September 30, 02

Vol. 18 , No. 02   

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The Scientist as Public Intellectual

Herbert York is the embodiment of the scientist as public intellectual. When he received the Fermi Medal in 2000, York joined the company of John von Neumann, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Eugene Wigner, scientists whose thought has powerfully influenced the course not only of policy but also of history. For more than four decades York has been at the forefront of efforts to design and deploy a secure and stable nuclear deterrent program and to create and promote arms control. He has both built and maintained nuclear weapons and contributed to the winding down of the tensions of nuclear threat. York has been committed to the view that science and policymaking should be above partisan politics and has advised both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Dr. York became involved with nuclear weapons in 1943 when he joined Ernest Lawrence's Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley. After completing his dissertation, he began his career as an experimental physicist by codiscovering the neutral pi-meson. Soon, he gave up high-energy physics to lead the California Radiation Laboratory team that was engaged in developing thermonuclear weapons and became the first director of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. President Eisenhower appointed York as one of his science advisors during the tense post-Sputnik period, and he soon became the first Director of Defense Research and Engineering at the Defense Department. Later, York served as Ambassador to the Comprehensive Test Ban Talks from 1979-81 and as a member of the delegation to the Anti-Satellite Talks in 1978 and 1979.

A lifelong educator, York became the first Chancellor of the University of San Diego, and he directed the Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation there. He is one of the authors of some of the most widely influential books on the history, science, and politics of nuclear weapons development and arms control, including: The Advisors: Oppenheimer; Teller and the Superbomb (1989); Making Weapons, Talking Peace: A Physicists Journey from Hiroshima to Geneva (1987); A Shield in Space? Technology, Politics and the Strategic Defense Initiative (1989); and Arms and the Physicist (1995). This is the second talk sponsored by the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies in conjunction with Professor Robert Faggen's seminar Public Intellectuals in American Life.