Letter from Alfred Kastler to Marshall W. Nirenberg
Kastler, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1966, insists that laureates have a responsibility to use their public prestige
to prevent misuse of science. He recommends that they "meditate upon the Nobel lecture delivered in 1974 by Gunner Myrdal,"
in which he showed that only a radical change of attitude can head off catastrophe initiated by food shortages and population
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1976-06-14 (June 14, 1976)
Nirenberg, Marshall W.
Reproduced with permission of Daniel Kastler.
Beyond the Laboratory: Professional, Personal, and Political Life, 1967-2002
The problems with which humanity is faced today are of such a gravity, and governmental decisions on the national or international
scale are often so bizarre that -as was stated by a journalist at a press conference on Human Rights held by Nobel-laureates
in Stockholm, 12 December 1975- Nobel-laureates have the responsibility to use their public prestige to help make things go
in the right direction and to prevent the misuse of science for purposes leading in the short or in the long run to degeneracy
and to destruction of mankind.
Therefore I would strongly recommend to all Nobel-laureates who receive every year the Nobel-yearbook of the preceding year,
to read and to meditate upon the Nobel lecture delivered in 1974 (see page 263) by Gunnar Myrdal who was awarded the prize
in Economics in 1974. Myrdal has devoted his long life to the problems of the desherited people of the earth. He is an expert
in the fields of economics and sociology. His lecture highlights the gravity of the present world situation. He shows that
only a radical change of attitude of the citizens of the industrialized countries towards the people of the developing areas
can protect humanity from the coming catastrophe initiated by the population explosion and food shortages, leading to hunger
for billions of people and inevitably to violence.
In the present situation, the aid given to underdeveloped areas being very limited, the cruel but rational doctrine of "triage"
has to be considered, condemning millions of people to death by starvation.
If, however, as Myrdal proposes, this aid could be substantially increased, if in our countries the citizens could be educated
to consciousness on these problems and to a more frugal mode of alimentation, and if agriculture could be developed in retarded
countries, all people on the globe could be saved from undernutrition and starvation.
Such an increase in aid is difficult to achieve at the present time when even the industrial countries are severely touched
by the economic crisis and by the unemployment problem.
But it could be easily done, as emphasized by Prime Minister Olof Palme of Sweden in his speech at the Nobel banquet 1975,
if "the enormous potential of human creativity and material resources at present invested in the arms race, could instead
be channeled into the fight against poverty and underdevelopment in the poor countries of the world. Thus, the tremendous
resources would be used in the service of peace and reason".
At this point, may I draw your attention to another Nobel lecture published in the same yearbook 1974, page 208, that of Sean
Mac Bride, laureate of peace, entitled: "The imperatives of survival". Mac Bride strongly supports the view of Gunnar
Myrdal on the gravity of the present world situation: "Never before has humanity been presented with so many or such grave
At present the competition of the nuclear arms race between USA and USSR goes on at a rate which -- as our colleague George
Wald has said -- may be characterized as MAD. It is not only an offence to ethical principles, as emphazised by Albert Schweitzer;
it becomes a defiance to human intelligence. When some years ago the governments of both nations proposed to other nations
the non-proliferation treaty of nuclear arms, they promised to engage themselves in the task of nuclear disarmament. This
promise has not been fulfilled. If the present trend goes on, before the end of this century, a dozen more nations will possess
I strongly request all Nobel laureates to join our Japanese colleagues Yukawa and Tomonaga in their Pugwash appeal published
in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, December 1975.
I may also inform you that the "Stockholm declaration of twelve Nobel laureates on disarmament, help to poor countries
and the aim of the Paris conference" remains open for signatures. Your signature would be welcome.