Early Disputes: The Bush Report and The World Federation of Scientific Workers

Vannevar Bush

[Pauling and the Guggenheim Foundation]

Linus Pauling and Henry Allen Moe, Secretary of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, lived on opposite coasts but built a close relationship through their shared Guggenheim responsibilities. Over the years, the two spent time at one another’s homes and showed genuine, continuing interest in each other’s families and well-being.

Because of their professional relationship, which mostly involved making judgments on the granting of Guggenheim fellowships, the two also had moments of disagreement. Some of these conflicts emerged out of disputes that had nothing to do with the Foundation, the first arising near the close of World War II and concerning the 1945 Bush Report.

In July 1945, Vannevar Bush, the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, published a response to a request issued by President Franklin Roosevelt. The President had tasked Bush with providing guidance on the best ways to promote science in service of military, medical, public, and private organization. He also wanted Bush to find a way to identify scientific talent in order to maintain the levels of research that had been arrived at during the Second World War. Four committees informed the compilation of Bush’s final report, with Pauling serving on the Medical Advisory Committee and Moe heading the Committee on Discovery and Development of Scientific Talent.

In his cover letter to Roosevelt, Bush acknowledged the importance of research in the social sciences and humanities, but expressed that he did not interpret his original charge as needing to address those areas of study. Moe did not think this was a good idea. In his final committee report, Moe warned against the government steering all of its resources and talents towards promoting the natural sciences and medicine, believing that to do so would ultimately harm the country and the sciences themselves. (“Science cannot live by and unto itself alone,” he wrote.) Because of this disagreement, Moe refused to issue a public endorsement of the Bush Report.

In November a group of scientists – including Pauling – who clearly believed otherwise created the Committee Supporting the Bush Report. This group wrote to President Harry Truman mostly to speak out against proposals made by West Virginia Senator Harley M. Kilgore, and especially the idea that a new program of post-war research support be headed by a single individual or by political appointees. The letter also stated that, despite Truman’s recent comments to the contrary, including the social sciences in the post-war program would be a “serious mistake.”

When Moe saw the letter, he wrote to Pauling, “I am sorry to see that you signed the letter to President Truman for the Committee Supporting the Bush Report!” Pauling was surprised to learn this as he had note yet heard any arguments against the letter and had also not noticed that Moe had declined to add his name. Pauling admitted that he had harbored doubts about the social sciences paragraph, and in fact confided that the language had been softened as a result of objections that he had expressed.

As Pauling thought about it more, he came to further regret his actions. As he admitted to Moe, he had also sent letters to his own Senators and Representatives that contradicted the letter to Truman. “My position as a signer of both documents,” he confided,” is indefensible.”

I became a signer of the letter to President Truman partially through an error in judgment on my part and partially through a misunderstanding about the nature of the revision of Section 8 [the social sciences language] of the letter. I have been hoping that nobody would discover that I have supported both sides in the argument about social sciences, and that the sole effect of my experience would be to educate me.

While this disagreement ended up a minor one with Pauling admitting himself in the wrong, it would not be the last conflict between the two.

In May 1952, knowing that Pauling was encountering difficulties with the U.S. State Department’s passport division, Moe wrote to pass along a few details from a New York Times article that he had seen. The article noted that Secretary of State Dean Acheson would explain why passport applications submitted by several leading scientists had been denied, but that he seemed less inclined to go into detail about Pauling’s case.

With this, Moe also sent a copy of a Times editorial that he thought reasonable. The opinion piece argued that Pauling’s passport be refused because of his position as Vice President of the World Federation of Scientific Workers, an affiliation that caught Moe by surprise. As Moe explained,

You may not like my agreeing with this part of the editorial; but we do not live in an ideal world – and nobody ever did – and in the present temper of the Congress and our fellow citizens, you ought to recognize that the vice-presidency is a suspicious fact. It does not make me suspicious of you; but I have the advantage of knowing you personally. I feel sure that Benjamin Franklin – who certainly was no trimmer – would have counseled against the appearance of evil in your situation; and I will remind you that you sit, at the Philadelphia Society, mighty close to where sat Franklin.

In his reply, Pauling took pains to note that, when he was originally questioned, the State Department had not asked him about this affiliation, and that furthermore, his proposed travel had nothing to do with the organization. Even so, Pauling explained, he had only recently become affiliated with the group as he was nominated by the American Association of Scientific Workers to be Vice President of the World Federation the previous year. He never received any notice as to whether he had actually been elected or not, only a notice that the board was to meet in England in March. Pauling hesitated in responding because of the short notice and his own lack of clarity about his standing. Then the British government stopped the meeting from happening, at which point he believed the whole conversation moot.

As further justification of its irrelevance to his case, Pauling added that the World Federation had been founded by the Association of Scientific Workers in Great Britain, was comprised of sixteen organizations from fourteen countries, and was recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization. Its purpose was to promote peaceful applications of science and to push for international scientific cooperation in accordance with UNESCO. None of these aims struck Pauling as being un-American.

Pauling likewise argued that neither the British nor the American associations were “communist-dominated,” though branches in other parts of the world – with which Pauling had only a passing acquaintance – may have been. The World Federation had also made an effort to increase participation by non-Communist nations, but strove to do so without cutting off ties from Eastern Europe or Asia.

After the World Federation meeting had been canceled by the British government, Pauling wrote to the American Association that he no longer wanted to be considered for Vice President. Regardless,

It seems to me that international organizations of this sort constitute the best hope that we have for the future. I feel that international organizations of scientists could be especially effective. The Iron Curtain and what might be called the [Senator Pat] McCarren Curtain seem to operate more strongly against scientists than against other people.

Moe does not appear to have replied to Pauling’s letter, but once Pauling was able to obtain a passport and travel to Europe, Moe wrote again to learn more about his trip. Pauling responded that it had been a success. Notably, on his journeys through France, England, and Scotland, he had been able to speak with most of the people working on protein structures that he would have otherwise seen at an earlier Royal Society conference that he was unable to attend because of his passport troubles.

As an outcome of these conversations, Pauling had resolved some difficulties that he was encountering with his proposed structure for hair, horn, fingernails, and similar proteins. Pauling expected that he would have enjoyed similar results had he been able to go to the Royal Society meeting, but that a breakthrough of this sort would have required many months work had he not been able to go to Europe at all. The tenor of this exchange leads one to conclude that the conflict between Pauling and Moe had been extinguished.

Pauling’s passport difficulties happened early in the same year that the House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations and Comparable Organizations, also known as the Cox Committee, requested information from the Guggenheim Foundation. While Pauling and Moe were able to reconcile their differences peaceably around the Bush Report and the World Federation of Scientific Workers, the Cox Committee and the stress surrounding it would bring up issues that were much more difficult to resolve.

The Unlikely Makings of a World Tour

Scandinavian Airlines keepsake, December 6, 1954.

[Part 1 of 2]

In 1953 Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru invited Linus Pauling to attend the Indian Science Congress and dedicate a new scientific research institute. It was a fantastic opportunity that Pauling was eager to seize. Prompted by the invitation, he made plans to set out on a broader world tour in late 1953, intending to visit India as well as Japan, Israel and Greece, among other countries.

Pauling’s prospects went sour, however, as he waited, and waited, and waited, but did not hear back from United States passport officials until after his proposed departure date in December 1953. Though disappointing, this lack of cooperation on the government’s part was fairly unsurprising – Pauling had a history, having been under investigation by the FBI amidst accusations of his belonging to the Communist Party.

The center of much of the passport drama was Ruth B. Shipley, the Director of the Passport Office. In 1952 Pauling was accused by various media outlets of being a communist, although he adamantly denied maintaining any ties to the Communist party. The allegations were mostly based on Pauling’s anti-war political stance and his peace activism following World War II.  In January 1952, based on these allegations, Shipley flat-out denied Pauling a passport, a decision that was eventually overturned by the State Department, which granted him a limited passport in July.

Ruth B. Shipley

Nonetheless, Pauling had plans to travel to Europe that year which had to be put off. It was the beginning of a pattern that repeated itself on multiple occasions – Shipley would deny Pauling’s request, and the decision would be overturned just days before his departure date.

(Pauling’s political activities affected not only his passport, but also his research. President Dwight D. Eisenhower entered office in 1953 and appointed Oveta Culp Hobby as Secretary of the new Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, a fledgling administration known to withhold grant money from suspected communists. It wasn’t shocking then, that in late Fall of 1953 Pauling was notified that his research grants from the United States Public Health Service, a subunit of Culp’s department, were being suspended. The grants totaled about $60,000 and helped support Pauling’s work on oxypolygelatin and protein structure. Pauling was advised to reapply for the grants under the names of other individual researchers so his name wouldn’t be attached.)

Despite his lack of success in carrying out his world tour the previous winter, Pauling still hoped that he could sort out his issues with the federal bureaucracy and reschedule his travel plans to make it to the next Indian Science Congress in January 1955.  But by October 1954, Pauling was admitting defeat, writing to the Secretary of State that he no longer planned on traveling during the upcoming winter. This was in response to yet another letter that Pauling had received from Shipley, telling him that he could appeal the decision of the Passport Office to reject his request for validation to the Board of Passport Appeals. Pauling was not interested in a repeat of the previous winter, in which inaction on the part of the Passport Office had caused him “significant financial loss, personal embarrassment, and damage to my reputation.” As a result of the office’s decisions, Pauling had been forced to cancel highly-publicized appearances at a number of conferences on very short notice – he wasn’t willing to repeat a similar episode.

Then, all of a sudden, circumstances began to change rather quickly.  Near the end of the month, just as he was conceding defeat to the State Department, rumors started to cropping up that Pauling was going to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. On November 2, Pauling’s win became official. The award was granted in recognition of his “research on the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances,” a commendation of what amounted to his entire life’s work in science. Letters of congratulation came pouring in from colleagues, friends, family and acquaintances. Son Peter, who was working on his Ph. D. at Cambridge and living with his sister Linda, excitedly wrote to his father, asking if he was invited and inquiring if he should buy a new suit.

Headline from the New Republic

Pauling’s heightened profile, combined with the support that he was receiving from the scientific community, gave him leverage in his battle with the government to reestablish his right to travel. Emboldened, Pauling reasoned that if he was going to Sweden in December for the Nobel Prize ceremony, he might as well resuscitate his previous travel plans. He wrote to Caltech President Lee A. Dubridge requesting a leave of absence and, on November 4, sent out an array of letters delegating his duties while away. He assigned important tasks to trusted co-workers: Carl Niemann would serve as acting chairman of the Division of Chemisty and Chemical Engineering, Holmes Sturdivant would prepare and present the Division budget to the President in a satisfactory way, Robert Corey would give a talk on the structure of collagen at the Western Spectroscopists meeting and Dan Campbell was to speak on antibodies and the duplication of molecules.

The newly planned tour would have the Paulings traveling first, with the whole family, to Stockholm on the 7th of December for the Nobel Prize ceremony, followed by a jaunt over to Oslo and then to Amsterdam. After Europe Linus and Ava Helen would move on to Israel where they would spend Christmas, visiting Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. On the 28th, the pair would briefly visit Cyprus and then move on to Pakistan on the 30th. By the 31st they were to arrive in India where they would stay for the next six weeks. On February 15th they were scheduled to depart en route to a two-day stop in Bangkok, Thailand followed by a final stay in Japan.

But first, the Pauling clan arrived in Stockholm for the Nobel festivities. Linus, Ava Helen, Crellin, Linus Jr. and his wife Anita flew out of Los Angeles and were greeted at the airport in Stockholm by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Peter and Linda excitedly joined them there. That afternoon they checked into the luxurious Grand Hotel where they would be staying and where the family enjoyed tea while Linus took part in a press conference. The following days were a nonstop whirlwind of receptions, parties, and speeches. The whole family was invited to a cocktail party hosted by Hugo Theorell of the Nobel Medical Institute, the man who would win the Nobel Prize for medicine the following year. And the day before the prize ceremony, a reception was held for the winners along with dinner hosted by the Royal High Chamberlain.

Peter, Crellin and Linus Pauling, Jr. with their Dad, 1954.

The big day arrived on the 10th. It was a busy and eventful affair: a rehearsal, a concert, the prize ceremony and a meeting with the Royal Family followed by dinner, dancing and an informal chat with some Swedish university students. At the banquet that evening Pauling made a lovely speech about Sweden, telling his hosts that

I have found that it is always a great pleasure to come to Sweden. I feel at home in Sweden: even though there may be a snow-covered landscape about us, instead of the green (or sometimes brown) hills of southern California, nevertheless I feel, emanating from the Swedish people, the radiations of sympathy, of homologous character, so strongly as almost to cause me to consider myself to be a Swede.

The next day Pauling visited the Nobel Foundation to collect his prize stipend, a sizable amount at $30,000, (almost a quarter million dollars in today’s money) before delivering his Nobel lecture. The speech focused on resonance and bond concepts; the primary components of the work for which he had been recognized. That evening the Nobel celebration came to an end with a formal dinner at the royal palace hosted by the king and queen, followed by a party thrown by the American embassy.  Equal parts exhausted and delighted, the Paulings went to bed that night knowing that, the excitement of previous days notwithstanding, a grand adventure still awaited them.

The Passport Imbroglio

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling's passport photo. 1953.

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling's passport photo. 1953.

A quick glance at the “Today in Linus Pauling” widget found at the top of the left sidebar of the Pauling Blog gives an excellent representation of the span and influence of Linus Pauling’s career. Rarely does a day go by where he didn’t write at least one manuscript or give a speech at a university or some other institution. Most days, readers will also note that he won some sort of award – including, of course, his two Nobel Prizes in chemistry and peace. Basically, Pauling’s career fits very well with the old cliché that anything can be done if the mind is simply set on it.

However, if one looks closely enough, a few failures can still be picked out of Pauling’s illustrious career. One of these failures is undoubtedly his attempt at determining the correct primary structure of DNA. Pauling first started working with DNA in the early 1950s, right around the time when his scientific career was reaching its peak. During this time, Pauling’s pursuits had also taken a controversial political shift – work which caused him to be denied a passport for a short period of time. This passport denial, because it is believed by many to be the reason why Pauling was beaten to the structure of DNA, is the topic of today’s post.

Near the end of 1951, Pauling received an invitation to attend a meeting of the Royal Society in England; a meeting that was specially designed for him to address questions about his protein structures. The meeting was scheduled for May 1, 1952, and promised to give Pauling an opportunity to visit King’s College in London, where he knew Maurice Wilkins had some excellent X-ray patterns of DNA.

However, when Pauling sent in his passport renewal application in January 1952, he was upset but unsurprised to find it denied by Ruth B. Shipley, the head of the State Department’s passport division. Shipley didn’t give Pauling a good reason for the denial, stating only that “the Department is of the opinion that your proposed travel would not be in the best interests of the United States.” Reading between the lines, Pauling’s liberal views had clearly earned him the label of “possible Communist,” and Shipley, who was a fervent anti-Communist, had the authority to deny passports at her discretion.

Video Link: Pauling discusses his reaction to the refusal of his passport.

Fortunately for Pauling, the delay caused by the situation was not a long one. In the summer of 1952, he sent in another passport application. Again, Shipley immediately denied it, but her decision was overruled – after much deliberation – by higher-level employees of the State Department. Eventually, Pauling was notified that he would be granted a limited passport to travel for a short period of time in England and France if he agreed to sign an affidavit stating that he wasn’t a Communist. Surprised and pleased by the news, Pauling immediately agreed and received his new passport within days.

Thus equipped with the necessary papers, Pauling traveled to England, where he stayed for a month. He visited the same places and talked with the same people that he would have earlier in the year, but he did not visit King’s College to view Wilkins’ X-ray data. As it turns out, Pauling wasn’t even thinking about DNA during his time in England.

After England, Pauling traveled to France, where he learned of the results of the Hershey-Chase blender experiment:  DNA was in fact the site of the gene, not proteins, as Pauling had believed. Upon learning of the keen importance of DNA, he decided that he would solve the structure of the molecule.

However, when he returned to Caltech in September of 1952, he continued to work almost exclusively with proteins. It wasn’t until November that Pauling would finally take a serious stab at the structure of DNA. And, as has been well-documented, even with his excellent knowledge of structural chemistry, Pauling’s data – presented in the form of blurry X-ray patterns created by William T. Astbury – was insufficient. He ended up creating a model that was nearly identical to one Watson and Crick had made over a year earlier. Of course, Pauling soon learned that his structure was incorrect, and before he could make another attempt, Watson and Crick had solved DNA.

The importance of Pauling’s passport imbroglio is, as it turns out, counter to the popular mythology of the DNA story. Although the denial of Pauling’s passport caused minor delays in his travels, it surely did not keep him from determining the structure of DNA. Even if he had traveled to England as originally planned, it is unlikely that he would have visited Wilkins to view his X-ray data. Pauling, even after finding out that DNA was extremely important, made no effort to obtain better data, nor did he even work specifically with DNA for quite some time. One is forced to conclude then, that the reason that Linus Pauling was not able to solve DNA is that he never really put his mind to the matter, not because of a pesky passport denial that delayed his travels a mere ten weeks.

For more information on Linus Pauling’s DNA pursuits, please visit the website Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA: A Documentary History. For other information on Pauling, check out the Linus Pauling Online portal.