Photo taken in Minsk in 1991 by the Chairman of
                    the Supreme Soviet using my camera

click here for larger picture and story 




General Biographical Information

     I (Richard Wilson) was born in London, England 88 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) Andree and Richard are proud of all our six children. We note that Elaine wrote a strong letter to the New York Times (published January 9th) supporting and praising her brother who is working hard for health services for transgender people. We were all delighted when in his 2015 "State of The Union Message" Obama mentioned with support, transgender people.

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.  There is also acopy available on the web

    My recent interests include:
(a) understanding and advertising the uses of charged particles in radiotherapy and my history of the Harvard cyclotrons shows how much of this began.
(b)  Studying cancer at old age;
(c)  the problem of chronic arsenic exposure:
(d)  experiments on parity violation in electron proton scattering at CEBAF. 
(e)   I also has a major interest in analyzing and trying to understand, risks; how to reduce them, how important individual risks may be. Ten times as many people were killed on the roads in the  USA  last year as were killed on September 11th 2001. 

(f) I want to address the fact that the number of nuclear weapons owned by major powers is still large. As the song writer Michael Flanders wrote 50 years ago, every man of every nation has his portion: "20 tons of TNT" (File is now in my files in docx which dream weaver cannot read but must be changed to PDF to link)

    I start with this website with my early work and how it developed
.      It will be seen that although this website is approximately chronological, there are many interactions forward, backward and sideways.   Although, for example, I state my concerns that I felt as a teenager,   I write them with an understanding of these concerns I have developed much more recently.  Since 1972 I have been increasingly involved with crucial matters of public concern where the approach of a physicist can be very helpful.   This can, and has, led me in conflict with several established views of the US Government,  both of Congress and executive branch.  I believe this makes my views especially important although fighting the establishment makes it harder for people to listen to me. This needs especial concern.

Elementary Particle Physics

    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

Nucleon-nucleon interactions

    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 University Press.

Lepton-nucleon scattering and nucleon form factors

    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 Boris.

    More details are available in my 939 published papers of which about half are on these subjects.

Radiation and its Uses

    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.

Risk Analysis

    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. The first articles were comparing risks of electricity production for a technical audience.   But in 1979  the first document for the public was an article "The 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 do.

    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. 

Energy and the Environment

    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 the Cantwell-Collins 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.

    Two items in the July 2014  give some encouragement.   Firstly my namesake Professor David Gordon Wilson, engineer from MIT, was on public TV and commented that he had proposed this in 1975  (indeed I had strongly supported him at that time)   and secondly, according to a NY Times oped by Boyce, US Representative Chris van Hollen proposed to introduce this to help resolve the House-Senate impasse when the US Congress returned in September.   I am even more encouraged by the recent book (MIT Press),  "Double Dividend" by the economist Professor Dale Jorgensen and collaborators.

 Dale was interviewed for Harvard Magazine
for the September-October 2014 issue.  In this book he emphasizes that taxing carbon and repaying the tax to general revenue or directly to the people, is economically the right thing to do.  This is what Lackner and I had proposed.   These thoughts were formally brought to the attention of Lord Stern who was and is the architect of the English (and subsequently European proposals) but so far has been ignored by them.

  Risks Of Air Pollution

      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 than nuclear radiation 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.

Chemical Carcinogens

    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, ( Distinguished University Professor at the University of Wyoming. This foundation not only continues the work but is now the official owner of the arsenic website. I feel that my enthusiasm has been justified by an article by Dhaka Community Hospital on patient care.

    THE USA cannot and must not try to run the world alone

This headline represents my personal view which is strongly held and dominates my recent actions and writings.

       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, NATO was created to reassure Europeans. But once the cold war was over and the immediate threat was gone, I believe that we in the USA should 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. (find and link to Einstein)

       Gorbechev 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 us".


       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 in a meeting in the White House: "Jaw, jaw ,jaw is better than war, war, war." (Only an oral statement is available)

       Other 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 14 year old school girls in SE England were also training as terrorists.  They made and tested Molotov cocktails. This behavior surprised and encouraged other countries to stand up to the evil Nazis. 

    In August 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

       In the 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). (I hope to find a direct link to the 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 must change.  


    I am 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 of his.


    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 against 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 (I believe in 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 the 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. Alas apologies are rare in politics although even more important than in ordinary life.

     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 1967/8,

                                                                               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 hoped.
(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 hate the Taliban more that we do.  Iran leaders have clearly said as much. Why 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 failures

(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 newspapers.   Here 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 opposition. I realize that public policy experts tend to assume that the SCIENCE is settled and can be simply described. This is a very dangerous simplifaction. As the discussion of Global Climate Change tells us that the Public Policy objectives and the Science are intextricably linked.The complete ignoring by Lord Stern of the scientists in Erice, Sicily is a bad example of this.


    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, such as nuclear bombs, 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 Sachs.

    My hopes in 1945 for a generous and forgiving  Israel.

A     As 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 me. 

 B    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?

A       Alas,   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.  

The Attlee 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 government
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.   ( 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.

  1. giving citizenship with equal rights to all people within the territory claimed
  2. Allowing at once an independent Palestinian State within the territory within the land left by UN resolution 242
  3. Forcible removal of all Palestinians from all territory that Israel claimed and claims.
  4. Acceptance of the status quo.   I argued and still argue that (4) is the worst of all solutions.
    The status quo is even worse than I had thought in 1967.   It has become more and more clear that following this route hands control to the extreme groups on both sides, with awful conclusions for the future.   

    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 1982 Begin 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 a Chinese pediatric 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 LeagueWhy 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 situ
ations 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 work:
(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.
   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.


    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 brings 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.  

    My wife, Andree and I,  argue that the actions of the Israeli government were particularly bad under Mr Sharon,  and now worse under Mr Netanyahu are clearly inappropriate.  What are the boundaries of the state of Israel?   We have not a clear statement from the government of Israel itself  and we have heard none from anyone such as (AIPAC) claiming that Israel can choose its boundaries independent of the rest of the world.  Are they the boundaries mentioned in the British White Paper of 1936?  The boundaries of the 1949 armistice (the Green line)? Those discussed by Theodore Herzl in his well publicized statement in the 1890s?  Or the boundaries he proposed in later writings  (from the canal to the Euphrates?  Whichever they are, all persons within these boundaries clearly do NOT have equal rights either in Israeli law or  world opinion (The best reference here, bad though it is, is the General Assembly of the UN).   Americans for Peace now have an interactive map of settlements in the west bank.

    Both my wife Andree and I object to the view that was held by Christians until recently that there is collective guilt of Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.   It has led to many racist actions in the past.   But we argue that Israel should not consider that there is a collective guilt of Palestinians and certainly Israel should not tolerate collective punishment.    
Yet it does.     A call for divestiture from over 200 Jewish people was made in May 2014.

  In July and August 2014 there has been especial concern:  for example the following statement :

"The signatories to this statement, all academics at Israeli universities, wish it to be known that they utterly deplore the aggressive military strategy being deployed by the Israeli government. The slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people is placing yet more barriers of blood in the way of the negotiated agreement which is the only alternative to the occupation and endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel must agree to an immediate cease-fire, and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement.  "

This was signed by 70+ Israeli academics presently in Universities in Israel.

We therefore strongly support these statements.                                                                        

    Distinguishing terror actions with small and large consequences

   After the terrible events of 11th September the American public became aware of these problems.   But they have demanded short term solutions which may have aggravated longer term issues.   It is a clear situation where  the role of a scientist is important.   As in accident analyses, where an event  tree is important, one should consider the events which can lead to an undesirable outcome.   As in accident situations we should stop the terrorist as early as possible in the chain of events.    It follows that it is unwise to separate discussion of  the situation which causes a terrorist to exist and the  target of his terror threat.    I discussed this in many fora since 9/11 and participated in some discussions that have taken place in Erice  and are among my numbered published reports. I have become more and more concerned that the "media" TV and newspapers fail to explain the problem to the public but aggravate it for their own reasons.

    One must also distinguish effects where there can be a huge consequence (such as nuclear war or a huge pandemic) from actions where a few people only are affected such as the Boston Marathon bombing of 2011.   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 either from history or from small actions.

Bombs and Pandemics

    Since August 1945 it has been clear to me that mankind can destroy itself with nuclear weapons. In May 1940 I saw my first air raid and a bomb with 50 pounds of TNT destroyed a house (and its owner). The Hiroshima bomb had the explosive power of about 17,000 tons of TNT. Andrei Sakharov’s Nuovo Zembla test (called by the USSR the TSAR BOMBA) had the explosive power of 50 million tons of TNT equivalent TWO BILLION TIMES AS BIG. It has since been clear that this is far bigger than any other accident we normally consider. Mankind now knows how to destroy itself.  Einstein stated the problem clearly.   "Everything has changed except our way of thinking". I urge everyone reading this website (blog) to consider this simple fact and remember it in all public policy decisions. In the "cold war" between the USSR and the USA an arms race took place and tens of thousands of nuclear bombs were made on each side. This was indeed madness and "justified" by Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Hopefully neither side dare use nuclear weapons; how many are necessary to scare the other side? That depends on the level of understanding of the "other side". With ordinary weapons there is a theorem by Lanchester in 1914  that the side with the most weapons at the right place and time wins.  My favorite example is the tank battle in the "western desert" just south of Tobruk in Libya in summer 1941. There were about 300 tanks on each side and at the end only 3 tanks were moving. The three were British so the British "won".   (An older one is of course the battle of  Blenheim some hundreds of years ago)

    Now imagine a battle with 300 nuclear bombs on each side, each with the address of a major town. At the end of the battle 3 bombs were remaining, did the owner of the three "win"?  No. He lost heavily. So did everyone including non-participants. Civilization as we know it would come to an end. This was stated to a group of us, in his office by Marshal Yazov of the USSR on May 29th 1981 about 10 am. This group, led by the Deputy Speaker of the UK House of Lords,  Baroness Cox (Caroline) had been to a meeting about Chernobyl, and had just returned from facing down Azeri militia on the border.   "Chernobyl taught those of us who did not know that a nuclear war could not be won. If a device not intended to explode (Chernobyl reactor) caused that much mess a nuclear war would destroy the planet".    I have heard no pentagon leader, civilian or military make such a clear statement.     I wish that every military man would state the problem as clearly as Marshal Yazov and think every day about its logical consequences.          

    It follows that the first side to reduce the (undesirable) number of nuclear bombs wins and saves money.  It is generally agreed that having weapons plutonium for tens of thousands of weapons is excessive.  But it is not yet agreed that reducing to 100 or so is a clear financial advantage for the "side"  that does the eduction whether or not is is balanced by the other side. 

The false hope of an ABM system

    The idea came up in the 1960s that it was possible to build an Anti-Ballistic Missile system to prevent a nuclear attack. There is general (alas not unanimous) scientific agreement that this will not work. I note that other scientists more distinguished than I (Bethe, Garwin, Panofsky) have been arguingfor over 40 years that an ABM system will not work..     All three gave such testimony in the US Congress in the late 1960s  The world set up an Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in 1972 to stop this escalation of the arms race.

    The ABM treaty was abrogated in the 2002 by the USA.   (Pief) Panofsky (my wife's brother-in-law)  continued to raise the issue and his important oped piece in the San Francisco , "Missiles No Defense" was published two days after he died. ( The losers are the American people who were persuaded that there is a technical solution to a political problem that demands the best diplomacy we can imagine.

    I have written and talked about this several times at the Erice meetings of the World Federation of Scientists. (Bush-Putin_disagreement This is clearly another area where the inextricable linkage between public policy and science is ignored at our peril.

    I note that other scientists more distinguished than I (Bethe, Garwin, Panofsky) have been arguing that an ABM system will not work for over 40 years that an ABM syste.  I was a strong supporter of the Eisenhower "Atoms for Peace" initiative, and its partial implementation in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,  but left details up to the scientists named above (Bethe, Garwin, Panofsky) and others such as Professor Bernard Feld of MIT who went to the Pugwash meetings,  I felt after 1975 or so that there was a major gap which I could help to fill.   Discussions on nuclear weapons took place between those states which had them.  USA, USSR, China, France UK.   I was more interested in those countries which did not have them but had the capability to make them in a short time but had declined to do so.   Can we encourage them not to make them and lead the world by example?    I started to visit India, China and then Middle Eastern countries.    I found to my sorrow that many leaders in Pakistan or Arab countries did not even understand the questions and issues.  The urgency, magnitude and difficulty of my self imposed, task increased after President George W Bush (Dubya) abrogated the ABM treaty.

     I strongly argued these positions in the seminars on prevention of Nuclear War in Erice in the 1980s with Dr Evgeny Velikhov (science advisor to Secretary Gorbachev)  and argued strongly with Dr Edward Teller who took a different position. 

Nuclear Electric Power

I was not very active in nuclear electric power till about 1970 since then I have spent a great deal of time explaining it to the public and discussing it. I summarize the recent work on a special webpage nuclear_power_support.html

Understanding USSR 

    I have spent considerable time and effort trying to understand the USSR and its peoples.   I note that our family, like much of the western world  in 1934 was thinking about the "RED MENACE" (and a similar problem the "YELLOW PERIL".     In 1938 our history teacher asked what we wished to be and I responded that I wanted to join the British diplomatic service and travel.  In 1948 I read Fitzroy Maclean's book EASTERN APPROACHES (printed in US as "eastward to Adventure) and was enthralled.    In 1957 an opportunity cam,e.   I was at the International Conference on High Energy physics in Geneva in July 1957 and at the same time Hans Bethe (for the USA) and Igor Tamm (for the USSR)  were in Geneva as science advisors to the politicians negotiating the limited test ban treaty.   A small group of us (Hillman, Panofsky, Hofstadter, Tamm and myself) climbed a small mountain near Lausanne.  (A photograph of us is in my autobiography "Physics is Fun".  I was particularly interested in Tamm's description of his recent visit to China.   I suspected then,  and still believe , that he went to tell the Chinese that the USSR would NOT help them build an atomic bomb.  on that climb he alsomentioned his student Andrei Dmitreyvich Sakharov,   who Tamm said "he is brighter than I am".   In 1958 I made my first visit to the USSR at the High Energy Physics conference in Kiev, Ukraine.   Many visits have followed.                                                         

Russian radiation issues

    Just as at Harvard where Professors Kenneth Bainbridge and Norman Ramsey encouraged, almost insisted, that young physicists understand effects of radiation on health I wanted to understand the studies in Russia.   For these and other reasons I was asked (by the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus) to help found the International Sakharov College of Radioecology, in Minsk, Belarus and be the Chairman of its' International Advisory Committee (which position he held until 2001). This has now become the (International Sakharov Environmental University) on the tenth anniversary of the opening (in May 2002) of this university, Dr. Frantisek Janouch, from the Czech Republic and Sweden, gave an admonition to students (in Russian and in English) to think carefully whether they deserved to use the Sakharov name. At the ninth anniversary (Sakharov's 80th birthday), I told the students my memories about Sakharov. I believe in putting my actions where my mouth is and followed closely the Russian and Ukrainian radiation accidents at Chernobyl in the Ukraine, and the accidents at the Techa River and the Mayak production complex in the Ural Mountains. This interest also led me to become editor of the English Translation of the Russian Journal Risk which is published by the Russian Medical Research Laboratory in Obninsk and is mainly about effects of Chernobyl. In 1987 I visited Chernobyl with a Chicago TV crew and the resulting film (Back to Chernobyl) was on public television in late 1988. I was among the first in the USA to emphasize the importance of the Russian radiation accidents in the 1950 - 60 period. In that period, for example, 2 million Curies of radioactive material were dumped into the upper reaches of the Techa River. The effects have been studied for 40 years by a dedicated group of physicians and scientists in the Urals Center for Radiation Medicine (URCRM) in Chelyabinsk. See also public comment on EPA proposals to regulate DOE facilities, and tighten standards for uranium in drinking water. Starting in the late 1990s I was the spokesman for a group "Scientists for Secure Waste Storage" (SSWF) which supported the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians who would like to store nuclear waste (temporarily) on their reservation. Although after 7 years the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was ready to grant a license, the politicians in Utah, both the Governor and the Senators, have vowed to oppose it. They persuaded the US Bureau of Land Management to deny use of land to transfer casks from rail to road and to deny the right to make a long term agreement. SSWF sent in a briesupporting the Goshutes, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to deny the right to make a long term agreement. The activity is in limbo for the last 8 years and it is unclear whether anyone can resurrect it. More detail on some radiation issues is available in a separate page on this site.

Managing a nuclear accident

(and by extension other accidents)

    Those who favor new energy technologies argue that even if they are too expensive now, there will be a "learning curve" and they will become cheaper. Yet these same people object when I ask for a real study of the "forgetting curve" displayed by commercial nuclear power plant implementation. Nuclear power was cheap - cheaper than coal - in 1971. This statement is based upon actual bills by the reactor operator to the distributor of electricity - the busbar cost. WHY IS IT NOW SO MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE? (Both capital cost and operating cost) The cost cannot be due to safety improvements. The main safety improvement is careful analysis according to Rasmussen's procedure in his landmark report in 1975 (Reactor Safety Study), and analysis is cheap. A large part is intransigent opposition by a segment of the population which has persuaded the politicians at every stage.    Why do we let these intransigent members of the population control the discussion?  It is vital to realize the distinction between Prompt deaths (Acute Radiation Sickness occurring within days) and delayed effects such as cancer.  Prompt evacuation is only necessary to ensure that no one gets acute radiation sickness.  

Even the most exposed worker at Fukushima had an exposure and hence dose well below that giving Acute Radiation Sickness so there would have been time for a careful analysis of the situation.  I argue that at Fukushima evacuation was unnecessary and undesirable.  The calculated figures for future radiation cancers will never be fully verified by experiment yet there are definite deaths from unnecessary evacuation. (  More important,   when something untoward happens,   the risk and benefits of any risk/benefit decision immediately change,  and should be analyzed (preferably in a procedure discussed and maybe mandated in advance).   The increase in dirty coal use with its concomitant air pollution in Tokyo and other cities also dramatically altered the risk equation.   If that had been immediately taken into account, no evacuation wold have taken place at the Fukushima-daichi nuclear power plant area   The Japanese earthquake and Tsunami has led to other tests of nuclear ideas.    Why do we worry about disposal of radioactive materials which last only thousands of years yet mercury and arsenic last forever? Why is a secure land fill for ordinary waste one which is guaranteed for 30 years whereas one for nuclear waste must last 1,000,000 years?  In the USA radiation standards for clean-up of radioactive material are far tighter than necessary and that has led to unconscionable delay in clean-up of weapons sites such as the Hanford reservation.


    Both I and my  wife Andree Desiree  Wilson have been concerned about the disadvantaged in the world all our lives. We were both happy (independently because we had not then met) that in 1945 America was known throughout the world for its optimism, its enthusiasm, its generosity even to the defeated countries (the Marshall Plan) and its responsibility to those who defended her (the GI Bill). By 2011 these have disappeared and as we contemplate the terrible events on 9/11 and again on 11/11/11 we remembered these important American ideals that these veterans fought to defend. When opportunity arises, which it does all too often, we engage in various Human Rights activities. A short summary of my human rights activities since the 1960s is available here. Richard Wilson is serves on the Board of Directors of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation which endeavors to continue the work of Andrei Dmitreyvich Sakharov in Human Rights and Human progress. It is now 45 years since Sakharov's famous article on "Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom" was published. A major conference to discuss this and implications for the future was held on 24th and 25th October 2008 hosted by Harvard University and the American Academy for Arts and Sciences A copy of this is also available here with some auxiliary papers.

    I am trying top put back on the site a collected summary of some papers and reports  with separate folders on many countries including Palestine.  This is running into problems.  I believe, however, that the following gets the HUMAN RIGHTS list
(which is huge) and in particular the PALESTINE list which is topical.

    Andrei's widow, Elena Bonner, valiantly fought to preserve the memory of Andrei. Here is a personal tribute to Yelena Georgovna Bonner.  I, Richard Wilson,  joined a fact finding group, led by Baroness Cox, President of Christian Solidarity worldwide, that visited the Armenian-Azerbaijan border in May 1991 and reported thereon to the first Sakharov conference on physics two days later. I attended, (and talked at) a conference on self-determination of peoples in Moscow on June 27th to July 1st 1999.  I helped Dr. Stanislaw Suskevich, then Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus, and de facto head of state, set up the Sakharov College of Radioecology in 1991. I was the first Chairman of the International Advisory Committee. This is now the International Sakharov Environmental University (ISEU). 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 on a separate page.   I am especially proud to be the recipient of the Andrei Sakharov prize of the American Physical Society in 2012. After meeting Andrei Sakharov in 1979 I actively worked for the principles he espoused and on his death I have worked for his memory and remembrance of his principles. I spoke about my meetings with Sakharov in acknowledgement of the prize. The detail about these world problems is on another page.

Responses to some events in the last year

    Monday, April 15th, Patriots Day, 2013 saw terrorism in Boston. As we mourn for those killed and wounded, and prepare for worse, we must contemplate how lucky we are in the USA. Tragedies such as this happen every day in Iraq and Syria is far worse. Let us redouble our efforts to make the whole world safe. We must also contemplate that these bombs had an explosive power of a few pounds of TNT; 5 billion times less that Andrei Sakharov's 1964 Nuovo Zembla test. I am deeply disturbed that Americans are careless about words and thereby misinform the public. 10 pounds of TNT is NOT a weapon of mass destruction. Nor even are the chemical weapons used in WWI. The real weapons of mass destruction are, as noted above nuclear weapons and biological weapons. To misuse the word encourages a dangerous complacency.

    All people are very concerned when one human being kills another, and more so when it is a terrorist attack. Yet, we must all be aware that the same week saw an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West Texas which killed more people and did more damage than the Marathon bombers. While we must await full information that in addition to anhydrous ammonia, which is not in itself explosive, there was 500,000 pounds (250 tons) of ammonium nitrate which was not properly rendered non explosive by the addition of urea. Alas, urea also makes the uranium nitrate stink.

Press reports say this was true of over 44 Texas communities. Apparently farmers object to the foul smelling addition. Although it would not have helped in a coordinated terror attack (because the urea can be removed easily) it would have made the plant safe for accidents.

My wife Andree and I  are also shattered by the collapse of the top 4 floors of a 7 story building in Savar, a suburb 25 km NW of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Andree and I drove through Savar in 2011. According to a reliable report from Dhaka Community Hospital (DCH) the building was approved at 3 stories high and the top floors with the garment factories were illegal. This accident killed over 1000 people mostly women garment workers. It is tragic that although women have gained a degree of independence by finding a job in the city rather than stay in the country with no control over their lives, they are being exploited in the cities. We should worry about earthquakes which would bring many buildings down with a tragedy greater than that in Haiti 2 years ago. That would be terrible but the stupidity of the building owner in ignoring developing cracks makes a bad situation worse. The USA had a tragedy like in Savar in the garment district in the USA a century ago. A major part of the solution was a garment workers union. Bangladesh needs one.

The question also arises "How do we in the western world help the developing countries?" "Refuse to buy garments from them and reducing the national income of Bangladesh by 30%?" "Send money to a corrupt government to distribute?" Our personal solution is to bypass the government and send money to the Dhaka Community Hospital Trust (DCH), a charity hospital which offers a minimum of health care for everyone. The DCH staff were fully occupied after the SAVAR accident in helping in the situation. DCH is also a major group that has been concerned with the nation's arsenic pollution problem. I feel that my enthusiasm has been justified by an article by Dhaka Community Hospital on patient care.

As noted above we have been helping through the 501(c)3 charity the ARSENIC FOUNDATION Inc. While this is for helping on the arsenic problem, sending funds releases funds for general help to the poor. Any donations will be forwarded without any overhead.      But as noted earlier I have felt unable to continue my work for the foundation and have resigned from the Presdidency.  Fortunately these functions have been taken over by Professor  Katta Reddy,  (email Distinguished University Professor at the University of Wyoming.

Another financial fact raises another paradox. Although more people were killed in Sandy Hook CT by the rampage of a young man who took his mother's guns, than in the Boston Marathon bombings, the funds for helping the victims are in the other order ($32 million for the marathon bombing survivors vs. $3 million for the Sandy hook victims. A part of that is a result of the fact that compensation for a disabled person can far exceed compensation to the family of a dead one. This simple statement should be pondered by everyone. Is this what society wants?

Over the years I have testified at a number of public federal and state hearings on various issues from nuclear power to risk analysis. But the President of the National Academy of Science (Dr. Fred Seitz at that time) persuaded me to become a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Atlantic Legal Foundation (ALF), a public interest foundation which specializes in contesting "junk" science in the courts. I disagreed with Fred on a number of issues but he also believed that disagreements needed more discussion than agreements. I started a special "sound science" page. ALF has submitted three briefs of "amicus curiae" to the US Supreme Court ( DAUBERT , JOINER and KUMHO decided by the Supreme Court in 1993 (Daubert), and on March 23rd 1999 (Kumho) and several "amicus curiae" briefs (ASHLAND , CANAVAN and JENNINGS ) to state courts on behalf of a number of distinguished scientists on the admissibility of scientific evidence. In these I was one of the "amici" and helped write the briefs. In particular I have emphasized that the data that suggest that low frequency and low intensity magnetic fields cause cancer are unconvincing, and that many such claims fall into this category of junk science. In this I criticized a 1998 draft report of a committee of the National  Academy of Sciences which fortunately never got beyond draft form.   The Atlantic Legal Foundation also criticized this draft report on legal grounds. The Atlantic Legal Foundation submitted a brief of "amicus curiae" (COVALT) to the Supreme Court of California and to two district courts on the issue of whether the court should take seriously claims that electromagnetic fields cause cancer. The courts decided that they should NOT take the claims seriously. I joined two Physics Nobel Laureates in submitting a brief of amicus curiae to a Hawaii court supporting the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider in CERN, Geneva, and opposing a proposed injunction to prevent operation. The court threw out the case claiming lack of legal jurisdiction. Yet in the court of common sense a claim that the whole world will vanish into a black hole inherently involves everyone! On behalf of the Atlantic Legal Foundation, I started a web page: (also addressable from this page) to outline these matters. I also wrote a paper in Technology and Society to explain these issues.

For this work I was recognized by ALF with a "Lifetime Achievement" award presented in Washington DC in March 2013

World Federation of Scientists

I have often participated in meetings of the Ettore Majorana Institute of Sci entific Culture in Erice and activities of the World Federation of Scientists (based in Geneva, Switzerland). It is run by a brilliant, although sometimes controversial physicist, Professor Antoninmo Zichichi. I am proud to be his friend for 60 years. I am proud that he has confidence in me. And I urge every reader to look at the work of the fantastic group of scientists he has encouraged and hosted in Sicily. (He was born in Trapani (at sea level) and the scientific center he created in Erice is at the top of a 3000 foot hill nearby. I was (2001-2005) Chairman of the Permanent Energy Monitoring Panel which meets at Erice, Sicily (August 2003, August 2004, August 2005) and am still (2014) a member thereof. The informal webpage, started in 2003, is now organized by other excellent scientists.   There is also a page in GOOGLE groups!forum/energy-permanent-monitoring-panel

to which many members of the PMP belong.   I attach here introductory comments at a session on non-proliferation in summer 2006. I am also a member of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism.  I started a page of information on Mitigation of Terrorist Actions. For all of  this work I was awarded the 2005 "Erice" prize for Science and Peace which was presented in the Vatican in 2006.

I note that in the last month, January 2015, three friends in physics have died. "Murph" Goldberger of the University of California at San Diego, Charlie Townes of UC Berkeley, and Akira Miayahara of Japan. Akira was a regular attendee at these Erice meetings and the flood of condolences on thr web shows that we will all miss him.

I am remided of the doggerel:

"How do I know that my life is all spent

My get up and go has got up and went

In spite of it all I fae life with a grin

and think of the places my getup has been" (anon)