The Pauling-Teller Debate: A Tangle of Expertise and Values

Sunday, February 19, 2017: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Room 302 (Hynes Convention Center)
Melinda Gormley, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, DC
At a height of the Cold War in 1958, two scientists debated nuclear weapons and disarmament on television. Chemist Linus Pauling pushed for peace through international treaties and disarmament. He remained composed and rational as he explained the scientific evidence that led to his concerns about the negative health effects of nuclear fallout. Physicist Edward Teller thought peace could be maintained by testing nuclear weapons to show the force and capability of the nations that possessed these weapons. Teller’s ire grew as he recalled atrocities committed by Nazi Germany to people in his homeland of Hungary. He drew parallels between Nazi Germany and present day Soviet Union while highlighting the uncertainty of the science and pointing out the benefits that nuclear energy may one day bring. This historical debate presents a relationship between science and politics that is atypical today suggesting an alternative way to treat science and scientists in the policy arena. Using history and creative nonfiction, this presentation explores interactions of science and politics in a democracy and is based on an article co-authored with Melissae Fellet.