(1) 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. In August 1945 we learned that we could destroy civilization deliberately with nuclear bombs. A war with even 100 nuclear bombs on each side could destroy civilization. But 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. I have heard 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 lead by Lady Caroline Cox, on our return from a visit to the borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan) 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 and those that urge the military on under control.
(2) In 1975 the US EPA proposed a procedure for risk assessment based on a pessimistic view of the data. Even in 1979 it was shown to be much too pessimistic, arbitrary and capricious and probably illegal. A lifetime risk of one in a million, calculated pessimistically, is NOT achievable for most materials. The EPA never backed down and modified it but pretend (ERRONEOUSLY) it is 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, they become arbitrary and capricious. Ideally the risk assessment should be soundly based and precede any action or regulation. Then actions and regulations can be based on this risk assessment. When it transpires that the risk assessment must be changed in the light of new knowledge and understanding the action and regulation should be promptly modified. To recognize the problem would strengthen the EPA not weaken it. For the EPA to restore its integrity and usefulness this must be addressed.
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
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.
General Biographical Information
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. 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.
I have recently 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:
(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) various Human Rights activities;
(e) experiments on parity violation in electron proton scattering at CEBAF.
(f) 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.
I am the founder and former President of the ARSENIC FOUNDATION which is dedicated to helping to avoid the arsenic poisoning from drinking contaminated water supplies in SE Asia.
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.
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
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.
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 his 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 of which 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. 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 him to be considered as an expert and 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.
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. 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
Two items in the last month 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 proposes to introduce this
to help resolve the House-Senate impasse when US
Congress returns in September .
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 attach here a folder containing many items about Iran including a report of Iran’s international changes in the 20th century
. 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 Iraq 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 who
had set up the Arab Foundation for Social and Economic
Development when AJ Meyer had invited him to talk to our
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, 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. On the other hand the Palestinians seemed unwilling to recognize the Jews in their midst. 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
(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 met with Prime minsiter 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) Although 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,. But I was never seriously involved.
(6) I have argued a number of meetings that if we are worried about the Taliban we should make common cause with Iran who for good reason hates the Taliban more that we do. It is a tragedy that the USA has not responded to this "obvious" suggestion, but insists on following George W Bush (Dubya) "axis of evil". I have support from a few academics but no one else
They are not all failures
(6) One of my big involvements was with ARSENIC as a
major health threat. 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 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 the Thames in December 1952 with a dramatic increase in deaths in London hospitals, and the situation in Donora, Pennsylvania where much of the town got 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 this he and his coauthors 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 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. 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 Inc. as a charitable organization to
which every viewer of this page is invited to contribute.
This foundation not only continues the work but is now the
official owner of the arsenic
website. Any gift thereto is exempt from US and
UK taxes. Here is a link to photographs from a
visit in 2004.
In 2014 personal pressures led
me to resign as President of the Arsenic Foundation
and also I have been unable to 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.
Importance of Scientists in Public Policy
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. 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.
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.
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 work:
(1) the person or organization boycotting must lose something as he 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). This demands attention, although it has received little in the USA.
(4) We also note that the rectors of a number of Turkish Universities have called for similar actions.
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 murders.
But when it is extended to groups and nations complications
When does a nation have
aright to exist? and under what conditions? This
has been disputed for millenia. Clearly they 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 in control over the area declined.
was in decline. 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 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. The death
penalty for 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 is limited, and if misused it leads to extremists
Distinguishing terror actions with
small and large consequences
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. We 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 arguing that an ABM
system will not work for over 40
years. 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. (http://physics.harvard.edu~wilson/Missiles_no_defense.doc) 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)
Some of these talks are listed in my
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. 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.
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
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 brief supporting 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.
(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
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". 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 to put back on this
website 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 link leads
to the HUMAN
RIGHTS list (which is huge) and in particular the
PALESTINE list which is topical.
important Human Rights figure Andrei Dmitreyvich
Early one Saturday morning 78 Andree
and I went to see Andrei in the apartment in
Moscow. we spend 2-3 hours and arranged to leave
Russia immediately before anyone read the recordings of
our discussions. At our meetings was
his second wife Elena who helped him establish
himself as a foremost critic of the "system". I
next saw him when I returned from my first visit to
Chernobyl after the disaster there, and reported on the
I was particularly honored when after his death Andrei's widow, Elena Bonner, valiantly fought to preserve the memory of Andrei and asked me to join the Andrei Sakharov foundation because Andrei had trusted me. Here is a personal tribute to Yelena Georgovna Bonner. Elena arranged a conference to remember Andrei on his 70h birthday in 1991. After this I 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). 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.
Monday, April 15th, Patriots Day, 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 2 years ago. 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
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 email@example.com)
Distinguished University Professor at the University of
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: sound-science.net (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
I have often participated in meetings of the Ettore Majorana Institute of Scientific Culture in Erice and activities of the World Federation of Scientists (based in Geneva, Switzerland). These were set up and run by a brilliant, but often controversial figure, Professor Antonino (Nino) Zichichi with whom I corresponded about physics in the 1970s when CERN began to function and met a few years later.. I attended several of the seminars he organized on nuclear physics in the 1970s and ran, with professor Fernando Amman an International School on Energetics in late 1970s and 1980. More important, I was privileged to be invited to the Seminars on Prevention of Nuclear War in 1982 and 1983. These were very important and as described elsewhere influenced Professor Evgeny Velikhov (Gorbachev's Science Advisor) of the USSR. As the "cold war" ended Nino set up Seminars on Planetary Emergencies to replace this highly successful activity. 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
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
I started a page of information on Mitigation of Terrorist
all of this work I was awarded the 2005 "Erice"
prize for Science and Peace.
I was particularly honored when this was presented at a
join meeting, in 2006, of the World Federation of Sciences
and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican as
the guest of the Chancellor of the Academy
Monseigneur Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo. Father
Sanchez had attended many of the Erice meetings where I
had got to know this fine man. H was born in Buenos
Aires, as was the present pope.
I plan to
continue this website as long as I am capable, and
end this in the same vein as I concluded my
autobiography, (page 515). I continue to urge
my scientist colleagues to stand up and be counted and
address the problems of mankind in ways that so many
politicians and political scientists are too shortsighted
"How do I know
my youth is all spent,
My get-up-and-go, has got up and went.
But in spite of it all I face life with a grin,
And think of the places my get-up has been."