The Road to Oslo: the Media Passes Judgement

Gaceta Ilustrada, (Madrid) November 2, 1963.

Gaceta Ilustrada, (Madrid) November 2, 1963.

[Examining Pauling’s activities in November 1963 as he prepared to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Part 1 of 2]

The controversy stirred up by the October 25th Life magazine editorial, “A Weird Insult from Norway,” which criticized the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962 to Linus Pauling, continued throughout November as other publications began to weigh in.

In its November 2nd editorial, The Nation attacked Life‘s and much of the mainstream media’s response to Pauling’s Nobel win as superficial. In so doing, they noted how the press normally “flips” when Nobel Prize winners are announced, excitement generated only because of the prize itself and often absent during the years of hard work leading up to a laureate’s receipt of their prize. Pauling’s case had been unusual in that the press flipped in a different way because of the perception that, through his activism, he had overstepped his boundaries as a chemist as well as those of the usual “verbal peacemaking.” Despite these aggrievances, the editors remained confident that Pauling would “take it all with equanimity.”

Ausweg, November 1963.

Ausweg, November 1963.

This notice of support was buttressed by another article in the same issue of The Nation written by Philip Siekevitz, a professor of Biochemistry at Rockefeller University. Titled “Scientists and the Public Weal,” Siekevitz’ piece emphasized scientists’ duty of social responsibility, a duty as important as the commitment to truth in the laboratory. Criticizing the attitude of some scientists regarding this obligation, Siekevitz wrote that scientists like Edward “Teller and Pauling are damned by their colleagues for their politicking not so much because of the side of the political fence each happens to be on, but simply because they talk about scientific matters in a political way.” By stepping out in this manner, Siekevitz argued that scientists could help balance the more destructive aspects of scientific progress that had been evident in the first half of the twentieth century.

An editorial in the November issue of Liberation both lauded and critiqued Pauling’s Peace Prize win. It noted that several American Nobel Peace laureates from the past had “played prominent parts in some war,” so Pauling was a “refreshing variant.” In spite of this, the editorial more critically noted that Pauling “is not a pacifist; nor is he a crusader for unilateral disarmament.” The specific source of their misgivings was Pauling’s actions at the Oxford Conference in January 1963, where he seemed “insensitive to the fact that there may be honest differences of opinion, not dictated by expediency or bureaucratic biases, as to how peace and unity in the work for peace can in fact be promoted.” Pauling, though, could still contribute to “the frankest and closest discussion among all peace workers of the issues involved (including those on which we differ), of the nature of the goal, and of the way by which it can be reached.”

Epoca, November 24, 1963.

Epoca, November 24, 1963.

The European press picked up on the controversy as well. In West Germany, Das Gewissen – one of several media outlets in the country to comment on Pauling’s Nobel – explained to its readers how Pauling’s activism could be so controversial in America. In Spain, Julian Marias wrote in the magazine Gaceta Illustrada that he harbored some reservations about Pauling’s activism, but was still supportive since Pauling had previously warned him about the harmful effects of nuclear fallout. Many others in the European press more simply announced Pauling’s win and impending travels.

Individuals were also able to weigh in on the controversy as Life received several letters to the editor. Some, like Mrs. Norman Yves of Temple City, California, approved of Life’s stance, writing that she was “glad that LIFE had the courage and the integrity to inform the public of the real Linus Pauling” and congratulating its editors “for publishing the truth.” Others, like Robert F. Adam of Emporia, Kansas, appeared indifferent to the controversy, noting “I’m glad that I live in this country where a man can voice his opinion against policies of the government and can accept recognition for these opinions from another country” – not an option, he noted, available in communist countries.

Still others, like Thomas L. Allen of Davis, California, took offense to the portrayal of Pauling by Life, and sought to correct it. Allen drew attention to the 1958 petition that Pauling had written with Edward Condon and Barry Commoner opposing the testing of nuclear weapons, pointing out that it “does not demand the ‘uninspected stoppage of all nuclear tests’; it calls for an ‘international agreement to stop the testing of all nuclear weapons. The question of inspection is not mentioned in the petition.”

In an angry letter of his own to Henry R. Luce, the editor of Life, Pauling agreed with Allen:

As you know, Life Magazine was guilty of an outright lie, in its perfectly clear statement, in its editorial on 25 October 1963, that I had demanded the uninspected stoppage of all nuclear tests.

If you and your magazine had any standards of morality, you would have corrected and retracted this statement, and have apologized for it. All that your magazine has done is to make a statement of acquiescence to a correction in a letter from a correspondent, with an added quibbling statement apparently designed to confuse the reader.

[In this Pauling was referring to Life‘s reply to Allen: “It is true that Dr. Pauling’s petition did not demand an ‘uninspected’ test ban. But it did call for ‘immediate action’ without any reference to inspection, a significant omission because an enforceable inspection system was then the main issue separating the U.S. and Russia.”]

Colleague Victor Herbert suggested that Pauling sue Life “on the grounds that the wording in the Editorial is a deliberate distortion of fact whose wording is calculated to imply you are an extreme leftist.” Pauling’s response was sympathetic but restrained:

I registered a strong complaint with Henry Luce, and asked for a retraction. The retraction was made, in a grudging and quibbling way, in the letters to the editors section. I myself feel that the editorial involved a deliberate distortion – I would use even stronger words; but I am not sure that it would be worthwhile to file a libel suit.

With all the heaviness surrounding the controversy, F. A. Cotton of MIT was able to bring in a bit of levity, writing to Pauling:

May I take this opportunity to express my pleasure at your receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and my admiration for your courageous and important work in alerting humanity to the dangers of nuclear testing. I might also say that for very good positive reasons, as well as to further increase Mr. Luce’s ludicrous frustration, I hope you will soon receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Epoca, November 24, 1963.

Epoca, November 24, 1963.

Surrounded by attention from the press, Pauling took the opportunity to conduct a few interviews despite his busy schedule. Reporter Arthur Herzog from the New York Times had approached Pauling about an interview for an upcoming article that would appear in the paper’s magazine in mid-December. Herzog requested that Pauling come to New York, but Pauling had to decline. To make things easier on Pauling, Herzog said he could come to Pasadena to interview him on November 12th and 13th. While Pauling agreed, he did so reluctantly.

As it turned out, this reluctance was justified. Just a few days before leaving for Norway, Pauling sent a letter to Times editor Arthur Hayes Sulzberger stating that he had

received a telegram from [Herzog] saying that the New York Times has rejected the article that it had commissioned him to do.

I feel that the New York Times owes me an apology for having, through what seems to be misrepresentation, caused me needlessly to interrupt the very important work upon which I was engaged.

Pauling ended his letter by challenging the Times to live up to their reputation:

I feel that it is important that the people of the United States have a newspaper upon which they can rely. My opinion of the New York Times is necessarily determined in considerable part by the actions of the New York Times with respect to me – that is, with respect to matters about which I have personal knowledge. I feel that I may be forced to make some seriously critical statements about the New York Times to the American people.

To avoid any controversy, Sulzberger’s son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, quickly responded to Pauling. The younger Sulzberger’s carefully worded apology referred Pauling to a recent editorial that “is a true expression of the high esteem in which you are held.” The editorial tried to balance what direct criticism it contained of Pauling with representatives of those who held him in “high esteem,” saying that Pauling

is of course one of the world’s great chemist; and when his achievements in that field were recognized by the award of his first Nobel Prize some years ago, no one could have taken exception.


He has not always been wise in his choice of tactics and he has sometimes been reckless. But Gunnar Jahn, chairman of the Norwegian parliamentary committee that chose him for the prize, could well ask yesterday if the nuclear test-ban treaty would have yet been achieved ‘if there had been no responsible scientist who tirelessly, unflinchingly, year in, year out, had impressed on the authorities and on the general public the real menace of nuclear tests?’

That scientist was Dr. Pauling. His courage in running against the crowd is now being recognized.

The letter must have been enough for Pauling as he made sure that his New York Times subscription would continue when he moved to Santa Barbara early the next year.

Pauling’s Work on Swine Flu

"Pauling's Weapon Against Swine Flu," San Francisco Chroncile, August 31, 1976.

"Pauling's Weapon Against Swine Flu," San Francisco Chroncile, August 31, 1976.

The current concern over the world-wide spread of swine flu virus brings to mind research that Dr. Linus Pauling conducted on this very subject, some thirty-three years ago.

Pauling’s interest in swine flu seems to have been stoked by a convergence of two factors: 1) mounting fears over a potential swine flu epidemic that first emerged in the winter of 1976; and 2) his composition of the book Vitamin C, the Common Cold and the Flu, which was published in September, 1976.  In the book – which was essentially a revised and updated version of Pauling’s massively-popular Vitamin C and the Common Cold, published in 1970 – Pauling chronicles the development of the swine flu concerns contemporary to his authorship of the 1976 volume.

In February 1976 there was an outbreak of influenza in a large military establishment in Fort Dix, New Jersey.  One young serviceman, exhausted by his participation in strenuous exercises, died of pneumonia.  Typing of the virus showed that about 500 of the 12,000 persons in the camp had been infected by a swine-influenza virus, given the name A/NJ/76, whereas some others had been infected by another virus, A/Victoria/75, which was then sweeping over the United States and Europe.  Although the virus A/NJ/76 seemed to have died out after infecting only 4 percent of the people in the camp, the resemblance of the virus to that of the 1918-1919 pandemic [referenced in the San Francisco Chronicle article above] and the death by pneumonia of one person after a strenuous night-time military exercise while he was suffering from swine flu caused fears that another swine-flu epidemic might occur in 1976-1977.  President Ford announced in March that $135 million had been appropriated by the Federal Government to support the preparation of vaccine by pharmaceutical companies in an amount great enough to permit essentially all of the people in the United States to be vaccinated.

In Pauling’s view, this approach was problematic on many levels.  For one, the vaccines that were developed actually showed a tendency to make certain patients – especially children – sick.  Partly as a result of this, the companies manufacturing the vaccines were not able to obtain proper insurance from private vendors and were forced to solicit protection from the federal government.

More importantly, from Pauling’s vantage point, the threat posed by the 1976 swine flu outbreak was seemingly overblown.

The question of how serious the threat of a pandemic really is has also been raised.  During the last forty years the epidemics of influenza have shown remarkably little variation in their virulence.  The high mortality in the 1918-1919 epidemic, especially among the younger adults, might have resulted from the malnutrition and other stresses at the end of a long war, causing the virus to be more than usually virulent and favoring the occurrence of secondary bacterial pneumonia.

Crucially, certain statistical and anecdotal specifics of the 1976 outbreak lent support to Pauling’s position:

The facts that the infection in Fort Dix affected only 4 percent of the persons in the camp and that no other cases of swine flu have been reported since the Fort Dix outbreak lend support to the suggestion…that the Fort Dix episode may be an isolated occurrence.  It now seems quite unlikely that there will be a swine-flu epidemic, and there is now little justification for recommending mass vaccination.

For those familiar with Pauling’s later work, it should come as no surprise that he recommended the regular intake of vitamin C as an effective deterrent to influenza, including swine flu.  As noted in Pauling’s June 5, 1976 letter to the editor of the New York Times included below

I have advocated the use of Vitamin C in amounts of several grams per day to prevent or treat the common cold and other infectious diseases, including influenza, and I think that it may be of importance in relation to the expected epidemic of swine flu that people not be discouraged from making proper use of this valuable substance.

"On Fighting Swine Flu," Letter to the Editor of the New York Times, June 5, 1976.

"On Fighting Swine Flu," Letter to the Editor of the New York Times, June 5, 1976.

Again referring to Vitamin C, the Common Cold and the Flu, Pauling broadly suggests that a daily intake of between 250 to 4,000 milligrams of vitamin C, scaling up to as much as 10,000 milligrams per day – the amount that Pauling himself was taking in 1976, according to the San Francisco Chronicle article above – would decrease one’s chances of contracting a whole host of maladies, including influenza and the common cold.

For more on the theory behind Pauling’s vitamin C advocacy, see “Orthomolecular Enhancement of Human Development” (pdf link), a speech that Pauling delivered in 1978 to the Institutes for Achievement of Human Potential.  For more on Pauling’s life, work and legacy, see the Linus Pauling Online portal.

Linus Pauling, Morton Sobell and the Rosenbergs

A New York Times article published this morning and subsequently spread across the wire services, reveals compelling new information concerning the activities of accused Soviet spies Morton Sobell, Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg.  Here are the lede grafs from the Times piece:

In 1951, Morton Sobell was tried and convicted with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on espionage charges. He served more than 18 years in Alcatraz and other federal prisons, traveled to Cuba and Vietnam after his release in 1969 and became an advocate for progressive causes.

Through it all, he maintained his innocence.

But on Thursday, Mr. Sobell, 91, dramatically reversed himself, shedding new light on a case that still fans smoldering political passions. In an interview, he admitted for the first time that he had been a Soviet spy.

And he implicated his fellow defendant Julius Rosenberg, in a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information and what the American government described as the secret to the atomic bomb.

In the interview with The New York Times, Mr. Sobell, who lives in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, was asked whether, as an electrical engineer, he turned over military secrets to the Soviets during World War II when they were considered allies of the United States and were bearing the brunt of Nazi brutality. Was he, in fact, a spy?

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, call it that,” he replied. “I never thought of it as that in those terms.”

Mr. Sobell also concurred in what has become a consensus among historians: that Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed with her husband, was aware of Julius’s espionage, but did not actively participate. “She knew what he was doing,” he said, “but what was she guilty of? Of being Julius’s wife.”

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling were keenly interested in the Rosenberg and Sobell cases, as evidenced by the two related boxes of materials held in the Pauling Biographical section, subseries two. (Boxes 2.044 and 2.045) Though not intensively involved in either the Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case or Committee to Secure Justice for Morton Sobell, Linus Pauling did lend his name as a “letterhead sponsor” to both groups.

Pauling also spoke out in support of Sobell’s and the Rosenbergs’ right to due process — a position for which he was rather thoroughly castigated during his infamous “Meet the Press” appearance of May 11, 1958.

The Pauling Papers contain at least two short items written by Linus Pauling which articulate his position toward the Rosenberg and Sobell cases.

The handwritten note included below was scrawled on the second page of a letter that had been sent to Pauling by Sobell’s wife, Helen, in September 1953.  Pauling’s note was officially submitted to a national Sobell conference held on October 10, 1953, at which Harold Urey, among many others, spoke.

Handwritten statement by Linus Pauling, September 1953

Handwritten statement by Linus Pauling, September 1953

The second document, “Statement by Prof. Linus Pauling,” (catalogue i.d. 1953a.2) was written in January 1953 in support of a coordinated effort to secure clemency for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who had been issued a death sentence nearly two years prior.  (That’s Ava Helen Pauling‘s handwriting on the bottom)

As it turned out, the efforts of Pauling and his like-minded colleagues proved unsuccessful —  on June 19, 1953, the Rosenbergs were executed, having been found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage.