll.

Chemistry’s intersections with pop culture were a recurrent theme in Pauling’s post-war lectures and general audience articles. They were also one of the biggest catalysts in his push for refocusing and intensifying science education in the public school system.

Pauling felt very strongly that a solid understanding of science was necessary for a citizen to operate in the modern world, since “…the modern world is largely scientific in its constitution.” By extension, it was crucial that the citizenry be equipped with the tools to critically evaluate the world around them – including depictions of science seen in comic strips and advertisements – and to make informed political decisions in the emerging nuclear age. As science progressed and once disparate facts could be connected into larger theories, Pauling’s proposed public education program would accordingly shift toward an emphasis on theory. Doing so would empower individuals with the capacity to recognize and understand phenomena that they came across without the need for rote memorization of individual facts.  

Unsolved Problems and Hope for the Future

Lecturing on structural chemistry at the Richards Medal ceremony. Pauling received this award from the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society in 1947.

[Linus Pauling and the promise of post-war science, part 3 of 5.]

Unsolved problems of structural chemistry.” Acceptance address for the 1947 Theodore William Richards Medal, awarded by the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society. Chemical and Engineering News, October 1947.

In May 1947, Linus Pauling received yet another award from a chapter of the American Chemical Society. This time it was the Theodore William Richards Medal, granted by the Northeastern section of the ACS.

Pauling chose to use the occasion to speak on “Unsolved Problems of Structural Chemistry.” At the beginning of his talk, he praised the progress that had been made in the field over the previous twenty-five years, and then speculated on the potential for advancement over the next quarter century. In his address, he sorted the discipline’s “unsolved problems” into four categories: “comic-strip science,” “some puzzling small problems,” “some larger problems,” and “some great problems.”

Pauling’s “comic-strip science” designation referred to depictions of chemistry aimed at children as well as other popular-media portrayals, including magazine advertisements. Pauling believed that many young people were first introduced to the concepts of atoms and molecules through comics, a point of entry that was often capable of instilling a reasonable understanding of basic concepts. On the other hand, advertisements for household products often hinted at the chemical properties that made the products effective, but these details were usually under-explored and not well-understood. In particular, Pauling cited pin-point carbonation – an old-fashioned process by which bubbled were added to sodas, seltzers, and other beverages – and the activation of chlorophyll in household deodorizers as two examples of chemical reactions that were taken for granted in daily life but still not adequately explained by scientists.

By “puzzling small problems,” Pauling meant to refer to ongoing research on the molecular structure of simpler molecules, for which newer methods had begun to produce greater insights. His “larger problems” were also structural in nature, but more complex and theory-based, and primarily relating to the structures of groups of substances rather than individual molecules. This category also included studies on the extent to which covalent bonds between metal atoms occur in nonmetallic compounds. Pauling’s list of “great problems” included the structure of metals and intermetallic compounds, the structure of activated complexes, and an array of questions in organic and biological chemistry, especially the structures of proteins and genes, and the relation of structure to biological specificity.

Having provided an overview of these types of problems, Pauling concluded with optimistic rhetoric that was consistent with his talks of this time:

The progress of science in recent years is bringing biology and medicine into closer and closer contact with the basic sciences, and I am confident that the next few decades will bring to us a detailed understanding of the molecular structure of biological systems, and that this understanding will help in the rapid general progress of biology and medicine.  

“Chemical achievement and hope for the future.” Silliman Lecture presented at Yale University in October 1947, on the occasion of the Centennial of the Sheffield Scientific School. American Scientist, 1948. 

Pauling took a similar approach to his 1947 Silliman Lecture, delivered at Yale University in the fall. In thinking about “Chemical achievement and hope for the future,” Pauling began by examining the past century of scientific achievement in the field of chemistry. This period was one characterized by transition from “an empirical and descriptive science to an exact and theoretical one.”

For Pauling, a perfect example of this transition was the study of chemical thermodynamics, a field that had developed in conjunction with improvements in the understanding of molecular structure, among other fairly recent discoveries. Pauling also pointed out that, over the last hundred years, precise atomic weights had been assigned to most of the elements, and many of those predicted by sequences in Mendeleev’s periodic table had been discovered, along with the noble gases and a subset of man-made elements.

Pauling then summarized the last century of scientific achievement in each of the sub-fields of chemistry. For inorganic chemistry, he cited an increased understanding of the molecular structure of substances, particularly those needed to synthesize silicon-based substances that behave like carbon-based ones. These compounds included synthetic diamond and rubber, both of which were extremely useful to industry.

For organic chemistry, Pauling spoke to breakthroughs in both the “art of organic chemistry” and a corresponding but previously distinct “science of organic chemistry,” and identified as the greatest achievement in the field the unification of the two. The ability to synthesize new plastics was one major tangible outcome that arose from this consolidation within the discipline.

In Pauling’s view though, the field in which the most significant breakthroughs had occurred was clearly biomedical chemistry. Over the past five decades, average life expectancy had risen some sixteen years and childhood mortality rates had plummeted by 90% in the last twenty-five years alone. Numerous maladies had been controlled or nearly eradicated, though threats in the form of polio and flu viruses remained; so too degenerative diseases like cancer and heart disease.

As he considered the possibility of future advancement in medicine, Pauling emphasized the need for research on the structural basis of physiological activity, which he considered to be the greatest problem in chemistry. Work in this area was sure to reveal new insights into the behavior of antigens, proteins, enzymes, and other immunochemical actors, with medical progress emerging quickly from there.

Pauling wound up his talk with a look ahead. In so doing, he put forth the tantalizing idea that

This discussion has been confined to the least interesting aspects of the developments of chemistry in the future…those that can be predicted, that can be foreseen on the basis of our present knowledge…The great discoveries of the future – those that will make the world different from the present world – are the discoveries that no one has yet thought about…

Inspired by Walt Whitman’s “As I lay with my head in your lap, Camerado” Pauling confessed that he knew not where the future would lead but urged science to confront it head on. “Science cannot be stopped,” he implored,

Man will gather knowledge no matter what the consequences – and we cannot predict what they will be… I know that great, interesting and valuable discoveries can be made and will be made… But I know also that still more interesting discoveries will be made that I have not the imagination to describe – and I am awaiting them, full of curiosity and enthusiasm.

A Post-War Vision for Science

Linus Pauling, 1946

[Ed Note: Today and in the four posts that will follow, we will be examining a series of popular articles and lectures that Linus Pauling delivered from 1946-1951 that outline his vision for what science might become in world no longer dominated by war.]


Linus Pauling believed that the enormous scientific innovation characterizing World War II had resulted in a landscape where science was more relevant than ever to people’s daily lives. As such, in his post-war (defined here as 1946-1951) popular lectures and articles, he tended to focus on spaces where science intersected with everyday life, be it in medical research, education, or even popular culture.

Pauling’s vision for the future of science was optimistic and premised on the notion that the scientific community would build upon its war-time achievements and thrive in an environment defined by free exchange and ample resources no longer constrained by military imperatives. Major themes that he turned to during this period included the need for the creation of a National Science Foundation and subsequent provisions for large-scale funding of scientific research; the intersection of structural chemistry with biological and biomedical chemistry; and the imperative that scientific research and education be made accessible to the general public.

Pauling also frequently made mention of promising developments in medicine. Citing current breakthroughs in structural chemistry, Pauling predicted a ten to twenty year period of rapid advancement in medical research that would contribute to a sophisticated molecular understanding of disease and facilitate the synthesis of chemotherapeutic compounds tailored to specific illnesses. In pushing forward these ideas, Pauling once again emphasized his concern for the health and well-being of society, and his fundamental belief in the value of improving one’s understanding of the world around them.

Molecular architecture and biological reactions,” Chemical and Engineering News, May 1946

In this 1946 critique, Pauling made the argument that contemporary research on the nature of physiological reactions was falling short of the mark because of a lack of understanding about molecular structure, and a lack of emphasis on the connection between structure and function.

According to Pauling, prior research on physiological reactions had attacked the problem from the wrong direction by surveying the chemical reactivity of molecules. (e.g., the tendency of molecules to break their chemical bonds, the strength of bonds between atoms, and the formation of new chemical bonds.) Pauling instead put forth a different approach that would focus on the size and shape of molecules, and the nature of the interactions between molecules as opposed to within them.

Bolstered by this alternative framing, Pauling believed that researchers would soon arrive upon major new advancements, and that vexing questions would begin to be answered. “The next twenty years,” he predicted, “will be as great years [sic] for biology and medicine as the past twenty have been for physics and chemistry.” At the time that Pauling wrote this, scientists had developed only a rudimentary concept of the structure of proteins, a research topic of keen importance to his own lab. But Pauling believed that without a strong basis in molecular structure, it would be near impossible to gain a complete understanding of protein structures, to say nothing of the physiological processes to which they are fundamental.

Pauling next provided a brief summary of the progress that had been made over the previous forty years on structural questions across the sciences, citing the development of the electron microscope as being particularly crucial.

There was still work to be done though. For Pauling, the molecular world was a “dimensional forest,” and he believed that a particular ecosystem between 10 and 100 Å (or 10-7 and 10-6 cm) was home to tantalizing clues about the nature of growth processes, duplication mechanisms for genes and viruses, and enzyme activity. But the technology of the day had not yet caught up; no method had been developed that could enable scientists to view that unknowable part of the “forest.” As Pauling explained, the era’s electron microscopes could get close, and other instruments could go even smaller, but no tool was quite sophisticated enough to illuminate processes and substances within that size range.

To make this specific issue more comprehensible for a non-scientific audience, Pauling likened the situation to that of a scientist in space, attempting to study the Earth from thousands of miles away. With microscopes, diffraction units, and other scientific technology also appropriately scaled up, such a scientist might be able to “…distinguish Central Park, the rivers, and such aggregates of sky scrapers as Rockefeller Center…,” but would not be able to discern individual skyscrapers.

From there, using chemical methods, they would be able to identify “substances” moving across the surface of the Earth that they could not necessarily see, such as cars, buses, and ships. With an electron microscope, they could uncover information about the size and shape of objects to within ten feet, and through x-ray and electron diffraction, they would be able to study in detail the structure of objects smaller than one foot in diameter. But there was no tool that could handle objects in between these sizes, so the scientist’s understanding of life on Earth would necessarily be tempered by their lack of ability to see anything within that range of focus. Scaled back down to the molecular level, this was the situation in which structural biologists found themselves in 1946.

In order to overcome these difficulties, Pauling advocated for a greater allocation of resources to advance work in structural biology. He also argued that knowing the shapes and sizes of molecules would shed light on their physiological activities, as more and more evidence was suggesting that physical properties – as opposed to chemical properties – determined a great many molecular activities. (This was clearly the case with enzymes: catalysis reactions, it had been shown, only occurred in instances where two pieces of a molecule fit together like pieces of a puzzle.)

With the war now over, buoyed by ample funding, and following his suggestions on the most fruitful lines of inquiry, it was Pauling’s belief that the sky was the limit. “[P]recise information will rapidly accrue,” he suggested, “including ultimately detailed structures of fibrous proteins, respiratory pigments, antibodies, enzymes, reticular proteins of protoplasm, and others.”

Pauling’s Year as ACS President: A Busy Conclusion

Pauling seated with Wilbur Miller and Gene McGuane for a radio broadcast sponsored by the Western Connecticut section of the American Chemical Society, 1949

[Part 4 of 4]

As Linus Pauling moved into the second half of his year as president of the American Chemical Society, the organization’s financial issues briefly took center stage. In July 1949, a committee tasked with analyzing the society’s expenditures and incomes began working in earnest. In particular, the committee sought to compare the costs associated with producing each of the society’s various publications against the income generated by subscription rates and member dues.

Pauling’s administrative records indicate that financing its publications was one of the ACS’ greatest monetary hurdles. And while the issue was beyond the committee’s ability to resolve, there was talk of increasing membership dues and publication subscription rates, decreasing financial support for certain niche publications in favor of more lucrative ones, and contacting chemistry-dependent industries that frequently took out mass-subscriptions to ask for additional financial support. Ultimately, it was decided that the 1950 membership dues would be increased; an explanation and defense of this move was published in the end-of-year report that was circulated to the full membership.

By late August, Pauling was once again attracting attention from his political critics within the ACS. This time, Pauling’s plans to travel to Mexico City to attend and present at the American Continental Congress for Peace were the source of the controversy. One especially prominent detractor, ACS board member A.C. Elm, wrote a letter to an unspecified recipient requesting that Pauling be dissuaded from attending the conference and, if that failed, that he be asked to resign from his leadership position. In his letter, Elm wrote that many ACS members were “greatly disturbed” to learn that Pauling was a sponsor of the meeting, which was “inspired and dominated by comunists [sic].”

Other members agreed that the act of requesting the president’s resignation over his political activities was unprecedented but necessary in light of the potential smear on the society’s reputation. Subsequent correspondence flew between ACS members, including every board member except for Pauling (Elm specifically stipulated as much in his first communication), trying to rally the organization against Pauling and “…use their influence to prevent Pauling from embarrassing the Society.”

These efforts failed and, in September, Pauling attended the Mexico City meeting. While there, he presented a talk titled “Man – An Irrational Animal,” in which he endorsed the idea of a world government, headed by the United Nations, to which all countries would need to transfer their sovereignty. Pauling believed that such an arrangement would guarantee world peace by uniting the globe under a single umbrella rather than a collection of competing nations.

To this end, Pauling placed the responsibility for seeking and ensuring peace into the hands of citizens instead of governments, since the latter’s historical impulse toward national sovereignty had frequently been antagonistic to the cause of peace. Pauling believed that international problems like hunger would never be solved while war continued to cause divisions between countries and waste resources. Pauling took particular aim at a segment of the scientific population for focusing on weapons development instead of conducting work to better the human condition.  

Just two weeks after the American Continental Congress for Peace, Pauling presided over the national meeting of the American Chemical Society. Held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the meeting was the largest in ACS history, with a record 1,064 papers presented in 151 sessions over five days. Such was the scale of the meeting that, in addition to space reserved at six different hotels, three temporary rooms were constructed at the ACS convention hall to satisfy meeting requirements. Several field trips to glass, wine, and food producers were included on the conference program as well.

Pauling gave his presidential address, titled “Chemistry and the World of Today,” on September 19. He opened,

What can I say under the title ‘Chemistry and the World of Today?’ My answer to this question is that I can say anything, discuss any feature of modern life, because every aspect of the world today – even politics and international relations – is affected by chemistry.

He went on to give examples of scientific achievements that had fundamentally altered western society during the war years, including the invention of nylon and the medical application of penicillin. He then argued that the majority of scientific discoveries that are significant to modern life come about as a result of basic rather than applied research, noting that it is impossible to arrange or design life-changing discoveries. In emphasizing this point, Pauling used the example that “Nobody, not even Einstein himself, could plan to discover the theory of relativity.” [Pauling’s italics]

From there, Pauling complained bitterly about institutional qualms related to the costs of scientific equipment and research funds. In so doing, Pauling quoted the Russian physicist P.L. Kapitza, who, in a 1943 speech before the Soviet Academy of Science, had asked

When you look at a painting of Rembrandt, are you interested in the question of how much Rembrandt paid for his brushes and canvas? Why, when you consider a scientific job, do you want to know the cost of apparatus of the material used on it?

Pauling was unequivocal in his belief that the benefits of scientific achievement far outweighed the costs involved in producing the work, never mind the cost of equipment. As a means of easing the burden on educational institutions, Pauling reiterated his support for the creation of a National Science Foundation and stipulated that funding should be made available to universities and research institutes without limitations on how it could be used. He also suggested that corporations that rely on scientific discovery for their products bore an obligation to fund a large chunk of that research by providing similarly unrestricted research grants. Pauling felt that $250 million a year in federal money through a National Science Foundation, and $75 million a year from science-dependent industries, would work well as starting levels of support.

There were some concerns, raised by Pauling himself, that such large subsidies might invite inappropriate outside influence on scientific studies. But in general it was agreed that the need for funding and the value of research were greater than the associated risks. Notably, Pauling also believed that the smaller contribution from industry would still be enough to protect against a government monopolization of science.

Newsweek‘s reporting on the annual meeting portrayed Pauling’s address as the highlight of the convention, while making passing mention of that fact that, at some point, “…a rare chemical element disappeared from the convention hall where it was on exhibit.” The element was indeed very rare, and quite expensive as well. Called promethium (originally spelled prometheum) it had first been synthesized at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory during the war years and had been kept secret for reasons of national security.

According to the article, the sample on display weighed only 2 milligrams yet was worth about $120,000 in 1949, which is equivalent to well over a million dollars today. After doing the math, the Newsweek reporter who filed the story concluded that

…the national debt of the United States would buy about 10 pounds of prometheum. The loss was deplorable but completely unpreventable, for prometheum is radioactive and slowly disintegrates.

The implications of the last sentence are never explained; instead, the article moves on to a discussion of new processes for electroplating aluminum coatings to other metals. Whether the prometheum was stolen or somehow degraded down to nothing during the course of the conference is unclear, though theft seems more likely considering its monetary value (and its 17.7-year half-life).

Michael Somogyi

One research paper presented at the national meeting caused turbulence for the ACS in the months that followed. In Atlantic City, Dr. Michael Somogyi gave a talk on the treatment of diabetes in which he stated that most cases could be managed through dietary means alone and did not require the use of supplementary insulin. In fact, Somogyi argued that doctors were overprescribing insulin treatments to the point of afflicting their patients with “insulin poisoning.”

The American Diabetes Association was infuriated by this stance, and complained that medically driven research with severe implications for the treatment of a disease should never have been presented by a chemist at a chemistry convention. The ADA also pointed out that, in allowing the paper to be presented, the ACS had undermined the ability of medical practitioners to effectively treat diabetics, since many patients had begun to request Somogyi’s insulin-free treatment plan. The association further stressed that Somogyi’s research had not been clinically validated and did not actually include a “treatment plan” per se, but rather consisted of a series of recommendations for treatment possibilities and a call for further research.

An ADA representative wrote to Pauling that Somogyi’s actions had the potential to “jeopardize the lives of persons under treatment for diabetes” by encouraging potentially lethal abandonment of treatment plans involving insulin and weakening patients’ trust in their doctors. The representative concluded that changes in the scientific understanding of medical treatments should not be released to the public until clinically approved by qualified medical practitioners, and then released by an appropriate scientific journal or medical body.

The Somogyi controversy was one of the last major topics that Pauling was forced to address during his term as president of the ACS and, as 1950 approached, he was ready to move on to other priorities. His popularity as a speaker and as a scientist did not wane, but the controversies surrounding his liberal political leanings and accusations of Communist sympathies continued to hound him for years to come. Elected to the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for 1950, Pauling remained tangentially active with the ACS for the rest of his life.

Pauling’s Year as ACS President: Presidential Duties

[Part 3 of 4.]

Although Linus Pauling’s political activities were a source of irritation to many in the American Chemical Society, they did not seem to diminish his popularity to any noticeable extent. During his year as president, Pauling traveled the country, speaking to a great many local ACS sections and receiving many more requests than he could possibly accept.

Pauling’s talks also routinely drew audiences that were far larger than many of the sections had seen before, and sometimes bigger than the sections had capacity to accommodate. After one such occasion, a regional section, in sending Pauling a note of thanks following his talk at their meeting, even apologized to him in case “…those who had to stand became restless and in any way annoyed you.”

Prior to his visit, Pauling generally offered each section he lectured to a menu of three possible talks from which to choose: 1) The Valence of Metals and the Structures of Intermetallic Compounds, 2) The Structure of Antibodies and the Nature of Serological Reactions, or 3) New Light on the Structure of Inorganic Complexes. As the year moved forward, he began to introduce two additional possibilities: Structural Chemistry of the Metallic State and Relations between Structural Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry.

Each stop on his speaking tours typically included a luncheon with a few of the section’s higher-ups; a visit to a local university, factory, or laboratory where the majority of section members were employed; dinner out with the section; and finally the lecture at the end of the evening. For his talks, Pauling always requested a slide projector and a “good-sized blackboard,” complaining rather bitterly whenever he arrived at a venue to find that the blackboard had been omitted or was not as large as he had anticipated. Sections were generally quite diligent in accommodating Pauling, with many changing the dates of their regular meetings and rearranging other speakers to suit the president’s schedule.

In March, Pauling attended the William H. Nichols Medal dinner, which was hosted by the New York section of the ACS. Pauling had himself received the Nichols Medal in 1941 for his work on the chemical bond. Though the reasons why are unclear, the banquet at which the medal was customarily awarded had suffered a loss of prestige in the years since Pauling had received it.

Hoping to restore the event to its former glory, the organizers made a concerted effort to invite as many high-profile ACS members as they could, and Pauling enthusiastically accepted the section’s invitation to be present at the high table and say a few words about the importance of the award. The 1949 recipient of the Nichols Medal was I.M. Kolthoff, now often cited as the father of analytical chemistry.

Pauling also served as the Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial lecturer for the Philadelphia section of the society. Smith was an internationally renowned chemist and educator as well as a past president of the ACS. Pauling’s appearance drew a much larger crowd than the organizers had anticipated, filling the lecture hall completely including standing room, with many others turned away once the room reached capacity. The title of his lecture was New Ideas on Inorganic Chemistry, focusing specifically on the structure of chemical bonds.

Pauling’s travels were interrupted in early April 1949 when he was hospitalized for a “varicocele repair job.” Though a minor operation, his recovery proved more difficult than the doctors had initially anticipated, and Pauling ultimately remained in the hospital for a month. As a result, he was forced to cancel a speaking tour he had arranged on the eastern half of the U.S. as well as numerous other engagements that had been booked throughout the spring.

Perhaps because of his forced removal from the public eye, Pauling seems to have enjoyed a quiet period during which he went about his own work as well as those put forth by his presidential duties. Those duties included appointing various awards committees as well as delegates to events and conferences that the ACS was invited to; participating in conversations related to budgets and logistics; and, once he was well, attending as many national-level meetings and local section events as he could.

Not all of Pauling’s activities as president attracted widespread attention. In the middle of the year, the ACS forwarded a letter to Pauling from a John Albert, aspiring research chemist, who introduced a tale of job search woe as follows:

Having been seeking employment for one year, having contacted more than one thousand prospective employers by resumes, having gone into debt more than $700 for bodily sustenance (food) during this period, having desired to marry, and having been refused even laboratory technician’s employment…

Albert included his résumé with the letter, requesting that Pauling critique it and offer any advice that he could to help the struggling chemist find work.

Pauling and ACS executive secretary Alden Emery both took note of Albert’s forwardness and pluck in contacting the president of the ACS as a job coach, and they decided to offer what help they could. After a little digging, Emery discovered that although Albert had spent five years studying full-time for his undergraduate degree, he never actually finished it, and from 1942 to 1949, a period of seven years, he had held six different jobs. In addition, the types of positions he was applying for – roles like lab supervisor – were too ambitious for someone lacking a degree and a strong record of long-term employment.

Pauling centered his response to Albert around those two questions: why hadn’t he finished his bachelor’s degree? and why had he changed jobs so frequently? Albert replied that he had “not succeeded” in his chemistry courses at university but had earned A’s in his music and German classes, and that, upon reflection, he may note possess the skill set necessary to really do well at chemistry. This moment of introspection, as initiated by Pauling’s queries, moved Albert to change career paths and seek employment related to music or German.

Pauling responded one final time to congratulate Albert on making the effort to discover his true passion and follow it, assuring his correspondent that “…sooner or later you will be successful.” Alden Emery wrote back as well with the suggestion that he take an aptitude test which might help reveal professions to which he was well-suited. Albert promised to stop in at the office that Emery had recommended to inquire about tests of this sort. He admitted that he was concerned about the fees associated with the process but “…shall not close my eyes to any possibility which might uncover this enigma’s secret…”

Several months had passed since Ralph Spitzer’s dismissal from Oregon State College, but Pauling had not forgotten the indignity. In June, he took part in a luncheon discussion panel titled “Should Communist Party Membership be Grounds for Dismissal from a College Faculty?” In it, Pauling argued the negative, and Dr. George C.S. Benson, the president of Claremont Men’s College, argued the positive.

The crux of Benson’s perspective was that the Communist party required its members to follow the party line in every aspect of their lives. As a consequence, adherent professors would be obligated to sneak Communist philosophies into their lectures for purposes of secretly indoctrinating students. Benson also held that a Communist party take-over would prevent minority groups from organizing, and that a country whose greatest legacy is liberty could not support the rise of a party which would suppress civil rights, violently overthrow the government, and engage in “intellectual double-dealing.”

Pauling’s counter was that “We are in danger, not from Communism, but from loss of principles.” He pointed out that many political liberals and progressives, including himself, had been attacked for “Communism” though they were neither Communist party members nor sympathizers. Rather, the label had become an umbrella accusation used to derail or overpower any individual or group that did not conform to appropriately conservative political beliefs.

Pauling then proposed that establishing Communism as grounds for dismissal from a university faculty showed disrespect for the academic integrity of professors and students alike, by implying that students could not be trusted to think for themselves and that allowing Communism a platform at all would be enough to ensure that it prevailed as a dominant ideology. Pauling suggested that it was cynics such as Benson, and not liberals, who ought to be brought for questioning before the Committee on Un-American Activities.

Though there is no documentary evidence for how the ACS reacted to Pauling’s stance on academic freedom, it was not long before his continued political activities brought him back under scrutiny in a major way.

In July, Pauling received a letter from the Hanson, Lovett & Dale law firm, which had been hired by Dr. Roger Adams, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the ACS. Through the lawyer, Adams complained that Pauling had utilized his title as society president in his endorsement of an ad that had appeared in The New York Times the previous day. The ad was titled “Tom Clark’s Police State,” and as usual was a political statement that ran counter to conservative sentiments. The lawyer, Elisha Hanson, informed Pauling that the use of his title in such a manner was unauthorized and a violation of society regulations.

Pauling wrote back three days later, stating that “I am very much troubled by the information… [that] the name of the American Chemical Society is used in connection with my name, in this political activity,” and that he had asked specifically that his professional affiliations not be listed. Pauling expressed his disappointment that a lawyer had been contacted about the matter before anyone from the society had bothered to ask him for a clarification. Though mostly a matter of miscommunication, the society’s knee-jerk reaction to a relatively minor offense serves as evidence of the rift that had grown between Pauling and the ACS little more than halfway through his presidential year.

Pauling’s Year as ACS President: Struggles Early On

[An examination of Linus Pauling’s year as president of the American Chemical Society. This is part 2 of 4.]

Having weathered the Henry Wallace controversy, Pauling entered into his presidential year as head of the American Chemical Society, and was immediately apprised of the need to address a significant problem. Namely, by the time he took office in 1949, the ACS had grown too large to function well from a financial standpoint. As a result, the society was constantly plagued by fiscal deficits on the order of several thousands of dollars, and was making budgetary adjustments left and right but still not breaking even.

One of Pauling’s first obligations as ACS chief was to publish a President’s Message in the January issue of Chemical and Engineering News, one of the society’s major publications. In his piece, titled “Our Job Ahead,” Pauling directly addressed the society’s financial difficulties, saying that he was sure the budget issues could be alleviated in a way that would support the society’s cost of operations and the publication of its journals. Pauling also wisely sought to address

…a related problem, the discrepancy between the remuneration of members and the rising costs of living, and to help generally in improving the economic and professional status of chemists and chemical engineers.

From there, Pauling warned his membership against any failure to use science for good, emphasizing the society’s responsibility to “…foster increased understanding and friendship among scientists of different nations” and reiterating the need to create a National Science Foundation. (As the year moved forward, Pauling addressed the issue of a National Science Foundation in several speeches to various ACS meetings, reiterating his support for the program, which had been proposed in the political arena but had not yet taken off.)

The feedback to Pauling’s column was generally positive, with many chemists taking especial heart in learning of Pauling’s concern for their financial well-being.

In mid-January, Pauling began to promote another idea that he supported: the World Calendar. The World Calendar was a proposition that would regularize the lengths of months and theoretically be adopted by every country in the world. In Pauling’s view, moving in this direction would rectify the “inconvenience” caused by the current calendar systems in use, and would make “every year the same.” “The advantages,” as Pauling put it, “are similar to those of an internationally accepted system of screw threads.” At the time that Pauling expressed interest in the idea, it had already been endorsed by seventeen nations around the world as well as multiple scientific organizations.

Correspondence exchanged between Pauling and other ACS executives indicates that there was a general willingness to bring up the idea at a meeting of the Board of Directors, and even some enthusiasm for its endorsement. The topic disappears from the record after January however, and obviously never went far in the national or international political spheres.

In February, a mini-scandal of sorts hit the society when a collection of non-members protested the registration fees required of them to attend ACS conferences that they had been officially invited to present at by the organization itself. Pauling had not known that the society charged registration fees to invited non-members, and expressed vehement opposition to the practice when it was brought to his attention. But Pauling was overruled by executive secretary Alden Emery and others, who pointed out that the practice was necessitated by a clause in the society’s constitution which would be difficult to change.

After a little more digging, Emery discovered that although the society as a whole struggled with funding – as did each local section and the society’s various publications as well – all of the complaints regarding non-member registration fees came from the Division of Biological Chemistry. According to Emery, that particular division was, in reality, in “excellent financial condition.”

Pauling and Emery eventually concluded that the division’s real issue was its lack of appeal to its target demographic. Fundamentally, the division was perceived by non-member biochemists to be more chemical than biological in focus, and therefore not an appropriate environment for sharing and publishing work that was more biological in nature.

As they puzzled over their continuing fiscal woes, the Board of Directors discussed the possibility of increasing membership dues in order to better support the society’s many undertakings. This notion was countered by fears that increased fees might create a corresponding drop in membership that would defeat the purpose. In the end however, the fees went up.

Ralph Spitzer.

The February 1949 dismissal of Ralph Spitzer from his faculty position in the chemistry department at Oregon State College, which has been written about in detail on this site and elsewhere, hit Pauling hard and brought his liberal political beliefs into the limelight once again. Pauling was a mentor and friend to Spitzer and also an OSC alum; indeed, he had recommended Spitzer for the position at Oregon State.

The grounds for Spitzer’s dismissal were vague, but clearly political in their motivats. Then OSC president August Strand had accused Spitzer of harboring communist sympathies based on his support of Henry Wallace in the presidential election and his advocacy of Trofim Lysenko’s theory of the intergenerational inheritance of acquired characteristics, a genetic theory that had originated in the Soviet Union and that differed from accepted Western theories. (Research in later years would ultimately prove Lysenko’s theory to be incorrect, although it does bear some largely coincidental resemblance to modern epigenetics.) Importantly, rather than an endorsement of the theory, Spitzer’s support was couched mainly in terms of defending the right for Lysenko’s theories to be heard, respected and considered through a scientific lens, and not discounted outright simply because of their Soviet origins.

As his standing at OSC dissolved, Spitzer wrote to Pauling to advise him of the situation and to ask for his help in trying to get his job back. Pauling promptly wrote to Strand to protest the removal of Spitzer on political grounds, which he considered to be an infringement of academic freedom since there had been no complaints of Spitzer’s political leanings affecting his research or teaching.

The year before, Pauling had publicly spoken out against the House Committee on Un-American Activities for not giving scientists the chance to defend themselves against accusations of disloyalty. Now he found himself in the midst of a public feud with August Strand over Spitzer’s dismissal, which culminated in a public rending of Pauling’s previously strong bond with his undergraduate alma mater. Pauling and Spitzer later took part in a forum on the perceived incompatibility between academic freedom and Communism, joining a set of professors from other universities who found themselves in the same boat as Spitzer. Documentary evidence as to how the ACS handled all of this is lacking, but the membership’s broad reaction to Pauling’s support for Henry Wallace leads one to suppose that the society was likely none too pleased about it.

Pauling’s Tumultuous Year as President of the American Chemical Society

[An analysis of Linus Pauling’s tenure as President of the ACS, published on the seventy-year anniversary of his holding the office. This is part 1 of 4.]

Linus Pauling was elected future president of the American Chemical Society in December 1947. In that capacity, he served as the society’s president-elect for 1948 – during which time he was living in England as a visiting professor at Oxford – and officially took up his post as president in 1949. He formally assumed office on January 1, 1949, with Ernest H. Volwiler serving as the president-elect for the year.

The news of Pauling’s election as ACS president was widely publicized in early 1948, with one short announcement reading:

Chemist’s Chief – Dr. Linus C. Pauling, chairman of the division of chemistry and chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology, has been elected president of the American Chemical Society. One of the world’s leading theoretical chemists, he was chosen in a national mail ballot of the society’s 55,000 members.

This same account was used in multiple newspapers with only slight variations. Chemical and Engineering News, one of the ACS’s signature publications, released a slightly longer announcement in 1949 describing Pauling’s achievements in the field, including his academic positions past and present, and his laundry list of awards and honorary degrees.

News of his election was initially well-received by scientists both within the society and outside of it, and Pauling received letters of congratulation from many of his new constituents expressing their excitement at being led by a chemist of such high ability and international renown. However, as seemed to always be the case with Linus Pauling, his political stances quickly became a point of contention between himself and others within the ACS.

While many members wrote to Pauling expressing their joy at the election of a political liberal (one correspondent, Bernard L. Oser of Food Research Laboratories, Inc., wrote that “The ACS has done honor unto itself by handing the gavel to a great liberal as well as a great chemist”) a larger and more vocal group of society members quickly withdrew their support. Indeed, Pauling’s liberal politics and anti-war work would keep him under near-constant scrutiny for the duration of his presidential year.

Henry A. Wallace

In November 1948, near the end of Pauling’s stint as president-elect, the first of the political controversies arose. In this instance, the catalyst was a pamphlet featuring Pauling’s name at the top of a list of sponsors endorsing presidential candidate Henry Wallace. Wallace had served as vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt and ran in the 1948 election as the Progressive Party nominee.

When he learned of the pamphlet, Henry C. Wing, the chairman of the ACS Board of Directors, wrote a letter to Pauling reprimanding him for publicly supporting Wallace, who had been accused of displaying Communist sympathies. In the letter, Wing suggested that “…your action has impaired the high position of our Society in the eyes of Congress and the nation, as it is impossible for you to separate your actions as an individual from that of the President of the Society.” Wing then warned that “There can be no question concerning the loyalty to the United States of the vast majority of the members of the Society…” and notified Pauling that his behavior would be discussed at the next section meeting.

Other ACS members wrote to the Board expressing similar concerns. One member, R.H Sawyer, summed up the views of others in asserting that, although Pauling’s name on the pamphlet was in no way overtly connected to the ACS (his professional associations were not listed), it still reflected badly on the society to have its members endorsing such politics. Sawyer then theorized that perhaps Pauling’s name had been used without his consent and called upon Pauling to confirm or deny his endorsement of Wallace. “Should [Pauling] fail or refuse to do so,” Sawyer warned, “I call upon the American chemist to repudiate as a political crack-pot the man they have honored as a scientist by election to the office of President Elect of the American Chemical Society.”

A different ACS member, M.L. Crossley, offered a similar complaint, explaining that:

…I shudder to think of what some of the radio commentators may do with the information that the President of the American Chemical Society is a sponsor of the Wallace-Marcantonio brand of politics. I register now and ever the strongest protest against any action by an officer of the American Chemical Society which may be used to convey the impression that I as a scientist and a member of the American Chemical Society subscribe to such a brand of dangerous, fanatical philosophy of government. I am a true American, believing in the principles of the philosophy of our democracy which has made this country the greatest land of freedom and opportunity the world has ever known.

While Sawyer and Crossley wrote to members of the ACS administration, others chose to address Pauling directly. These letters of criticism complained about his political views and expressed surprise that a man as intelligent as himself would be so liberal. The correspondents also requested that he release a statement clarifying his political views, and some even called for his resignation as president-elect.

Dr. Louise Kelly was one such author, lamenting to Pauling that “Having in the past had a high regard for your intellectual ability…” she was appalled to receive the pamphlet and find out that he was a Wallace supporter. Kelly continued,

I can understand why certain types of individuals, whose mental processes (I refuse to employ the word “thinking”) are as confused as those of Mr. Wallace, have been converted into followers of his, but I am at a loss to comprehend your position.

Pauling did not deign to accommodate requests for his resignation or to issue a public statement on his views, but he did reply to the letters that were sent directly to him. Confident as ever, Pauling answered Dr. Kelly’s letter by requesting that she re-evaluate her refusal to use the word “thinking” in conjunction with Wallace supporters, writing “I assume that you consider me to be a reasonably clear-headed fellow.” He finished by assuring her that there was no need to be shocked and appalled – his political leanings had never been a secret, and he promised that “I haven’t changed much in recent years, except that my health is not so good as it once was, my hair is getting thin on top, and my social conscience has grown a great deal.”

Dr. Joel Hildebrand had also written directly to Pauling critiquing his political views, portraying Wallace as an idiot and a wannabe-dictator, and insulting Pauling’s intelligence for supporting him. Although Wallace ultimately accumulated just a small share of the popular vote in the 1948 election, Democrat Harry S. Truman’s victory over Thomas Dewey informed Pauling’s somewhat sarcastic response to Hildebrand. “The presidential election was great fun,” Pauling quipped. “I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed anything more than the upset of the Republicans.” Pauling concluded his letter by casually informing Hildebrand that Ava Helen had broken a bone in her ankle.

Although the ACS was officially a non-political organization, the bulk of its membership seems to have been politically conservative. The response that Pauling received to his endorsement of Henry Wallace is illustrative. In reality, Wallace’s platform was not Communist, but forward-thinking and focused on social justice. Wallace called Truman’s government war-mongering and hypocritical for pushing universal military training and a draft system while veterans returned from war were rendered homeless and unemployed. Wallace also believed that war profiteering on Wall Street was a source of the country’s increasing militarism. Wallace likewise viewed the Marshall Plan as a tool for the U.S. to cement political and economic control of Western Europe; he encouraged aid for Europe but wanted to work through the United Nations to insure that support was provided with “no political strings attached.”

Wallace campaigned for world peace and civil rights for minority communities, and his platform included calls for desegregation and anti-lynching laws, outlawing the poll-tax, and providing federal inspections of polling places to ensure fair voting conditions. He also pushed for a fair employment practices act, desegregation of the government and armed forces, and the withdrawal of federal aid from any institution engaging in discriminatory practices. He advocated for the end of Jim Crow legislation and sought to eliminate discrimination against African Americans, Jews, and “citizens of foreign descent.”

Pauling strongly believed that his actions as an individual remained separate from his role as ACS president so long as he did not leverage his position in order to support his political views. To this end, he made a point of not listing his academic or professional affiliations whenever he allowed his name to be used for political ends. He pointed out that he had never kept his views a secret and that his election had nothing to do with his politics.

In their exchange of letters, R.H. Sawyer retaliated that most of the society members who voted for Pauling would not have done so had they known of his political affiliations. Whether or not Sawyer was right, the Wallace affair was the first taste of a continuing conflict between Pauling and the ACS that would taint his entire presidential year.

Remembering Linus Pauling: The Biographers

A little more than six months after Linus Pauling died, a remarkable gathering took place at Oregon State University. A conference titled “The Life and Work of Linus Pauling: A Discourse on the Art of Biography,” was held in Corvallis over the course of three days and featured presentations by a great many individuals who knew Pauling or had studied his life closely. The keynote address was delivered by Francis Crick on the evening of February 28, 1995; the date that would have been Pauling’s 94th birthday. In the day and a half that followed, reflections were offered by a wide array of former students, family members, and scholars from across the country.

One particular session was devoted to “The Biographer’s Picture of Linus Pauling,” and it is to this set of reflections that we turn our attention today. Included below are observations made by four individuals who, by 1995, had already spent many years researching Pauling’s life and work, and whose insights serve to complicate and sophisticate the scholarly understanding of Pauling as a historical figure and as a human being.

Thomas Hager, author of Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1995).

Pauling’s father worked twelve hours a day as a druggist, teaching his son the value of both hard work and the importance of giving a good face to the public, and then died when Pauling was nine. The death of his father was a traumatic and defining event in Pauling’s life, one to which can be traced many of his emotional and intellectual characteristics. He spent a good deal of his life looking for surrogate fathers, father-figures that he at first found among his neighbors — one of whom got him interested in Greek; then his teachers — his high-school chemistry teacher was one; and later among men like Einstein, who served as Pauling’s political father.

It is this nine-year-old boy, bereft of a father, left in the care of a sickly and unloving mother, a mother who did not understand education or science, who constantly nagged her son, and who died in an insane asylum, who became Linus Pauling. It is this boy who developed a steely confidence in himself because no one around him had any. It is this boy, faced with a confusing and heartless world, who would spend his life trying to make sense of things, working to bring order and rationality into the world. It is this suffering boy whose guiding ethical principle was that of lessening suffering.

Ted Goertzel, co-author of Linus Pauling: A Life in Science and Politics (1995).

I believe that the personality patterns which Pauling displayed throughout his life developed in the period after his father’s death when he was nine. He never really allowed himself to express the pain which he felt after his grandfather’s and his father’s deaths, perhaps because his relationship with his mother was not close enough to give him a feeling of security. Her own depression and ill health, coupled with the unfamiliar practical problems of providing support for the family, made it difficult for Belle to be attentive to her son’s emotional needs. She was never as close to him as she was to her daughters. His father had admired him greatly, and encouraged his intellectuality. His mother, because of her illness and vulnerability as a widow, was not able to provide the same degree of support. […]

From nine onwards, Linus channeled his energies into his hobbies and into part-time jobs designed to contribute to the family’s expenses but also to give him a degree of independence from his mother. He was fascinated by the natural sciences, as are many boys of that age, and also discovered that he had a natural aptitude for academic work. He avoided close relationships with adults, whether teachers or relatives, but maintained friendships with other boys who shared his scientific interests and did not pressure him about family obligations.

The preoccupation with science may have had its origins at least in part in a need to sublimate emotional distress, but he was also good at it and realistic enough to recognize that scientific achievement could be an avenue to professional security as well as an absorbing escape from the rigors of everyday life. Whether through death, illness or insensitivity, adults had let him down. He was determined to make his way on his own.

By the age of twelve, Linus Pauling had already developed many of the behavior and personality patterns which he was to maintain throughout his life. He was introverted, intent on pursuing his own interests, and oblivious to conflicting demands from those around him. Emotionally, he was most comfortable when he could rely on a close relationship with one person for intimacy and support. The first special person was his boyhood friend Lloyd Jeffress, the second his wife Ava Helen Miller. His marriage to Ava Helen closely paralleled that of his own parents in its emphasis on closeness between the married couple having priority over parent-child relationships. It was a traditional marriage, with Ava Helen devoting her life to her husband’s career and nurturing their children.

He found that he could use his intellectual brilliance to maintain independence from her and obtain approval from others. He married a woman who gave him the devotion he was unable to get from his mother.

Despite his tremendous success as a young scientist, Linus Pauling was never satisfied. Having won two Nobel Prizes, he felt he deserved a third. When his brilliance as a scientific innovator declined with age, he fell more and more into his second intellectual style [becoming emotionally committed to his ideas and seeking out evidence to support them]. In his later years, his combativeness and defensiveness increasingly triumphed over his brilliance and creativity.

Derek Davenport, chemist and author of “Linus Pauling – Chemical Educator” (1980) and “Letters to F.J. Allen: An Informal Portrait of Linus Pauling” (1996) among other articles.

Pauling had agreed to speak at a G.N. Lewis symposium I had organized for the 1982 American Chemical Society meeting in Las Vegas. Ava Helen Pauling had died shortly before, and Pauling’s secretary called asking that I meet him at the airport. He arrived jaunty as ever and chattered amiably during the short journey to the hotel. We entered the Hilton which was full of gambling, even gamboling, chemists. As we moved to the reception desk the crowd parted and fell silent. It was rather like following Moses across the Red Sea. Linus told the young lady at the counter: “You should have a reservation for Pauling.” After finding the card, she asked sweetly “would that be a Linus Pauling?” “Yes, yes, Linus Pauling.” “How do you intend to pay, sir?” “By VISA card.” “I will need identification, sir.” Pauling was nonplussed. He put on one of his dopiest grins, turned to the silent throngs on the casino floor, threw his arms wide, and implored rather than asked: “Don’t I look like Linus Pauling?” The young lady was unimpressed and insisted on, and got, his driver’s license.

I tell this story for several reasons, but principally to remind us that it was only in later years that he became a legend in his own time and on occasion in his own mind. I first heard him speak in 1948 in London when he was approaching the zenith of his astonishing scientific accomplishments, and half of his long life was already spent. He was the most charismatic chemist I had ever heard but there was no sign of the guru and no evidence of groupies. These came later as a consequence of his political persecution and his advocacy of Vitamin C. We must remember he was a man who did legendary science long before he became the Pauling of legend.

Robert Paradowski, author of The Structural Chemistry of Linus Pauling (1972) and Pauling’s authorized biographer.

At an early stage of the writing of my biography of Pauling, I was having difficulty with what to do about what those close to him saw as his imperfections and failings, but whenever I brought these to his attention, he always defended himself adeptly and managed to mitigate their bite. As time went on, I began to wonder: Did he believe that all these criticisms from family, friends, and colleagues were wrong? So I asked him if he considered himself a saint. He said no, that he was very far from being a saint. I went on to ask what he considered to be his principal faults. He did not want to discuss them, fearing that, because of the subtlety and pervasiveness of human selfishness, the faults he did mention might conceal much deeper ones. I was impressed by his answer, which reminded me of the writings of such great saints as John of the Cross, who saw themselves in a never-ending struggle with their own great selfishness. If Pauling was unwilling to analyze his faults, he nevertheless expected critical analysis from his biographer. As he wrote to me in 1978: “There is no reason why statements critical of me should not be published.” He certainly did not like having his faults pointed out, but when these criticisms were reasonably and compassionately treated, he seemed to accept them, even finding them helpful at times.

A concrete example of these criticisms is Pauling’s egocentrism, which some found charming and others such a pervasive and corrupting part of his personality as to vitiate his worth as a good human being. An example of the first attitude was a member of the Linus Pauling Institute who told me that Pauling had the “knack” of turning whatever anyone said to him into himself in some way. If he could not do this, then he would quickly become bored and uninterested in the conversation. This observer assured me that he did not intend his remarks as a criticism of Pauling; they were simply a matter of objective description. To this person Pauling was, in his vanity, like a child, and no more to be condemned for it than a child would be. It was simply part of his nature, even part of his charm. Another person at the Institute once told me that the reason I got along so well with Pauling was that I was interested in a topic that utterly fascinated Pauling, namely, himself.

On the other hand, Pauling’s self-centeredness was not so attractive to other members of his Institute. One person, whom I interviewed after he had left the Institute, had become discouraged with his relationship with Pauling because he could not get Pauling interested in any of his ideas. According to him, Pauling would pay only perfunctory attention to what he was doing. He recalled that the only time Pauling grew animated in a conversation was when he mentioned molybdenite. Then Pauling’s interest was whetted, and this was, of course, because Pauling had written his first scientific paper on the crystal structure of molybdenite.

Remembering Linus Pauling: A Personal Reflection

Stephen Lawson and Linus Pauling celebrating at Pauling’s 90th birthday party, 1991

By Stephen Lawson

August 19th 1994. Linus Pauling had been ensconced at his ranch on the beautiful coast near Big Sur, California, surrounded by family, for a few weeks, near death from prostate cancer. At the time, I was the chief executive officer of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in Palo Alto and relished a quiet summer evening at home. The telephone rang – Linus Pauling Jr. broke the terrible but expected news that his father had died. Trying to overcome grief, I raced to the Institute to start faxing an obituary that had been prepared months earlier to important news sources – The New York Times, major networks, and other media. Almost immediately the phone lines lit up with reporters asking for more details and comments on Pauling’s life and death. I managed to provide some salient information while struggling with my own strong emotions about Pauling’s death.

Many people who met Pauling or respected and admired him even without having had any personal interaction were also grief stricken. In the following weeks, hundreds of condolences – telegrams, cards, letters, faxes, and phone calls – came to the Institute from around the world. People expressed such sorrow that the great humanitarian who had showed them such courteous kindness had died. They admired his work in science, his never-ending efforts for peace, his championing of vitamin C and other micronutrients, his courage in the face of a hostile US Congress, his patriotic work for the United States during World War II, and his devotion to and love for his wife, Ava Helen.

Pauling connected with people in a way that left many feeling love for him. Of course, he was lauded by luminaries – Francis Crick anointed Pauling the major founder of molecular biology, and Arthur Kornberg noted that Pauling, who had won two Nobel Prizes, deserved another for his discovery of the cause of sickle-cell anemia, the first disease to be characterized as a molecular disease. In 2000, the “Millennium Essay” in Nature – one of the world’s pre-eminent scientific journals – ranked Pauling with Galileo, Da Vinci, Newton, and Einstein, among others, as “one of the great thinkers and visionaries of the millennium” and noted that Pauling was responsible for the “extrapolation from physics to chemistry and the articulation of chemistry as an independent subject” and that “Chemistry, then, is utterly different from physics and biology in its dependence, at a primal level, on just one scientist” – Linus Pauling.

But in the weeks following his death, I was especially impressed by the expressions of sympathy and loss from people who had written to Pauling asking about vitamin C and health problems or other matters and received personal responses, probably often to their surprise. Pauling, who believed that scientists, as experts in their fields, have a social responsibility to explain their work to the public, took time to connect with everyone. As the author of several textbooks, one of which, General Chemistry, educated generations of scientists, and others, including No More War!, Vitamin C and the Common Cold, How to Live Longer and Feel Better, and Cancer and Vitamin C that were written for the lay public and health professionals, Pauling practiced what he strongly advocated.

I first saw Linus Pauling when I was on my way to class in the Quadrangle at Stanford University in Palo Alto. It was a tumultuous era in American history – there were strident demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, and students vigorously promoted free speech rights. As I walked to the Quad, I noticed a gaggle of students and faculty outside the office of Stanford’s president, Richard Lyman. In particular, two elderly men, one of whom was Linus Pauling, were holding signs protesting the firing of H. Bruce Franklin, a political firebrand who had been a tenured professor of English at Stanford and an expert on Herman Melville and science fiction. Stanford had had enough of the turmoil associated with Franklin’s behavior and fired him, an act that Pauling was protesting because tenure supposedly protects the expression of ideas, especially controversial ones. I wasn’t very familiar with the details about the issue, but I certainly admired Pauling’s courage, a quality that defined Pauling’s activism throughout the years. Although Pauling was on the Stanford faculty, he wasn’t teaching undergraduates at the time, so I never had the opportunity to see his celebrated performances in the classroom that had famously inspired legions of students at Caltech.

Years later, when I worked at the Linus Pauling Institute in Menlo Park, Pauling would often stop by my office to exchange greetings, ask me to write for publication, or to help out with experimental studies, which is how I became very interested in vitamin C. Still later, in Palo Alto, Pauling approached me about setting up a laboratory with his quantum chemist colleague Zelek Herman to conduct experiments aimed at producing material that he wanted to support his patent application for a novel method of fabricating superconductors. His goal was to license the invention in order to generate a revenue stream to support orthomolecular research at the Institute. Aided occasionally by Ewan Cameron, Pauling’s medical collaborator on clinical vitamin C studies, we finally succeeded in fabricating the material that Pauling had hoped we would, and Zeke and I went to Pauling’s apartment to show him the samples. It was immensely gratifying to see what joy he expressed, and at that moment I understood how he must have felt every time he made discoveries – understanding something that no one else had understood – throughout his long career.   

Pauling lived by an age-old maxim that he humorously amended: “Do unto others 20% better than you would have them do unto you in order to make up for subjective error.” Even in the face of caustic criticism, he remained courteous, usually with his humor intact, and supremely confident – a confidence stemming from his formidable memory and mastery of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, mineralogy, and other disciplines. He trusted his own intellect and urged others to do likewise – never simply accept what is said without critical examination.

Pauling had reams of papers on vitamin C that the Institute librarian had acquired at Stanford libraries. In that era, most of the original data was presented in the paper, and Pauling usually checked the statistical analysis that the authors employed, sometimes finding errors that compromised their conclusions. I attended a lecture he gave to a group of biostatisticians at Stanford in the late 1980s in which he discussed the application of the Hardin Jones principle to death rates in clinical studies. He argued that it revealed more information about subcohorts than the standard Kaplan-Meier analysis. There he was, in a room with many of the leading statisticians in the country, and none argued against his thesis. Of course, he was famously wrong about a few things, including the structure of DNA, but sometimes only because he didn’t have access to better data.

Linus Pauling made an indelible impression on everyone who met him, and for them and for those who never had that opportunity, he will continue to serve as a unparalleled model of brilliance, integrity, creativity, and courage – truly a man for the ages.