Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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Andrei Sakharov and Edward Teller:
 Two Ethical Profiles


Ernest Partridge

Unpublished, 1993


In 1993, Stewart Udall asked me to send him some background material on the careers and public pronouncements of Andrei Sakharov and Edward Teller. He was at the time at work on the manuscript of his book, The Myths of August (Pantheon, 1994). This paper (slightly revised) is the result. As a "background paper," it lacks the rigor and documentation that a scrupulous editor might demand before publication in a refereed journal. However, as I have read and revised it a decade later, I have found and included nothing that I would not vouch for today.  Some of the material in this unpublished manuscript (notably Section 2), has been incorporated into subsequent work.  (February, 2003).


The public careers of Andrei Sakharov and Edward Teller invite a study in moral contrasts. This is all the more remarkable, since they were trained in the same scientific specialties (nuclear physics), and played comparable roles in the development of thermonuclear weapons in their respective countries. Furthermore, they both believed that, however paradoxical, their work on these monster weapons served the cause of peace.

Eventually, in the intellectual communities and the political discourse of both countries, this paradox of "peace through terror" generated a political and a moral chasm. (In the Soviet Union, this emerging division was so strong that it virtually created a "political discourse" under a regime which, through the prohibition of the publication and expression of dissent, ruthlessly suppressed such "discourse"). On the one side of this chasm ("the official line" in both countries), the road to national security was to be found through the ever-increasing quantity, and the ever-improving quality, of strategic weapons. On the opposite side stood those who sought global security through moral force — through an adherence to fundamental and universal principles of human rights, liberty and brotherhood. The goal of the "national security faction" was, at best, the "defeat" of the "enemy," or at least the indefinite "deterrence" of armed attack. The goal of the "unofficial" dissenters was accommodation and disarmament, through a "convergence" of their respective political systems, a shared concern for common global problems, and a shared adherence to fundamental moral principles.

The contrast between these two factions within each global power is exemplified by the public lives of Edward Teller and Andrei Sakharov. Remarkably, from among the Soviet dissidents, envious of the political liberties in the West, arose Sakharov — the champion of mutual "progress, coexistence and intellectual freedom." And in the "free world," the nuclear stalemate that threatened all mankind was significantly aggravated and perpetuated through the focused effort of Edward Teller, believing, as he has ever since his days at Los Alamos almost fifty years ago, that just one more scientific breakthrough, and a few more technological "fixes," would finally bring about the "peace through strength" that has eluded us.

Unquestionably, the public lives of both Sakharov and Teller were shaped by their scientific training, and by their application of this training to weapons research. Less apparent, perhaps, is the influence of their scientific backgrounds in the shaping of their moral perception and commitment. In fact, it is widely believed that science has little to do with morality. I will argue that this notion is false — especially in the case of Sakharov. The activity of science, I will argue, offers moral lessons which, alas, do not instruct all scientists.

Following a statement of the similarities in the lives and character of both scientists, I will examine the contrasts in the methods, principles and constraints that constitute their respective moral positions. The public careers of both bear interesting implications, which I will explore, regarding the political climate of the United States. I close with some remarks concerning the likely judgment of history upon the lives of Andrei Sakharov and Edward Teller.


International affairs must be completely permeated with scientific methodology and a democratic spirit, with a fearless weighing of all facts, views, and theories, with maximum publicity of ultimate and intermediate goals, and with a consistency of principles. 

Andrei Sakharov
"Progress, Coexistence and
Intellectual Freedom"

"All men, by nature, desire to know." Alas, this timeless maxim by Aristotle was wide of the mark. Better to say that "humans, by nature, desire to believe that they know." Even this is not completely on target. The American pragmatist, John Dewey, enlightened by the insights of Darwinism and modern psychology, had it right when he observed (here in paraphrase), that "all humans, by their (animal) nature, desire repose" -- i.e., as the psychologists and biologists put it, respectively, cognitive consonance and homeostasis -- no fuss, no bother, "I'm all right, Jack!"  Nature and society constantly put us off our balance, and all progress and growth follows from our anxiety to restore that balance. Hence the appeal of organized religion and political dogmatism.

As human history attests, the search for "repose" constantly undermines apprehension and acknowledgement of the truth. Human beings, both individually and collectively, have always shown a cussed preference for pleasant myths over discomforting truths. Witness the political career of Ronald Reagan. Only after repeated pratfalls, do we at last come to realize that short-term gratifications often lead to ultimate grief, that myth is a false friend, that reality bats last. From this realization, collectively acknowledged and institutionalized, science and scholarship arose in Western civilization. For both, a fundamental moral principle is that mental repose is to be purchased only at the price of validated evidence and cogent argument. "Humans, by nature, desire to believe that they know." The logic and discipline of science and scholarship requires that the repose of such belief can only be allowed to follow the assurance that one has the "right" to have such a belief.

"Scientific morality" is widely regarded as an oxymoron, since it is commonly believed that science is "value neutral."  This belief embraces a pernicious half-truth. The logic of science stipulates that the data, laws, hypotheses and theories of science exclude evaluative terms and concepts, and that the vocabulary of science be exclusively empirical and formal. There are no "oughts," no "goods and bads," no "rights and wrongs." (The fact that social sciences deal with values descriptively, is only an apparent violation of this rule). Capitalist and communist missiles are subject to the same laws of trajectory. The same laws of physiology apply to the physician who heals, and the murderer who poisons. The "value-free" status of scientific vocabulary and assertion is the "truthful half" of the belief that science is "value free."

But as an activity, science is steeped in evaluation, for the "value-free" methodology that yields these "value-free" statements, requires a discipline and a commitment that appears to merit the name of "morality." Thus the advancement of science is characterized by behavior that can only be described as "virtuous," and the corruption of science as moral weakness. In other words, the activity of science (that is to say, of science as a human institution) is highly involved with values. Consider an example:2

When Gregor Mendel published his studies of the genetic properties of sweet peas, he apparently gave a scrupulously factual account. Moreover, his failures and unanswered questions were reported alongside his verified hypotheses. Had Mendel not been impeccably honest, humble and open with his work, his reports thereof would have been, scientifically speaking, far less valuable. In short, the moral quality of the researcher gave explicit (non-moral) value to his findings. Yet Mendel's scientific papers themselves have not a bit of moral evaluation within them: no prescriptions, no exhortations, no "shoulds" or "oughts" -- only the straightforward exposition of observations and hypotheses. The accounts were value-free; but the conditions required to produce these documents and to give them scientific importance were profoundly moral. In contrast, consider the case of Lysenko, who displayed neither honesty, candor, tolerance or modesty. Because of these very failings, his work was scientifically worthless. Once more: the primary findings of science, and the language that reports it, are value free, but the conditions that permit scientific work and the attitudes of the scientists toward their work, are deeply involved in morality.

In his little book, Science and Human Values,3 Jacob Bronowski gives a masterful presentation of the moral preconditions of science. The fundamental moral premise, says Bronowski, is "the habit of truth": the collective decision by the body of science that "We ought to act in such a way that what is true can be verified to be so." This habit, this decision, gives a moral tone to the entire scientific enterprise. Bronowski continues:

By the worldly standards of public life, all scholars in their work are of course oddly virtuous. They do not make wild claims, they do not cheat, they do not try to persuade at any cost, they appeal neither to prejudice or to authority, they are often frank about their ignorance, their disputes are fairly decorous, they do not confuse what is being argued with race, politics, sex or age, they listen patiently to the young and to the old who both know everything. These are the general virtues of scholarship, and they are peculiarly the virtues of science. Individually, scientists no doubt have human weaknesses. . . But in a world in which state and dogma seem always either to threaten or to cajole, the body of scientists is trained to avoid and organized to resist every form of persuasion but the fact. A scientist who breaks this rule, as Lysenko has done, is ignored. . .

The values of science derive neither from the virtues of its members, nor from the finger-wagging codes of conduct by which every profession reminds itself to be good. They have grown out of the practice of science, because they are the inescapable conditions for its practice.

And this is but the beginning. For if truth claims are to be freely tested by the community of scientists, then this community must encourage and protect independence and originality, and it must tolerate dissent.

Science and scholarship are engaged in a constant struggle to replace persuasion with demonstration -- the distinction is crucial to understanding the discipline and morality of science. 

Persuasion, a psychological activity, is the arena in which propagandists, advertisers, politicians and preachers perform their stunts. To the "persuader," the "conclusion" (i.e. what he is trying to get others to believe: "the message," "the gospel," "the sale") is not open to question. His task is to find the means to get the persuader (i.e., voter, buyer, "sucker") to believe the message. Whatever psychological means accomplishes this goal (apart from "side effects") is fair game. (When the "persuader" and the "persuadee" are one and the same, this is called "rationalization"). If the message promises "repose," or otherwise is found "rewarding," the simple and primitive tendency will be to accept it.

Demonstration (or "argumentation" or "proof"), a logical activity, is the objective of the scholar and scientist. Therein, hard evidence and valid methodology is sought, and the conclusion is unknown or in doubt. However discomforting the resulting conclusions might be, "demonstration" has evolved as the best "proven" means of arriving at truth -- more precisely, whatever assurance of truth the evidence will allow. "Demonstration" is exemplified in scientific method (in particular, in freedom of inquiry, replicability of experimentation, publicly attainable data, etc.), in legal rules of evidence, and in rules of inference (formal logic.).

A scientist or a scholar is an individual who has determined, as much as possible, to be (psychologically) persuaded only by (logical) demonstration. Being human, every scientist falls more or less short of the mark.

The temptation to resort to persuasion to the detriment of demonstration is universal in mankind. (After all, "all humans, by nature, desire to believe they know" -- their foregone conclusions). But the ability to resist this temptation is a matter of degree. Thus science has been devised to ensure the highest humanly attainable degree of non-subjective demonstration. Much of the strength and endurance of science derives from in its social nature, and the severe sanctions that are entailed therein. Thus the scientist who claims a discovery must tell his colleagues how he arrived at his knowledge, and then offer it for independent validation, at any suitable time and place, by his peers. If this validation fails, the "discovery" is determined to be bogus. If the failure is due to carelessness, the investigator is subject to ridicule. (This was apparently the case with Fleishman and Pons' claim to have discovered "cold fusion.") If it is due to fraud (i.e., "cooking the data"), as was the case with Lysenko and Dawson (the "discoverer" of Piltdown Man), the investigator is liable to be exposed, whereupon he loses his reputation and credibility — which is to say, his profession. Due to its social nature, the institution of scientific inquiry is more than the sum of all scientists that participate therein.

To reiterate: the activity of science fosters and reinforces such moral virtues as tolerance, mutual respect, discipline, modesty, impartiality, non-manipulation, and, above all, what Bronowski calls "the habit of truth." That is to say, in the pursuit of his or her profession, the scientist forgoes "easy" gratification through a steadfast allegiance to "truth," and the implicit willingness to acknowledge a failure to find the truth — both of these are clearly abstract moral principles. The scientist endures such morally virtuous sacrifice and constraint, because the discipline requires it, and the cost of violation is severe: lying and cheating in the laboratory are fruitless iniquities, since, by the nature of the enterprise, they are likely to be uncovered.

Yet, to be sure, scientists are capable of morally atrocious behavior. They performed experiments at Auschwitz, and they serve today as apologists for the tobacco and pesticide industries. Scientists are human, and thus vulnerable to all the usual temptations which flesh is heir to.

Still, for the scientist and scholar who chooses to pursue a moral life, the insight and discipline acquired from scientific training and practice, offers a significant "boost" to that pursuit. 

"Scientific Morality" and Andrei Sakharov. Without question, Sakharov carried his allegiance to truth, and the habit of yielding to principle, beyond his laboratory. In this passage from his great 1968 testament, note how the extension of scientific method to politics and social activism, conveys essential moral qualities and implications:

We regard as 'scientific' a method based on deep analysis of facts, theories, and views, presupposing unprejudiced, unfearing open discussion and conclusions. The complexity and diversity of all the phenomena of modern life, the great possibilities and dangers linked with the scientific-technical revolution and with a number of social tendencies demand precisely such an approach... 5

Out of his respect for the truth and the institution of scientific inquiry, Sakharov would never hide evidence, whatever the apparent personal advantage. By analogy, he would not compromise a moral truth, even to save himself. When duty called, that was reason enough. It is this step, from the laboratory to practical life, that characterizes the saintly scientist. Saintly behavior is manifest when intellectual discipline of the laboratory, the willingness to accept evidence and follow the clear logical implications of perceived and discovered truth, is applied to personal life, even at the cost of personal sacrifice, and even when one has clear opportunities to "get away" with a distortion or denial of the truth and a compromise of one's principles. 

"Scientific Morality" and Edward Teller. Sadly, "getting away" with denying the truth and corrupting scientific integrity, characterizes much of Edward Teller's work and career. For example, Teller convinced Dwight Eisenhower not to sign a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on the unfounded promise that he was developing a "clean" H-Bomb. Much later, he talked Reagan out of the ABM and Comprehensive Test Ban  treaties,  this time on the promise of Star Wars. Both, as it turns out, were probably lies, or at least gross exaggerations. Almost forty years of continuing research at Teller's lab has produced no "clean" H-Bomb, and one SDI scheme after another -- "the X-Ray laser," "Smart Rocks," particle beams, "Brilliant Pebbles" — has failed to fulfill the extravagant promises of Teller and the other SDI proponents. Teller, it seems, has been more concerned with "selling" his schemes (i.e., persuasion), than with proving their scientific feasibility.

Teller's subversion of scientific integrity, through public relations, is eloquently summarized by William Broad:

Modern science is founded on a complex social system meant to winnow and sift through the contributions of individual scientists, to separate fact from fiction, to police itself, to search out error and fraud... In theory, such mechanisms should have stopped Teller's wilder activities before they did any damage. In practice, Teller's ambitions for the X-ray laser repeatedly collided with this system and quickly overwhelmed it. 
. . . . .

If no lessons are drawn from the costly experience [with Teller and the X-Ray laser], if fantasy weapons and other would-be wonders continue to distort federal planning, if science increasingly takes a back seat to politics and private agendas, then the dangers for the nation and the world will inexorably multiply, perhaps to the point of ultimate calamity."

These are serious charges, and thus require extended elaboration and argumentation. This we will present in the section which follows immediately.

In sum: the opposite tendencies of (logical) demonstration and (psychological) persuasion, clearly distinguish the public lives of Teller and Sakharov, even though both, as distinguished scientists, were, in their professional lives, disciplined in the methodology of science. Sakharov carried the scientists' "habit of truth," and the implicit devotion to free inquiry, into his public life, heedless of the cost to himself. Teller, by contrast, gave way to persuasion, which he has employed by any means at his disposal -- including the distortion and withholding of evidence, and even the "invention" of data" -- to further his personal ambitions, his career objectives, and his political ideology.



Despite the manifest contrasts, there are intriguing similarities between Andrei Sakharov and Edward Teller.

Both are single-minded, both display extraordinary intensity of purpose and motivation. Both have a strong personality capable of leading others. Both are willing to sacrifice in order to further their objectives. 

If these are valid similarities between these individuals, what leads us to regard them in such contrast? These contrasts may be found in their moral perceptions, the objects of their extraordinary motivations, the means by which they pursue their objectives, the constraints which they do and do not accept upon their behavior, and the content of the principles which motivate them. 


While both are passionately committed, Andrei Sakharov's commitment was selfless, and Edward Teller's is selfish. True, Edward Teller is capable of enduring great pain and sacrifice, but it is pain and sacrifice in defense of his ego, in his struggle with his adversaries, and in behalf of his career and the projects with which he identifies himself -- even projects which are impractical and impossible (e.g., "Clean H-Bomb, X-Ray laser, "Brilliant Pebbles", etc.) True, it is irrational (literally "quixotic") to involve oneself with impossible projects. But no claim is made here that Edward Teller, for all his proven intelligence, is rational about his obsessions. 

Edward Teller is so obsessed with proving himself right, that he will willingly corrupt the scientific processes (designed to discover truth by objective means) in order to obtain apparent validation of his obsessions. Thus he bypasses the more laborious path toward genuine scientific validation — a procedure which, by its very nature, is a collaborative and public process, which tempers and constrains private ambitions, quests for notoriety, and personal bias.

In marked contrast, Andrei Sakharov was genuinely unselfish, in that he subordinated his personal ambitions, comfort, and even safety, to his principles. For his principles, he risked physical torture and death, and willingly endured fasting and exile. His strength came, not from bombast and intimidation, but by example. His power was not that of a Hitler or a Bonaparte, but of a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King.

Edward Teller is ruthless at times, pushing aside or even destroying the careers of those who "cross" him — Roy Woodruff and J. Robert Oppenheimer come immediately to mind. He is remarkably unconcerned about the human misery which might result from his projects. He repeatedly denies that there is any significant risk attached to atmospheric testing or commercial nuclear power. When he does acknowledge such risks, he states it in terms of minuscule per-capital fractions (which, when multiplied by the national or world population, yields casualties in five or six or seven figures).7

In contrast, Andrei Sakharov was, like all saintly individuals, a man of extraordinary compassion, good will and gentleness. His moral outrage at the needless casualties caused by a 1962 atmospheric test moved him to tears, and on to the path of political dissent. At the moment his wife, Elena Bonner, was reading his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Stockholm (Sakharov was denied an exit visa), Sakharov attended, at great risk, the trial of the dissident, Sergei Kovalev, who later said of Sakharov, "he was tormented by every arrest and every trial [of the dissidents]. That's really true. This was perhaps his most blessed and most marvelous gift -- to be able to feel someone else's pain." 

Edward Teller is acutely suspicious, and assumes the worst of his rivals and adversaries — and even, at times, of his allies. Reflecting back on his association with Teller at Livermore, his colleague, Ray Kidder, recalls that Teller was a "right-wing ideologue who feared that knowledgeable policy makers would fail to do the "right" thing." To Teller, this meant that they would fail "to stop the Soviets from conquering the world, as he believed they surely intend to do.... [He] was possessed with the threat of Soviet world domination. It consumed him entirely for the second half of his life. He knew he was right, and anybody who failed to understand the enormity and primacy of this threat was simply a fool unworthy of serious consideration."8

Typical of saintly individuals, Sakharov brought out the best in those he dealt with. His love and respect for humanity was constantly on display. Tatyana Velikanova, another dissident who benefited from Sakharov's support, reflects upon his magnanimity: "I saw him talk to many people. He approached them with what I call 'the presumption of decency.' He decided ahead of time that the person he was talking to was decent and not lying, and he said what he truly thought, and that there was a need to understand him. It was an astonishing characteristic — such an absolutely unbiased and open mind."

Teller appears to be unaware of the humanity of his rivals and his political adversaries, or even to their subject populations. It seems not to occur to him that these individuals might share similar concerns and motives as he does. He perceives himself and his opponents as engaged in a "zero-sum game," wherein a gain by one side is matched by an equivalent loss on the other. There is no common interest, except to continue the game (i.e., to avoid mutual annihilation).

To Sakharov, the Arms Race is not a contest, it is a predicament, for which the only sane solution is co-existence and disarmament. Of the arms race and the cold war he wrote, "In the face of these perils, any action increasing the division of mankind, any preaching of the incompatibility of world ideologies and nations is madness and a crime."9  Sakharov, unlike Teller, took "the moral point of view" — the hypothetical position of a "critical spectator" of the social transactions of which one is, in fact, a participant. From this perspective, one has the capacity to pose the "mirror-image" question: "If I were in their shoes, witnessing what the other (i.e., "our") side is doing, how might I feel, and how might I act?" "The Moral Point of View" is an essential pre-requisite to serious moral reflection and peaceful conflict resolution.


Teller is a politician -- 
He believes in SDI.

Freeman Dyson

Andrei Sakharov's "moral methodology" is familiar to all observers and students of non-violent moral resistance. Andrei Sakharov treated his domestic and international stature, not as a personal ornament, but as lever to force political and social reform. For his reputation, combined with his deliberate and calculated acts of defiance and dissent, made him conspicuous to public and world opinion, and publicized the plight of the dissidents in whose behalf he acted. He validated the moral content of his opposition, by his refusal to engage in or to foment violence, and through his manifest willingness to endure unjust punishment and to place himself at considerable risk. Remarkably, this atheistic scientist was a Christ-like figure, for as one of the "Peoples' Deputies" remarked, "that he suffered for all of us gave him an authority no one else had."10  In his advocacy of an open society and his opposition to state secrecy, Andrei Sakharov and his associates acted in total openness and honesty. All these honored methods of non-violent resistance exemplified, through action and example, the principles of intellectual freedom, political liberty, peaceful coexistence, to which Sakharov dedicated his life.

Edward Teller's methods deserve a more circumspect examination, for while Edward Teller's general "methodology" can be briefly stated, an elaboration of his methods make for grimly fascinating reading.  His general rule of operation is simply: "the ends justify the means." Applied to his public pronouncements, this means, "any mode of persuasion is acceptable, provided it is likely to succeed — i.e., to convince those who must be convinced if my projects are to go forward, namely, the President, Congress, the general public, whatever." (Many of Teller's co-workers believe that the first person convinced by Teller's sophistry was Teller himself — that his confidence and self-assurance are genuine, despite the near-unanimous disagreement by his scientific peers).

Now to the specification.

To his informed critics, Teller's most notorious rhetorical excess is his use of misleading, distorted, unverified, and even outright false statements in support of his arguments. From the point of view of scholarly and scientific decorum it is also his most unforgivable malfeasance. 

Teller's gift for inventing conveniently supportive "factoids" and for concocting "instant statistics" rivals that of his political sponsor, Ronald Reagan, whose casual detachment from reality is legendary. For example, in support of his pre-conceived conclusions Reagan was capable of saying such things as:

  • Trees cause more air pollution than automobiles.

  • He knew full well how horrible the Nazi concentration camps were, because he visited them soon after they were liberated. (In fact, he never left the United States during, or soon after, World War II. He narrated documentaries about the camps, while working in Hollywood).

  • The Russians don't understand the meaning of freedom — why, they don't even have a word for "freedom" in their language. (The Russian word for "freedom" is "свобода"  ("svoboda"),  as Ronald Reagan could have discovered by picking up his Oval Office phone and calling the Russian desk at the State Department).

And there are hundreds more, (as Mark Green and Gail MacColl documented in their 1983 (!) book, Ronald Reagan's Reign of Error).

Teller's howlers are comparable:

  • Teller was the only victim of Three Mile Island (because his outrage at Jane Fonda's behavior, brought on a mild heart attack).11

  • "No evidence of genetic damage has been found" among the children of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings."12

  • "We have demonstrated that X-Ray Lasers work." ("Sixty Minutes," CBS, December, 1988. By that time, the project had been effectively abandoned, due to lack of results).

  • A "Totally clean" Hydrogen bomb could be developed in "six to seven years." (Teller to President Eisenhower).

  • "There is quite a bit of evidence" that the Soviets are ahead in X-Ray laser research. (In a Sixty Minutes interview immediately following this statement by Teller, Sakharov denied the claim. Subsequent on-site inspections by American scientists corroborated Sakharov's statement).

  • "Food exposed to fallout is not harmed by the radiation. In fact, radiation is used commercially for food preservation."13  Fallacy of Equivocation. Alpha radiation from fallout particles (which can not be completely washed away) are harmful when ingested. Food is preserved with gamma radiation, which disappears after the radiation treatment).

  • "A one megaton bomb, while 70 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, produces equal damage over only about four times the distance." Misleading. Assuming this is an accurate distance (which I don't), this means that the damaged area is sixteen times as great.14  ( According to seventh grade math, the area of a circle is the function of the square of the radius: A=pr2 ).

  • And finally, "among the Presidents with whom I've [talked], I think Reagan is ... the best intellectually." (Sixty Minutes Interview). (More about this shortly).

Of a Teller report on the progress of X-ray laser research, the GAO auditor identified four claims as "totally false," prompting him to write, "these outrageous claims go far beyond the grounds of mere enthusiasm and persona optimism. They lie in the realm of pure fantasy."15 

Teller's steadfast refusals to answer his critics was dramatically revealed in his interview with Mike Wallace on "Sixty Minutes" (December 13, 1988):

Wallace: "Why [do scientists refuse to work on SDI]? Nobel laureates, major figures in science in all the major universities, including Stanford, say 'I will have nothing to do with SDI.'"

Teller: (Silence -- eight seconds)

Wallace: "You won't speculate."

Teller: (Four seconds). "If you want to find a person's motives, ask him."

Through this maneuver (and another which followed), Teller successfully evaded Wallace's perfectly legitimate question regarding the critics of Teller's projects. Teller, of course, had not the slightest concern for the "rights" of his critics not to have their motives examined. Wallace could have easily exposed this dodge by responding, "Well then, motives aside, how do you respond to the reasons that these critics present in opposition to SDI?" But before he could do that, Teller had ripped off his microphone, and ended the interview.16

Such a failure to respond to one's critics constitutes a fundamental violation of scientific and scholarly responsibility.

Teller's most egregious violations of scientific decorum have involved his treatment of his critics and rivals. It was not enough for Teller that he prevailed over Oppenheimer's opposition to the H-Bomb. Teller's grudges over being "shelved" at Los Alamos were too deep for that. So he eagerly joined the administrative lynching of Oppenheimer that led to the loss of that brilliant scientist's security clearance, and his effective banishment from the community of atomic scientists.

Similarly, when his protιgι, Roy Woodruff, refused to obey Teller's instruction that he convey to Washington, false news of research progress at Livermore, Woodruff was removed as the Director of the Livermore Weapons Lab. Teller's treatment of dissent in his own "shop" seems eerily reminiscent of the treatment of dissidents by the regime he professes to abhor.

Teller's recent behavior also reminds one of the Soviet agronomist, Trofim D. Lysenko. Both enjoyed extended career "success" at the expense of scientific integrity. Both promoted their work through their political manipulation of scientifically uninformed, yet powerful, leaders — respectively, Stalin and Reagan. 

But didn't we note above, that due to the "public" structure of science, such behavior "will not stand?" If so, why hasn't Teller suffered the fate of Fleischman and Pons -- the hapless "discoverers" of "bottled fusion."

The difference is straightforward: "cold fusion" withered in the light of "public scientific validation" — i.e., the failure of others to replicate the experiment. Teller's weapons research demands, and receives, the cloak of secrecy, and "national security" is the Dracula's coffin that keeps Teller's fantasies alive. For with vital information withheld, it becomes impossible to confront the schemes with "crucial experiments." Lacking these, Teller and his colleagues trot out their ad ignorantum defense: "Well, nobody's proven this wrong, so there must be something to it."

The critic's rejoinder is obvious: "Very well, then give us some reason to believe the feasibility of the 'clean H-Bomb, or 'Brilliant Pebbles,' or whatever."

Once again, "national security" to the rescue: "Well, it happens that there is an answer to your question (objection), but unfortunately, we can't tell you about it, on grounds of national security. But if you knew what we knew, you would surely see the truth of what we are saying." (This ploy is conspicuous in the above-cited 1983 article in Reader's Digest). "National security," like patriotism, is all too often the refuge of scoundrels.

Thus detached from the self-correcting discipline of publication, replication and review, Teller's X-Ray laser program turned scientific method on its head. It displayed, not scientific method, but "special pleading." Science, ideally, draws conclusions from data; special pleading selects data to support the pre-ordained conclusion. Since scientists are human beings, with their personal and career interests inexorably tied to their research, there is a tendency toward special pleading in all scientific activity. The strength and beauty of science is that the discipline and the objective methodology counteracts this tendency. Take this objectivity away, and what is left cannot be honored by the name of "science." This happened, briefly, with "cold fusion," and over decades, in the case of "X-Ray laser."

Yet, the mystery persists: How is it possible that intelligent, well-trained scientists could be involved in such an enterprise? Because, like religion, a few simple propositions were accepted as dogma, not to be doubted or tested -- e.g. commercial nuclear power was safe, "strategic defense" was feasible, et.   The allegiance to this credo was tied to the advancement of careers, and once embarked upon this track, the heavy personal investment and career implications of finding and proving error, discouraged objective investigation and critical review — just another example of administrative/bureaucratic "imperative," of which we are all-too familiar.

But its not quite that simple. In fact, many scientists and engineers at work on SDI don't believe in it. Reagan's and Teller's obsession serve merely as a catalyst for obtaining research funds for other projects, under the guise of "strategic defense," just as, in the Fifties, college loans and interstate highway construction were supported under the rubric of "national defense." In the PBS Nova/Frontline Report, "Visions of Star Wars" (April 22, 1986), Livermore Physicist, Hugh Dewitt, is quite "up front" about this:

I think most people at this laboratory are very skeptical that anything like [SDI] will ever happen, and indeed doubt that it is even possible. However, ... "Star Wars" is largely welcomed here at this laboratory because it provides enormous new funding for research that keeps the laboratory in business for many years to come.... The Star Wars program has now provided opportunities for research on exciting, new and different ideas. And this has the lab in a state of excitement and interest that we have never seen before.

I can testify to this personally.  From 1984 to 1986 I was an NSF Research Associate at the University of Colorado in Boulder.  While there, I signed a petition protesting SDI funding, whereupon I was admonished by a senior scientist:  "Of course, nobody here believes that SDI will ever work, but don't you understand?  Its a terrific source of research funding."

Outside the laboratories of the scientific "hired guns," the SDI scheme has been rejected, with virtual unanimity, by all scientists that are both informed and independent. Almost all remaining supporters have a personal or financial stake in SDI. (For my summation of the arguments against SDI, see  "Star Wars: National Sanity Test" and "SDI -- It's BAAACK!")

Teller's cons might be prolonged, perhaps beyond Teller's lifetime, in which case, he "wins." But eventually, the truth will out -- as indeed, it apparently has with Teller's "clean H-Bomb." In the long run, Teller's legacy stands condemned by (Richard) Feynman's Principle:
"Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."


To Teller, neither compassion, nor humility, nor moral scruple nor scientific integrity will constraint his ambition, halt his projects, or curb his obsessions. In fact, the reverse is the case. Thus, when his excessive claims and ambition caused him to be shunned by the scientific community, he turned to the scientifically uninformed for support, where he was received with enthusiasm.

Accordingly, Teller's success as a public figure stands in condemnation of government oversight -- a caution overturned by the uninformed enthusiasm of the far right and national political leaders, most conspicuously, Ronald Reagan. This President, who thought so little of the office of White House Science Advisor that he considered abolishing it,17 brushed aside scientific objections to the "Star Wars" scheme that was so enthusiastically sold to him by Teller. When Reagan proposed SDI in March 18, 1983, as an addendum to a television address on foreign policy, it came as a complete surprise to the scientific community, which, upon subsequent examination, rejected it with virtual unanimity. (The exceptions were found among scientists and engineers employed by firms and agencies that stood to gain from the windfall of appropriations which might follow the proposal).18 

A parallel situation existed in the Soviet Union, during the Stalin regime. Disturbed by suggestions that Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolution were inconsistent with Marxist principles of historical development (so-called "dialectical materialism"), Stalin embraced the theories of an eccentric agronomist, Trofim Lysenko, thus defying the established findings of scientific genetics and biology. At Stalin's insistence, Lysenko's views were applied to agricultural practice, leading to the subsequent failure of the USSR to feed its own people. Unhappily for the West, there was no similar predominance of a pseudo-scientific "Marxist physics" in the development of nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union.

Freed from the constraints of critical peer review, Teller adopted as a primary criterion of scientific competence and intelligence, agreement with Edward Teller. In a noteworthy interview, at the end of the Reagan presidency, Teller was asked which of all Presidents that he had personally met, had the best grasp of science and technology. "No competition," he said, "Ronald Reagan." Those who would not listen, he added, were "Ford, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and above all, Jimmy Carter."19 

This evaluation is laughable on its face. As a paragon of scientific sophistication, Teller identifies a man whose scientific ignorance and incompetence is legendary. A President who, among other things, publicly expressed doubts about the theory of evolution, who claimed that trees cause more air pollution than automobiles, and who consulted astrologers about the scheduling of state functions. In contrast, the contemptuously dismissed President Carter, a former naval officer with an advanced degree in nuclear engineering was, on the evidence of his university transcripts and job resume, the most scientifically and technically informed individual ever to sit in the Oval Office.

In point of fact, it was Ronald Reagan's manifest scientific naivety that made him an "easy mark" for Teller's con job. Conversely, Carter's sophistication made him skeptical of Teller's schemes, thus provoking Teller's enmity and contempt.

Sakharov's priorities are the exact reverse. His ambition, his projects, his very life and freedom, were constrained by his adherence to universal moral principles, his deeply felt compassion and humanity, his submission to scientific evidence and implication, and the "habit of truth" which he acquired in his scientific work.

The profound contrast between these two scientists is exemplified by the "fallout" issue, which raged up to the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963.

Teller was so obsessed with his research into new weapons, and so bereft of fundamental humanity, that he discounted scientific evidence of the harm caused by their development and testing, and he invented statistics out of thin air to support his dismissals of these perils. As we have seen, Teller will resort to any available sophistry to justify his work, unbothered for a moment by the possibility that he might be wrong, and thus might be condemning thousands of human beings to an early death as a result of testing. Yet all the while, the evidence has been there for him to see —evidence which, as a brilliant scientist, he is fully capable of recognizing.

Mark the contrast with Andrei Sakharov — so morally anguished about the human cost of weapons development that he worked tirelessly for an atmospheric test ban, heedless of the fact that such a ban would curtail his scientific research. So great was Sakharov's concern about fallout, that his 1962 protest to Khrushchev against a scheduled 60mt test proved to be the catalytic moment that launched him on his career as a dissident.


Edward Teller's principles (if that's the correct word), promote divisiveness, ideology and death. Sakharov's fundamental principles affirm unity, humanity and life. For Edward Teller, those who live under a Communist regime, despite the fact that they may be victims of this regime rather than adherents — their lives are devalued and their humanity ignored, as they become potential "targets" of his horrendous nuclear devices, and his war-planning strategies.

Teller assumes the worst of his adversaries, and prepares for the worst eventuality and outcome.20  Sakharov appeals to the best in his adversaries.

Teller talks of destroying the Communist system, at the extreme risk of destroying the people who life under it. Sakharov speaks of life, of co-existence, of common humanity and friendship, of love.

While Teller's admirers often cite his steadfast "defense of liberty," and while Teller often justifies his work in nuclear weaponry and SDI as being "in behalf of the defense of liberty," his rhetoric is remarkably free of specification or elaboration of the word "liberty." There is, in  the sample of  Teller's public pronouncements that I have examined, little evidence of humane concern, or even awareness, of those who are politically oppressed, except, of course, for the politically oppressed of the "Soviet Empire" -- individuals targeted by Teller's weapons.

The fundamental principles upon which Edward Teller charts his motivations, are the advancement of his projects and career, and the destruction at all costs of his rivals and enemies — be they a system (the Soviet regime), a myth ("the global communist conspiracy"), or individuals (Oppenheimer, Woodruff, etc.). In pursuit of these ends, he sacrifices compassion, fairness, truthful representation of the facts, and scientific methodology and discipline. 

The "fixed stars" in Sakharov's moral firmament are humanity, protection of human life, an abiding and tenacious "scientific morality, and political principles that are prominent in our own history." This becomes apparent as we read his Draft Constitution, completed a few days before his death:

All people have a right to life, liberty and happiness. The principles of pluralism and tolerance shall be the foundation of the political, cultural and ideological life of the society. The Union affirms the principle of refusing to be the first to employ the use of nuclear weapons. The operation of any secret services to protect the social and state order shall be prohibited in the Union. A basic and supreme right of each nation republic shall be the right to self determination..."21

Harrison Salisbury observes that in the childhood household of the young Andrei, the cultural model of "the Russian Intelligent" was taught and idealized. Salisbury's summation of that model perfectly describes the principles that defined and guided Andrei Sakharov's exemplary and heroic life:

... The Russian intelligent has no precise counterpart in other societies. He is not simply a university graduate or an individual given over to intellectual pursuits.... In fact, it is not his academic or economic status that distinguishes the Russian intelligent but, rather, his moral and social outlook, his sense of dedication to principle, to the improvement of the lot of his fellow man, to the elimination of social evils, to selflessness, to the moral imperative of speaking the truth as he believes it, regardless of physical and material consequences. He is imbued, to some extent, by the traditional spirit of Russian universalism. He believes in the perfectibility of man and in his own duty to put sacrifice above self.

Thus, his friend Yuri Afanaseyev recalls,

[Sakharov] seemed to think that at this crucial moment, no one should sleep. He lived a very stressful life -- very stressful. Once he told me, and others too, that when he heard about the first nuclear bomb test, he almost fainted. He know what it was, and how it threatened all mankind. I think this sense of the fragility of the world kept him busy every minute. He believed that not a single minute of his life should be wasted. I believe that he was programmed to devote his entire life, to his last breath, to creating something as powerful as that hydrogen bomb -- but the opposite. Not for destruction, but for the survival of the world and mankind.

On the night of December 14, 1989, with a draft of his next address to the Congress of People Deputies on his desk, Andrei Dmitrievitch Sakharov died. 

To President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, his widow, Elena Bonner remarked: "I pity you — you have lost an honest opponent."


In the atomic establishments of both the United States and Soviet Union were individuals of high moral character, purpose and courage. Among those in the West were, Einstein, Rabi, Weiskopf, and in the Soviet Union, Tamm and Kapitsa. In both communities there were scoundrels. (There were, no doubt, several Russian Tellers). And in both, the vast majority of atomic scientists were in the gray areas between. But in the West, there was no individual with the moral stature of Andrei Sakharov. Why is this so?

Andrei Sakharov's career is noteworthy, not only for his heroism, but also for the celebrity and efficacy of his extraordinary moral courage. Sakharov's personal qualities must be judged in the context of the historical circumstances of his career and his dissent, if we are to understand the reasons for his stature, and why he had no American counterpart.

Conspicuous moral heroism presupposes, not only an extraordinary individual, but also a society which, however, repressive, provides an environment in which heroism may be both manifested and noticed.

Unquestionably there were many individuals of extraordinary moral courage during the Nazi holocaust and the Stalin purges. However, the totality of these despotisms prevented their resistance from having any effective results, and, except for such noteworthy exceptions as Deitrich Bonhoeffer and Klaus von Staufenberg, it was not possible for the world to take notice of them. And so many unsung heroes perished futility and unlamented in the death camps and the gulag.

In contrast, in an open and relatively non-repressive society, moral conviction can be expressed without extraordinary heroism. With the possible exception of the HUAC and McCarthy era (late-forties through early-fifties), and the clear exception of the civil rights protesters in the sixties (facing local repression), this has been the case in the United States. Here, moral protest against the prevailing and "official" political fashions has been the occasion for inconvenience and ridicule, but not for physical danger. Brief incarcerations of individuals like Linus Pauling and Benjamin Spock, were more voluntary political statements than punishments, similar to the earlier jailings of Henry David Thoreau and Bertrand Russell. (Imagine the uproar among the "Spock babies," if Benjamin Spock had been exiled to Alaska!)

Time and circumstances, mixed with extraordinary moral insight and courage, combined to produce Sakharov's greatness. In a free and open society, there are no extraordinary injustices to protest, and active dissent does not put one in physical peril. But in Stalin's Soviet Union, when neither time nor circumstance were favorable, Sakharov's defiance would have quickly led him to the basement of the Lubyanka and a bullet through the head. His scientific achievements, reputation and contributions to the state would have counted no more in his favor than they did for Trotsky, Kalinen, Kamenev, Kirov, Zinoviev, or any of the myriad Soviet "heroes" who perished in Stalin's Purges.

Due, perhaps, to the lasting results of Khrushchev's "Thaw," Brezhnev, unlike Stalin, could not be heedless of world opinion. After Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, the price of his liquidation was too high, albeit he could never be certain of this — a fact which further testifies to his extraordinary courage. So, when he protested the Afghan War, Sakharov was banished to Gorky, where his very enforced silence and his hunger strikes shouted to the world an implicit condemnation of the regime that had exiled him. 

With the advent of Gorbachev's glasnost, Sakharov's release was assured, for Gorbachev was an authentic reformer, and no genuine political reform could survive the contradiction of an exiled Sakharov. And so he returned to Moscow, tolerated, however impatiently, by the leadership, and admired by the public and the world. The greatest threat to his life came from his own disregard of his frail health.

Had Senator Joe McCarthy had a taste for power and a political ruthlessness which matched his delight in notoriety, perhaps an American Sakharov might have emerged from the community of atomic scientists, for such a dreadful turn in American politics might have produced a regime comparable to Brezhnev's Soviet Union. (Indeed, at much less personal risk, Edward R. Murrow performed a similar role, when he discredited McCarthy). And yet, in those gray years following the death of Stalin and up to the advent of glasnost, there was one Russian scientist whose extraordinary skill, eloquence, courage and example, moved the seemingly unmovable political regime, and that individual was Andrei Sakharov. (However, due notice should be made of the numerous courageous Soviet dissidents of the time, in whose behalf Sakharov spoke with fearless eloquence: Sinyavsky, Daniel, Bukovsky, Ginzburg, Grigorenko, Shcharansky, the Medvedev brothers, and dozens more). The times and political circumstances — somewhere between total despotism and civil liberty — and the presence of an extraordinary individual, combined to produce this hero of historic proportions. But make no mistake, however appropriate the circumstances, however urgently the evolving stage of history calls, the role is rarely filled. This was the man of the occasion and the hour — there was probably no understudy Sakharov ready to take his place.

Why no American Sakharov? The political conditions did not call for such extraordinary courage and heroism. Had the political conditions here been as repressive as those in Russia, such a hero might have appeared. We will never know. Quite possibly, we would not have been so fortunate. Men like Sakharov rarely appear to re-channel the currents of history.

On the Suppression of Dissent in America: The Case of Noam Chomsky. Professor Chomsky is a man of towering reputation in the field of linguistics. He has also pursued a second career as a critic of US foreign and defense policies, producing a voluminous output of books and critical essays. Though secure and comfortable in his tenured chair at MIT, as a political dissident he has been effectively "marginalized." 

As a public speaker, Chomsky is no firebrand. He speaks in a virtual monotone, but with an awesome stream of documentation and citations, and a virtual water-torture of details. His published political works display a dry, academic style, with footnotes and citations that often equal to the  volume of his texts.

But for those who choose to be persuaded by evidence and cogent argument, rather than rhetoric, Chomsky's case against US foreign and defense policy is compelling.

And yet, for all his manifest qualification, Noam Chomsky has virtually disappeared from public discourse. He is published in fringe magazines, and his essays are collected in obscure paperbacks. He speaks at college fora but is never heard or seen in the mass media — never on "Nightline," or "those goofy Sunday talk shows" (as George Bush the elder calls them), not even PBS.  (The sole exception seems to be the "left fringe" FM stations, such as Pacifica). Amazingly, he is no longer published in The New York Review, which he helped to found, and where he frequently appeared during its first decade of publication.

So why isn't Chomsky a significant voice in public debate?  Because he is "beyond the pale" of "polite" public debate. He condemns US foreign policy as ruthless and genocidal. Freely, and without constraint, he calls our Central American policy "Imperialistic." He supports, without embarrassment, such "enemies of the American state" as the Nicaraguan Contras, the FLMN of El Salvador.

Setting aside the question of the merits of his case, what is interesting is the fact that in Brezhnev's Soviet Union, Chomsky's behavior would earn him an immediate one-way ticket to the Gulag.22  In the United States, he speaks freely, without fear of arrest, at numerous public meetings. Even so, his case is effectively shut out from public discussion. He is ignored, and of no political significance. He is "safe." 

How different might this be, if Chomsky were deprived of his tenure and his job (as Sakharov was stripped of his medals and his academic position), due to the conspicuous pressure of the federal government, and the defense contractors who so generously support research at MIT.23  And if he were then charged with "seditious speech," and exiled to an American Gorky for "slandering the American state."

The establishment knows better — and correctly perceives that such repression is really quite unnecessary. Despite the content and cogency of his message, Noam Chomsky is inconsequential, and for that most effective of reasons in American culture: he is "unfashionable." 

(The same might be said about criticisms of the Warren Report, which, according to many qualified experts, including a Committee of Congress, seems to describe physically impossible events. Credible critics of "the official version" are effectively lumped with far-out "assassination buffs," and then with astrologists, saucer nuts etc.. To be sure, most "assassination buffs" belong in this "New Age" wonderland — most, but not all.) 

To many Americans, nothing is more distasteful than being "out of fashion," however worthy the intrinsic merits of the case. Conversely, nothing will boost an unfounded notion as much as "fashion" — witness "Reaganomics" and later "Star Wars." Those who control political "fashion" (i.e., primarily the media) effectively define the domain of "acceptable discourse," and thus, by implication, control dissent.

Accordingly, European visitors are routinely amazed at the narrow range of political discussion in the United States. They are inclined to agree with George Wallace's complaint that "there's not a dime's worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats."

Who needs a KGB, when Madison Avenue and the Networks do the job even better?


There are potential Tellers everywhere, and even (though far fewer) potential Sakharovs —— i.e., individuals with the moral qualities and the moral potentials of each. Moreover, there are millions of utterly insignificant individuals more morally flawed than Edward Teller. Why should we take special notice of him?

We should do so because his moral myopia has contaminated the body politic, crippled the national economy, and put the entire world in peril. For better or worse, Edward Teller has had a very influential career. In this essay, we contend that this career has been largely "for the worse."

From this writer's point of view, Edward Teller is to be morally condemned for the conduct of his career, and his effect on others, his effect upon the institution of science, and upon government. But our moral evaluation of Edward Teller is of secondary importance. What is far more important in the question of what conditions in our society and our political climate, make it possible for an Edward Teller to rise to such prominence. Why, in other words, have the institutional safeguards, both in politics and in science, failed in this case. 

The lesser failure is that within the scientific community. The greater failure is in our political institutions and media, which proved vulnerable to "Tellerism," despite the warnings and protests of many scientific individuals and groups. For Teller has squandered his reputation among his peers, and he is generally not well regarded in the scientific community, especially by those who know him well. Indeed, he has been an outcast among the scientific community since the Oppenheimer episode, and he has continually renewed that status by the outrageous behavior which we have noted in this commentary. His small circle of admirers seems largely confined to conservative think-tanks, such as the Hoover Institute, and right-wing political figures such as Ronald Reagan, and writers such as William F. Buckley, Jr.

So science has not failed in its duty to evaluate Teller's work (which, let us concede, was often brilliant in his earlier years), or to warn us of his excesses and his mischief. Instead, Teller has flourished despite his lack of scientific credibility. This fact reflects poorly, not on science, but on a body politic which holds scientific expertise in such low regard. After all, Reagan and the radical right cared not a whit about Teller's scientific standing. (In contradistinction, such things did matter to President Carter's administration -- during which Teller's public visibility and political clout were in temporary eclipse).

Another question: what is it about our society, that leads it to celebrate the scientific chicanery of a Teller? It is no mystery that a despotic regime, such as that of Stalin, should elevate a Lysenko, or that a Brezhnev should suppress an exemplar of scientific virtue and integrity, such as Sakharov. And as Americans, looking at  the opposite end of the globe, we reflect with awed admiration at Sakharov, and are grateful that his ideals have, through his extraordinary courage, apparently prevailed.

But our own moral responsibilities are closer to home. And in our own moral arena, we have allowed our political leaders to brush aside competent scientific judgment, and to fall victim to a scientific con-artist — at an enormous cost.

Perhaps we, the American public, must bear ultimate responsibility for this. We have allowed ourselves to be conned by our collective, market-driven preference for entertainment over intelligence. Thus the lavishly funded media have become our primary source of "information," while our educational institutions have languished. Now budget cuts have gone beyond instruction and are cutting into scientific research and development. With our collective loss of scientific sophistication, we have lost our "intellectual sales-resistance." And with the decline of civic activism, due to media-induced passivity, we elect entertainers to high office, and open the door to the ideological hustlers and technocratic con-artists.


In an interesting sense, Edward Teller not only sacrificed others' careers to his obsessions, he may have also sacrificed his own career and reputation. 

Science is remorseless in its magnificent objectivity. In this community of scholarship, transcending national boundaries and generations, not only will truth prevail, so too will deliberate attempts to suppress the truth be exposed. Thus Sakharov stands in the company of Einstein, Oppenheimer, and Bohr. Edward Teller in the company of Lysenko and Dawson (who concocted "Piltdown Man").

No amount of public relations skills, no amount of public subsidy, no political alliances, no suppression of facts, no destruction of reputations and careers will alter, one whit, the fact that innocent people have died as the result of fallout from atmospheric tests, and that Edward Teller was not, as he claims, "the only casualty of TMI." No amount of corruption of scientific method, no amount of suppression of experimental data, will alter the physical properties of X-Rays and lasers that may ultimately doom Edward Teller's attempt to apply them to "strategic defense." Nature cannot be bullied into producing a "clean H-bomb," if the laws of nature forbid it.

Despite all the honors bestowed upon him by a pathetically naive and uninformed President, the judgment of history upon Edward Teller will be harsh and unforgiving. Indeed, the first returns are coming in, for as the adulation of the retired President and administration fades, along with the memory of his early accomplishments at Los Alamos, and as he enjoys his comfortable Emeritus Appointment at the Hoover Institute, his reputation among his scientific peers continues to plummet. The ideological fervor that ended the career, and attempted to destroy the reputation of J. Robert Oppenheimer, has turned upon itself, and will destroy in turn the reputation of its perpetrator.

In contrast, Andrei Sakharov's place in the pantheon of political and intellectual heroes is secure, so long as there are men and women who love liberty, and who revere those who lived and died in its advocacy and defense.


1. New York: W. W. Norton Company, 1968. P. 40.

2. The following two paragraphs, and the Bronowski quotation, are from my unpublished paper, "Policy-Making by the Numbers."

3. Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values, (Harper, 1965).

4. Ibid., 58-60.

5. "Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom," op. cit., p. 25.

6. William J. Broad, Teller's War, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992, pp. 274 & 269, respectively.

7. It is remarkable how statistics can provoke a psychological "half-full/half-empty" response. For example, if (however, improbably), Teller were to accept Sakharov's calculation that 10,000 deaths result from each megaton exploded in the atmosphere, he might then say (assuming a world population of six billion), that the personal risk is minimal — merely one in 60,000. (Much less than the risk of becoming an auto fatality). Of course, these are two interpretations of the same statistic. And thus both have stipulated the stark fact that each megaton prematurely ends the life of ten thousand human beings. (I seem to recall a similar "disagreement" in a thirty-year old debate between Teller and Linus Pauling).

8. In Broad, op. cit., p. 281-2.

9. "Progress, Coexistence...," op. cit., p. 27.

10. Tatyana Zaslavskaya, quoted by Harrison Salisbury, in his Foreword to Sakharov's, Moscow and Beyond, New YorK: A. A. Knopf, 1991, p. xvi-xvii.

11. Broad, op. cit., p. 61.

12. Edward Teller, "Dangerous Myths about Nuclear Arms," Reader's Digest, November, 1982, p. 143. For a detailed rebuttal to this article, see Frank von Hippel's "The Myths of Edward Teller," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March, 1983, pp. 6-12.

13. "Dangerous Myths...," loc. cit., p. 141.

14. Ibid, 141.

15. Broad, op. cit., 229-30.

16. Later, Wallace asked Teller about Roy Woodruff, the former Director of the Livermore Weapons Laboratory, who resigned rather than deliver a false report on SDI progress. The transcript:

Wallace: "[Woodruff] is an honorable man. You recommended him for the job originally. He is not an enemy of Edward Teller."

Teller: [Silence] 

Wallace: "Is this just a difference of opinion among a couple of accomplished scientists?"

Teller: [Silence]

Wallace: "You retreat behind silence. When you don't like a question, you retreat behind silence. Why?"

Teller: [Pause]. "I am to make statements that many people hear. I don't want to make guesses. You will have noticed that I am not answering your questions, when you are asking me about other people's motives. You are conducting this interview in an inappropriate manner. So we are through." 

(Teller Removes his microphone. Stands up, walks out).

17. Broad, 104-5.

18. Incidentally, in the 1930s, Reagan appeared in a movie which featured a "momentum beam" capable of destroying "enemy" aircraft from the ground. Such was the quality of "scientific advice" accepted by this President who, it was later discovered, scheduled state events on the advice of Hollywood astrologers.

19. Broad, 259-60, cf. Sixty Minutes interview, December 13, 1988.

20. Typical of the advocate ("persuader"), Teller adopts his rules of argument to suit his enthusiasm of the moment, often at the cost of consistency. Thus, as Carl Sagan has astutely observed (though not particularly of Teller), on matters of nuclear warfare strategy, Teller and his cohorts adapt "worst-case" assumptions about the Soviet's capabilities. But when the subject turns to nuclear-generated power, he adopts "best-case" assumptions about reactor safety. Why? — except that these assumptions best support Teller's pre-ordained dogmas. (I heard this on an interview with Sagan on KPCC (Public) Radio, Pasadena, CA, sometime in October, 1992).

21. Sakharov proclaims the rights of life, liberty, and happiness; not, as in our constitution, "... the pursuit of happiness." The omission may be significant, for Sakharov's draft expresses a Socialist's concern for welfare rights that is de-emphasized in our political tradition. Our tradition features liberty rights -- "negative" rights of "freedom from" constraints and interference, in speech, assembly, association, worship, etc. Welfare rights are "positive" rights to such necessities as life, food, shelter, employment, etc. Thus, in our society, each citizen has the right to pursue his happiness, but if, due to folly, indolence, or plain bad luck, he falls short, "society" is not called upon to supply the unfortunate individual with the prerequisites of "life, liberty and happiness."

22. In the Soviet Union, political repression was carried out under the cover of "law" — namely, the law against "Slandering the Soviet State." Through this maneuver, political opposition was equated with disloyalty. In the USSR, there was no "loyal opposition." There are whiffs of this device in American politics, as critics of the Administration are charged with "tearing down America." Spiro Agnew, Dan Quayle, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Henry Kissinger, and Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush, were all inclined to wield this rhetorical club. (The fact that there no Democrats are included in this group is due, perhaps, to the fact that for all but four of the past twenty-four years, the Administration has been in Republican hands. I can not recall any instance of Jimmy Carter using this device). In a democracy, the "disloyal opposition" gambit should be relentless exposed and condemned.  [Addendum: February, 2003].  Sadly, this tactic has returned with a vengeance, as such radio "talk jockeys" as Rush Limbaugh, J. Gordon Liddy and Ann Coulter equate criticism of the George Bush II policies as "treason," and somewhat more gently, William Bennett and Lynn Cheney charge that dissenters "hate America."  The next step, it would seem, would be the conviction that "traitors" and "America haters" should  be silenced, or even incarcerated. 

23.    (February, 2003).  We have now moved ominously in that direction.  An MIT professor, Theodore Postel, who first exposed the inflated "success rates" of the Patriot missiles in Gulf War II, has since been a steadfast critic of missile defense.  This has, apparently, resulted in a threat to withhold federal research funding at MIT -- a major source of financial support to the institution.

24.    (February, 2003).  A decade later: plus ηa change, plus la mκme chose. 


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .