I (Richard Wilson) was born in London, England 87 years ago in 1926, and have been at Harvard University since 1955 (58 years) where I am now Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics, (emeritus) In 1975 I was made an affiliate of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government. My CV shows that I am the author or coauthor of 939 published articles and papers. See also charts of my ancestors and descendants and my wife's (Andree Wilson's) ancestors. We, Andree Desiree Wilson and Richard Wilson live in Newton Centre where Andree tends her fine garden. In particular look at the web site of Elaine Wilson, a fine landscape painter. (Look in particular at her present project: a photographical study of what one sees on the the AMTRAK line between Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo) Richard Wilson, the physicist, may be found most days in Jefferson Laboratory of Physics room 257 at Harvard University. A page of photographs of Richard Wilson over the years is available only by password or personal request to protect the privacy of others in the pictures. My calculations and belief is that the international drug trade is far more destructive of society than Al Qaeda or the Ayatollahs in Iran. Keeping perspective was a major theme of my book "Risk-Benefit Analysis" (now in its second edition) by Richard Wilson and Edmund A. Crouch, available from Harvard University Press and on the book stands; As a sample, see the Table of Contents the first pages of the book and some comments on the book
Three years ago I self-published an autobiography: "Physics is Fun" : Memoirs of a Life in Physics ISBN 978-0-615-42158-2. This was printed by MIRA DIGITAL PUBLISHING St Louis Missouri, USA. but neither Mira nor Amazon carry the book without exorbitant charge. The "back cover praise" before actual publication is here, and a set of flattering reviews are also available. You may order direct from me at $25 a copy including domestic postage. Or a digital copy in either of 2 common formats for $10.My recent interests include:
Over the years I have
worked at a number of research
reactors, cyclotrons, synchrotrons, linear accelerators
and colliding beam facilities. The
designers, builders and operators of these facilities (and
even the bureaucrats funding them) are often unsung. I
here give my thanks to each and every one of
them. These sections described my early
work mostly before 1980. and are responsible for more that
half of my 939 published papers and reports available at Publications
I was awarded the degree of D. Phil. at
Oxford University in 1949 for a thesis on the photo
disintegration of the deuteron. I traveled to the USA in
June 1950 for a research position in Rochester NY. With
Clark and Roberts I used the principle of detailed balance
to measure the spin of the pi zero meson at Rochester in
March 1951. (see a story about this in his notes
about Marshak) On return to Oxford in 1952 I
studied nucleon-nucleon scattering at AERE Harwell, and
after 1955 at Harvard's cyclotron laboratory for many years.
I, together with Karl Strauch and Andreas Koehler led an
upgrade of the cyclotron in 1955 and led a program in uses
of polarized protons to study the nucleon -nucleon
interaction. The Harvard Cyclotron had its first beam on
June 3rd 1949 and celebrated its 50th
anniversary in 1999 with a conference. The
story can be found in my history of the Harvard cyclotrons; in addition to this web based
history is a book - A brief history of the Harvard
University Cyclotrons- which is on sale at Harvard
Then I moved to a study of nucleon
structure by electron-proton scattering at the Cambridge
Electron Accelerator from 1963 to 1970, and muon proton
scattering at Fermilab in the E98 and E665 collaborations
starting in 1972. I was an early proponent of
electron-electron and electron positron colliding beams
with a tentative proposal in 1956, and a definitive
proposal in 1962. I was a participant in the CEA "bypass"
program which demonstrated an unusually large
cross-section for producing hadrons (see published papers
150,152,155,158). I worked in the CLEO collaboration using the electron-positron colliding beam facility at
Cornell University, until November 2001 when the Harvard
group formally left the collaboration. I am still
participating in scattering of polarized electrons from
protons at CEBAF which provides information on the strange
quark form factor in the nucleon. I am also involved
in experiments on parity violation in
electron proton scattering and comparison of neutron and
proton radii at CEBAF (Jefferson National Laboratory at
Newport News VA), I was participating in a minor
way in an experiment on "little a" in decay of polarized
neutrons. My work in that project was in
encouraging and helping Dr Boris Yerezolimski who
proposed the experiment. But Boris died in August
but my wife and I joined his family in remembering
his life on Friday March 29th 2014.
Interestingly I knew many of Boris' friends and associates
in the USSR and respected many of them and of course
More details are available in my 939 published papers of which about half are on these subjects.
I have used radiation and ionizing particles all of my professional life (indeed starting as an undergraduate in 1946). Most of the time I carried out research into the structure of nuclei and of elementary particles. This necessarily involved understanding radioactivity and radiation therefrom. Also in maintaining the cyclotron I was exposed to radioactivity from the machine and helped establish rules for the staff. Among physicists I became known for this understanding. This is exemplified by a recent Resource Letter on health effects of radiation that I have written for the American Association of Physics Teachers. The most recent version was in 2011 (This is the on-line version where many of the papers are directly linked). I became aware that radiation was first used by physicians, who did not understand it well, but this changed on August 9th 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Although there were less than 6,000 deaths (mostly cancers) due to that radiation, it is a major incorrect public perception that the 200,000 or so deaths in each city were caused by radiation. They were direct effects of the explosion itself. When in about 1970 I became actively involved with beneficial uses of radioactivity, particle accelerators and radiation therefrom I began to explain this to the public and anyone who would listen. As noted below I was one of the first scientists to visit Chernobyl after the accident and to arrange for translation into English of a Russian "journal" Radiation and Risk. In addition to the work with the Harvard Cyclotron noted above, I am also interested in wise and appropriate uses of nuclear energy for electricity production. One of my interests and specialties is understanding the risks of misuse of radiation and technologies involving radiation. This led me into a detailed attempt to understand other risks and dangers of life as noted below.
Starting in 1972 I became a leader
in the developing field of Risk Analysis. This arose out
of the incorrect perception of many people that radiation
is UNIQUELY dangerous.
articles were comparing risks of
electricity production for a technical audience.
But in 1979 the first document for the public was an
Daily Risks of Life" published in the MIT
Technology review and then reprinted in the state of
Maine, in Farmer's Almanac and in Readers Digest and
printed in well over 10,000,000 copies. That
same summer my testimony (in the benzene case) was quoted
favorably by the US Supreme Court. This
confluence, which is unusual in the Harvard University
science areas, led me to be considered as
an expert (one even qualified to be an "expert witness"
in legal cases) and was quoted in the New York Times as
well as other newspapers. One interesting feature
that became apparent in the 1970s is that risks of
accidents, particularly radiation accidents, are
calculated by physicists and engineers, risks to health
of chemicals had been calculated by toxicologists and
physicians, and epidemiologists. These used different
words, and different structure to their understanding.
One of my roles has been to ensure that they do not talk
in opposition but in unison or at least in
harmony. The book, Risk-Benefit Analysis, with Edmund Crouch,
followed and is now in its' second edition. My
co-author Edmund A.C. Crouch is widely regarded in the
field. This led to my active concern in many subjects:
Radiation, Chemical Carcinogens, Air Pollution,
Potential Climate Change, Arsenic, Nuclear Weapons. A
recent article on development of Risk Analysis was in
the journal "Risk Analysis" and has received many compliments.
The US EPA risk analysis procedures are arbitrary
and capricious and probably illegal.
In 1975 the US EPA proposed a procedure for risk assessment based on a pessimistic view of the data. Stimulated by Congress, they argued for reducing risks to less than one in a million lifetimes risk. Even in 1979 the EPA procedure was shown to be much too pessimistic, A lifetime risk of one in a million, calculated pessimistically, is NOT achievable for most materials. The EPA never backed down and modified their procedure but pretend (ERRONEOUSLY) that their procedures are scientifically based and therefore scientifically valid. A bad example of the problems this causes is the procedure for arsenic risk assessment with I have repeatedly criticized. Yet my criticisms have NEVER had an acknowledgement. If the regulations and actions are not based on the best available science, with a clear statement of uncertainty, they become arbitrary and capricious. Is it not best if a scientifically justified risk assessment PRECEDE any action or regulation? Is it not wise to err on the side of caution in the first instance? But if it transpires that the risk was overly stated in excess of caution. Is it not sensible to modify it in the light of the new knowledge and understanding? THIS HAS NOT HAPPENED in over 40 years!. To recognize the problem would strengthen the EPA not weaken it. Should not those who want the EPA to have integrity and usefulness address this problem? In 2014 the US President is using the EPA to administration to regulate carbon dioxide. Is that power based on reliable scientific data? and reliable analysis? If not what is it based on? The US congress does not seem to admit this problem.
There is no good way as it
stands for understanding the risk of most of the 80,000
chemicals in commerce. Only a handful
(20 or so) have been measured in people. Only
a few thousand have been measured in laboratory animals
and only a few hundred measured
carefully. Ideally we would take a
cautiously conservative position, knowing that
it could be changed when new information becomes
available. A bad example is the
obligation under a 1975 agreement to do something about
nerve gases such as sarin, in the US stockpile.
It has been proposed to incinerate them and a test
burn showed a huge number of chemicals not on the EPA list (IRIS).
A moment's thought should tell anyone that these
chemicals are likely to be MORE dangerous (posing more
risk) than most of the chemicals on the EPA list. Yet the proposed risk assessment set the
risk at zero!
More recently a chemical leaked into
the river at Charleston, West Virginia. This again
was one of the 60,000 with no rational risk assessment.
This problem was discussed on the radio, TV and
internet. But none of these discuss the
complete failure of EPA and other agencies to address the
matter logically and scientifically.
Congress is even worse. They should be discussing
what it means to say that something is safe. None
The responses of the officials commenting on TV and radio are particularly troubling. It is highly misleading to declare that "we will not let people use the water unless unless the risk is below 1 in a million" I have argued (number 939 on my publication list) that this is IMPOSSIBLE. To make such a declaration is misleading at best.
I, Richard Wilson noted as early as 1972 that energy problems in the USA are actually environment problems. The US has plenty of fuel (cheap but polluting, coal) if we are willing to use it. I started the Energy and Environment Policy Center at Harvard University, in 1976, and in 1989 started the New England Center of the National Institute for Global Environmental Change (NIGEC). My organization of an energy session at the Boston meeting of the American Physical Society in 1973 reflects this interest. I was a colleague of Professor Roger Revelle who was a mentor of Senator Al Gore who popularized the issue but misquoted Roger. It was Professor Harvey Brooks, then Dean of the Division of Applied Sciences at Harvard suggested that I join with AJ Meyer in convening a seminar on "Economics of Energy". AJ invited oil experts to talk and I brought in air pollution and nuclear experts. Later in the 1980s I, together with other physicists, particularly Klaus Lackner of Columbia University noted that CARBON as it comes out of the ground. is easy to monitor; For it is at this point that the amounts are recorded for payment. Yet some politicians want to control emissions sector by sector with huge expense and inefficiency. The Lieberman-Warner Bill and the Waxman-Markey bills in the US House of Representatives are loaded with pork. The Maxwell-Markey bill was 1300 pages long.
It has been said that they are pork
barrel bills with a veneer of climate change. Some
experts, including James Hansen of NASA believe that it is
best to abandon them and start again. Regulating carbon as
it comes out of the ground with
no exceptions and returning any funds from an
auction of permits to general funds leaves less room for
pork and inefficiency. Maybe the desire to cater to
special interests is why politicians and financiers are
reluctant to control upstream. In this I was encouraged by
bill submitted to the US Senate. It was
short, only about 50 pages. Alas that bill was too
sensible, and had no pork barrel, to get anywhere
politically and it needed more scientific support than it
got. I have talked about this at the
meetings in Erice and some of these talks are on my
list of publications
which is available on line.
I am concerned with many environmental issues. In particular I am interested in risks of much greater magnitude than those of nuclear radiation. Of course tobacco smoking is now believed to be far worse but air pollution is also important. Being brought up in London, UK I was exposed to London fogs from early childhood. Two dramatic situations changed the widespread professional view that "the solution to pollution is dilution". The fog in London and all the way up the Thames to Oxford and beyond in December 1952 was followed by a dramatic increase in deaths in London hospitals.About the same time but obviously independently air pollution in Donora, Pennsylvania caused much of the town to get sick. I published with others a book "Health Effects of Fossil Fuel Burning" in 1982 which was updated in an edited volume in 1996: "Particles in Our Air: Concentrations and Health Effects" distributed by Harvard University Press. In my coauthors and myself argued that fine particles in air pollution pose a considerable hazard, (some tens of thousands deaths yearly in the USA) and there is probably a linear relationship between dose of these particles and the effect on health. Although this linear relationship was widely disputed in 1982, further work has led more and more experts to agree with this basic conclusion.
Once I started studying the effects of air pollution I naturally began to think about all chemicals in the environment. Traditionally they had only been studied at high exposures and therefore high doses. I soon found out that the public health implications were discussed using the terminology and attitudes of physicians which differed from those of a physicist which are used to discuss the effects of radiation. I have therefore spent considerable time trying to relate the two. Since it is undesirable and unethical to carry out experiments upon people, mankind has carried out experiments on animals, usually rodents, to understand which substances are carcinogens. The way in which the risk of cancer in people is derived from the risk of cancer in animals becomes of great importance and is discussed. Starting in 1979, I (Richard Wilson) and co-workers have written a series of papers on chemical carcinogens, on interspecies comparisons in particular and research is continuing on cancer at old age. It appears that above age 80 age specific cancer incidence falls for all tumor sites, vanishing between ages 100 and 105. This fall off is too sharp to be explained by a variation in sensitivity. The work is done with the help of the NIH SEER (Statistics Epidemiology and End Results) data base. Work continues on understanding issues of "over diagnoses" and consequent excessive, expensive and unnecessary and possibly counterproductive treatments.
The research into chemical
carcinogens naturally leads to a desire to understand the
carcinogens that pose the largest risks to life. He has
therefore been active in emphasizing the chronic health
effects of prolonged doses of arsenic. He was one of the
first to realize the importance of the studies by C.J.
Chen in Taiwan which were published in the USA in 1986 and
ignored by the US EPA for many years. In Inner
Mongolia in 1994 and more recently in
Bangladesh (1998 to 2013) I have emphasized the magnitude
of the public health catastrophe. I started the Arsenic
web site project at the Faculty of Arts and
Sciences, School of Public Health, and Parsons Laboratory
at MIT. This project aims to cover arsenic problems world
wide but in view of the magnitude of the
catastrophe has Bangladesh as a main focus. Indeed I have often stated that the
Bangladesh Catastrophe makes Chernobyl look like a Sunday
School picnic. In that I has never been contradicted or
questioned. As a particular project, I spent
over 10 years helping the scientists and physicians
at Dhaka Community Hospital in Dhaka to build sanitary
"dugwells" in several villages to replace the older
insanitary wells and the arsenic laden tube wells. Here
is a link to photographs from a
visit in 2004. Also I realized the
success of the River Sand Filters installed with UNICEF
funding in 1982. I emphasize the importance
of reliable and frequent measurement so that the results
may be convincing even to a politician or banker. I
started the ARSENIC FOUNDATION as a charitable
organization to which every viewer of this page is invited
to contribute. In 2014 personal
pressures led me to resign as President of the
Arsenic Foundation and also I have been unable to cope
with the bureaucracy of charitable
organizations. Nor fully upgrade the arsenic
webpage. Fortunately both functions have now been
taken over by Professor Katta Reddy, (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Distinguished University Professor at the University of
Wyoming. This foundation not only continues the
work but is now the official owner of the arsenic
This headline represents my personal view which
is strongly held and dominates my recent actions and
It is just over 100 years since the first world war started and it is instructive to consider how rapidly it started. Leaders and bureaucrats had thought they would secure peace by making binding treaties that if country A were attacked country B would come to their defense. I count 5 separate agreements or treaties. When a Serbian nationalist killed the Archduke, Austria went to war against Serbia. But Serbia had an agreement with Czarist Russia which declared war on Austria. Very rapidly Prussia (Germany) attacked Russia, Then by treaty France declared war on Prussia. Finally the “Entente Cordiale” brought England in, together with nations of the British Empire., Canada and South Africa.
During the cold
war between USSR and the west, NA TO was created to
reassure Europeans. But once the cold war was over and
the immediate threat was gone, I believe that we in
the USAshould have emphasized peaceful cooperation
with the new Russia. The NATO treaty makes it clear,
as President Obama has reminded us in 2014 that if one
member is attacked ALL will come to its defense
immediately. No need for 5 treaties as in 1914. But
the catastrophe of July/August 1914 could recur but
somewhat faster. In addition there is the sceptre of
nuclear weapons. On August 6th 1945 many scientists
realized that mankind now knew how to destroy itself.
Einstein stated the problem most simply. “Everything
has changed except our way of thinking". I believe we
must heed Einstein and change our way of thinking.
LINKK TO EINSTEIN
tried to make accommodation with NATO but he was
rebuffed. Now Russia is not only being rebuffed but is
being ignored. But who is NATO? Does NATO represent
the people? If so how can I vote to change its
directorate? It is hard to escape the conclusion that
NATO is run by the military of the member countries.
Not a very democratic system! The immediate effects
are all too clear in the eastern Ukraine. The USA
needs Russia more that the reverse. Yet there is
constant pressure from some US politicians to remove
Russia's influence in the world. A simple look at a
map of the world shows that Russia is larger than the
USA. How many American leaders take Russia seriously?
How many consider the simple fact that each of Russia
and USA has MANY more
nuclear weapons ready to go than the total of all
other countries. In this I suggest we note the
words of the famous American philosopher POGO."We have met the enemy and he is
In the late 1930s advice was given to Americans “Go west young man and make your fortune”. Indeed many did and California was rapidly populated. But it is not generally realized that a similar advice had been developing in the USSR. People were encouraged to go to the wide spaces of the east. Albeit by force in many cases. Why should that worry USA? Japan had good reason of course and that concern led to the war of 1905. We have to counter the suggestion that the present concern in the USA is based on an immoral desire to run the world. Should US should use the power of NATO? Or should it prefer instead to work with the UN. In this I am reminded of the statement in 1954 by Winston Churchill: "Jaw, jaw ,jaw is better than war, war, war."
thoughtful writers have looked at this same
problem. A distinguished anthropologist Dr
Scott Atran in particular in his 2010 book
"Talking to the Enemy" (In this case terrorists)
discusses “sacred values” – values that a person
or country may hold that seem contrary to its economic
(usually short term economic) interests. I urge
you to look carefully at his discussions with
terrorists. They resonate with
me. In the UK in May 1940, almost
the whole population held such “sacred values” which
enabled the British people to challenge the Nazi
evil. As noted in my auto biography:
"Physics is Fun", I was prepared in May 1940 at
age 14 to behave as a terrorist if we were invaded,
and later learned that school girls in SE England were
also training as terrorists. This behavior
surprised and encouraged other countries to stand op
to the evil Nazis.
6th 1945 the world learned that we could destroy
civilization even with a war with only 100 bombs.. But
in 2014 we have thousands of bombs ready to go. Yet we
still talk about Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), or
NUTS as if they were possible options for a long term
policy. Important Russian military people (e.g the
Defense Minister of the Soviet Union - Marshal Yazov)
declare that: "A nuclear war cannot be won". This was
said in his office to a group of us led by Lady Caroline
Cox, on our return from a visit Armenian-Azerbaijan border I have NEVER
heard such a simple statement from any US military
person, uniformed or civilian. Do they understand that a
nuclear war would destroy civilization? We must keep our
military men under control.
In that matter I applaud the warning given in October 20th 2014 by Secretary Kerry. We must not have another "cold war". Although in a humorous way (and humor is often a way of emphasizing a point) a Pakistani diplomat told me that he never ate as well as during that cold war. The USSR and USA competed for third world attention. He was invited to lunch with the Soviet delegation and a competing dinner with the US delegation!
Once we recognize Russia in this way we can work together on subsidiary world problems. What is a country and does it have a right to exist? More important, what are its duties toward the rest other world? How does one work together to reduce the risk of nuclear war? Of epidemics becoming pandemics? (as the 1919 flu?)
Epidemics and Pandemics
middle ages 1/3 of the population of Europe vanished (the
Black Death) and probably 1/3 of the world population
vanished also. New diseases could indeed
destroy us. The flu epidemic of 1919 killed
more people than the world war immediately preceding
it. But not until the end of WWII has the development
been studied, This has led people to emphasize that we
CAN prevent an epidemic becoming a pandemic, This has
been particularly emphasized by meetings of the World
Federation of Scientists in Erice, Sicily by Dr Garwin and
myself. The steps are not difficult but they must be
taken by at least 80% of the affected population and some
way MUST be found to include people relying on "herd
immunity". This was one of the items that I talked
about at a joint meeting with the Pontifical Academy of
Sciences in the Vatican (my published paper).
LINK DIRECTLY TO VATICAN
But official organizations (including, alas
the Harvard University School of Public Health) we have been
slow to take such preventive action (among other things who
is to pay?) but instead of early reaction America
prefers to react after the situation is serious. That
most concerned in August 2014 with the outbreak of the Ebola
virus in west Africa. Warnings were given by
people studying emerging viruses (e.g Nicholas Mellor) as
early as January 2004 but were ignored. We must
admit that the epidemic became a pandemic. WHO, US
Center for Disease Control, and even Doctors without Borders
share and should admit the blame. This pandemic is
presently out of control. Should the world respond as
we did 3,000 years ago when we sent lepers out into the
desert with no human contact? (although food was
provided for them) or with yellow Fever 200 years ago when
victims were sent to an off shore island? The
world must act to stop the pandemic in Liberia, Ghana and
Sierra Leone and prevent one in US and European
nations. Should these countries be quarantined with
food and supplied dropped by helicopter without human
interaction? In this I recommend one of the most
sensible voices - of Dr Howard Markel, a pediatrician and
author at the University of Michigan. I recommend in
particular a webpage
My interest in Iraq and Iran started
when I was 10 years old. We had to read, in
ancient Greek, the report of a mercenary turned adventure
story teller Xenophon “the retreat to the sea”. There
was a conflict between the MEDES (Iraqis) and the PERSIANS
(Iranians) Xenophon led about 20,000 Greek
Mercenaries fighting for the Medes again Cyrus - ruler of
Persia. Their armament was swords and javelins.
They lost and their communication with Greece was cut off so
he headed north across Asia Minor, “living off the land” to
a Greek town on the southern shore of the Black
Sea. Xenophon described the joy of the soldiers
as they saw the sea at last. “Thalassa” (the sea) they
cried. When after crossing Canada by car
in 1951 I saw the sea I immediately cried out “Thalassa”!
We all know of the battle of Marathon in Thrace as Cyrus the Persian was defeated in a narrow pass and a soldier ran to Athens to bring the news of an invading army. The magnificent exploit is celebrated the world over.
I became aware of Iran when Mossadegh was elected by the people of Iran as prime minister. At the time Herbert Morrison was Foreign Minister of UK in the labour government of Clement Attlee. Herbert Morrison was a very able Trades Union Leader but he was out of his depth. Iran took over the Anglo-Iranian Oil company (later BP) and claimed the oil was Iranian with no compensation for the take over. Although Attlee had stated there would be no force, the Conservative government of Winston Churchill took over. Churchill had two problems. When he was First Lord of the Admiralty in (I believe 1912) he arranged for the British government to buy the Anglo-Iranian oil company to guarantee oil supplies to fuel the naval fleet instead of coal. He was obviously interested when the Iranian government wanted to ignore UK who was the owner. Secondly he was always an advocate for the "British Empire". In 1945 for example he would not have given India its independence. This was, I believe a factor helping to turn him out of office in 1945. England, now led by Churchill, and helped by the US (probably the CIA) organized a coup which overthrew the government replacing the Shah with a person more pliable to oil interests. It has been a rocky road since. However a speech by the present Prime Minister Mr Rouhani in the UN in September 27th 2014 makes very good sense. He argues that the middle east has been destabilized by actions of the USA and allies who should apologize to the peoples concerned. On behalf of my British friends who supported Herbert Morrison or more particularly the maniacal actions of the EMPIRE that Winston Churchill supported I apologize. I wish bureaucrats and ministers would do likewise.
My “recent” fascination with Iraq was fed by the early days of my visiting the middle east - and in particular Kuwait. I was invited to visit Kuwait about 1975 by the Deputy Director (a Syrian) of the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) and met the director Adnan Shihab-Eldin who was and is probably the best scientist south of the line between Beirut and Baghdad. While there I met Usameh Jamali, born in Lebanon but flown to Baghdad as a baby and who, while at Tufts University in the early 1970s had audited the seminar course on Economics of Energy taught by Dr AJ Meyer and myself. He introduced me to several ex-patriate Iraqis, who preferred not to live in Iraq under the domination of Saddam Hussein. In particular he explained the situation of his father (Fadhel Jamali) who was then a Professor at the University of Tunis. He also introduced me to his colleagues at OAPEC (organization for Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) related to but NOT the same as OPEC (organization of Petroleum Exporting countries) which included non Arab countries such as Iran, and Nigeria.
I had already met Abdlatif Al-Hamad when in 1975. AJ Meyer had invited him to talk to our
seminar. Abdullatif was the third
director of Arab Foundation for Social and Economic
Development which had been set up by the Arab League in
My involvements with other countries in the world
I therefore have made many friends in
Kuwait over the years. I noted that most of them could
have got jobs in any major US University but preferred to
stay and help bring their countries into the 20th
century. I admired them all, and still admire most of
them for their dedication. As described
below under Iraq, Iran, and Russia, this view was extended
into these countries also. I have not hesitated
to act when I believe that I have something to
contribute. But it is a matter of extraordinary
sadness that my efforts in the former USSR,
Iraq, Pakistan, Armenia and the Holy Land have not
been as helpful as I had hoped.
My hopes for peace between the USSR and
its post Gorbachev fragments, from my first meeting in
Russia and Ukraine led to reduced confrontation from 25,000
active bombs to 3,000 or so but confrontation still
exists. (100 is already too many) That
period, from 1965 on was utterly crazy and
mankind is lucky to have survived it.
(1) My visit to Kuwait showed me an important role
for Kuwait in the world but since 1991 the Kuwaitis
have not quite showed the leadership for which I had
(2) My role in Iraq did not prevent the 2nd Gulf war. The second Gulf war was a mistake and while admitting the mistake the USA has not fully admitted its cause and seems likely to repeat it.
(3) My friendship with Jewish refugees had led me to hope that a state of Israel would have the generosity, hope and sense of justice that Jews had been denied for 2 millenia. But I had hoped for too much as noted below. On the one hand I had hoped that the Jewish people having suffered persecution for over 2 millenia would not inflict suffering on others. Although Palestinians always recognized Jews as individuals, the were unwilling to recognize Israel as a zionist state with special privileges and Americans in particular interpreted this a a refusal to recognize Israel as a state. But in 2001 this changed. In particular Israel and the USA did not respond to the initiative of Prince, now King, Abdullah in an unprecedented unanimous vote of the Arab League. Does not this suggest that, whatever the past situation, that Palestine has no "partner in peace".
(4) My visits to Indians and Pakistanis in the 1970s had led me to hope that they would find a peaceful solution to their differences. I was reliably informed that when President Ayub Khan of Pakistan first met with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, a historic first, discussion of control of nuclear weapons was top of the agenda. Alas it led nowhere. Suspicion remains and has led Pakistan to react in Afghanistan in unfortunate ways.
(5) One Persian acquaintance at school (about 1938-1939) had encouraged me to a positive view of Iranian history, and Iran's role in US supplies to USSR in 1942-3 by the "back door" led me to hope that Iran would become a helpful country in the world. But I was never seriously involved.
(6) If we are worried about the Taliban should we not we should make common cause with others who for good reason hates the Taliban more that we do. Iran is just do we insist on following George W Bush (Dubya) who called Iran as being part of an "axis of evil". Is that a phrase suggesting a cooperation and hopefully change? Maybe in the discussions about Iran's ability to separate uranium isotopes and the obvious desire to prevent them using this ability to make atomic bombs this could be quietly brought into the picture.
They are not all
(6) One of my big involvements was with ARSENIC as a
major health threat not only to the whole world but
particularly to Bangladesh. Fortunately, as noted
below this will continue as Professor Katta Reddy will take
over my role and expand it in whatever way he
chooses. I regard this as a success.
I argue that scientists MUST get involved in public policy and not stay in an ivory tower. They, especially physicists, think very fundamentally about problems and in public policy about world problems. I argue that any public policy "expert" who forgets this is almost by definition not an "expert". This is especially true of the Harvard University physics department. I was hired as an assistant professor at Harvard by Professor Kenneth Bainbridge (department chairman) and was encouraged to come by Professor Norman Ramsey. It should be remembered that Bainbridge was in charge of the Alamagordo test in July 1945 and Ramsey was director of the Atomic Energy Laboratory in Tinian to which were delivered pieces of metal which were assembled into devices which were loaded on the airplane and dropped on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki. The name of the airplane "Enola Gay" is better known publicly. The military ensures that its pilots were remembered and honored. Likewise we should remember Ramsey and his team. Both Bainbridge and Ramsey were eager that this never be repeated. Many discussions of these issues took place in the physics department. Strangely many supposed "policy experts" did not realize this experience which led to expertize.
This is particularly vital
in any discussion of events involving nuclear weapons, and
or lead to pandemics, which might destroy
civilization. Alas we are only just beginning to
face this. My own activities have led me to
write a number of letters to government and
is a selection.
It is particularly
important in the USA, the only country almost exclusively
run by lawyers. Almost all of Congress and now a
president are lawyers. There are only two physical
scientists in Congress and one (Rush Holt) is retiring at
the end of the year. Fortunately Bill Foster (with a PhD in
physics from Harvard) was reelected in spite of strong
Although it was obvious in 1945 that
a nuclear bomb could be used by a terrorist organization
(usually thought to be a state actor) I was not
directly involved until 1970 when I had become involved with
energy and environment issues, but I remain deeply concerned
that we do not learn from small actions.
In 1970 we did not talk about
terrorism. Locally in USA it was sabotage by a person
deciding to avenge himself on his employer. But
that has changed. It is now all too clear that
when there is a confrontation that has lasted 50 years or so
there is potential for international terrorism.
These confrontations include Ireland, particularly Northern
Ireland since 1970; Ceylon/Sri-Lanka where the Tamil
tribe has disagreed with the Sri-Lankan or Indian
government; the relics of the Ottoman empire where
Serbia and Bulgaria have disagreed; The relics of the
Austrian Hungarian empire where Serbians and Austrians have
been at odds; the Caucusus where Armenians and Azeris
have quarelled - with the Kurds acting as a third
(interested ) party complicating the question and of
of course the eastern Mediterranean (Israel/Palestine) where
there have been disputes for millenia. In
9/11/2001 the attack on the twin towers led Americans to
change their views. President Bush promised to "get
the guys who did this". But they had died in these
suicide attacks. In the next couple of years I gave a
dozen or so talks entitling them "Complications".
I have since accepted the arguments by Scott Atran (add link to his 2010 book)that the danger is the
"sacred values" that persuade extremists to pursue actions
contrary to their economic interest. I also accept
Dick Garwin's important distinction between "ordinary"
weapons, ordinary explosives, knives, etc
that cannot be contained and weapons of mass destruction,
Nuclear nerve gases etc. (See the next paragraph)
In September 2014 we consider the
threat posed by the organization ISIS. The USA is
falling into a trap. It is trying to get international
support for military action against ISIS. But the trap
into which many people would have us fall, is to for the USA
to lead and coordinate these international activities.
But as a coordinator we would inevitably be
called anti-Islam. The USA MUST NOT let that happen
or the USA will inevitably become a target for extreme
Muslim terrorists (often called jihadists). This view
seems to be shared by the distinguished economist Jeffery
My hopes in 1945 for a generous and forgiving Israel.
noted in my memoirs I was well aware of the oppression of
the Jewish people when I was a boy. When
our school was evaluated to Crowthorne, during the war, and particularly between 1940-1943, I
met many Jewish refugees from Germany. The
holocaust was underway. My best friend
at the time, Klaus Roth, was a refugee from Breslau in East
Germany, now Wroclaw in Poland. At
school we read the merchant of Venice, and I had sympathy
with the money lender who made what is now called an absurd
loan (guaranteed by a pound of flesh) than the merchant who
came off scot free. I of course agree with the standard view
that Portia represented mercy. I
talked a lot with these refugees. My
memory is that only one out of about 30 had any desire to be
part of a Jewish state; the
others wanted to be accepted as British subjects equal to
all others. I was strongly socialist in my leanings
and supported the immediate postwar government of Clement
Attlee. Ernest Bevin, a former trade’s union leader
and strong anti communist, became Foreign Minister. To him fell the task of considering the aim of many Jews
to form a Jewish state. The League of
Nations mandate of Palestine came to an
end in 1948 and Bevin was urging that Britain was prepared
to hand over control to the people living there in a unitary
state. That seemed sensible to
But I had little doubt that Jews in that state would have
dominated their government more than
their proportion in the population would suggest.
I noted that Jews over the centuries were always keen on education. More so than gentiles.
Jews were not allowed to own land so they developed "portable" skills, which had become very important to everyone after the industrial revolution.
The Jewish people had suffered greatly during the centuries and, as a Unitarian, I did not believe in the collective guilt for their behavior toward Jesus of Nazareth and did not believe Jewish people would believe in the collective guilt of Palestinians
I believed that the Jewish people EVERYWHERE would not, and by their traditions could not wreak vengeance on the Palestinians for the anti-semitic behavior of others: Russians, Turks and of course Nazis. This seemed impossible to me. Why did not the Israeli government lead its people into the ways of forgiveness?
over the years I have been proven wrong by
events. My first disillusionment was the murder
of the UN representative Count Bernadotte. This
is now admitted by Israel but I unequivocally reject their
justification and the leader of the murderous group, Shamir,
was twice elected prime minister of Israel.
Next came the hatred by so many Jews of Ernest Bevin. Bevin was a plain-spoken man but not anti-semitic - though he became anti-zionist. (Zionism is here defined as someone following the suggestions of Theodore Herzl including the last page).
When in 1947 President Truman was pressing Britain to accept all displaced persons to Palestine after the war Bevin told a labour party meeting that America would not admit Jews who applied to the USA because they did not want too many in New York - a statement that was almost certainly correct but infuriated many. This seems strange today but is noted in detail by the Iraqi foreign Minister Fadhel Jamali. Truman had commented that in the next election more Jews would vote for him than arabs. Such statements were (later) made to me by many US Jews including one who had walked in 1944-1945 from Latvia to a refugee camp in France and later joined the staff of the Harvard physics department. For his words Bevin was blamed particularly by Zionists. But Britain depended on US economic support after the war and had to yield to US pressure. on Palestine policy.
government publicly declared in February 1947 that the
British Mandate in Palestine had become "unworkable".
Bevin duly negotiated the Portsmouth Treaty on 15th
January 1948 which according to the then Iraqi foreign
minister Fadhel Jamali was soon ignored by the Israeli
On December 4th 1948, A prominent group of American Jews intellectuals wrote to the NY-Times warning the American people about the behavior of the "Freedom Party" started by Begin. (http://physics.harvard.edu/~wilson/HUMANRIGHTS/Einstein Letter Warning Of Zionist Facism In Israel.html). I was only 22 years old and still in the UK. But I found a copy of the article and read it.
I was very disappointed in 1969 that Israel did not accept UN resolution 242 This had given them 80% of the historical land of Palestine from the sea to the Jordan river– much more than the 50% recommended by the UN in 1947. I sent to the Israeli leaders and to every Israeli leader since then that I saw 4 possibilities.
I note that the 1973 war began after
Egypt had asked UN troops to leave its territory.
The war was started by Israel. In
1973 the US ship LIBERTY was attacked and almost
sunk while in international waters. I
did not, in 1973 believe that the attack was deliberate - merely
that the Israel air force was trigger happy. But the
story of the LIBERTY released by the US some 25 years
later (link) shows otherwise. I was deeply
disappointed. in early 1970 Lebanon had allowed
Palestinian refugees to occupy two refugee camps - Sabra
and Shatila - in Beirut. In
had ordered Israeli troops to surround the camp – an area
no larger than Harvard Yard, while phalangists (who
claimed to be Christian!) rampaged and slaughtered the
people. This is described in a small book (from
Beirut to Jerusalem by Chinese surgeon Dr Swee Chai Ang. (not to be confused
with Thomas Friedman's book of the same name) She
describes the tragedy of the Palestinians and reported
on it in Jerusalem. Begin was reprimanded
by the Israeli Knesset. Yet the world took little
notice. I had been in Beirut about 6
months earlier and walked through the Sabra camp and
realized it was no larger than Harvard yard. It had
been as crowded as Harvard yard on commencement! The
massacre took place during Rosh Hasannah and just before
Yom Kippur (the day of Atonement). As I told
everyone who would listen: "Both Jews and Christians
have a lot to atone for".
But in all of this there was no clear Palestinian acceptance of Israel. Technically, a hawkish Israeli leader could say “we have no partner in peace”. But all this changed when in an unprecedented unanimous vote in the Arab League by on a motion by prince (now King Abdullah) of Saudi Arabia expressed a willingness to make peace. unanimous vote of the Arab League. Why does not the world respond: "the Palestinians have no partner in peace"? The US government allows itself to ignore the arab resolution and thereby renders itself liable to terror attacks.
Boycotts are a procedure whereby a group can firmly force their opinion on an authority which is not listening . Again boycotts historically have been local and the extent to which they can and should be used in international situations is hotly debated. I have participated in one major Boycott - of USSR scientists when Orlov and Sharansky were sentenced - and asked to Boycott in others. But I have been misquoted. and that led to my discussing boycotts in some detail.
In many of the issues which arise throughout the world I (Richard Wilson) have been asked by one party or another, to sign petitions, support divestitures, participate in boycotts or otherwise join in actions of others. Whether I have signed, or declined to sign, I have often been misquoted. A more detailed discussion of boycotts etc. is therefore appropriate.
I note that for a boycott to be ethical and also to
(1) the person or organization boycotting must lose something as he/she boycotts. Boycotting USSR in the late 1970s and early 1980s worked. Soviet scientists spoke out in the Soviet Academy of Scientists.
(2) The person or organization being boycotted must have some influence on the his peers and persuade them that being boycotted is to be avoided.
(3) In general any boycott is imposed from outside, but interestingly the cries to boycott Israel come from inside. 10 years ago there were three Israeli academics ASKING TO BE BOYCOTTED. One, Avnery has written extensively about the problem and two others were found jobs outside Israel. In July 2014 there were 80 academics in Israeli Universities demanding that the Israeli government change its policy in a similar way to those demanding a boycott. http://physics.harvard.edu/wilson/Israeli_academics_July_2014.docx). Why does not the US government and people pay attention to this unprecedented request to be boycotted?.
(4) We also note that the rectors of about 128 Turkish Universities and colleges have called (in August 2014)
for similar actions. This is important because Turkey was an important trading partner of Israel.
Right to Exist
This phrase is now being used in a
particular way. Again it can be used locally,
(do I have a right to exist?) or by groups and
nations. It might seem that my right to
exist is obvious yet even now it is contested by those
who ask for the death penalty for
murderers. But when it is extended to groups
and nations complications multiply.
When does a nation have
aright to exist? and under what conditions?
This has been disputed for millenia. Clearly the
rights and duties must be defined. Presumably
both France and Germany have a right to exist.
But what are their boundaries? After John
Churchill (Duke of Marlborough) won the battle of
Blenheim, France's ambitions to exercize
control over the area declined. This was
accelerated in 1870 when Germany in the Franco Prussian
war took over Alsace and Lorraine. This
changed again after world war I. Does France
have a "right to exist"?
We now tend to insist
that the right of a state to exist not only is dependent
on well defined boundaries, which rarely exist but
is very dependent on a detailed concern for Human
Rights of ALL persons living within these boundaries.
These rights are enshrined in many UN resolutions
formally agreed by all UN countries. But it
is evident that not one country in the world (no even the
Vatican) has a perfect record in this respect.
Both I and my wife call upon the USA to continually
examine our actions to see whether they correspond to the
world view on human rights. I note here two
reports by former US diplomats, Mr
Dean and Mr
Speirs about this.
Does the right to
exist imply a right to defend oneself?
Again this is simpler for an
individual than for a nation. Does an
individual have the right to exist? The death
penalty for individual miscreants was normal until the
last 50 years or so. But the right for a nation
brigs complications. My own experience can
illuminate this. I first heard a similar phrase by
Franz Goebbels, Adolf Hitler's propoganda minister
when I was in my teens. At school we would
parody this. One boy would approach another with
raised fists: "I am just defending myself" .
This happened several times in my memory WITH
MY FRIENDS. In retrospect I note that this
parody was largely by refugees from Nazi Germany - a
correlation whose significance was not immediately obvious
to me. Clearly this right to exist is limited, and if
misused it leads to extremists taking over.