LASG banner

True Scientists Seek Truth

Quote from: Rosenthal, Debra. At the Heart of the Bomb: The Dangerous Allure of Weapons Work (Reading MA: Addison-Wesley, 1990)

"[One of the first generation of atomic scientists], Manley thought they didn't do science on the Hill [Los Alamos] anymore. I heard him say it on many occasions, always with a little laugh. But this man tells few jokes that do not advance his incessant pedagogical purposes. When he said there are no true scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he meant something serious.

" 'I guess I'm being stuffy, in the sense that I'm making a distinction between a true scientist, in terms of motivation, and these people who work in technical fields,' he explained one day. There was nothing wrong with being a technician, a technologist, or an engineer. Manley himself began as a student of engineering....

"For the scientists at Los Alamos, he thought, research had become routinized. Tied to the imperatives of the military, it was only a shadow of what it would be were the government's 'programmatic' constraints removed. True scientists seek truth, not better toothbrushes.

"That may seem harsh, Manley conceded, but so be it. He proposed a simple test. If someone claiming to be a scientist concerns himself with the moral and political significance of his work-at a weapons lab, that means the arms race-he passes the test. If he slights the issue, he fails as a scientist.

Choosing his words with care, Manley said, 'My impression-and that's all it is, of course-is that there are far too few scientists now, and let's distinguish them from engineers and technicians, who are really and genuinely deeply concerned about these questions. Well, the list is almost clear. You can take the sponsors of the Federation of American Scientists or the Union of Concerned Scientists-and there you have it.'

" '...Let me just be unfair in a way, probably, by saying that it seems to me that the most responsible and deeply-I'll even use the word-human scientists that I know of are the ones who are concerned about these questions,' he said deliberately. 'And there are many who are not. Those who don't consider such questions are not people I like very well.'

"He stopped. Did I understand? No.

" 'The reason I don't like them, you see, is because I don't consider they're even being good scientists. Now why do I say that?' he asked rhetorically. 'I think that there are certain messages in the scientific method, in the reliance on logic and discussion and all that sort of stuff, that are generally valuable to humanity.'

"Scientists who neglect the moral and political consequences of their work made him sad. 'How can they be sufficiently curious about the world in which they live to be a good scientist,' he wondered, 'and not raise these questions?'" (Rosenthal, At the Heart of the Bomb, pp. 64-66)

Los Alamos Study Group • 2901 Summit Place NE • Albuquerque, NM 87106 • ph 505-265-1200

[back to top]