Dr. Edna Suárez-Díaz, Resident Scholar

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Dr. Edna Suárez-Díaz delivering her Resident Scholar lecture at the Valley Library, Oregon State University.

Dr. Edna Suárez-Díaz is the most recent individual to complete a term as resident scholar in the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center. A professor in the Department of Evolutionary Biology at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City, Suárez-Díaz is an accomplished scholar of molecular evolution and molecular disease who serves on the editorial boards of Osiris and Perspectives on Science, among other publications.

Dr. Suárez-Díaz’ current research focus is the geopolitics of disease with a particular interest in approaches taken toward blood diseases in the twentieth century. This project brought her to Corvallis to study components of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, focusing on Linus Pauling’s work on sickle cell anemia.

Pauling is, of course, well known for his discovery that sickle cell anemia traces its origin to the molecular level, a concept first published in 1949 with Harvey Itano, S. J. Singer and Ibert Wells. As Suárez-Díaz noted in her resident scholar lecture, the group’s finding that the basis of a complex physiological disease could emerge from a simple change in a single molecule made a profound impact on the history of biomedicine. Indeed, it is not an overstatement to suggest that the concept of a molecular disease led to massive shifts in post-war research and public policy.

Importantly, these shifts were accompanied by technological breakthroughs that enabled many other laboratories to explore new ideas related to molecular disease. In particular, the modernization of gel electrophoresis techniques served to democratize research in a way that had previously not been possible. When the Pauling group was conducting their initial experiments, electrophoresis was a tool that lay within the grasp of only a handful of well-funded laboratories. As the equipment and methodology required to do this work became less expensive, practitioners around the world began to enter the field and the impact was profound.

Suárez-Díaz is particularly interested in blood diseases and malaria in developing countries, noting that these afflictions were to the “Third World” what cancer was for industrialized societies and the middle classes. It is important to note as well that there exists a strong connection between blood diseases (like sickle cell anemia) and malaria, as the mutations that gave rise to blood diseases also provide a certain degree of immunity to malaria. As such, the geographic distribution of blood diseases correlates closely with malaria epidemiology, a phenomenon that has had consequences for public health campaigns over time, including decisions to use DDT on a massive scale in attempting to eradicate the mosquitoes that carry the disease.

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Harvey Itano and Linus Pauling, ca. 1980s.

It is also interesting to chart Linus Pauling’s role – or lack thereof – in the further development of molecular disease as a field of study. Though he and three colleagues essentially created a new discipline with their 1949 paper, Pauling gradually became marginalized within the community, in part because he devoted so much of his time to political activism during the 1950s. His departure from Caltech in 1963 further distanced his scientific activities from what had, by then, become a truly international body of work.

As such, while undeniably important, Pauling’s contributions to the field might now be seen as one of many important nodes in a transnational network of scientists and practices. Moving forward, Suárez-Díaz’ work will continue to explore this transnational network, touching upon several other key issues including G6PD deficiency and the genetic consequences of atomic fallout.

Now in its eleventh year, the Resident Scholar Program at OSU Libraries has provided research support for more than two dozen visitors traveling from locations across the United States as well as international scholars from Germany, Brazil and, now, Mexico. New applications are generally accepted between January and April. To learn more, please see the Resident Scholar Program homepage.

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The Resident Scholar Program at OSU Libraries: Now Accepting Applications

The Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC) is pleased to announce that applications are once again being solicited for its Resident Scholar Program.

Now in its eleventh year, the Resident Scholar Program provides research grants to scholars interested in conducting work in SCARC. Stipends of $2,500 per month, renewable for up to three months (for a total maximum grant award of $7,500), will be awarded to researchers whose proposals detail a compelling potential use of the materials held in the Center. Grant monies can be used for any purpose.

Researchers will be expected to conduct their scholarly activities while in residence at Oregon State University. Historians, librarians, graduate, doctoral or post-doctoral students and independent scholars are welcome to apply. The deadline for submitting proposals is April 30, 2018.

It is anticipated that applicants would focus their work on one of the five main collecting themes of the Special Collections and Archives Research Center: the history of Oregon State University, natural resources in the Pacific Northwest (including hops and brewing), multiculturalism in Oregon, the history of science and technology in the twentieth century and/or rare books. Many past Resident Scholars have engaged primarily with the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, though proposals can address use of any of the SCARC collections.

Detailed information outlining the qualifications necessary for application, as well as the selection process and the conditions under which awards will be made, is available at the following location (PDF link): http://scarc.library.oregonstate.edu/residentscholar.pdf

Additional information on the program is available at the Resident Scholar homepage and profiles of past award recipients – some of whom have traveled from as far away as Germany and Brazil – are available here.

The Resident Scholar Program at OSU Libraries: Now Accepting Applications

The Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC) is pleased to announce that applications are once again being solicited for its Resident Scholar Program.

Now in its tenth year, the Resident Scholar Program provides research grants to scholars interested in conducting work in SCARC. Stipends of $2,500 per month, renewable for up to three months (for a total maximum grant award of $7,500), will be awarded to researchers whose proposals detail a compelling potential use of the materials held in the Center. Grant monies can be used for any purpose.

Researchers will be expected to conduct their scholarly activities while in residence at Oregon State University. Historians, librarians, graduate, doctoral or post-doctoral students and independent scholars are welcome to apply. The deadline for submitting proposals is April 30, 2017.

It is anticipated that applicants would focus their work on one of the five main collecting themes of the Special Collections and Archives Research Center: the history of Oregon State University, natural resources in the Pacific Northwest, multiculturalism in Oregon, the history of science and technology in the twentieth century and/or rare books. Many past Resident Scholars have engaged primarily with the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, though proposals can address use of any of the SCARC collections.

Detailed information outlining the qualifications necessary for application, as well as the selection process and the conditions under which awards will be made, is available at the following location (PDF link): http://scarc.library.oregonstate.edu/residentscholar.pdf

Additional information on the program is available at the Resident Scholar homepage and profiles of past award recipients – some of whom have traveled from as far away as Germany and Brazil – are available here.

Dr. Michael Kenny, Resident Scholar

Dr. Michael Kenny

Dr. Michael Kenny

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

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

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


Rockefeller Foundation administrator Warren Weaver.

Rockefeller Foundation administrator Warren Weaver.

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

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

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


James V. Neel

James V. Neel

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

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

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

Hermann Muller

Hermann Muller

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Justin McBrien, Resident Scholar

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Justin McBrien

Justin McBrien, a Ph.D. candidate in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia, is the most recent individual to complete a term as Resident Scholar in the Oregon State University Libraries, Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC). The Resident Scholar Program, which is currently accepting applications for the 2016-17 academic year, awards stipends of up to $2,500 for a month’s study in the OSU Libraries. Historians, librarians, graduate, doctoral or post-doctoral students as well as independent scholars are all welcome to apply.

McBrien’s visit made use of SCARC’s collecting strength in the history of atomic energy, and he studied multiple collections including the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, as well as several of our agriculture-focused collections.  Working in support of his dissertation, McBrien was specifically interested in exploring ideas on human-altered weather and the risks that have arisen in kind.

In his Resident Scholar lecture, titled “Making Climate Change: The Atom Weather Controversy and the Question of Human Planetary Agency, 1945-1970,” McBrien delved into the question and chronology of atom weather as it has played out in the United States. His talk delineated a theme of his dissertation, which focuses in part on the problems posed by nuclear weapons when used in deliberate ways to affect the Earth.

In his presentation, McBrien’s chronology began in the wake of the use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and ran through the 1970s, when ideas about atom weather began to fall out of favor with scientists and the general public.  As has been well established, the military use of atomic bombs in 1945, and the subsequent desire by the United States government to test more and new weapons as the Cold War escalated, posed both new questions and new fears for scientists and the public alike. As part of this rapid shift in the culture, appeals were also made to President Truman to explore other uses for the bombs – peaceful uses that would ostensibly deploy the technology through means that could potentially benefit humanity.  One such branch of inquiry was atom weather.

But what is atom weather?  Simply stated, the concept of atom weather centers around the degree to which nuclear explosions might be used to alter the planet’s weather in varying ways. Many ideas related to atom weather were worrying. Some held that atomic debris could act as a nucleating agent and could alter the albedo of the Earth, perhaps triggering a new ice age. Others feared that nuclear explosions could change the electrical conductivity of the atmosphere due to ionization effects resulting from the blasts.  All of these ideas eventually would be connected to the debate over fallout from nuclear weapons; a debate that, of course, involved Linus Pauling as a central character.

A more optimistic take on atom weather posited that, while the bomb could certainly serve as a trigger for natural disaster, it might also protect humans from nature by changing unfavorable climates for the better.  Equipped with the power of the bomb, humans could take control of the weather and climate, and thus, for the first time, insure a viable future for the planet.

As public discourse on nuclear disaster management became a matter of routine, and as the rebound from a nuclear conflagration came to be discussed as if society were recovering from a tornado or a hurricane, nuclear bombs increasingly became linked to broader environmental concerns. These environmental concerns and subsequent debates over human planetary agency came to inform discussions of environmental contaminants like Agent Orange, and remain central to current conversations on global climate change.

Though nuclear weapons testing has now largely ceased, the question of atom weather stands as an early marker of the public’s understanding of the fact that humans are capable of influencing the Earth in ways that are unintended and often negative. Indeed, although interest in actively exploring atom weather had basically died off by the 1970s, early ideas concerning human altered weather patterns remain and have informed the growing interdisciplinary study – within the earth, social and ecological sciences – of environmental change.

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During his time exploring nuclear topics in SCARC, McBrien made use of the Pauling Papers, as well as those of Theodore Rockwell, among others.  The Pauling materials provided many jumping off points for new avenues of research to explore, while at the same time encompassing a multitude of topics of interest, including nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and disarmament.

In particular, McBrien made heavy use of a series of letters that Pauling received from the public asking him for advice and clarification on the feasibility of human-controlled weather.  Although he believed himself to be no expert in the field and was unable to weigh in authoritatively on the debate, Pauling believed the idea of atom weather to be entirely possible.

McBrien also capitalized on SCARC’s agricultural collections to explore research done on Oregon farms in the 1950s, work carried out as part of a larger federal study on weather control and cloud seeding.

The Resident Scholar Program at OSU Libraries is now in its ninth year of operation. For more about past Resident Scholars, please see the program’s homepage.

 

Now Accepting Applications for 2016 Resident Scholars

The Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC) is pleased to announce that applications are once again being solicited for its Resident Scholar Program.

Now in its ninth year, the Resident Scholar Program provides research grants to scholars interested in conducting work in SCARC. Stipends of $2,500 per month, renewable for up to three months (for a total maximum grant award of $7,500), will be awarded to researchers whose proposals detail a compelling potential use of the materials held in the Center. Grant monies can be used for any purpose.

Researchers will be expected to conduct their scholarly activities while in residence at Oregon State University. Historians, librarians, graduate, doctoral or post-doctoral students and independent scholars are welcome to apply. The deadline for submitting proposals is April 29, 2016.

It is anticipated that applicants would focus their work on one of the five main collecting themes of the Special Collections and Archives Research Center: the history of Oregon State University, natural resources in the Pacific Northwest, multiculturalism in Oregon, the history of science and technology in the twentieth century and/or rare books. Many past Resident Scholars have engaged primarily with the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, though proposals can address use of any of the SCARC collections.

Detailed information outlining the qualifications necessary for application, as well as the selection process and the conditions under which awards will be made, is available at the following location (PDF link): http://scarc.library.oregonstate.edu/residentscholar.pdf

Additional information on the program is available at the Resident Scholar homepage and profiles of past award recipients – some of whom have traveled from as far away as Germany and Brazil – are available here.

Now Accepting Applications for 2015 Resident Scholars

The Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center (SCARC) is pleased to announce that applications are once again being solicited for its Resident Scholar Program.

Now in its eighth year, the Resident Scholar Program provides research grants to scholars interested in conducting work in the Special Collections & Archives Research Center. Stipends of $2,500 per month renewable for up to three months (for a total maximum grant award of $7,500) will be awarded to researchers whose proposals detail a compelling potential use of the materials held in the Center. Grant monies can be used for any purpose.

Researchers will be expected to conduct their scholarly activities while in residence at Oregon State University. Historians, librarians, graduate, doctoral or post-doctoral students and independent scholars are welcome to apply. The deadline for submitting proposals is April 30, 2015.

It is anticipated that applicants would focus their work on one of the five main collecting themes of the Special Collections & Archives Research Center: the history of Oregon State University, natural resources in the Pacific Northwest, multiculturalism in Oregon, the history of science and technology in the twentieth century and/or rare books. Many past Resident Scholars have engaged primarily with the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, though proposals can address use of any of the SCARC collections.

Detailed information outlining the qualifications necessary for application, as well as the selection process and the conditions under which awards will be made, is available at the following location (PDF link): http://scarc.library.oregonstate.edu/residentscholar.pdf

Additional information on the program is available at the Resident Scholar homepage and profiles of past award recipients – some of whom have traveled from as far away as Germany and Brazil – are available here.