In the wake of a military coup in Greece in April 1967 and the subsequent dismissal of many academics from university positions,
scientists debated whether to boycott scientific meetings in Greece as a sign of protest, and more broadly their political
responsibilities for maintaining freedom of research and civil liberties. Unlike many of his European colleagues, Crick was
not in favor of a boycott because it did not extend to other oppressive regimes and would further undermine the position of
Greek scientists. In his letter Arnstein similarly took the position that if conferences continued to serve the purpose of
furthering scientific exchange, they should be held even in countries that restrict scientists' freedom of movement. The
debate focused on the annual summer school for molecular biologists held on the Greek island of Spetsai.
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1969-11-20 (November 20, 1969)
Arnstein, Henry R. V.
Original Repository: Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine. Francis Harry Compton Crick Papers
Many thanks for your letter about our contribution in Nature to the discussion concerning international conferences which
you started early in October. As you know, FEBS now has constituent societies in every European country and therefore covers
a part of the world where political differences are very marked. Although personally I disapprove of both extremes of the
political spectrum, I still think it is desirable that FEBS meetings should be organised by different constituent societies
in their own countries provided that biochemists can attend the meetings without interference by the government of the host
country and can express scientific opinions freely. In other words FEBS as an organisation is inclined to see this problem
from a pragmatic and practical point of view. This is the reason why, when it comes to our first point, we have deliberately
not included the requirement that citizens of the host country should also be able to enter and leave the country freely.
I, personally, would of course like to see a world where all scientists, and indeed everyone else, could travel freely, but
I think to make this a condition for holding a meeting in a particular country is at present unrealistic. For example, there
was a time when the United States refused quite frequently to issue passports to many people, including some eminent scientists.
Would you consider that during that period it would have been wrong to organise an international meeting in the United States?
I feel that there are other and better ways of applying pressure and that by holding meetings under such conditions one can
at least retain scientific contact. I should draw the line, of course, if scientists of the host country were prevented from
attending the meetings, since in such circumstances meaningful scientific contact would clearly no longer be possible.
Your remarks about financial support and the attitude of younger scientists may well be true and in fact I am not at all surprised
about the attitude of the students at Spetsai. In my experience, however, younger people are often extremely ignorant about
the financial cost of most things, including the organisation of meetings. It is in fact their good fortune that they don't
have to consider such matters, but a little bit of education in this respect is usually well worth while and, I find, often
appreciated. My personal view would be that one should draw a distinction when considering financial support by governments
between support for strictly scientific aspects, e.g. the cost of inviting foreign scientists who are giving lectures, and
social functions. I can see very little wrong in accepting money to enable a symposium to be held, but I think it is quite
unnecessary to depend on the support of an oppressive regime for social functions. At the same time, these two aspects are
often difficult to disentangle and in the case of FEBS, where meetings are organised by the host society, this would be doubly
These are just my first reactions to the points you have raised. I am taking the liberty of sending a copy of your letter
and this reply to Datta and I am wondering whether you think it would be useful sometime to have an exchange of views by personal
discussion rather than correspondence to see if we can reach some sort of agreed position. I should certainly be quite willing
to come up to Cambridge sometime in the near future if you thought this would be useful.