The Thistle Volume 13, Number 1: August 29, 2000.

The Social Implications of Scientific Advancement

Let me begin by welcoming all the new students to MIT. You have all worked very hard to get into one of the most prestigious colleges in the world. You should be proud of your accomplishment. Throughout the several years you will be spending at MIT, I can assure you that you will be getting one of the best science educations available anywhere. You will be taking classes from world-renowned professors and doing cutting-edge research.

The technical skills you will develop here will be an invaluable asset for you in the future. You will gain the expertise to contribute significantly to the field of your choice. However, one thing you should keep in mind is that it will be up to you to choose how to use your scientific knowledge. History has shown us that not every advance in science has had good results for humanity. It is beyond doubt that the development of the atomic bomb was a technical success, but how much of a moral success was it? As students, and later alumni of MIT, we will have the tools necessary to improve several technical disciplines significantly. But I ask you to hold your love for the people, love for the environment and your responsibilities to this world above material benefits and the desire for professional success. Remember that great scientists are those who are guided by their love for humanity, not those who are guided by the love for money. Below is the speech given by Dr. Andreas Toupadakis, former research scientist in the Stockpile Stewardship Program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, at the 2000 World Conference against Atomic & Hydrogen Bombs in Japan. I invite you to read carefully and consider the points that he raises. And please remember: “Science divorced from humanity is worse than no science at all”.

My Dear Colleagues and Fellow Earth Companions,

I was born in Crete, a beautiful island of Greece where even from a very young age I heard about a dreadful act committed against humanity during WW-II in Japan. On a recent radio show in the USA I was asked the question: How many more people would have been killed if the war had not ended? My answer was that we do not know. The host of the show was happy with my answer, believing many millions more would have died, which justified the use of nuclear bombs to end the war. Obviously he understood precisely what he was conditioned to believe, not what I was trying to convey. My point was that the war was almost over and the abhorrent act was not necessary, while he saw it as a heroic act. It is what we see that we bring into our lives. What people think, is eventually manifested in the world. And the world thinks of war when it prepares for war. We still continue with the same way of thinking. We have not learned the lesson.

I consider it a privilege to be here today, to feel your history first hand. There are some people who have realized that the human species has become an endangered species and that we are running out of time. What should scientists do? How many more times can we ask that question? More than 55 years ago, Sir Joseph Rotblat, a physicist and member of the Manhattan Project, faced the same question. What should I do? Today we know that he resigned as a matter of conscience because he believed the atomic bomb was unnecessary. He refused as a scientist to participate in an irresponsible act against humanity. Since 1945, there have been other people around the world who have followed his example. Some are well known, but there are probably many more whose names we will never know.

I myself faced the same question, as a scientist working on what should be called “Manhattan Project #2.” While many people were celebrating the dawn of the new millennium, I was going through the most agonizing time of my life. What should I do? I had a wife with a part time job without insurance, and two teenage daughters. What should I do? I followed the highest call, the call of my conscience. I saw the omnicide about to be committed against all forms of life on our planet. On January 31st of this year, 2000, I resigned from a permanent, highly paid position in the Stockpile Stewardship Program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. I was working on the long-term maintenance of nuclear weapons. My act was an act of love for all humanity, all life.

Great thinkers of the past have commented on the meaning of life. “An unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates. Einstein the physicist said: “Only a life lived for others is a life worth while.” Since my resignation I have been poor, but happy. I believe that in the agony of that painful act I have found my calling: to inform scientists and the public about the deceptive ways young scientists are lured into weapons work believing like I did, that they will be working for peace; to remind people that nuclear weapons are the perfect tool for a very small elite group of men to annihilate humanity; and by example to call on each person to do his or her best to prevent that from happening.

My resignation created a great response. Many newspaper articles appeared in the U.S. and in Greece. I have been interviewed on numerous radio shows, and have received many invitations for speaking engagements around the world. Individuals I have never met have written to me from many nations to express their support and gratitude for my act. I believe that this excitement reveals the aspiration of the human soul, which cries out for peace despite the terrible plans of a few. The deception of preparing for war in order to have peace is not the will of humanity. Trusting in bombs instead of the Creator is not the will of the people. Preparing for peace in order to have peace is the will of humankind.

Plato said, “Science without virtue is immoral science”. Yet, we the scientists are at the heart of the continuous arms race. We must take personal responsibility. Therefore, I appeal to all scientists worldwide whose work supports the war machine to give up their jobs as I did, and to follow my example. I also appeal to every secretary, technician, custodian, engineer, and any other person whose participation supports the world war machine. We have an obligation to our children, grandchildren, and all future generations. Every citizen must act to insure that life can go on without unnecessary suffering. Mordechai Vanunu, a nuclear scientist and prisoner of conscience in Israel, has warned us: “Stop the train. Get off the train. The next stop: nuclear disaster.” We scientists who have understood the seriousness of our human condition must act on behalf of those who have not. I am asking these scientists worldwide to come together and establish a relief agency for assisting those scientists who are still within but are ready to wash their hands of work that supports war-an agency that will support them in every possible way when they take the leap of faith to advocate for peace. Let us take the food from our storage houses and provide it for those who want to work for peace but do not have the faith to depart from their unsatisfying jobs. There are thousands in this condition who have no place to turn. They are trapped. A similar relief agency should be established for military officers and other occupations that promote violence in our lives. We scientists have created a monster and it is time to take responsibility for its abolition. Let us start talking about solutions and acting rather than just describing the problem. Activists today have spent an incredible amount of resources to describe the hell we have created, fewer are working towards solutions, and even fewer are acting on the suggested solutions. We will not see any real change towards peace unless we start caring for one another and stop caring for our institutions. Let us give our hand to one another instead of to the institutions. Today I am appealing to you, a scientist to scientists. Upon leaving this conference, I beg you to go back to your work places and make changes with determination to stop sacrificing life and instead support it. We have paid the price for war for too many years. Let us become willing to pay the price for peace.

For the first time in the academic history of the human species, we must consciously establish programs in our schools to promote peace. We must replace the culture of violence with a culture of peace. We must act now, each of us, to avoid the universal catastrophe that Einstein and others predicted. Our governments will not do this for us. People around the world want to live in peace. They do not want to continue to be deceived and manipulated by their governments to accept war and devastation as a path to peace. Let us form global partnerships here in our new role as scientists of conscience, and leave Japan, committed to concrete solutions for a nuclear-free 21st century. We must bring the voices of indigenous people, communities, and NGO’s to every scientific society. It is time to take responsibility for the harm we have inflicted upon the earth and its life. We have over-emphasized the miracles of science and technology for the benefit of a few, and we know it.

We cannot understand or find solutions to these global issues in the isolation of our laboratories and conferences. The interfacing of communities and science democratizes the process of public policy and decision-making, and demonstrates how science has served the public and how it has failed.

The community knowledge perspective is necessary to improve science. To this end, a scientist friend of mine, Leuren Moret, Past President of the Association for Women Geo-scientists, and I are organizing a new kind of symposium for the coming American Chemical Society national meeting in San Diego, California for the spring of 2001. The title is “Environmental Justice and the Chemical Sciences: Perspectives on Health, Environmental, Moral and Policy Questions”. We invite you to submit your papers and participate. In addition to the symposium, there will be workshops for students, educators and scientists to develop and present environmental justice programs in their schools, universities, and regional science meetings to address local issues. We envision this theme in every scientific discipline.

Since my resignation I have envisioned a group made up of scientists and engineers, medical doctors, journalists, indigenous people and so forth, who will travel in a bus around the United States to talk to students about peace, the abolition of nuclear weapons, health, and environmental issues. The “Traveling Teachers project, as I like to call it, has found support in the form of great enthusiasm from many activists, among them being Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of Nobel-Prize winning Physicians for Social Responsibility. This can become a model for a similar group in every country.

It is time to take our fingers away from our calculators and talk about scientific ethics. Why can we not see our destiny? Why are we ignoring what we see? Our science policy is based on the irrational fears about survival driven by a tiny group of elite who shape public opinion. We scientists have to use our skills for humanity, not for a machine we have no control over. We are enticed into comfortable positions, grow dependent on the security, and then many of us are tormented, playing tricks with our own minds to justify continuing to work. When we start working consciously, then we can begin to change our lives. Albert Einstein was able to foresee our days. On April 30, 1947, he wrote of atomic weapons: “For there is no secret and there is no defense; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world.” Mainstream media in every country allow their governments to go unquestioned by citizens, while weapons of mass destruction design labs stay busy. The opening of the doors of secrecy is desperately needed and long overdue. Interfacing communities and science is a new and simple solution that any of us can do. To those who believe that there is hope I say: “What are you waiting for?” Truth is the most powerful force in the universe. It is greater than the force of the atom.

Making weapons of mass destruction in the name of peace and possessing nuclear weapons is nothing else but an act of murder waiting to happen. Humanity still thinks of war as a fight of many people against many people, but our times show that sooner or later it could be one man against the whole world. No nation is better than another. There are no rogue nations and nations of concern here and perfect nations there. There are people here and people there and they are expecting their leaders, who control the instruments of indiscriminate destruction, to renounce their use for permanent peace. If these elected officials will not accept this desire of the human race for the highest right, the right of survival, it will not be too long before people will begin to demand it. When the first serious miscalculation takes place, the public will react violently, either by panic or by revolt.

Worldwide the public is kept in ignorance of the facts about weapons of mass destruction. People have the right to know the truth about this thorn of humanity; they have the right to decide if they want to go on with this burden, which is already unbearable if they want to protect life for future generations. People in each nation have the right to know. The preparation for and conducting of war is amounting to over $1 trillion annually. Education worldwide is on the bottom of the list. Mikhail Gorbachev, addressing the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War in 1987 in Moscow stated, “As a possessor of nuclear arms, our state will never be the first to use them”. Today these statements are invalid. In the past, US presidents made good movements toward stopping nuclear tests. Today all these efforts seem to have been lost. At the same time, thousands of people worldwide are dying from cancer and suffering from pain due to past nuclear tests. People are being led like lambs to the slaughterhouse and they don’t know why or how.

Do nations possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons because of fear of attack from some other nation, or is it mainly because without them the stronger cannot otherwise exploit the weaker? Real disarmament cannot come unless the nations of the world cease to exploit one another. And nations will not stop exploiting one another unless we stop exploiting one another individually. It will take sacrifices by all of us if humans all over the earth are to avoid the unthinkable. As Gandhi said: “Replace greed by love and everything will come right.” If a foundation or institution is corrupt you must wash your hands and withdraw from it. Our world is crying out for compassionate, wise, courageous, and skillful leaders to provide vision and direction. We as scientists should provide that leadership by taking the first step to form interdisciplinary partnerships and initiatives, by becoming scientist activists. We must invite indigenous and community voices to our conferences so that we can work together to do better science.

Japan is the nation with people who have suffered the effects of the atomic bomb. I feel your duty as my duty. I join you with all my heart, soul, and body to fly like birds around the globe to announce the choices we have. I will not conclude my message without bringing attention to the root of our troubles. Let us not fool ourselves. So long as we invest in organizations of profit, nuclear weapons will never be abolished. Thus the choice is clear. If the people of the world choose to exploit each other with the clever mechanisms they have invented, then the dreadful day is waiting to happen. Our societies are in chaos because those with power force their way by violence. Our duty is to realize who the ones who create this kind of power really are. We, the scientists, must take the initiative in educating people and arousing public opinion around the world to render the utmost priority to the grave issue of human survival. We must come together to seek solutions.

I would like to finish with the words of your citizen Nichidatsu Fujii: “Civilization is neither to have electric lights, nor airplanes, nor to produce nuclear bombs. Civilization is not to kill man, not to destroy things, not to make war; civilization is to hold mutual affection and to respect each other.”


The Thistle Volume 13, Number 1: August 29, 2000.