Friday, 25 February 2011

Scientists have a special responsibility

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On the 5th of April, 1955, Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell sent the following letter to Albert Einstein along with a rough draft of what would soon be known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto - a written warning to the world's population on the dangers of nuclear weapons, and a plea for all leaders to avoid war when faced with conflict - and asked him to be both a signatory and supporter. Einstein's short reply, and in fact the last letter he ever wrote, arrived a week later:
Dear Bertrand Russell,

Thank you for your letter of April 5. I am gladly willing to sign your excellent statement. I also agree with your choice of the prospective signers.

With kind regards,

A. Einstein.
Einstein passed away on the 18th of that month, and the manifesto was released to the public on July 9th. The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs formed in 1957 as a direct result.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of McMaster University Libraries.



Transcript
5 April, 1955.

41, Queen's Road,
Richmond, Surrey.

Dear Einstein,

I have been turning over in my mind, and discussing with various people, the best steps for giving effect to the feeling against war among the great majority of men of science. I think the first step should be a statement by men of the highest eminence, communists and anti-Communists, Western and Eastern, about the disasters to be expected in a war. I enclose a draft of such a statement, and I very much hope that you will be willing to sign it. I enclose also a list of those whom I am asking to sign. If sufficient signatures are obtained, I think the next step should be an international scientific congress which should be invited by the signatories to pass a resolution on the lines of the draft resolution which I enclose. I hope that in this way both Governments and public opinion can be made aware of the seriousness of the situation.

On the whole, I have thought that it was better at this stage to approach only men of science and not men in other fields, such as Arnold Toynbee whom you mentioned. Scientists have, and feel that they have, a special responsibility, since their work has unintentionally caused our present dangers. Moreover, widening the field would make it very much more difficult to steer clear of politics.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed, 'Bertrand Russell')