Dr. Michael Kenny, Resident Scholar

Dr. Michael Kenny

Dr. Michael Kenny

Dr. Michael Kenny, emeritus professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University, recently completed a term as Resident Scholar in the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center. Kenny is the twenty-fourth individual to have conducted work at OSU under the auspices of this program.

Part of Kenny’s scholarly background is in the eugenics movement, and it is this prism that framed his interest in conducting research in the Pauling Papers. Kenny was specifically interested in investigating the changing cultural milieu in which Linus Pauling worked and the ways that this environment may have impacted Pauling’s thinking on issues associated with eugenics.

Kenny was likewise very keen to examine the rhetoric that Pauling used during the years in which the dangers of nuclear fallout were an item of active debate. As it turns out, much of this rhetoric assumed a tone similar to that used by eugenicists contemporary to Pauling. That said, with Pauling and certain of these contemporaries, the use of this rhetoric was not motivated by anything like the ideals that we now commonly associate with the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century.

Rockefeller Foundation administrator Warren Weaver.

Rockefeller Foundation administrator Warren Weaver.

In his research, Kenny leaned in part on a secondary source, Lily Kay’s The Molecular Vision of Life (1993), which examined the development of molecular biology at Caltech during its infancy in the 1930s. Pauling was a central figure in this important chapter of scientific history, having shifted his research program to focus on “the science of life” – specifically, the determination of various protein structures – as funded during the Depression years by the Rockefeller Foundation.

As Kay pointed out in her book, the Rockefeller Foundation harbored a pre-existing interest in eugenics which may have propelled its desire to fund work in the burgeoning field of molecular biology. Rockefeller administrator Warren Weaver, who was Pauling’s main contact with the funding organization, wrote specifically of the Foundation’s interest in exploring “social controls through biological understanding,” and himself considered molecular biology to be the “only way to sure understanding and rationalization of human behavior.”

In his correspondence with Pauling, Weaver likewise suggested that “you are well aware of our interests in the possible biological and medical applications of the research in question.” Queried about the Rockefeller Foundation’s interest in eugenics by Lily Kay in 1987, Pauling replied, “I do not have much to say here,” noting that “my own interest in medical chemistry resulted from my interest in molecular structure.”

James V. Neel

James V. Neel

One major outcome of Pauling’s research on protein structures was his discovery that sickle cell anemia is a molecular disease. This work was conducted in parallel to similar investigations carried out by the human geneticist James V. Neel, a major twentieth century scientist who discovered that sickled cells are the result of a heterozygous mutation that, when it becomes homozygous, leads to sickle cell disease.

For Kenny, James Neel provides a bridge of sorts in the scholarly analysis of Pauling. In addition to his work on sickle cell traits, Neel also was involved in ethnographic research on the indigenous Yanomami population in Brazil. This study was funded by the United States Atomic Energy Commission in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was motivated by the U.S. government’s desire to more fully understand the consequences that atmospheric radiation might portend for the human gene pool.

The debate over radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons tests during this time was fierce and continually hamstrung by a lack of concrete data. Linus Pauling, of course, was a key figure in the debate, and as Kenny and others have pointed out, he and his opponents used essentially the same data to draw very different conclusions from one another. Indeed, both sides were effectively engaging in the politics of risk assessment in arguing over the likely genetic implications for future generations of radioactive fallout released into the atmosphere by the nuclear testing programs of the era.

Hermann Muller

Hermann Muller

In developing and espousing his strong anti-testing point of view, Pauling was heavily influenced by Hermann Muller, a Nobel Laureate geneticist who is perhaps best known for proving the mutagenic effects of x-rays on fruit flies. According to Kenny, Muller was pretty clearly a eugenicist who spoke often of the need to maintain the purity of the pool of human germ plasm.

For Muller, essentially all mutations caused by radiation were to be viewed as a negative. While he acknowledged that natural selection is indeed the result of mutations that occur over the course of time, Muller believed that an increase in the rate of mutation is very likely to result in negative consequences. In arguing this, Muller pointed out that many mutations are buried and do not emerge until specific reproductive combinations come to pass. As Pauling and James Neel showed in the 1940s, sickle cell anemia is one such situation where this is the case.

Kenny points out that Muller’s ideas are imprinted all over Pauling’s 1958 book, No More War!, and in this book, as well as in his speeches, Pauling frequently used language that drew upon that of Muller and other eugenicists of his time. “I believe that the nations of the world that are carrying out nuclear tests are sacrificing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people now living,” he wrote, “and of hundreds of thousands of unborn children. These sacrifices aren’t necessary.” On other occasions, Pauling more directly echoed Muller, arguing that “we are the custodians of the human race, we have the duty of protecting the pool of human germ plasm against willful damage.”

So given all of this, was Pauling a eugenicist? For Kenny, the answer is no, or at least not “an old fashioned eugenicist in any clear sense.” Rather, Kenny sees Pauling as being one of many transitional figures (fellow Peace laureate Andrei Sakharov is another) working along a historical continuum that exists between the eugenicists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and contemporary ideas including genetic counseling and genetic engineering.  One of the more intriguing quotes that Kenny uncovered was Pauling’s statement that

Natural selection is cruel and man has not outgrown it. The problem is not to be solved by increasing mutation rate and thus increasing the number of defective children born, but rather by finding some acceptable replacement for natural selection.

For Kenny, Pauling’s suggestion of a possible replacement for natural selection anticipated contemporary techniques that are now deployed to minimize or negate what would otherwise be devastating hereditary diseases in newborn children. For expectant parents currently opting in favor of genetic counseling, as for Pauling in his day, the goal is to minimize the amount of human suffering in the world, not by proscription or law, but by choice. This ambition, which is global and cosmopolitan in nature – and not dissimilar to contemporary activism concerning global climate change – stands in stark contrast to the racist or nationalist motivations that fueled the eugenics of a different era.

For more on the Resident Scholar Program at the OSU Libraries, see the program’s homepage.

Building the Crellin Lab (and keeping it standing)

Image of the Crellin Laboratory taken around the time of its dedication in 1938.

Image of the Crellin Laboratory taken around the time of its dedication in 1938.

[Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the Crellin Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.  Part 2 of 3]

During the 1930s, the Biology and Chemistry departments of the California Institute of Technology grew substantially, in part because of major support received from the Rockefeller Foundation. One of the most visible and dramatic examples of this growth spurt was the new Crellin Laboratory of Chemistry, an addition to the older Gates Laboratory of Chemistry. The new Crellin lab was under construction by 1937, set to be finished in 1938.

Indeed, 1938 was a big year for Caltech. Largely because of the efforts of Linus Pauling, the Rockefeller Foundation donated the huge sum of $800,000 to support research. Of that substantial amount, $250,000 was set aside to fund work in the new Crellin and Gates labs for the following five to seven years. The entire effort was in support of the Foundation’s “Science of Man” agenda, a cultural and scientific enterprise which has since proven to be somewhat controversial, due to the fact that a guiding principle of the project was eugenics.

Support for the study of eugenics largely lost credibility in the United States (and globally), after World War II and the widespread practice of eugenics by the Nazis. Specific to the U.S. concern, Nazi leadership testifying at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials cited American eugenics programs as being an inspiration and justification for their own programs, a declaration that horrified many Americans. Despite this sudden and dramatic distaste for eugenics – as historian Lily Kay and others have pointed out – the Science of Man agenda remained intact well after World War II had ended.

But in the Depression years of the late 1930s, funding from the Rockefeller Foundation continued to be instrumental and Caltech continued to hold a privileged position. From 1930-1955, Caltech was one of six schools that received the lion’s share of the Foundation’s research money allocations. In that time, Caltech and the University of Chicago received $5 million, Stanford and Columbia University received $1 million, and Harvard and the University of Wisconsin received $500,000.

By early 1938, construction of the Crellin laboratory was complete. The new building was three stories tall with two basements and contained over fifty rooms. The second and third floors were entirely dedicated to organic chemistry, a major passion of A. A. Noyes’, while the first floor and basements were set aside for physical chemistry. The lab was dedicated on May 16, 1938, and immediately began working productively. The years 1938 and 1939 both proved to be very fruitful, with substantial amounts of useful research conducted. But this otherwise excellent record was marred in the summer of 1939 by a very scary incident.

Pauling's notes on the 1939 explosion.

Pauling’s notes on the 1939 explosion. Note the final sentence: “Koepfli heard the explosion at his home, nearly a mile away.”

On August 10, 1939, two Caltech researchers, Leo Brewer and Thurston Skei, were conducting an experiment in room 351 of the Crellin Laboratory. In the midst of their work the bottom of a container fell off, spilling six liters of liquid ether all over the floor. Brewer and Skei quickly cleaned the spill up, and checked to make sure the room was safe, which it appeared to be.

At that point, Skei left the room to attend to matters elsewhere, leaving Brewer alone. Five minutes later, a spark from a motor running in the building’s ventilation ducts ignited ether fumes, which had been sucked into the ventilation system. The air in room 351 quickly ignited, severely burning Brewer, who immediately, and fortunately, ran from the room. Three seconds later, the lockers, desks, and storage containers in room 351, filled with flammable gasses and liquids, exploded, destroying all the windows on that half of the floor and blowing apart the room’s main entry door as well as part of a wall. Additionally, five other rooms sustained damage from the explosion.

Leo Brewer, 1950.

Leo Brewer, 1950.

As if that weren’t enough, the ventilation fans in the fume hoods in Crellin 351 sucked the flames upward into the hoods, which ignited another set of drums containing ten gallons of liquid ether, in turn starting a massive fire which spread to two adjacent rooms. The force of the explosion had also shattered almost every piece of glass on the entire floor and knocked over numerous storage shelves. As a result, various chemicals began to mix, and the entire third floor began to flood with poisonous gasses.

In quick response, graduate students and staff alike grabbed gas masks and fire extinguishers, and charged up to the third floor. Amazingly, they succeeded in containing the fire and prevented it from spreading into even more adjacent rooms, including the building’s library. They also managed to extinguish the burning walls in the main hallway. Not long after, the Pasadena Fire Department arrived, and firemen ran into room 351, which was furiously ablaze due to the drums containing the ten gallons of ether. The firefighters ripped 351’s fume hoods out of the wall with axes and eventually extinguished the last of the fire.

In the aftermath, Pauling passed along word of the explosion to several of his colleagues, though did his best to downplay it when communicating the news, seven days after the fact, to his main contact at the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation, Warren Weaver.

Perhaps you read in the papers that we had a fire in the Crellin Laboratory. Fortunately no one was injured and the damage was restricted almost entirely to the undergraduate organic laboratory, with very little research lost. We had complete insurance coverage and shall have the laboratory in shape for the students when the Institute opens next month.

In reality, the explosion and ensuing fire had destroyed almost $3,300 worth of equipment, and by the time the rather extensive repairs were done, the accident had cost about $14,000. Fortunately nobody was killed – Brewer was the only injury, and he made a full recovery. It is worth noting that lab fires were common enough at the time that the emergency procedures for the lab only required personnel to call the fire department if the staff and graduate students on hand couldn’t contain the fire themselves.

Regardless, Caltech quickly regained its footing. After the repairs were done, the labs continued with their research, and made major contributions during World War II and after.

Chris Hables Gray, Resident Scholar

Dr. Chris Hables Gray

Dr. Chris Hables Gray, professor at the Union Institute and University and lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is the fourth individual this year to complete a term as Resident Scholar in the Special Collections & Archives Research Center.  Dr. Gray is a self-described “anarchist, feminist, post-modernist” who has written widely on a number of subjects, with a particular emphasis on cyborgs and evolution.

Gray visited Corvallis to examine the Paul Lawrence Farber Papers and the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, spurred by a keen interest in tracing the development of Pauling’s thinking on evolution.  His provocative Resident Scholar presentation, titled “Linus Pauling and the Temptation of Evolutionary Ethics,” generated a great deal of thoughtful discussion among those who gathered to hear him speak.

Gray’s thesis was that, in at least two instances, Linus Pauling gave in to what Paul Farber termed “the temptations of evolutionary ethics.”  Farber, a historian of science and emeritus chair of the OSU History Department, defined this temptation as the impulse to use science as a basis for a full system of normative ethics.  Gray is sympathetic to Farber’s warnings against this impulse as, in his view,

Culture is not different from nature.  Human culture is natural.  It is evolved, as much as the behavior of mockingbirds or ants.  All of life is evolved.  The natural/biological vs. cultural distinction is not only wrong, it is dangerous.  [On the same token], humans are not rational.

As an extension of this postulate, Gray offered this thought, which was fundamental to his presentation

I don’t think evolutionary science will ever provide a base for a system of ethics.  The ideas and actions behind the Holocaust are as natural as those behind the Civil Rights movement.  All that humans do is natural….Farber is right that evolutionary science cannot give us a normative ethics, a complete system of ethics.  It cannot show what should be ethical, but it can show what is possible and what is impossible.  It can help us in our ethical reasoning.

During his stay in Corvallis, Gray traced Pauling’s thinking on evolution from his earliest documented years, noting a particularly optimistic Junior Class Oration in which the future scientific great “makes of evolution a religion.”  As time moved on, Pauling’s thoughts on the topic changed somewhat, his optimism tempered by the realities of the atomic age.  Instead of a religion, evolution became a morality.  Likewise, man was no longer destined to evolve into a superman, but rather was part of a superorganism, “humankind,” whose greatest attributes – as Pauling noted in 1959 – were “sanity (reason), and morality (ethical principles.)”

For Pauling the concept of morality was firmly rooted in Albert Schweitzer’s principle of “minimization of suffering,” and it is here that he began to fall prey to the temptations of evolutionary ethics. Most glaring was Pauling’s advocacy of negative eugenics in the mid- to late-1960s.  As Gray noted

Pauling saw reality as based on molecules, and so diseases were molecular….His work on sickle-cell anemia was framed in this way. Once he realized that it was a genetic disease he put forward some startling solutions… [including the tattooing of phenotype information on people’s foreheads] enforced genetic testing and abortions…even though dietary and other treatments for sickle cell anemia were known and effective. Eventually he stopped raising this issue. We don’t know why for sure, but we can assume he realized it was not a popular approach to the problem of genetic disease.

Gray also submitted Pauling’s interest in vitamin C, especially as a possible treatment for cancer, as another example in which his evolutionary thinking went astray.

The reasoning behind Pauling’s belief that humans did not consume enough Vitamin C was based on evolutionary science. Roughly half the primates, including humans and our closest cousins, cannot synthesize vitamin C, an ability that all plants and almost all animals have. His theory was that the ancestral primate lost the ability to synthesize C when in an environment with plentiful dietary C. Then, as humans moved into other environments with less dietary C, deficiency diseases and conditions, such as a degraded immune system…resulted – and not just scurvy, but long term conditions and even cancer.

While Gray conceded that there is some validity to this argument, he found Pauling’s larger thesis to be “less than convincing.”

…numerous studies have failed to show that all, or even most, humans have a massive Vitamin C deficit. It is true that C can help limit the severity of colds, that it helps in some healing, and has other benefits. But the massive positive effects of massive doses of C have not proven to be as helpful as Pauling claimed.

Gray concluded that

we have to be more careful that Pauling in applying evolutionary thinking to ethics….if we take evolution seriously we have to let go of totalizing schemes for perfecting humanity, as much as the dream of perfection appeals to young chemistry students and profoundly moral famous scientists alike. But evolutionary science can be useful in our quest for a better, more moral, world.

Because of the great diversity of humans…especially as evolved culture allows for such a wide range of variation, and “conscious” evolution, no totalistic ethical system based on human altruism or any other quality is viable. Altruism has certainly evolved in humans, as has selfishness, cruelty, and social pathology. Inherited traits are often not universal, which makes sense in that variation is the key to evolution’s power. But this also means that any ethical system will have to be imposed on some people, even if it is a “biological” fit for the majority. And since all of us have many layers of moral reasoning and ethical impulses, often contradictory, and that humans continue to evolve and a very fast rate thanks to the Lamarkian power of culture, we will never have a perfect ethics.

For more on the Resident Scholar Program, please visit this page, which, among other details, includes links to the profiles that we have written of all past scholarship recipients.

Two Years on the Pauling Beat

Today marks the second anniversary of the launching of the Pauling Blog.  In two years we have generated 214 posts, garnered over 63,000 views (not counting those accruing from syndication, which WordPress doesn’t include in its total statistics) and been graced with nearly 7,400 spam comments, most of which, thankfully, have been kept at bay by the good folks at Akismet.

We’re a bit less philosophical today than was the case one year ago, but we do want to take this moment to reflect back a bit.  Our readership has grown substantially over the past year and, as we enter our terrible twos, we figure this is a good opportunity to take another quick look at some writing that many of our readers may have never seen.  Here then, are ten worthwhile posts from the early days of the blog.

  1. Visiting Albert Schweitzer:  a review of the Paulings’ trip to Schweitzer’s medical compound in central Africa – in Linus Pauling’s estimation, “one of the most inaccessible areas of the world.”
  2. Pauling and the Presidents: the first in a series of three posts on Pauling’s relationship with this nation’s Commanders in Chief and with the office of the Presidency itself.  The other two posts focus on Pauling’s complicated interactions with John F. Kennedy, and with his own brief flirtation with the idea of running for the office himself.
  3. Pauling’s Rules: among Pauling’s major early contributions to science was his formation of a set of rules used to guide one’s analysis of x-ray diffraction data in the determination of crystal structures.
  4. The Guggenheim Trip: a three-part series detailing Linus and Ava Helen’s adventures as they toured through Europe for a year, meeting major scientific figures and absorbing the fledgling discipline of quantum mechanics.
  5. The Darlings: Maternal Ancestors of Linus Pauling:  an entertaining look at the colorful characters residing further down Pauling’s family tree.  We also featured Pauling’s paternal ancestry as well as Ava Helen’s lineage in separate posts.
  6. A Halloween Tale of Ice Cream and Ethanol:  Pauling’s typically detailed and ultra-rational recollection of a hallucination experienced late one November night.
  7. Clarifying Three Widespread Quotes:  three quotes attributed to Linus Pauling are scattered across the Internet.  This post investigates whether or not Pauling actually authored them.
  8. Pauling in the ROTC:  often accused of anti-Americanism due to his pacifist beliefs, few people know that Pauling actually served in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, ultimately rising to the rank of Major.  This post was among the first in our lengthy Oregon 150 series, celebrating Pauling’s relationship with his home state.
  9. Mastering Genetics: Pauling and Eugenics:  a post that delves into what was among the more controversial stances that Pauling ever took.
  10. Linus Pauling Baseball:  we can’t help it – the video is priceless.

As always, thanks for reading!

William B. Shockley, 1910-1989

William B. Shockley, ca. 1956

(Image courtesy of the Nobel Foundation)

Frequently, I have been asked if an experiment I have planned is pure or applied research; to me it is more important to know if the experiment will yield new and probably enduring knowledge about nature. If it is likely to yield such knowledge, it is, in my opinion, good fundamental research; and this is much more important than whether the motivation is purely esthetic satisfaction on the part of the experimenter on the one hand or the improvement of the stability of a high-power transistor on the other. It will take both types to ‘confer the greatest benefit on mankind’ sought for in Nobel’s will.

-William B. Shockley, Nobel Lecture, 1956

As with Jacques Monod and Dominique Georges Pire, February 2010 marks the centenary anniversary for the controversial physicist and engineer William Bradford Shockley, born in London on February 13, 1910.

Shockley’s parents, a surveyor and an engineer, were eccentric United States citizens living a relatively comfortable, if unstable, urban life. The family moved back to the U. S. in 1913, settling in Palo Alto, California when William was still a toddler. Shockley eventually attended and graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a degree in physics, and received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1936.

Throughout World War II, Shockley worked for the Navy and Army Air Corps. He became one of the highest ranking civilian scientists during the conflict, and – like Linus Pauling – was awarded the Presidential Medal for Merit, the highest possible civilian decoration.

For the bulk of the period following his schooling, Shockley worked at Bell Telephone Laboratories, staying there until 1955.  While at Bell Labs, Shockley’s primary focus was a device  intended to replace the company’s telephone exchange system, one which would mark the evolution from mechanical switches to electronic ones. He had an idea to make a solid state device out of semiconductors, and theorized an effect that described how such a device might function. His first attempt to build one failed, but he later provided consultation to the two men at Bell Labs that did successfully construct the first transistor.

In 1950 he made improvements to the device which made it easier and cheaper to manufacture. Shockley is now popularly credited with the invention of the transistor, and received many awards and recognitions because of it, including a spot in Time magazine’s 100 Persons of the Century. For their accomplishments, the three men involved with the development of the device – Shockley, Walter Brattain and John Bardeen – were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956.

After leaving Bell Telephone Laboratories, Shockley worked for a year at the Department of Defense as Deputy Director and Research Director of the Weapons System Evaluation Group.  Following this stint with the government, he co-founded his own business, Shockley Semiconductor, which developed and manufactured semiconductors. A conflict arose because of Shockley’s dictatorial management style, and eight of his top researchers left to start their own company, eventually forming the Intel Corporation with several investors. A number of other companies began to work on similar technologies and devices in the region, eventually leading to the area’s familiar label, Silicon Valley.

He’s a racist because he thinks he can make statistical prediction of behavior by population. He’s not a bigot because he apparently does not despise blacks.

-Richard Goldsby, quoted in Broken Genius: A Biography of William B. Shockley, by Joel Shurkin

Image and caption originally published in U.S. News and World Report, November 22, 1965.

After leaving Shockley Semiconductor, Shockley assumed a teaching position as a professor of engineering at Stanford University, where he worked from 1963-1975. It is during this time that he became increasingly interested in population issues, and began lecturing on controversial topics covering intelligence, reproduction levels and, eventually, race stratification.

Shockley used the lower scores of African Americans on certain IQ tests, a largely undisputed incidence at the time, to substantiate his arguments. Among these ideas was his opposition to the view that social inequalities and environmental factors could explain discrepancies in intelligence testing. He instead claimed that the cause for the testing patterns was directly related to heredity and genetics. He began professing views in favor of eugenics, thus immersing himself in a roiling controversy among his peers. Among his most polarizing suggestions was the notion of a program that would grant government subsidies to people with low-level IQ scores, provided that they submitted to voluntary sterilization.

Shockley attended the California Institute of Technology during Linus Pauling’s ascent to status as a full professor of chemistry. Though little is mentioned of any work they did together, Shockley’s name and handwriting can be found in Pauling’s Research Notebook 7 on a number of pages involving experimentation with the mineral pollucite.

The two remained in sporadic contact for most of Shockley’s life, but the majority of the written communication between the two involves requests to Pauling for employee recommendations.  Pauling’s file on Shockley includes extensive documentation of Shockley’s racial views from outside sources, but does not contain any definitive statement by Pauling in reaction to the points that Shockley espoused.  Pauling was no stranger to eugenics controversies of his own, though it can be safely assumed that he did not agree with Shockley’s positions.

William Shockley’s life as a whole is often compared to a Greek tragedy. The difference between him and other famous characters that fell to pride, according to his biographers, is that he never found redemption. Near the end of his life, he was alone except for his loyal wife Emma. His impressive accomplishments and brilliant scientific career were largely discredited within the scientific community because of his vocal eugenic advocacy. His two distant sons and daughter were informed of his death by the news media, because Shockley ordered his wife not to contact them.

Shockley died on August 12, 1989 from prostate cancer. He was cremated shortly after his death and no service was held for him.

Mastering Genetics: Pauling and Eugenics

Illustration from Medical World News article,

Illustration from Medical World News article, “Sickle Cell Anemia” December 3, 1971.

“I have suggested that the time might come in the future when information about heterozygosity in such serious genes as the sickle cell anemia gene would be tattooed on the forehead of the carriers, so that young men and women would at once be warned not to fall in love with each other.”
-Linus Pauling, August 15, 1966

After declaring sickle-cell anemia to be a “molecular disease” in the late 1940s, Pauling spent more than a decade describing the cause of the disease and the significance of its unique origins to his fellow academics. Unfortunately, though interested, his colleagues seemed more concerned with the concept of a molecular disease than its real world application in genetics and medicine. Beginning in 1958, Pauling became a vocal advocate of genetic counseling, focusing especially on sickle-cell anemia among the African American population. His efforts went largely unnoticed by both researchers and the general public alike.

Frustrated with his unsuccessful endorsement of genetic counseling, Pauling chose to take his ideas a step further. In 1962, Pauling began a public campaign in support of negative eugenics – the restriction of human breeding and childbirth as a means of minimizing the sharing of hereditary diseases. He advocated genetic testing as a requirement for obtaining a marriage license. Perhaps even more controversial, Pauling recommended placing legal restrictions on marriage and childbirth between carriers of hereditary diseases.

Listen: Pauling on Marriage Tests and the Disclosure of Genotype Information

Pauling recognized the difficulty of controlling and monitoring a program of this magnitude. Without being able to easily identify carriers of various diseases, the public could not effectively choose sexual partners, thus lessening the potential effectiveness of employed eugenics. As a solution, in the late 1960s, Pauling began suggesting a means of visibly marking disease carriers – a tattoo on the forehead, clearly marking the individual as the carrier of a specific disease. Not surprisingly, this suggestion engendered a great deal of criticism. He was compared with the likes of Hitler by his critics who drew parallels between the proposed tattoo and the yellow star worn by Eastern European Jews during the reign of the Nazi party.

In reflecting upon Pauling’s stance, it is important to note that he was not interested in positive eugenics – the manipulation of genetic combinations as a means of developing a superior human. Rather, he intended only to minimize human suffering and found the idea of building a “super race” highly undesirable. Pauling was also a critic of the concept of genetic purity. He was concerned with purifying the human gene pool of harmful diseases, but he was not motivated by the desire to manipulate intelligence, appearance, strength, etc.

Pauling insisted that his ideas, though extreme, were meant to decrease human suffering rather than to segregate and belittle. Though Pauling faced many critics, he did have supporters as well. Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar agreed with Pauling, famously stating,

It is humbug to say that such a policy violates an elementary right of human beings. No one has conferred upon human beings the right knowingly to bring maimed or biochemically crippled children in the world.

During the 1960s, Pauling’s critics began discussing the effect that negative eugenics could have on evolution. Roderic Gorney, a psychiatrist, argued that over a long enough period of time, eugenics could redirect and even supersede the process of natural selection.

For example, consider the effect of negative eugenics in relation to sickle-cell anemia. An individual with sickle-cell anemia has two sickle-cell alleles. Typically, sufferers of sickle-cell anemia are plagued by a host of related health problems, often leading to an early death. Some individuals, however, possess only one sickle-cell allele. These individuals exhibit some sickling of the blood cells, but are otherwise able to live normal, healthy lives. Because sickle-cell anemia is a hereditary disease, it is passed on in Mendelian fashion. As a result, a person with a single sickle-cell allele, when paired with a healthy individual, has a 25% chance of giving birth to a child with one sickle-cell allele. When paired with another single-trait individual, there exists a 50% chance that a child will have one sickle-cell trait, and a 25% chance that the child will be afflicted with full sickle-cell anemia.

Gorney argued that sickle-cell anemia, if left alone, would eventually be removed from the human gene pool. He explained that, because individuals suffering from sickle-cell anemia rarely live to procreate, few instances of sickle-cell anemia are added to the collective gene pool. Similarly, a single-allele individual has a statistical opportunity to produce children with sickle-cell anemia when paired with another carrier. These offspring will die at a young age, further reducing the number of carriers present in the next generation. As a result, over a period of time, the number of sickle-cell carriers would decrease to nothing.

Negative eugenics, however, allows sickle-cell carriers to identify other carriers and instead mate with healthy individuals, producing more children with a single sickle-cell allele. If this process were to continue indefinitely, more and more humans would be heterozygous for sickle-cell anemia, rendering it virtually impossible for natural selection to remove the disease from the human gene pool. This argument could, in fact, be applied to any similar hereditary disease.

“Bad Genes and Marriage,” New York Post, October 21, 1968.

Pauling acknowledged Gorney’s concerns but countered that, without eugenics, preventative medicine would have a much more damaging effect. Pauling felt that modern medicine (antibiotics, chemotherapy, prescription drugs, etc.) helped prolong the lifespan of sick or diseased individuals, sometimes allowing them to procreate and pass along hereditary diseases. As such, modern medicine was effectively undoing natural selection, leaving negative eugenics as the best hope for maintaining a balanced, healthy population.

In the early 1970s, Pauling began to run into trouble. His main focus throughout his eugenics campaign was the elimination of sickle-cell anemia, a disease that had originated in Africa where it became common among the native population because of its ability to prevent malaria. When slave traders brought African captives to North America, sickle-cell anemia was introduced to the United States. Due to racial segregation and the social mores that developed in the U.S. over the intervening 300 years, very few individuals outside of the African American population were afflicted with sickle-cell disease. For these reasons, Pauling advocated blood testing among the African American population. As the Civil Rights movement gained momentum, Pauling’s suggestions were seen as racist, and even as an attempt to cast African Americans as genetically inferior and meriting legal restrictions on their rights to marriage and procreation.

Frustrated and embarrassed by the criticism that he was receiving, Pauling fell silent on the topic of eugenics. In the past, when faced with heavy opposition, Pauling had always held his ground. But this episode was different. By the end of 1972, Pauling had given up his negative eugenics campaign and turned to other means of improving the human condition.

For more information on Pauling and his work with genetics, visit “It’s in the Blood! A Documentary History of Linus Pauling, Hemoglobin and Sickle Cell Anemia” or Linus Pauling Online.

Mutations and Malaria: Pauling’s Adventure in Genetics

Pastel drawing of Hemoglobin at 100 angstroms, 1964.

During the 1940s, Pauling had established sickle-cell anemia as a molecular disease, a pioneering concept that synthesized biology and chemistry in a revolutionary manner. Other interests had pulled him away from this important work, however, for the better part of a decade.

Then, in the early 1960s, he was introduced to research suggesting that rates of malaria infection in areas with a high rate of sickle-cell anemia were greatly reduced. On top of this existing research, Pauling also came across a reference to a particularly interesting African legend regarding the origin of malaria resistance. Intrigued, he decided to dig a little deeper and, before long, he had dedicated a small portion of his lab to the problem.

Early in his research, Pauling found that the protozoan parasites responsible for malaria were not able to penetrate and replicate in sickled blood cells — e.g, cells containing deformed hemoglobin. Even more interesting, Pauling discovered that individuals with only one sickle-cell allele did not suffer from the effects of sickle-cell anemia but were still highly resistant to the malaria disease.

By examining these findings, Pauling developed a set of basic rules explaining the sickle-cell and malaria interactions. They are as follows:

1. Individuals with only normal hemoglobin do not possess the deformed hemoglobin molecules present in individuals possessing either one or two sickle-cell alleles. As a result, these individuals are not resistant to malaria.
2. Those with the homozygous recessive sickle-cell trait suffer from sickled blood cells, resulting in a variety of health complications including stroke, ulcers, bacterial bone infection, kidney failure, and heart problems. Victims of the dominant form of sickle-cell anemia have a significantly shorter lifespan than the average human, often dying in infancy. Nevertheless, these individuals are not afflicted by the malaria disease.
3. Other individuals are heterozygous for the sickle-cell trait, meaning that they experience some sickling of the blood cells, but enough of their blood cells appear normal that they are able to survive without experiencing the health difficulties associated with sickle-cell anemia. Like those with the full sickle-cell anemia disease, these individuals enjoy significant resistance to the malarial disease.

Pauling stated that the human populations inhabiting malarial zones in Central Africa were becoming predominantly comprised of heterozygotes. He explained that an individual homozygous recessive for the sickle-cell trait would probably die before reaching sexual maturity, therefore not producing any children with the sickle-cell disease. Those without the sickle-cell trait would be vulnerable to malaria. In malarial regions, this group would have a high mortality rate, many of them dying before reproducing. The third group, those with only one sickle-cell allele, does not suffer from the effects of full sickle-anemia and are immune to malaria. As a result, these individuals are best suited to malarial regions and are able to procreate, giving birth to more heterozygotes who can, in turn, continue the genetic trend.

The sickle-cell trait is a hereditary disease, passed from parent to child in the Mendelian fashion. Each parent provides the child with one of the two alleles which will determine whether the child will have normal or sickled blood. Two individuals with sickle-cell anemia will invariably produce children with sickle-cell anemia. A pair in which one parent has sickle-cell anemia and the other is a carrier (meaning they have one trait rather than two) will have a 50% chance of producing a child with sickle-cell anemia and a 50% chance of producing a child with only one sickle-cell allele. A couple in which both parents carry only one sickle-cell allele will have a 25% chance of producing a child with sickle-cell anemia, a 25% chance of producing a child without the sickle-cell trait, and a 50% chance of producing a child with only one sickle-cell allele.

The following series of Punnett squares demonstrates the transfer of alleles in the case of sickle-cell anemia:

Sickle-Cell Anemia Punnett Square

Based on this thinking, Pauling argued that only the people with one sickle-cell allele would live to have children, approximately 50% of which would be born with one sickle-cell allele. He argued that this trend could continue indefinitely, probably until a mutation eliminated the sickle-cell disease entirely, leaving all peoples in malarial zones homozygous for an anti-malarial gene.

Listen: Pauling on the effect of sickle cell disease on the spread of malaria

With his theory firmly in place, Pauling turned his attention to sickle-cell anemia in non-malarial zones. Pauling was primarily concerned with the presence of sickle-cell anemia in the African American population of the southeastern United States. Because malaria is not endemic to the southern U.S., Pauling feared that a positive mutation was unlikely to occur, and the sickle cell mutation was not being removed from the gene pool as quickly as new, harmful mutations were occurring. As a result, the number of individuals suffering from sickle-cell anemia could only continue to increase.

In order to counteract this trend, Pauling spoke out in support of eugenics as a means of controlling and gradually diminishing the presence of sickle-cell anemia in the United States.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Pauling made headlines by giving talks on the subject. He was introducing the concept of beneficial mutations to a public not necessarily comfortable with certain implications of the phenomena. The humanitarian components of his efforts earned him praise from various medical groups, though his advocacy of eugenics created some concern among politicians, religious conservatives, and secular ethicists alike.

For more information on Pauling’s work with sickle-cell anemia and malaria, visit It’s in the Blood or take a look at the OSU Special Collections homepage.