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The Joshua Lederberg Papers

Title:
Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Abraham A. Ribicoff Annotation pdf (374,724 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Abraham A. Ribicoff
Description:
Item is handwritten.
Number of Image Pages:
9 (374,724 Bytes)
Date:
1968-07 (July 1968)
Creator:
Lederberg, Joshua
Recipient:
Ribicoff, Abraham A.
United States Senate
Rights:
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
Relation:
Lederberg Grouping: SAM Science and Man Series
Box Number: 106
Folder Number: 33
Unique Identifier:
BBGDSF
Accession Number:
92
Document Type:
Letters (correspondence)
Drafts (documents)
Language:
English
Format:
application/pdf
image/tif
Physical Condition:
Poor
Series: Writings
SubSeries: Science and Man
Folder: S111: "Swift Biological Advance Can Be Bent to Genocide" (17 August 1968)
Transcript:
7/68 not used.
Dear Senator Ribicoff:
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of testifying before the Senate Committee on Government Operations. You were in the chair. The discussion between Prof. Arthur Kornberg and yourself that preceded my own testimony was one of the most challenging debates I have ever heard on the social responsibilities of science.
You pointed out that statesmen needed guidance from scientists about the potential hazards that might be latent in scientific discovery. You asked us as biologists whether our consciences might be burdened, as many physicists have been with their thoughts about the unlocking of nuclear armament. What could we tell you now that could help the
[END PAGE ONE]
[BEGIN PAGE TWO]
Congress chart a new [?] course in the extension and use of scientific knowledge. The issues you raised have been lodged in my thinking for a long time, but your challenge provokes me to try to identify the most acute dangers, that most urgently need public ventilation. I can indeed point to many areas where insufficient knowledge keeps us in a dark age of needless human misery. But any listing of these
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[BEGIN PAGE THREE]
would merely expose the generality of our ignoranci [sic], that there are still some places where we know just enough to perceive that we can do better, and have a glimpse of how to achieve it. Perhaps our efforts at learning what we need to know for the conquest of disease, aging, death, and ignorance will never be sufficient. Certainly we can never comfort our conscience's [sic] that we are doing enough.
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However, I know that you have been the chief executive officer of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and that no one understands better than you do the gap between the ideal and the possible.
You were probably asking for advice on more positive hazards, the foreseeable consequences of technical work that is in being. Is there scientific work that should be pointed out to you as palpably molevolent [sic]
[written in left margin, narrow margin of survival anyhow! Cleaning up the environment everywhere our responsibility.
BW is a side-issue to peace? but does our continual work have contribute [?] to political stability?]
[END PAGE FOUR]
[BEGIN PAGE FIVE]
fraught with large scale perils to humanity?
There is a frightful answer to your question. Its name is Biological Warfare.
Yes, we know that war is already the chief peril to human survival. Nuclear weapons can now make human life untenable on earth. What could possibly be worse than the power we already have to stop human progress?
[written in left margin, Research on BW and doing BW. My criticism is directed at what we are not doing, out of volume with what we are.]
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[BEGIN PAGE SIX]
That argument has its merits, but it would stifle discussion of any other problem whatever. All of our hopes and labors are shakily predicated on the assumption that there will be a post-nuclear era.
There are two special hazards of biological weapons. Nuclear arms and their delivery systems still require enough industrial resources to limit them to only a few countries So far, political initiatives to control further nuclear proliferation have
[END PAGE SIX]
[BEGIN PAGE SEVEN]
made substantial progress, even if 20 years overdue. (Senator, will you blame scientists for that delay? Did they keep any secrets from the public on the hazards of nuclear proliferation?) By contrast, once biological weapons reach substantial development, a few million dollars worth of industrial plant can produce enough to infect the earth. The delivery systems for BW are still problematical, and it is hard to see now
[END PAGE SEVEN]
[BEGIN PAGE EIGHT]
what important use BW would be to a country already possessed of the more predictable nuclear arms. In effect, then, the U.S. (among other countries) is doing the pioneering research in BW that will eventually be exploited by other smaller countries, against one another, or against the US itself.
A much more
[written in left margin, do not dwell on geopolitical niceties
Hazards of contagion]
[END PAGE EIGHT]
[BEGIN PAGE NINE]
As a scientist, I can seek the truth, and I can try to disseminate it. You have the power of political action. What more can I tell you?
Metadata Last Modified Date:
2006-12-07
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Annotation by Joshua Lederberg:
KW:  Social responsibility of science, his committee on government operations;
technopathy; Kornberg; try to list hazard spots -- but sustain our
campaign against disaese, aging and death; He has been
Secretary of HEW, knows gap between ideal and possible; 
What is greatest threat: Biological Warfare!; compare nuclear --
high technical threshold;-- good occasion to control 
proliferation, and scientists have done their part.
a few million dollars of BW could infect the earth; I as
scientist seek the truth; you are at helm of political action;

jl 9/2/00