tv Book Discussion on Big Science CSPAN September 8, 2015 2:00am-2:53am EDT
moviegoer which is largely sent in new orleans in a sort of nostalgia in the new orleans i grew up in. he lived in the greater new orleans area and wrote several novels i liked that i'm rereading them right now. prizeg journalist michael hiltzik recalls when the federal government got involved in scientific and technological endeavors.
>> good evening everyone. we will get started. my name is candace, i work with the events here and we have a lot of events coming up this fall. i encourage you to grab one of our print calendars on your way out tonight and sign up for our e-mail list at the info desk as well as look online for some of the events coming up in september. as for tonight's event, first thing if you would check again and make sure your self owns are on silent or are off so that doesn't disrupt her time here. what we are going to do is have
about a one hour event. at the time the presentation for our speaker and half the time for questions. if you wouldn't mind directing your questions to the microphone, we are recording. recording. c-span is here and it helps us catch your recording, catch your question on the recording so it makes for a more full recording. "after words" we will have a signing and they will go down the aisle and the signing will happen right up front here. the books are for purchase behind the register if you haven't gotten one are ready. once we are all finished before we reform that line, if you wouldn't mind holding up the chairs and setting them against the chairs, that chairs, that would be really helpful for us for cleanup. now it is my pleasure to introduce michael hiltzik and his newest book big science. this is a story of a man who ushered in a new era in science moving away from the quote
unquote small science of individuals in their labs on low budgets to million-dollar projects or even billion-dollar projects that we see today. such projects have led science and the government and big private wealth for advancement. this science is conducted and made way for triumphant developments that were very large for their time and some might say there were some that were even tragic. big science is a very timely read as this week we reflect on the dropping of the atomic bomb. that decision decision made 70 years ago is still one that is debated today whether or not it was necessary to end the war. in his book we read about controversy as well with the new scientific leap waiting through
the fall of world war ii. tran1 began his career in buffalo new york and went on to write for the l.a. times. he won the pulitzer prize in 1999 for the articles he wrote on corruption in bride in the music industry. he also wrote hoover dam and of the new deal, a modern history. please help me in welcoming michael hiltzik. [applause]. >> thank you candace for that gracious introduction. thank you to politics and prose for hosting me here tonight. it's great to be here at yet another great independent bookstore. thanks to all of you for joining me tonight to take maybe in our
respite from presidential politics to talk about science and big science and its achievements and limitations. as candace alluded to, and this this is a pertinent subject tonight i think because we find ourselves sandwiched between these two rather tragic anniversaries. as i'm sure you've been reading yesterday, august 6 was the anniversary of the atomic bombing of hiroshima and sunday will be the anniversary of the bombing of nagasaki. i want to approach these two events in a different way because they were so fundamentally connected with the work of ernest orlando lawrence. and the paradigm of the scientific research he paradigm to.
we will see the relationship between scientists and society because of how it led to scientists placing in humankind's hands the tools of its own destruction. let's begin by talking about the man himself. who was ernest lawrence? the short answer is during his lifetime during 1901 to 1958 he was the most famous american-born scientists in the country. in 1937, he country. in 1937, he appeared on the cover of "time" magazine that all purpose, validation of international celebrity in the prehistoric era that we think of today is the age of print. in 1939 as a professor at berkeley he received a nobel prize on physics. he was the first scientist from an american pub. university to win the prize. if you've been on the berkeley campus you might've noticed that here and there there are parking spots that are designated and
that special parking and that's worth a lot in california. all of this for the sign of norwegian american family. he was born in this small town in south dakota. you could say he came from the heartland and he grew up with the 20th century. the source of all his renowned was his inspired invention the cyclotron. it was a device that could bombard the atomic nucleus with energies that his fellow physicist could only dream of in the name of a looser date in the miseries of the subatomic world. his overarching legacy was a new way of doing science. we call it big science. capital-intensive, multi disc been research which came with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of researchers working together in government and industry. big science science is all around us today.
high-level research funded by the nia to the national science foundation which received nearly $40 billion a year in government appropriations. that's big science. the effort to put a man on the moon to send probes into the farthest reaches of the solar science, that's big science. the human the human genome project was a 3 billion exercise in big science that help to launch not only new fields of study, but also new industry. solving current climate change, we will be able to do that without big science. the cyclotron is the epitome today of a big science does lice. it's the latest generation of the first cyclotron that was developed more than eight decades ago. his first cyclotron
cost less than $100 in material and fit in the palm of his hand. it's offspring today, is 17 miles insert conference, buried under the french and swiss countryside and built at a cost of $9 billion. you can see today the evolution of this paradigm that started at berkeley. the central theme of my book in the conversation this evening once we open the floor to all of you to ask questions and discuss is that big science raises as many questions about humankind thirst for knowledge as it answers. one of the most important aspects of this method of research that we are still grappling with 70 years on is that it did give scientists and society access to forces of truly destructive power. forces that we have found very hard but we hope not impossible to control. one one of the first
physicists to warn of the implication of this change in the way we do research was lawrence's own colleague, a german physicist who, two months before the first atomic bomb detonated over japan, observed that the age was are ready past in which, as he put it, scientist could disclaim direct responsibility for the use to which mankind has put their disinterested discoveries. the reason frank said was that with big science had brought about greater dangers than all the inventions of the past put together. but we need to talk tonight not only what we do with the knowledge, but the resources we devote to that quest his legacy challenges us to think about how
to weigh the monumental high profile efforts that it might take to put a human being on mars or discover the next particle against the necessity of fighting cancer or pain-free drugs against hepatitis or multiple sclerosis for every seven. all of this together factors into what makes lawrence such an intriguing personality for us today. that brings us back to the invention that made his name. it was 1929 and he had just recently joined the faculty of the university of california at berkeley and physics was at a crossroads. the departing generation, the older generation of scientists like marie curie had been probing the atomic nuclear's with the tools that nature gave them. the omission of alpha and beta raise from radioactive waves. with those tools that generation had figured out the structure of
the atom, discovered x-rays and radioactivity. they had done about as much as they could with nature's gift and to go further, they understood, science would need probes of much higher energy to delve deeper into the nuclear's. this could could only be achieved by applying human ingenuity. it was rutherford who threw down the challenge for the new generation calling for an apparatus that could deliver a projectile of 10 million electron volts yet be safely accommodated in a medium-sized room scientists all over the world took up his challenge but they discovered when you load an apparatus with 10 million volts, what happens is you blow up the apparatus think of trying to fire a mortar shell out of a cannon made of cardboard. laboratories laboratories filled up with shards of splintered
glass, one group of intrepid german researchers struck a cable between two alpine peaks and they did but in the process one was blasted off the mountain and that ended that. one night in berkeley he had a brainstorm. what if you don't put the voltage on the apparatus itself but build it up incrementally on on if you start with a proton for a hundred volts. if you give it 100v jolt now it has the energy of 200 jolt. hundred jolt. and so on and so on. now a linear accelerator decide to keep delivering these jolts by us think sequence of electrodes would have to be
quite large, and not fitting into his comfortably sized room. here comes the second part of his brainstorm. he knows how to charge particle and it will follow a curved path. you can bend it into a spiral, allowing it to get repeated jolts from just a single electrode. that's the essence of the cyclotron boiled down to its simplest state. then all you have to do is aim it at a target and let it go. the possibilities are endless and it all could fit into a medium-sized room. at least the first cyclotron did. lawrence knows he's onto something. the very next day he was seen bounding across the campus and declaring i'm going to be famous and so he was in the next decade
his invention proved itself to be a spectacular useful and flexible machine. the the team he assembled in berkeley discovered scores of new isotopes. carbon-14 which we know as the key to carbon dating was discovered through the cyclotron. other isotopes became the foundation of the new science of nuclear medicine and the sources of new cures and new therapeutic processes that we still used today and then came the new element, heavier than uranium. elements we could have never in their natural state. element 93 and element 94 which was named after what was thought to be the next planet in the solar system. pluto was called plutonium. every discovery opened and lawrence responded by doing new
cyclotrons, each one bigger and more powerful and much more expensive than the last. soon every university that aspired to the first rank of research institution wanted its own cyclotron. lawrence was happy to oblige sending his associates into the world showing them how to do it in freely showing his own designs all in the name of expanding what became his cyclotron empire. it wasn't only his real scientific accomplishment but his personality as well. so perfect for a country striving to emerge from the shadow of european scientific tradition. he was useful and engaging. very different from from the popular image of the mad scientist locked away in his lap with wild hair and a little bit strange. ernest was sober, businesslike and very down to earth. he. he went to bed and three-piece suits.
the editor went to visit him at berkeley and came home enthralled by this energetic man who was amazingly easy to talk to and completely american as apple pie. then, as i said in 19391939 he won the nobel prize for the cyclotron. but he demonstrated more than scientific technique. he showed great managerial technique. he showed when you needed to raise millions of dollars to build your machine you had to have the genius of an entrepreneur, ring master, a ceo. you had to raise money from university presidents, foundation boards, egg industrial executives and government officials by serving their own goals without compromising your own too much. for scientist this was a new religion and ernest lawrence was a prophet.
well the 1939 nobel prize were the last to be awarded until the war dissipated four years later. now we come to the central event in lawrence's career. the manhattan project would validate the big science paradigm. the atomic bomb could not have been invented by a solitary physicist using handmade equipment. it required an an investment of billions of dollars. many science and technicians and laboratories built on an industrial scale. manhattan project was the first great big science program and approved how powerful an approach this could be while hinting at how hard it's results might be to control. many of you, no doubt, no at least the outline of the making of the atomic bomb. the effort starting with albert einstein famous letter to franklin roosevelt in august 1939, actually written by
the hungarian physicists and signed by einstein. saying that the recent discovery implied that bombs could be constructed from uranium and warning that nazi germany might already be working on the problem. that fear brought government and the community of physicist together to make sure we would get the bomb first. lawrence and big science would play a big paramount role in that effort. the cyclotron was an essential component in the research leading to the bomb. lawrence converted his newest cyclotron, of the myth still behemoth still being built. then he designed and supervised the plant to manufacture the
product in tennessee known as oak ridge. that plant would produce every atom of the uranium for the bomb that was dropped on their shema. he gave one of his hiroshima that became the core of the bomb that destroyed nagasaki. when they came around looking for someone to head up the design of the bomb, ernest lawrence nominated his close friend and colleague at berkeley and got him the job. but now we must turn to the moral dimensions of this work. not only lawrence's lawrence's role but big science's role in is still something that is the
big subject of debate. the study of history you know is an exercise in looking at events through the eyes of people who lived them but also applying the perspective of the decades, sometimes the century. this exercise is especially complicated with nuclear weapons because we are so familiar with their consequences we know the toll where at least 100 30,000 people in the very first days, perhaps that many more overtime. the toll the builders of the bomb could only guess at and they probably underestimated the figures. we know of the horrific long-term suffering of the civilian survivors of those cities unlike anything anyone else has experienced as were survivors in history. we know the cloud that civilization has lived under
because of the decision made in the 1940s to unleash the destructive capacity of the atomic nucleus. we know the nazis actually never did have a working atomic bomb program. scientist who stayed behind in germany got the physics of the bomb wrong and concluded it could not be built and did not try. the allies didn't learn that until after the war was over. now i don't mean by all of this that we shouldn't judge the scientists of the manhattan project at all, only that we should temper our judgment by what they thought they knew. a thought they were building a weapon that could shorten the war and maybe even save lives. they thought they were in a race with a homicidal maniac on world domination. they were focused on the emergency of the immediate present.
germany surrendered in 1945 and that change the calculus but not the momentum of this effort. unlike germany, japan was not widely feared as a potential nuclear threat and its regime was not seen as fixed on world domination. but by then the bombs were nearly complete. the impulse to use them was very strong. in fact the plans were already ready and pointed on japan. the final debate among scientists and military and political leaders before was over whether dropping the bombs on the unsuspecting japanese was truly necessary or whether it demonstration over a desert or on populated area could deliver a message to the japanese regime. the record tells us that the last holdout against dropping the bombs was lawrence himself that eventually he to a knowledge the risks of a dad was
too great and the demonstration that didn't demonstrate anything would be worse than no demonstration at all. historians have debated ever sense and we still debate today whether the bombing of japan was truly necessary to secure surrender but there can be no question really that most of the people directly involved in the decision accepted the assumption that it was. many big scientists who developed the atom bomb would eventually reconsider their role. some had become thinking even begun before the first bomb had dropped how to manage the social and political implications of what they helped invent. they recognized what big science had unleashed could be managed safely only under a new conception and many others would
work to develop nuclear power perhaps in the hope of expediting the moral bombs and doubts that japan had brought them. ernest lawrence was not among them. that was not his strong suit and when his friend declared that through the atomic bomb program physicists had come to no sin, he responded rather angrily that nothing about his work had caused him to know sin. that was still true in the 1950s when he became the nation's most critical credible promoter of the hydrogen bomb. weapon that many of his colleagues viewed as nothing but a genocidal device. for many laypersons the prospect
of the hydrogen bomb fueled fears that big science had moved into the mode of if it can be done it will be done and it should be done sciences capabilities had begun to exceed the abilities of our social and political institutions to manage them. this showed the flaws of lawrence's paradigm of big science was put built on the notion that science was capable of meeting the greatest technical challenges as long as scientists were joined together in pursuit of a shared goal as they had been during the manhattan project. he never apologized for his work on the h-bomb or the a-bomb. both were necessary for national security and he never looked back. indeed he est. a brand-new brand-new lab at livermore california to advance research into nuclear weapons.
because he died in 1958, we don't really know what he would've made of the nuclear world that big science help create as it reached its fearsome extent. his widow thought he would have been aghast and she was so appalled at livermore's role in the 1980s to take her husband's name off the lab that he had founded. to this day it is known as the lawrence livermore national library. what we can say, however, is the history of big science tells us that science itself can be seen as good or evil. we can only render judgment on what humankind makes of it. ernest lawrence new paradigm of scientific research has given us isotopes and diagnostic techniques that save lives. to put man on the moon and
allowed us to explored the outermost planets and explore deeply into the subatomic world. it may provide us yet with weapons against climate change and even give us the tools to destroy ourselves. now, just before i open the floor for questions and discussion, i'd like to leave you with one last topic to debate. that is whether after 70 years we may have reached the political economic limits of big science. the reason it is the biggest accelerator in the world is because the united states abandon its own parallel project in the 1990s mostly because it's budget had grown so huge. almost since the inception, the cost of big science has prompted its critics to ask whether it can get too expensive whether it leads us to value efforts that bring in more money and more
publicity rather than programs that could have it an impact on our daily lives. president eisenhower in his famed military industrial complex speech, days before the end of his presidency foresaw how presidency science was changing and would change. a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for is intellectual curiosity. the the prospect of domination of the nation scholars by federal employment, project project allocations and the power of
money is ever present and greatly to be regarded. in light of the world we live in today, i think we can only be struck by the foresight of these words. one thing i think we can be confident about is that the human search for knowledge is never quenched in that it is served by big science at its best. if we want an illustration of that just consider the excitement felt not only by astronomers but members of the general public of the extraordinary photographs of pluto after the nine year, 300 million-dollar voyage to the absolute limits of this solar system. so yes, his genius gave us new access to knowledge but as is
true with only everything, that gain came at a cost. he helped us learn a lot but he also gave us a lot more to think about and with that i think you for listening and i'm ready to take questions. [applause]. one question i hope is simple and short. it seems with some consistency between the fact that lawrence was the last holdout in the decision to use the bomb and yet he was the one that seemed or the least apologetic about the role of his lab and so forth and doing the science that made the
bomb possible. it was discovery versus use of the weapon? >> i think that was an element of it. i should say, one thing i didn't mention is that he was also the scientists who introduced, for the first time at a government panel, the idea of a demonstration. he was interested in seeing if it would work. he was basically outvoted and out argued by people who thought a demonstration was just too risky. the element of all of this that he never apologized for was the idea of building the bomb, putting forth these programs, making sure america in the united kingdom have access to these weapons before its enemies did and could protect themselves. i think in this case, he basically ended up acknowledging there was no alternative to actually dropping the bomb on
japan. >> more importantly you seem to be saying that you thought maybe there was evidence that were reaching the limits of big science and yet you could say that is because the reason for was not very clearly initiated by the public. >> i think we can gain a lot of lessons. at the time that it was canceled the government had already spent $2 billion on it. the prospect of further expenditure look to be limitless and a new congress was coming in and this was a new class of congressmen who had run on the idea of smaller government, less spending and there was a problem
with this superconducting supercollider which was that they had two minds about it. there is many physicists that thought it was too big of a project and would suck up resources for a narrow area of debate and would leave too much other research unfunded. there were a lot of complexities there. what that tells us is when you really are faced with expenditures of this magnitude they become a political issue in you really have to make sure that you do make the case as you said to the public that these are necessary expenditures of these projects and will produce outcomes that really do benefit society and mankind. that's not always easy to do but that's the task before scientists who want to push these sorts of programs ahead. >> inc. contrast to the previous
question her, i think perhaps your little two-week in seeing the end of big science in the military and industrial complex. they theorized waves of concentration of capital in the last big idea until you run up against the kind of limits that einstein saw him pursuing the speed of light where you can get closer and closer at huge expenditures of effort, capital, power but you never reach it. i just wonder whether, in reading about things like the new fuel free engine that was invented by a schoolgirl in egypt and has now been validated
by three national laboratories, we may be seeing a new paradigm that will destroy a big science and start people working in their labs. >> you could be right. all i can say's paradigms are often only visible in a rearview mirror. there isn't necessarily a spot when you're in the midst of them. of course, the end of big science has been projected and predicted many times in the 60s and ascended and the send it 70s and again in the '90s. there are concerns with scientist today that new projects of this magnitude are going to be a very hard sell. thus far, despite the failure of the superconductor supercollider, we have found ways to fund the projects that scientist can come together and
support. after all it is with us and it is the product of consortium of european countries with some funding from the united states and there are plans to make it bigger and to extend it so we don't know if there is cause for concern or for looking at things really granular e we can say that big science is definitely finished but we will know more in ten years i suppose. getting back to the dropping of the atomic bombs, i think a strong argument can be made for the first one that it actually saved american lives that cost as tragic as it was. my question is about the second one. why did it happen so quickly. was it really necessary and
should the united states have waited and allowed the decision-making process to go through. did you come across anything? >> you may know that there's an extensive literature on the decision to drop the bomb and not only hiroshima but nagasaki and the notable thing that i found in the literature is that it doesn't come to a conclusion. i think to really understand nagasaki, in particular, you have to really factor in political goals and also military goals. certainly there was a recognition that the geography of nagasaki was very different than hiroshima. i think there probably was a desire on the part of military planners to get a fuller picture of what the effects would be of the sort of weapon. there might've been concerned that the japanese hadn't actually spoken soon enough and that the second bomb would be
brought to the table. as i'm sure you know there's also a school of thought that the japanese were on the verge of surrender anyway. pending the entry of the soviet union into the war that would do the deed. there was a lot more that went into the decision. there is a lot we don't know. there was a lot of thinking that was done on the ground that is very hard to really appreciate in hindsight. in hindsight as an educational process and i think we are still learning the full dimensions of all the aspects of this decision. >> thank you. on big science, here in washington dc, one of the organization supporting big science, you mentioned nih. what are some of the other ones? >> the national science foundation's, the nih, the national science foundation's, the nih, i think those are the biggest ones that are government-funded. $40 billion a year is a big source of funds.
nasa, noel, all of these agencies that put satellites into space and that fund important research in earth sciences and space science, underwater, what have you. these are all really involved in earth science in one way or another. >> thank you for this very interesting talk. in this book, you seem to characterize big science as this unstoppable freight train. i'm concerned you might be missing a certain crucial characteristic which is big science personalities. for these projects to exist it needed people to be household names but now who runs these. you needed people with political influence to make these happen. with modern big science you don't need these household names. >> in my fact book i do address that question. the generation of high profile
scientists was exemplified by several on that list. of course they were in a sense the government supervisors of the manhattan project. people like that, they were thick on the ground in the 1940s and 1950s. they began to leave the scene in the 1960s and 70s. i think the personality who fulfilled that role was probably james watson and his legacy is the human genome project. he put his personal reputation at stake before congress to get that done. i think this comes back to what i said a few moments ago which is when you are talking about programs of this magnitude they do become political and the issues become political and it
does help to have individuals who have stature and respect to make the case. i don't know who i would point to today. we can only hope, in the name of science that people emerge over time. >> this gentleman here has a question but doesn't want to go to the microphone. >> to have any idea why they called the early bombs atomic bombs? they're all nuclear bombs in the same way? >> you're asking why the early bombs were known as atomic bombs and they were all nuclear bombs. that's. that's true. i think were just using the naming claytor of the time. yes there all nuclear bombs because they do exploit the
energies within the nuclear's. the gentleman said he spent a long career in physics. all i can say is this is the way the public came to know them and this is the name that we've given them. on a technical level yes it is inaccurate or, all we can do as writers and scientists is try to make sure people understand when we do use these terms. >> i'm a small scientist. i'm a social social scientist in the
healthcare field which i really think today is the new military industrial complex. you look at a war that was just made a couple of days ago from the department of defense and about 35 other companies of a multibillion-dollar project to institute and elect tronic health records across all the dod facilities. the science that will go into that, science that science that is may be foreign to some people in the room but the science of interoperability, the science of usability, the science of multiplex and. these are all areas of today's big science and the war effort was the generator of a great deal of war science. we haven't really had that kind of war fever since the second world war. what we have had is this growing
healthcare orientation that has taken the last 70 years to really get where it is today. the new science is starting to focus on not just how long can you live but how well can you live and how well can the people who are helping you live to their jobs. you have any thoughts on that? i think if i read you correctly, the point that i would would make is the idea of bringing together science and technology and industry is something that was really born in the need to find funding for large projects and it did start another paradigm which is the paradigm of patenting and entrepreneurial science which sounds like a lot of what were talking about and we see very much in bio tech as
well as chemistry. we probably don't have time to delve into all of the pros and cons of this trend toward commercialization of research, but i think you are right, we do see it very strongly in healthcare and health sciences. >> i'd be interested in your thoughts on how big science has affected our university educational system, both positive and negative. >> well as i alluded to to at the very close in my talk, there is reason i think to be concerned about the impact that big science, that some of the aspects big science has on the university. the man who coined the term was adam weinberg who was a distinguished physicist who, at the time, was the director of
the lab that lawrence had founded. it was 1961 and in one and in an article in science magazine, weinberg raise some of these questions and said we were going to replace thinking with money and the universities were going to be very vulnerable to this sort of trend. he foresaw the evolution of professors and administrators into fundraisers and & rios and was very concerned about that and the need to take on projects that were amenable to publicity and journalism and to something that wasn't going to work very well with the academy.
i think we have seen that process continue. when he invited invented the cyclotron he had pressure from his financial patrons. he tried to resist but he finally had to agree to do so to protect him from commercial exploitation though he reserved a free license for academic users. that really was the beginning of a long trend. she was very concerned about the trend toward patenting discoveries that really should belong to the public and he resisted later on more successfully. we certainly have seen that because of the issue of big finance into the university and big science, we have seen cases where discoveries are kept from people's own colleague and it's much more secrecy. there is much more commercial protection and that is a trend that is one that eisenhower
pointed out in his speech in 1963, 1961. >> throughout the history of science military needs have often grown over scientific discoveries. often scientific discoveries start with technological use being military and should then shifts to nonmilitary. the big science you've described is much more lethal and much more expenses. are there other other differences that differentiate this long flow of history? >> i think this is another concern that eisenhower pointed out. when you bring together military goals, your can end up with something that serves their goals but not the public interest. he was very concerned about that and i think when you have scientific projects that require big patrons, when they are
industrial patrons, they are going to be inclined to focus on projects that they think have a commercial advantage to them in their core businesses. i think one of the concerns we should have is the shift of funding of extensive big science program from government toward industry. the government is going to be inclined to fund a basic science. we need that. we need to have scientists working at a level where they are just going to follow their nose and take the research where it goes because that is the seed corn of everything we end up with to make our lives better and safer and simpler and healthier. i think if if you look at the figures, you will see that industry is taking on a larger share since the 1970s.