Letter from Michael Heidelberger to Alden H. Emery, American Chemical Society
In this letter Heidelberger continued to protest the decision of the Admissions Committee of the American Chemical Society
in 1953, at the height of the McCarthyism, to deny membership in the society to the French chemist and Nobel Laureate, Irene
Joliot-Curie, on the grounds that she was a communist. Heidelberger objected that this decision was itself political, that
it undermined the freedom of scientific inquiry in the United States, and that a candidate's scientific qualifications
alone should determine eligibility for membership. He pointed to the accomplishments of scientists in the Soviet Union as
proof that basic science could thrive under communist regimes.
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1954-02-17 (February 17, 1954)
Emery, Alden H.
American Chemical Society
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Antigens and Antibodies: Heidelberger and The Rise of Quantitative Immunochemistry, 1928-1954
Letter from Michael Heidelberger to Alden H. Emery, American Chemical Society (January 11, 1954)
Letter from A. M. Pappenheimer, Jr. to Alden H. Emery, American Chemical Society (March 11, 1954)
Letter from Michael Heidelberger to Alden H. Emery, American Chemical Society (March 30, 1954)
Thank you for your reply of January 27th. Whether one regards Mr. Hanson's letter as a whole or not, it raises a grave
question as to his fitness as an adviser to a Society such as ours with international as well as national overtones and responsibilities.
His letter was emotional and, on the basis of my information, contrary to fact. I ask that you bring these circumstances
to the attention of the Committee on Admissions, particularly as the subject now seems to have been aired in the "Bulletin
of the Atomic Scientists" and the French, at least, will know that the Committee was badly advised.
It seems to me a fallacy to consider that "basic science as we know it" cannot "exist under Communism". True,
we know that charlatans such as Lysenko can obtain a political monopoly and so snuff out an entire science, and that the resonance
theory is out of favor at the moment with the communists. All this is certainly repugnant to us. But even though machine
guns can force an outward compliance with the fashionable views most of our Russian colleagues must continue to think clearly.
Otherwise there could not be the volume of Russian chemical research which I see taking up more and more space in every number
of Chemical Abstracts. And the reputed Russian successes in atomic energy indicate, to our sorrow, that this field of basic
science exists there as we know it. What, then, can you prove by excluding communists from a "free scientific organization"
which might lend encouragement to the independent minded and could certainly not be harmed by a few party-liners?
While I am respecting your wish to keep this correspondence personal and am treating it mainly as a Society matter, the recent
newspaper reference to the "Bulletin" article would seem to put the matter on a different plane. I would have no
objection to the publication of our correspondence in Chemical and Engineering News, where it would call the attention of
our members to international implications in which we find ourselves involved whether we like them or not. We need more objective
thinking in these matters, and scientists are the people to do just that.