Pauling’s Final Libel Suits

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Editorial cartoon published by the Anti-Communist League of York County.

Linus Pauling’s tendency toward litigation during the 1960s has been well-documented on our blog. As a central figure in the debate over nuclear weapons testing, Pauling was considered by many to be an important advocate for world peace, while many others called him out as a subversive communist. Pauling’s reputation clearly suffered due to the negative press he received, and over the first half of the decade, he decided to combat these attacks through libel suits against conservative presses and other groups that had published defamatory articles against him.

The last three of these cases were filed against the Anti-Communist League of York County, Nevadans On Guard, and the Australian Consolidated Press. These cases all ended poorly for Pauling, a trend that defined much of his litigation. Indeed, out of eight cases that Pauling mounted, he only won two, and they were the two earliest cases.


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Excerpt from the Anti-Communist League of York County pamphlet that prompted legal action by Linus Pauling.

In May 1962, Charles M. Gitt, the president of the Gazette and Daily, two local York County, Pennsylvania newspapers, notified Pauling about a pamphlet that had been distributed by the Anti-Communist League of York County. The pamphlet consisted of an article titled “Brainwashed at Home by the Gazette and Daily” that theorized

To carry out this brainwashing job, the Gazette and Daily makes use of the following top Communists and sympathizers: Linus C. Pauling, an identified Communist, frequently is quoted on the front page of the Gazette, concerning his distorted views of the effects of nuclear fallout. According to H.C.U.A., he has a history of cooperation with Communist causes. To trust Pauling’s predictions on fallout is to trust the goat in the cabbage patch….The above radicals have much longer pro-Communist and outright subversive histories, but space will not permit a full account.

Pauling quickly responded to Gitt, writing “My attorney tells me that the phrase ‘an identified Communist,’ and the reference to ‘outright subversive histories’ are libelous.” Gitt agreed and encouraged Pauling to sue.

In June 1962, Pauling wrote to an area lawyer, Henry Sawyer of Philadelphia, inquiring into his willingness to serve as his counsel. In this initial letter, he put forth the gist of his complaint against the Anti-Communist League of York County.

The description of me is, in my opinion, defamatory, libelous, and grossly damaging to me. My textbooks of chemistry are used in the State of Pennsylvania and in adjacent states, and the dissemination of defamatory material of this sort may well cause me financial loss….You can understand why I feel that it is necessary for me to protect my reputation in the Philadelphia area, against an attack of this sort….I must tell you that at the present time I am involved in three libel suits, and have just brought a fourth to its termination. The one that was settled was against the Bellingham Publishing Company, Bellingham, Washington. It was settled by payment of the sum of $16,000 to my wife and me.

Pauling and Sawyer were aware that Pauling had only about a 50-50 chance of winning and, were he to win, it was likely that the damages received would be modest as the York County group was quite small and lacked significant funding. But at the time, Pauling was more interested in proving his point and casting a warning to others who might entertain the idea of publishing similarly defamatory articles. In the end, Pauling decided to sue the Anti-Communist League and its backers for $100,000, knowing that a payday of this magnitude was very unlikely to come to pass.

Once notified of Pauling’s suit, the Anti-Communist League did everything in its power to delay court proceedings as long as possible. This tactic paid off when, in 1964, a landmark Supreme Court Case, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, was decided. The verdict handed down by the high court in this case set a stiff standard for proving libel against public figures and rendered Pauling’s case virtually unwinnable.

Though their hopes of victory were greatly reduced, Pauling and his team moved forward with the York litigation and finally received a pre-trial conference in the summer of 1965. The judge at the conference stated that the case clearly fell within the purview of the New York Times ruling, just like nearly all Pauling’s libel suits. Furthermore, none of the defendants really had any money. Ultimately, a lone defendant offered to settle for $2,000 and Pauling decided to accept the offer. Nonetheless, the damages received represented a clear loss for Pauling, as his legal fees had far exceeded $2,000 by this time. In May 1966, the case was finally dismissed in entirety.


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Comments by Dr. Detar, a potential defendant in the Nevadans on Guard suit.

On October 26, 1963, a small newspaper, Nevadans On Guard, published an article about Pauling bearing the headline “American Communist Given Nobel Prize.” Upon learning of this, Pauling decided to sue Nevadans On Guard, as well as the DeTar family, the Schaefer family, and possibly others responsible for defaming Pauling in the area.

In January 1964, Nevada attorney Charles Springer agreed to take on the case. The following March, Pauling lost his case against the St. Louis Globe Democrat at the same time that many of his other legal proceedings were not going as well as expected.

Charles Springer was also the State Chairman of the Democratic party in Nevada, so he was quite busy. This need to juggle obligations delayed the filing of Pauling’s suit until 1965. After that point, no additional records about the Nevadans On Guard case remain extant in Pauling’s records. One might reasonably speculate that Pauling decided against going forward with the case since he was already embroiled in so many other losing battles.


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The Bulletin publication that prompted legal action in Australia.

In the Fall of 1964, the Paulings visited Australia to participate in the Australian Conference for International Cooperation and Disarmament. While in Sydney, Ava Helen Pauling was handled a leaflet excerpted from an Australian magazine, The Bulletin, that had been published on October 24, 1964. The leaflet consisted an article titled “But Not Dr. Pauling” that implied that Pauling was a liar and a communist sympathizer. After a bit of investigating, Pauling learned that The Bulletin was owned by Australian Consolidated Press, Ltd., which stood by its article and expressed no fear at the prospect of legal action.

Regardless, Pauling’s lawyers thought he had a good chance of winning until June 1965 when, in a lengthy letter, his lawyers outlined an array of pitfalls, mostly having to do with public perception. Pauling’s primary lawyer in Australia, E. J. Kirby, began by stating of the leaflet’s author

One gets the impression of a writer who is not exact or careful, and who wished to make the most biting, extravagant attack, either because he felt you would not hit back, or because he wished deliberately to provoke you to it.

From there, Kirby outlined his view of what the jury’s reactions to the case might be, detail by detail. Specifically, he felt that the jury might be influenced by the defense to think that Pauling was indeed associated with communists, simply due to the large number of Pauling’s acquaintances that would be called into question. Even if Pauling’s counsel proved that each and every one was not a communist, “Unfair as you may think it, they may come to believe that where there is so much smoke there must be some fire.”

Furthermore, though Kirby thought it likely that the jury would understand that Pauling was himself not a communist and did love the US, “we think that the jury may well be convinced, finally, just as the Senate Committee [Senate Internal Security Subcommittee] was convinced, that you have allowed yourself to be used by Communists, and Communist-front organizations, that you have been drawn into their orbit, as it were, and have to some extent become influenced by their ways of thinking.”

Kirby then pointed out that Pauling had made the deliberate decision to be more critical of the US than of the Soviet Union because he believed that it was his duty as a citizen and that he wished to serve as a model of diplomacy among nations. Though Pauling had claimed on many occasions that he did not know anything about communism or communist fronts, few juries were likely to prove overly sympathetic, given Pauling’s long history as an activist.

In view of these headwinds, Kirby advised his client that success seemed unlikely.

On the whole, therefore, we have very reluctantly come to the conclusion that what the Senate had to say in its Report, and even what the “Bulletin” had to say in its article, could be regarded by a jury as being to an extent justified in the practical sense, by the facts. In so regarding the Senate Report and the “Bulletin” article a jury, you may say, would be acting in an unjustified fashion, yet this we think is what one must do in the ordinary affairs of life, and what we believe the jury may well do in your case, however much the Judge may direct them on these points of evidence to the contrary.

Indeed, the situation looked bleak. “We now have some reservations as to the defamatory matter itself,” Kirby wrote, “[and] we have formed the view that it could well be held to be justified in part.”

A with the York County case, the issue of money emerged as an additional complication. As Kirby explained “Our Supreme Court delivered itself of a judgement in what we call the Uren case, to the effect that a plaintiff is entitled only to compensatory damages, and not to punitive or exemplary damages.” Kirby estimated that a trial would take anywhere from six to eight weeks and that the total cost to Pauling, if he lost, would amount to £10,859.10. Likewise, the total cost if he won was estimated at £954.12. Either way, Pauling stood to lose monetarily with the possible outcome of a fantastic financial loss should the case not go his way.

After reading this letter, Pauling understandably decided not to continue with the Australia case and, by September 1966, it was formally concluded.

That same year, Pauling lost his appeal in the St. Louis Globe Democrat case. Pauling’s final libel suit, bitterly contested against the National Review, took two more years to conclude, and it too ended in defeat for Pauling. Hampered by a Supreme Court decision that came about in the midst of his most litigious period, Pauling’s legal war against the press cost him a great deal personally and monetarily, and won him little.

The Challenge of Scientific Discovery

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Linus Pauling, 1967

Fifty years ago, Linus Pauling found himself in a typically busy mode of life. The year 1967 started in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the Paulings visited with their eldest son, Linus Jr. They then spent the next two months travelling through Singapore, India and Sri Lanka, during which Linus delivered a series of lectures, including the Azad Memorial Lecture in New Delhi.

Once the summer arrived, Pauling made use of a one-year leave of absence from the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in order to take a short-term position as a professor of chemistry at the University of California, San Diego. Later, in November, he traveled to New Orleans to accept the Roebling Medal from the American Mineralogical Society.

Pauling was pretty clearly a popular speaker at this point in time. In 1967 alone, he gave roughly thirty lectures that we know of, while also trying to maintain his program of scientific research. In today’s post, we’ll examine a talk that he gave exactly fifty years ago; one that was fairly emblematic of the public speaking that he was doing during this period.


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Program for Pauling’s Snyder Lecture, May 17, 1967

Because he had so many lectures planned for 1967, by November of 1966 Pauling had decided that he would not entertain any more requests. However, after receiving a letter from Hope Powell, the Dean of Student Personnel at Los Angeles City College, in which she invited him to deliver the college’s prestigious William Henry Snyder Lecture, he opted to make an exception and accept the invitation.

This was not Pauling’s first contact with the college. A few years prior, the school had contacted Pauling to inquire into the possibility of his giving their commencement address. Prior commitments rendered him unable to do so, but he suggested that they send a later invitation for another speech.

Powell followed this advice in her 1966 letter, noting that the Snyder lecture was meant to “stimulate the thinking and expand the horizons of our students,” and conveying the eagerness that both the school’s students and faculty felt at the possibility that Pauling might make a visit. In terms of a topic, Powell suggested that Pauling share his views on “the challenges to education and society presented by scientific and technological advances.”


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Los Angeles Nite News, May 15, 1967

Los Angeles City College, originally known as Los Angeles Junior College, was founded in 1929 by William Henry Snyder; by 1966, it enrolled over 18,000 students. The Annual Snyder lecture was founded in 1935 to honor Snyder, a pioneer of the junior college system who made many noteworthy contributions to the field of education. Speakers previous to Pauling had included Robert Millikan, Thomas Mann, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

The Los Angeles City College Collegian was among the newspapers who previewed Pauling’s talk in the days leading up to the event. The Collegian‘s piece relied in particular on foreign languages professor Meyer Krakowski, who was serving as chair of the Lecture Committee, and who pointed out that Pauling – by then a controversial figure to many – was chosen because “his talk is educationally oriented and will appeal to the majority of students.” The article also quoted physicist Hans Bethe, who said of Pauling

Without his awakening of the public conscience on [nuclear testing] there would not have been any pressure on governments, and there would not have been any test ban.

On the morning of May 17th, Pauling arrived on campus for a press conference. An hour later, at 11:00AM, he gave the twenty-ninth annual Snyder Lecture, titled “The Challenge of Scientific Discovery.” Held outside on the school’s baseball field, the event began with the playing of the national anthem by the LACC Band, which was followed by remarks, introductions, and greetings from a series of dignitaries, including the college’s president and the president of the student body.

Meyer Krakowski then introduced Pauling, describing the day’s speaker in glowing terms:

[Pauling] finds no conflict between his position as a scientist and his position as a private citizen. Between his search for truth in science and his search for truth in society there is complete harmony. He firmly believes that science was made for man, and not man for science… Dr. Pauling has been inspired by the challenges of scientific discovery, and he gladly shares with others his enthusiasm and his inspiration.


“I want to talk to you about how science might contribute to your happiness,” Pauling began. In doing so, he described early scientific discoveries including pi, bacteria, and blood circulation that emerged from scientific inquiry spurred by simple curiosity about our world.

This sense of invigorating wonder permeated the whole of Pauling’s talk. At one point, when reflecting on Albert Einstein’s breakthroughs with relativity, Pauling commented that “he must have had a tremendous feeling of happiness when he first had his great idea.” Later, he described a fellow student who, upon learning about the discovery of electron spins, was “so excited he could hardly talk.” He likewise shared his own memories of an important moment in his unraveling the secrets of the chemical bond:

I worked at my desk nearly all that night, so full of excitement that I could hardly write. It is a wonderful feeling to understand something about the world that no one else has ever understood.

From there, Pauling emphasized the ever-evolving nature of science and the fact that new discoveries often overturn old ideas. In doing so, he hastened to point out that this evolution should not be seen as a source of discouragement for a researcher whose work might have been rendered moot. Instead, he urged the students to focus on the overarching quest for truth:

[W]e must try to understand these interesting aspects of the world. … The sources of happiness in this world are not so great that we can afford to neglect any of them, and satisfying one’s intellectual curiosity can be one of the great sources of happiness.

The end of Pauling’s speech was dedicated to a discussion of the intersection between science and morality, a topic to which he had devoted a great deal of thought. He told the students that in his world travels, he had not discerned any real difference in basic human nature, no matter where he was. As such, he declared that “we need to have a fundamental principle of morality that is independent of revelation, superstition, dogma, and creed.” He then added that “as a scientist, I have tried to work on this problem, to derive a basic ethical principle.” This core belief was that all people must work together to decrease the amount of human suffering in the world.

Pauling closed his lecture with a call to action:

I believe that the discoveries made by the scientists have brought the world together in a way that it never was before. The new means of communication and transportation have made the whole of humanity into one great organism. Our loyalty now should be to the whole of humanity. The time has come when we can make the world a great place for all human beings, everywhere, through the use of the resources of the world and the discoveries made by scientists for the benefit of humanity, and not for war, death, and destruction.

The response to Pauling’s talk was effusive in its praise. In a letter penned soon after the event, Dean Powell offered that

In an urban junior college such as ours where there are many disadvantaged students and students of every race, creed, and economic situation, it is particularly important to provide outstanding speakers such as you are, to provide them with mental stimulation and encouragement. Your visit here was thus doubly meaningful.

Meyer Krakowski added

We feel that the three thousand people who heard you…will long remember your enthusiastic discussion of the challenge of scientific discovery and the emphasis you placed on the scientists and society’s responsibility to all humanity.

Perhaps most notably however, LACC’s student government felt the evening to have been so important that they decided to allocate funds to publish a transcript made from a tape recording of the lecture. Pauling received fifty copies of the pamphlet that resulted, and many more were distributed on campus.

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A Lifelong Quest for Peace

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Pauling and Ikeda at Soka University in Los Angeles, 1987

[Part 2 of 2 in a series on Pauling’s interactions with Daisaku Ikeda.]

Linus Pauling’s 1987 meeting with Japanese peace activist Daisaku Ikeda, in which the two discussed their lives and philosophies in great detail, clearly made an impression on both men. Not long after, Ikeda’s assistant, Tomosaburo Hirano, wrote to Pauling again, thanking him for meeting with Ikeda and asking about the possibility of his composing a manuscript for publication in Japan.

Later in 1988, just about a year after their first meeting, Ikeda wrote to Pauling directly to express interest in co-authoring a dialogue in order to “provide some suggestion for the young generation who are to shoulder the responsibility in the 21st century, as well as serve the cause of peace and prosperity of humankind.” The dialogue would be published in an interview format, based on the transcript of their meeting in Los Angeles and supplemented by additional material. The first step toward completion was for Pauling to answer a series of seventy-three questions regarding his outlook on life. Pauling was interested in the project and promptly responded to the questionnaire.


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Pauling and Ikeda in dialogue, 1987

Many of the questions developed for the dialogue concerned the evolution of Pauling’s views on war and peace over the course of his life. Pauling began by explaining that, as he was only thirteen years old when World War I started, he had few thoughts about international relations at the time. He did recall the conclusion of the war in 1918, as he participated in a victory parade held in Corvallis, Oregon, where he marched alongside other cadets serving in the Oregon Agricultural College Army Reserve Officers Training Corps.

By the dawn of the Second World War, Pauling was well-established in Pasadena, working at the California Institute of Technology. During the war years he directed much of his energy toward projects sponsored by the explosives division of the National Defense Research Committee, where his research was used to support the killing and maiming of enemy soldiers, including the Japanese. Though he would spend much of his life working to limit the amounts of human suffering on Earth, Pauling commented that he felt satisfaction at the conclusion of the war, heartened that Hitler “and his associates” had been denied their goal of gaining control of the planet.

Nonetheless, despite Pauling’s scientific support for the war effort, it was also the case that when J. Robert Oppenheimer asked him to head the Manhattan Project chemistry department at Los Alamos, he refused. Likewise, after the war’s end, it was the emerging development of nuclear weapons and the ongoing threat of nuclear war that prompted Pauling’s peace activism. Over time, this point of view evolved into a desire to eliminate all war from Earth.


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In 1990, the agreement for the Japanese version of the Pauling-Ikeda dialogue, In Quest of the Century of Life, was finalized, and this version of the book was subsequently published. That same year, Pauling delivered a commemorative lecture at the second Soka University Pacific Basin Symposium, held at the Los Angeles campus of Soka Gakkai University.

Pauling used this talk to reflect on the genesis of his peace activism in some detail. Pauling recalled that, following the detonation of nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the public first became aware of the existence of nuclear weapons. In short order, businessmen’s clubs and other civic groups began to request that Pauling deliver after-dinner talks on the nature of these powerful new weapons. The talks were meant to be purely educational, according to Pauling, and focused mostly on the nature of atomic nuclei and nuclear energy.

Pauling soon discovered however, that as he gave more talks of this kind, he found himself ending them with a short commentary on war in general. In these, he expressed his hope that the existence of nuclear weapons would act as a deterrent to future conflicts, which would instead be handled by an international system of law. Albert Einstein had conveyed a similar sentiment as early as 1946.

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Pauling speaking at Soka University, August 24, 1990.

But with the passage of time, as nuclear stockpiles grew and the magnitude of the bombs being produced increased from 20 kilotons to 20 megatons – more than a thousand times more powerful than the weapons used in Japan – Pauling and many others began to call for global disarmament. While this directive was partially heeded the world’s governments, many large militaries began looking for ways to profit on their slow but steady draw down in arms. As Pauling pointed out, this ambition led to sales of military surplus.

“What do we have going on in the world now?” Pauling queried at the podium.

Wars, a lot of wars. And thousands, tens of thousands of people killed every year in wars…And what does the United States do, and the Soviet Union do, and the Chinese People’s Republic? They all sell advanced military weapons to other countries, the underdeveloped countries, countries that have a lot of money because of oil.

Pauling’s rhetoric had sharpened over the years, and now, before a packed house in Los Angeles, he demanded a change from the military-industrial status quo that had emerged in the wake of the Second World War.

Now we are forced to eliminate from the world forever the vestige of prehistoric barbarism, this curse of the human race, war. We, you and I, are privileged to live at a time in the world’s history, this remarkable extraordinary age, the unique epoch in this history of the world, the epoch of demarcation between the past millennia of war and suffering and the future, the great future of peace, justice, morality, and human well-being. The world community will thereby be freed, not only from the suffering caused by war, but also from hunger, disease, and fear through the better use of the earth’s resources, the discoveries made by scientists and the efforts of human beings through their work. And I am confident that we shall, in the course of time, build a world characterized by economic, political and social justice for all persons and a culture worthy of man’s intelligence.


In 1991, the year following Pauling’s Soka University address, Linus Pauling and Daisaku Ikeda, along with Johan Galtung, the Norwegian founder of the discipline of Peace and Conflict Studies, signed the Oslo Appeal. This document urged the United Nations to require that nuclear member states issue a global, joint Nuclear Test Ban Treaty as well as a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; outlaw the production and stockpiling of chemical and biological weapons; prohibit the international weapons trade; and sponsor an international conference to discuss the redirection of resources released through disarmament to support development in the Third World.

Subsequently, Linus Pauling received the Daisaku Ikeda Medal for Peace, awarded by Soka Gakkai International in 1992. Later that year, the English translation of his and Ikeda’s dialogue was published in the West under the title of A Lifelong Quest for Peace.

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Visitors at the San Francisco opening of the “Linus Pauling and the Twentieth Century” exhibit, 1998.

Following Pauling’s death in 1994, Ikeda expressed a desire to honor his friend with a travelling exhibition that would be funded by Soka Gakkai’s resources. The exhibition was initially conceived of as a means for educating the public on ideas in chemistry and as a mechanism for introducing children to Pauling as a role model.

As it moved forward, the exhibit shifted toward honoring all facets of Pauling’s career as a humanitarian, activist, scientist, and medical researcher. Once finalized, the exhibit toured the world for six years. Millions of people saw it in Europe and Japan, as well as multiple locations in the United States, including Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston, and Pauling’s birthplace, Portland, Oregon.

Pauling and Ikeda

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Daisaku Ikeda, 2010

[Part 1 of 2]

“If the people are not misled by false statements by politicians and authorities, they will recognize the need for world peace and their own responsibilities in achieving this goal.”

-Linus Pauling, 1988

In August 1945, Daisaku Ikeda, a resident of Tokyo and the son of a seaweed farmer, witnessed first-hand the devastation that two nuclear bombs wrought upon his homeland. The experience instilled in Ikeda an insatiable yearning to understand and eliminate the sources of war.

In pursuing this ambition, Ikeda studied political science at what is now Tokyo-Fuji University, and committed himself to the pacifist lifestyle of a Nichiren Buddhist. Ikeda’s chosen faith, named after a twelfth-century priest who emphasized the Lotus Sutra as the authoritative text for adherents of Buddhism, was becoming extremely popular among East Asians following World War II. Fundamental to the practice’s message was a strong call to treat others with respect and compassion, recognizing that all will become Buddhas in the end.

Ikeda also joined a new religious organization called the Soka Gakkai, which followed the teachings of Nichiren, and ultimately became the group’s president in 1960. In his capacity as chief executive, Ikeda focused intently on opening Japan’s relationship with China, and establishing the Soka education network of humanistic schools from kindergarten through university. He also began writing a book titled The Human Revolution.

As his tenure moved forward, the Soka Gakkai grew into an international network of communities dedicated to peace and to cultural and educational activities. In 1975, Ikeda founded an umbrella organization known as Soka Gakkai International (SGI) to fund, direct the resources of, and help facilitate communication between the dispersed Soka Gakkai members. In the 1980s, he turned his attentions toward anti-nuclear activism and citizen diplomacy, and it was in this capacity that he came into close contact with Linus Pauling.


Pauling’s first interaction with SGI came in the early 1980s, by which time the non-governmental organization was already actively cooperating with the United Nations’ department of public information to mobilize citizens for mass movements demanding peace. Seeking to increase SGI’s influence in propelling the peace movement, Ikeda decided to initiate communications with Pauling, who was by now splitting the majority of his time at the family ranch in Big Sur, California and the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in Palo Alto. It was at the latter location where Ikeda’s associate, Mr. Tomosaburo Hirano, would make contact with and interview Dr. Pauling.

This meeting proved to be the first step in a lengthy “courtship” that involved extensive correspondence between Pauling’s secretary, Dorothy Munro, and Ikeda’s assistant, Hirano. Indeed, more than six years would pass before Pauling communicated directly with Ikeda and, a bit later on, finally meet Ikeda in person.

Over the course of those six years, Hirano met with Pauling for two more interviews, focusing primarily on Pauling’s views on peace, but also, to a lesser degree, on his scientific work. Extracts from these sessions were often published in the Seikyo Simbun Press – the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper in Japan – for which Hirano served as associate editor. The pieces typically highlighted Pauling’s work toward nuclear disarmament and were often published in tandem with Ikeda’s release of new strategic proposals bearing titles such as “A New Proposal for Peace and Disarmament” and “Toward A Global Movement for a Lasting Peace.”


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Pauling and Ikeda pictured together in an article published in the Kanagawa Shimbun newspaper, February 2005.

Finally, at the end of 1986, Pauling received a New Year’s card from Ikeda. The following year, during a trip to Los Angeles, Ikeda requested a personal meeting with Pauling, which Pauling obliged. Face to face at last, the two men developed an instant rapport with one another, quickly exhausting the allotted time for their meeting with discussion (aided by a translator) of a wide range of subjects: science, peace, childhood and adult life. The conversation even drifted into Pauling’s hobby of collecting and studying different editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Ikeda was fascinated by Pauling’s warm recollections of major figures such as Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Bertrand Russell and, of course, Ava Helen Pauling, whose life and accomplishments Pauling cited as having been directly responsible for his peace activism. The two also talked about Pauling’s Nobel Peace Prize lecture, in which he had said that he believed the world had inevitably to move into a new period of peace and reason, that no great world war would again threaten the globe, and that problems should be solved by world law to benefit all nations and people.

In that same lecture, Pauling emphasized that, were it up to him, he would prefer to be remembered as the person who discovered the hybridization of bond orbitals, rather than through his work toward reducing nuclear testing and stimulating action to eliminate war. Nonetheless, Pauling considered the Nobel Peace Prize to be the highest honor that had ever received, in particular because of the onus that it placed upon him to continue that work. By contrast, Pauling felt that his Nobel Chemistry Prize, awarded in 1954, had plainly been earned for work already accomplished.

Over the course of their conversation, Ikeda also learned that being dedicated to peace, for Pauling, meant working toward the prevention of suffering for all human beings. In this, Pauling’s point of view as a humanist matched up well with Ikeda’s Buddhist philosophy. Specifically, Ikeda’s faith taught that one should regard others’ sufferings as their own and should seek out to eliminate it – a principle also expressed in the teachings of Christ, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and in the Analects of Confucius, and more generally known as the Golden Rule.

Though Pauling was an avowed atheist, Ikeda pointed out that he did not feel his own religion to be an impediment to his rationality – the same rationality that Pauling believed guided his own desire for peace. Rather, Ikeda argued that

Religions must make every effort to avoid both bias and dogma. If they fail in this, they lose the ability to establish a sound humanism and can even distort human nature. The twenty-first century has no need of religions of this kind.

So concluded the long-awaited first meeting between two men of like interests. The communications and collaborations that were still to come will be explored in our next post.

Dinner in Camelot: What an Evening 55 Years Ago Tells us Today

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Science News Letter, May 12, 1962

[Ed Note: Today we are pleased to publish this guest post authored by Joseph A. Esposito, who served in three presidential administrations. His book on the Nobel Prize dinner will be published in 2018 by Fore Edge, an imprint of the University Press of New England.]

As the nation grapples with polarization and rancor, it is instructive to look at the state of discourse a half century ago.  Perhaps there is no better prism to do so than the dinner that President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy hosted for Nobel Prize winners and other American intellectuals fifty-five years ago, on April 29, 1962.

Coming at the mid-point of the Kennedy presidency, this dinner honored forty-nine Nobel laureates and spoke to the accomplishments of America while at the height of its power during the Cold War era. In the background, foreign and domestic challenges faced the country as the rivalry with the Soviet Union was intense and growing; race relations were frayed and becoming increasingly violent; and a number of important social issues were just emerging.

But there was optimism.  Certainly this dinner celebrated American achievement and a belief that the United States could tackle and surmount any problem.  And surely part of that feeling was due to the leadership exhibited by the president.  Kennedy, whatever his flaws, was a charismatic figure who used words to inspire while understanding the need to be conciliatory and pragmatic in dealing with public issues.

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Pasadena (California) Star-News, April 29, 1962

Prior to the dinner, Linus Pauling, the 1954 Nobel laureate in Chemistry, had been picketing the White House for the previous two days because of stalled nuclear test ban talks with the Soviet Union and the announcement that the United States would resume its own testing following a four-year halt.  After picketing on the Sunday that the event was to be held, Pauling and his activist wife, Ava Helen, changed for dinner and headed to the White House.

In the receiving line, Kennedy greeted Pauling cordially, commending him for expressing his views. Pauling was ambivalent about Kennedy, but enjoyed himself that evening, even leading the dancing.

As the dinner was being held, the Tony Awards were also being presented in New York.  The award for drama went to the play “A Man for All Seasons,” which is about Thomas More, who placed principle over loyalty to his government; Paul Schofield was honored with a Tony for his role as the lead character.  Linus Pauling might have smiled about the coincidence.  Pauling subsequently received a second Nobel Prize for Peace, the culmination of years’ worth of social activism such as he had exhibited that day.   A nuclear test ban agreement was signed in 1963.

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Time, May 11, 1962.

James Baldwin was another guest at the White House dinner.  Baldwin, then thirty-seven years old, had already written several books, including Notes of a Native Son.  He would interact with Robert Kennedy at the Nobel event, and this conversation would have important implications for the civil rights movement.  One year later, Baldwin and Robert Kennedy met with African American leaders in New York.  The meeting was acrimonious, but it proved educational for the attorney general. Eighteen days later, President Kennedy delivered his famous civil rights speech in which he envisioned the future Civil Rights Act. As it turned out, his brother was alone among his advisors in supporting this televised address.

Also present at the White House gathering was J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had run afoul of McCarthyism and had his security clearance revoked by the Eisenhower administration. Having spent the past eight years in political purgatory, Oppenheimer was invited by Kennedy to the gala dinner.  The President understood the value of reconciliation and redemption; the following year, Kennedy selected the “Father of the Atomic Bomb” for the prestigious Fermi Award.

Indeed, the dinner brought together some of the nation’s greatest minds.  Among the collection of writers present were Robert Frost, Pearl Buck, John Dos Passos, William Styron, and Katherine Anne Porter, whose A Ship of Fools became the number one bestseller that day.  The scientists in the room included Glenn Seaborg, responsible for the discovery of ten elements; several others associated with the Manhattan Project; and a veritable who’s who of American physicists, chemists, biologists and medical researchers.  Astronaut John Glenn, the hero of the hour who had recently orbited the Earth, was also there.

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Much has been made about Camelot, a focus that will surely intensify during the upcoming centennial of John F. Kennedy’s birth. And while images of the 1,036-day presidency of the young leader will forever be intertwined with his untimely, tragic death, it is also clear that Kennedy could uplift the nation through soaring words, measured action, and the ability to bring together people who sought only America’s best interests.  A partisan when necessary, he also understood civility and the value of respectful dialogue.

So too was Linus Pauling a man who respected principal and the exchange of ideas.  While he appreciated that special evening in 1962 and had been hopeful of the young president’s potential, he was not reluctant to speak out about the great issues of the day. Above all, Linus Pauling was a distinguished scientist and a committed activist for peace.  He was truly “a man for all seasons.”  We can learn much from him as well.

Pauling, Zuckerkandl and the Molecular Clock

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Dr. Emile Zuckerkandl, 1986.

In 1963, a year after first publishing their ideas on the study of molecules as indicators of evolutionary patterns, Emile Zuckerkandl and Linus Pauling continued to explore what they felt to be a very promising thread of inquiry.

Specifically, the two joined in arguing that the molecular clock method – as they had since termed it – might be used to derive phylogenies (or evolutionary trees) from essentially any form of molecular information. This position was further explicated in “Molecules as Documents of Evolutionary History,” an article published in Problems of Evolutionary and Industrial Biochemistry, a volume compiled in 1964 on the occasion of Soviet biochemist Alexander Oparin’s 70th birthday.

Zuckerkandl and Pauling’s most influential work on this subject was first put forth that same year, in a paper that they presented together at the symposium “Evolving Genes and Proteins,” held at the Rutgers University Institute of Microbiology. The talk, formally published a year later and titled, “Evolutionary Divergence and Convergence at the Level of Informational Macromolecules,” classified molecules that occur in living matter into three groups. Each of these groups was identified according to new terms that the pair had developed that were based on the degree to which specific information contained in an organism was reflected in different molecules. These three categories were:

1.Semantophoretic Molecules (or Semantides), which carry genetic information or a transcript of it. DNA, for example, was considered to be composed of primary semantides.

2. Episemantic Molecules, which are synthesized under control of tertiary semantides. All molecules built by enzymes were considered episemantic.

3. Asemantic Molecules, which are not produced by the organism and do not express (directly or indirectly) any of the information that the organism contains. In their discussion, Zuckerkandl and Pauling were quick to point out that certain asemantic molecules may shift form. Viruses, for example, can change form when integrated into the genome of the host; so too can vitamins when used and modified anabolically.

Semantides were considered most relevant to evolutionary history, but the term never caught on in biology, paleontology, or other allied fields relevant to the study of evolution. Nonetheless, whatever the nomenclature, the “semantides” that Zuckerkandl and Pauling wanted to investigate – DNA, RNA, and polypeptides – proved indeed to be precisely the treasure trove of information on evolutionary history that the duo had hoped would be the case.


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A figure from the French translation of Zuckerkandl and Pauling’s 1964 paper.

Fundamentally, Zuckerkandl and Pauling aimed to elucidate how one might gain information about the evolutionary history of organisms through comparison of homologous polypeptide chains. In examining these substances, the researchers sought specifically to uncover the approximate point in time at which the last common ancestor between two species disappeared. In essence, it is this approach that we speak of when we use the terms “molecular clock” or “evolutionary clock.”

Zuckerkandl and Pauling argued that, by assessing the overall differences between homologous polypeptide chains and comparing individual amino acid residues at homologous molecular sites, biologists and paleontologists would be better equipped to evaluate the minimum number of mutational events that separated two chains.

With this information in hand, researchers would thus be empowered to exhume the details of evolutionary history between species, as inscribed in the base sequences of nucleic acids. This set of data, they believed, would hold even more useful information than would corresponding polypeptide chain amino acid sequences, since not all substitutions in the nucleotides would be expressed by differences in amino acid sequence.


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A table from Zuckerkandl and Pauling’s 1965 Bruges paper.

As their work moved forward, Pauling and Zuckerkandl published another paper, 1965’s “Evolutionary Divergence and Convergence in Proteins.” This publication appeared in Evolving Genes and Proteins, a volume that emerged from a conference that the two had attended in Bruges, Belgium.

By this point, the duo’s idea of the molecular clock, or “chemical paleogenetics,” had elicited opposition from organismal evolutionists and taxonomists, as well as some biochemists. Now referring to their “semantides” simply as informational macromolecules, Zuckerkandl and Pauling used the 1965 meeting to argue strongly against their skeptics. Zuckerkandl chided

Certainly we cannot subscribe to the statement made at this meeting by a renowned biochemist that comparative structural studies of polypeptides can teach us nothing about evolution that we don’t already know.

Pauling likewise added that

Taxonomy tends, ideally, not toward just any type of convenient classification of living forms (in spite of a statement to the contrary made at this meeting).

Directly challenging those present who were attempting to discredit the idea of the molecular clock, the pair insisted that taxonomy tended toward a phyletic classification based on evolutionary history. Since the comparison of the structure of homologous informational macromolecules allowed for the establishment of phylogenetic relationships, the Zuckerkandl-Pauling studies of chemical paleogenetics therefore had earned a place within the study of taxonomy. This, they argued, was true both as a method of reinforcing existing phyletic classifications and also of increasing their accuracy. Specifically, the two claimed that

The evaluation of the amount of differences between two organisms as derived from sequences in structural genes or in their polypeptide translation is likely to lead to quantities different from those obtained on the basis of observations made at any other higher level of biological integration. On the one hand, some differences in the structural genes will not be reflected elsewhere in the organism, and on the other hand some difference noted by the organismal biologist may not be reflected in structural genes.

Indeed, it was these early observations, coupled with additional work conducted by those scientists who took their ideas seriously, that allowed for the development of a successful measure of rates of evolutionary change over time. Without these data, modern paleontologists, physical anthropologists, and geneticists would not be able to accurately determine evolutionary histories. Today, this technique has been systematized and specialized in the field of bioinformatics, which is now foundational to many studies in both biology and medicine.

The taxonomic purpose of the molecular clock, however, was only a byproduct of Zuckerkandl and Pauling’s main ambitions in studying paleogenetics: to better understand the modes of macromolecular transformations retained by evolution; to elucidate the types of changes discernible in information content; and – most importantly for Pauling – to identify the consequences of these changes for a given organism.


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Linus Pauling, 1992.

Despite its considerable potential, the work of Zuckerkandl and Pauling, though conducted at such a critical juncture in a nascent field, was largely forgotten as recently as the early 1990s. In fact, in Allan Wilson and Rebecca Cann’s 1992 article, “The Recent African Genesis of Humans,” it was implied that the concept of the molecular or evolutionary clock was first developed and employed by a Berkeley anthropologist, Vincent Sarich. Sarich had collaborated with Wilson in 1967 to estimate the divergence between humans and apes as occurring between four to five millions years ago.

Pauling was still alive in 1992, and seeing this article he duly wrote to the editor of its publisher, Scientific American, pointing out that that, in fact, he and Zuckerkandl had, in 1962, issued their own estimate of the disappearance of the last common ancestor of gorilla and man. Zuckerkandl and Pauling’s calculations had yielded a divergence at about 7.6 million years before present, which Pauling pointed out was much closer than Sarich’s figure to the more recent estimates of divergence determined by Sibley and Ahlquist in 1984 and 1987. Notably, Pauling and Zuckerkandl’s estimate continues to remain closer to more contemporary notions of 8 to 10 million years.

Today, Emile Zuckerkandl and Linus Pauling are remembered as having first championed the notion of the molecular clock, even if many of the details now deemed as fundamental still needed to be ironed out by an array of scientists who followed. Regardless, as in so many other areas of science, Pauling proved once more to be on the ground floor of a new discipline. This was an academic venture that continued also to serve the younger Zuckerkandl well, as he continued on through a prolific career in science that concluded with his passing in 2013.

Molecules as Documents of Evolutionary History

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Linus Pauling and Emile Zuckerkandl, 1986.

[Part 1 of 2]

“Of all natural systems, living matter is the one which, in the face of great transformations, preserves inscribed in its organization the largest amount of its own past history. We may ask the question: Where in the now living systems has the greatest amount of their past history survived, and how it can be extracted?”

-Linus Pauling and Emile Zuckerkandl, 1964

Austria-born Emile Zuckerkandl fled to Paris with his parents to escape the Nazi occupation of his homeland when he was only sixteen. Twenty years Linus Pauling’s junior, this extraordinary scientific mind was nurtured through the study of the biological sciences at the University of Illinois in the United States, and the Paris-Sorbonne University in France. During the course of these studies, Zuckerkandl developed a particularly keen interest in the molecular aspects of physiology and biology, and is now regarded to have been a major contributor to both fields.

Zuckerkandl first met Linus Pauling in 1957, a time period during Pauling himself was spearheading the new study of molecular disease, following his earlier, groundbreaking discovery of the genetic basis of sickle cell anemia. Two years later, Zuckerkandl joined Pauling as a post-doc in the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division at the California Institute of Technology. Once arrived, Zuckerkandl was encouraged by Pauling to study the evolution of hemoglobin, a research project that was informed by a basic and crucial assumption that the rate of mutational change in the genome is effectively constant over time.

This assumption was something of a hard sell for biologists at the time, due to the prevailing belief within the discipline that mutations were effectively random. Undaunted, Pauling and Zuckerkandl moved forward with their project and ultimately created a model that, over time, ushered in major changes to the conventional wisdom.


The Pauling-Zuckerkandl project was first revealed to the world in a co-authored paper that appeared in 1962’s Horizons in Biochemistry, a volume of works written and dedicated to the Nobel winning physiologist Albert Szent-Györgyi. The paper, titled “Molecular Disease, Evolution, and Genic Heterogeneity,” is regarded today as a foundational work in its application of molecular and genetic techniques to the study of evolution.

At the time that Pauling and Zuckerkandl wrote this first joint paper, Pauling was, as the title of the work might suggest, very interested in molecular disease; so much so that he was thinking about molecular disease and evolution as occupying two sides of the same coin. Defining life as “a relationship between molecules, not a property of any one molecule,” Pauling believed that disease, insofar as it was molecular in basis, could be defined in exactly the same way. Since both evolution and molecular disease were merely expressions of relationships between molecules, the distinction between the two became blurred for Pauling, who felt that the mechanism of molecular disease represented one element of the mechanism of evolution.

In their paper, Pauling and Zuckerkandl outlined their point of view as follows:

Subjectively, to evolve must most often have amounted to suffering from a disease. And these diseases were of course molecular. …[T]he notion of molecular disease relates exclusively to the inheritance of altered protein and nucleic acid molecules. An abnormal protein causing molecular disease has abnormal enzymatic or other physicochemical properties. Changes in such properties are necessarily linked to changes in structure. The study of molecular diseases leads back to the study of mutations, most of which are known to be detrimental. A bacterium that loses by mutation the ability to synthesize a given enzyme has a molecular disease. The first heterotrophic organisms suffered from a molecular disease, of which they cured themselves by feeding on their fellow creatures. At the limit, life itself is a molecular disease, which it overcomes temporarily by depending on its environment.

These assertions – in particular that “life itself” was a molecular disease – were so strange and seemingly outrageous that many biologists dismissed the paper outright. However, the basic idea that the pair was considering simultaneously sparked the interest of many other scientists who willing to entertain the consequences of this mode of thinking. If Pauling and Zuckerkandl were right, then every vitamin required by human beings stood as a witness bearing testimony to the molecular diseases that our ancestors contracted hundreds of millions of years ago. These “diseases” would manifest negative symptoms only when the curative properties of the nutrients gained from our natural environment through food and drink proved insufficient to dampen their effects.


This line of reasoning provided the impetus for Pauling and Zuckerkandl to begin examining differences between the genetic code as a tool to better understand evolutionary history. Though they did not call it “the molecular clock” at the time, the concept served as the foundation for the genetic analysis of species over long periods of evolutionary history.

Fundamental to Pauling and Zuckerkandl’s argument was the notion that there was no reason to place molecules at specific points “higher” or “lower” on an evolutionary scale. Horse hemoglobin, for example, is not less organized or complex than is human hemoglobin, it is simply different. The same is true for the genetic information contained in the hemoglobin of humans as compared to other primates, such as gorillas.

As Zuckerkandl examined differences of these sorts, he was not surprised to find that the peptide sequences of a gorilla were more similar to a human’s than a horse’s were to either. He and Pauling then began to consider how these sequences must be indicative of the millions of years of separate evolution that had passed since the disappearance of the last common ancestor linking horses and primates.

While compelling in its own right, for Pauling the chief purpose of understanding these differences was to discern crucial information about the human condition and to define the parameters of optimal health. Indeed, Pauling fundamentally believed that an improved understanding of the transitions that the genetic code had undergone would ultimately reveal new and effective treatments for molecular diseases.


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Table I from Pauling and Zukerkandl’s 1962 paper.

To demonstrate the efficacy of their methodology, Pauling and Zuckerkandl calculated the number of genetic differences that exist between the alpha and beta chains of hemoglobin peptide sequences in horses, humans, and gorillas, which they then used to determine the time that had elapsed since the erasure of the last common ancestor linking these species. In seeming support of their claims, the authors found that their figures matched pretty closely with data uncovered by paleontologists.

Despite this, the impact of Pauling and Zuckerkandl’s paper dissipated pretty quickly. For other established figures in the field, Pauling and Zukerkandl had failed to prove the essential assumption that evolution should proceed with relative uniformity over time. Lacking a clear reason to accept that genetic change occurs at a constant rate, there was no compelling reason to believe that Pauling and Zuckerkandl’s molecular clock should give an accurate picture of evolutionary history.

Nonetheless, the idea of the molecular clock found a degree of traction among biologists who valued its potential to corroborate and increase the accuracy of existing phylogenetic assignments. And as we’ll discuss in our next post, Pauling and Zuckerkandl continued to explore their ideas, eventually building a body of work that came into far greater favor a few decades later.