Pauling’s Study of Schizophrenia: Pulling Back

ASA leaflet with Pauling’s annotations, circa 1971

[Part 9 of 9]

Throughout his long advocacy of an orthomolecular approach to mental disease, Linus Pauling weathered intense skepticism from his critics and gained support from sources both likely and not. Despite this, Pauling was not always inclined to reciprocate when asked for help by certain of his allies. One notable instance of Pauling “pulling back” concerned a request by the American Schizophrenia Association and its desire to fundraise on behalf of orthomolecular medicine.

The American Schizophrenia Association (ASA), which was initially called the American Schizophrenia Foundation and later renamed the Huxley Institute, was founded in the 1960s by Pauling’s close colleagues, Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer. Hoffer and Osmond served on the board as Vice-President and President respectively for a number of years, and as a favor to his friends, Pauling joined the board as well.

By 1971, the ASA was in need of funds. In an effort to raise more capital and grow the organization’s membership, ASA chairman Donald Webster began organizing a direct mail campaign. Believing Pauling to be the most “well known and respected” person on the board, Webster asked Pauling to offer his signature at the bottom of the campaign’s centerpiece letter.

Webster’s draft, however, raised some red flags. For one, Pauling felt as though the style and voice of the letter was too dissimilar from his own. He was likewise concerned about attaching his name to an offering that might be scientifically inaccurate or misleading. And he was irked by a recent experience with Executive Director Mel Mendelssohn, who had written in a publicity flyer that Pauling was “one of the few men ever to have won two Nobel Prizes.” Famously the only person to have received two unshared Nobel Prizes, Pauling took the time to write to Mendelssohn and express his feeling that this “carelessness needs to be pointed out” before coolly requesting that Mendelssohn tell him “who the other men are” who had also won two Nobel Prizes.

For all of these reasons, Pauling believed that it would be “unsatisfactory” for him to sign. As he explained in his reply to Webster, “I have taken action of this sort a few times in the past, and have also regretted it a few times.”


Webster, for his part, seemed to initially understand Pauling’s hesitation, but nonetheless was persistent. He responded by first acknowledging that “style is a highly personal” characteristic “which cannot be duplicated by another writer” and then emphasizing that his initial pass was just a draft “composed for its idea value.” Clearly Webster still felt as though the ASA’s best option for fundraising was to lean on Pauling’s celebrity.

These tactics did not convince Pauling to agree to sign the letter, but did compel him to offer a new rationale for his decision. This time around, Pauling offered that he could not participate in the letter project because of the time commitment it would require and because he was “so burdened with work […] editing the contributions to the new book Orthomolecular Psychiatry.”

Though twice spurned, Webster continued the conversation and eventually Pauling agreed to have his name used for the fundraising campaign. But this acquiescence did not allay Pauling’s concerns about the veracity of the letter’s claims. For example, a suggestion that a $25 donation could “provide a kit for diagnosing schizophrenia” seemed too high. Pauling wanted to know how expensive the kits actually were, and asked the ASA to verify the cost. About a month later he received his answer — the kits did not actually cost $25, but that total would, among other things, cover the ASA’s costs of sending samples out for laboratory testing.

Pauling was bothered by what he saw as a misrepresentation of costs and also by the ASA’s failure to divulge that they were not analyzing samples in-house. For these reasons, he once again soured on the idea of signing the letter, and wrote to the organization to retract the use of his name from the campaign. Ironically, amidst this all, the ASA sent Ava Helen Pauling a solicitation letter mentioning the $25 schizophrenia kit.


Once he had decided to sever ties with the direct mail initiative, Pauling took pains to point out all the other errors that he had found in the ASA’s letter. One passage claimed that “fifty dollars distributes a research study to ten clinics.” From experience, Pauling knew that this claim was inaccurate, noting that “this seems to me to be about ten times what it should cost to distribute reprints of a paper, even including the cost of reprints.”

By October 1971, Pauling had decided that he wanted to detangle his research from ASA support, writing in a curt letter to the board that he “would prefer not to report on the work that [I] am doing at the present time.” Though he did not elaborate much on his reasons, nor comment on the conflict about the fundraising campaign, the message was clear: the time had come for Pauling to pull back from the ASA.