The Parrot and the Igloo Notes

Simple Annihilation

218   Start with a title: Frederick Seitz, On the Frontier: My Life in Science, American Institute of Physics, 1994.


218   There’s a photo: Also present are the Rockefeller University board chair and the incoming Rockefeller University president.

Accessed 6-12-22.


218   granddaddy of global-warming skeptics”: Lorraine Woellert, “A Global-Warming Critic’s Hot Stock,” Business Week, June 5, 2000.


218   a Clarence Cook Little replacement: R. B. Seligman, “To: Center for Tobacco Research File; Subject: Meeting in New York — November 15, 1978,” November 17, 1978. U.S Exhibit 35,902.


219   In 1962, President Kennedy: The climate and the denial story is also a celebration of good teachers. Al Gore’s professor at Harvard was Roger Revelle; Jim Hansen was a protégé of James Van Allen; Kennedy’s Surgeon General, Luther Terry, studied under arch-tobacco enemy Alton Ochsner. Karen Miller, The Voice of Business, 133: “Ochsner taught Luther Terry, the surgeon general whose report in 1964 declared smoking hazardous.”


219   return a final guilty or innocent: The scope is impressive, exhaustive. This is Siddhartha Mukherjee:

The committee visited dozens of labs. Data, interviews, opinions, and testimonies were drawn from some 6,000 articles, 1,200 journals, and 155 biologists, chemists, physicians, mathematicians, and epidemiologists. In total, the trials used for the report encompassed studies on about 1,123,000 men and women—one of the largest cohorts ever analyzed in an epidemiological report.”

Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies, Part Four: “Prevention Is the Cure | A Statement of Warning,” 261.


219   The panel was scrupulously balanced: Brandt, The Cigarette Century, Chapter Seven, “The Surgeon General Has Determined,” 220.

Having anticipated that the industry would seek to discredit any findings that suggested the harms of tobacco, he and his advisors had preempted any chance that the report might be attacked on the basis of the committee’s membership. The group was scrupulously made up of five smokers and five nonsmokers. Photos of the committee meeting at the National Library of Medicine show a smoke-filled room with a conference table littered with ashtrays.”

Siddhartha Mukherjee shoots a more colorful montage: “For nine sessions spanning thirteen months, the team met in a sparsely furnished, neon-lit room of the National Library of Medicine, a modern concrete building on the campus of the NIH. Ashtrays filled with cigarette butts littered the tables. (The committee was split exactly five to five among nonsmokers and smokers—men whose addiction was so deep that it could not be shaken even when deliberating the carcinogenesis of smoke.)” Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies, Part Four, “Prevention Is the Cure | A Statement of Warning,” 261.


219   “hair-raising”: Charles Kenney, “The Antismoking Guerrillas,” The Boston Globe, May 4, 1986.

“The committee began its work of reviewing the available scientific literature on smoking — 7,000 articles in all — in late 1962 and worked in secrecy for 14 months. When the members finally had analyzed the data, ‘it blew all of our minds,’ says Dr. Peter V. V. Hamill, the committee’s medical coordinator. ‘It was hair-raising.’”


219   Dr. Louis Fieser: Brandt, Cigarette Century, Chapter Seven, 223.

Fieser’s daily intake is here—and the period’s definition of addiction is fascinating. “Louis Fieser, the distinguished Harvard organic chemist, smoked throughout the meetings, up to four packs a day. Committee members warned him to cut down while they sifted through hundreds of studies demonstrating the serious harms of smoking. He didn’t, even though he signed on to the committee’s conclusions. With this evidence of the effects of nicotine before his eyes, Maurice Seevers, the committee’s expert in pharmacology, still refused to accept the idea that smoking was addictive by current standard definitions. He conceded that it was habit-forming and smokers might experience withdrawal. But the prevailing definitions of addiction centered on the social impacts of drug use. Since it was widely perceived that cigarettes had no ‘social pathologies’ like alcohol, marijuana, or heroin, the committee followed Seevers’s lead. The addictiveness of smoking would ultimately be the subject of the surgeon general’s report of 1988.”


219      My case seems to me: Brandt, Cigarette Century, 229.


219      made trades, wreaked havoc: Kluger, Ashes to Ashes, Chapter Eight, “Grand Inquisitors,” 247.

“Armed guards were stationed at the library entrances and patrolled the corridors; all committee members, their staff, and consultants had to obtain government clearance, and all the materials and internal documents generated by the study were under lock and key. These measures were aimed at preventing leaks to Wall Street, where the manipulation of tobacco stock prices might result. The hush-hush atmosphere added to the building awareness that the committee’s business was of surpassing international significance.”


219      they did so on a Saturday: Kluger, Ashes to Ashes, 259.

“The whole world discovered those contents on the morning of Saturday, January 11, 1964, when some 200 members of the press were admitted to the State Department auditorium, the same room in which President Kennedy, slain less than two months earlier, had been questioned on the smoking issue, and were handed the 150,000-word report by the Surgeon General’s advisory committee. A Saturday was chosen for the press conference to minimize the impact of the report on the stock markets . . .”


219      “unequivocal”: Mukherjee feels the weightiness. Emperor of All Maladies, 262. “The word ‘cause,’” the report states


is capable of conveying the notion of a significant, effectual relationship between an agent and an associated disorder or disease in the host. . . . Granted that these complexities were recognized, it is to be noted clearly that the Committee’s considered decision [was] to use the words ‘a cause,’ or ‘a major cause’ . . . in certain conclusions about smoking and health.


And then the key. Mukherjee writes, “In that single, unequivocal sentence, the report laid three centuries of doubt and debate to rest.”


220      “with the confidence of justifiable self-interest”: Brown and Williamson, Smoking and Health Proposal, 1969, Bates No. 680561778.


220      Doubt is our product”: The phrasing of this anonymous executive is so evocative—for the strategy of any denial cause—it became the title for former OSHA head David Michaels’ broadly disturbing Doubt Is Their Product. Naomi Oreskes’ seminal Merchants of Doubt can be considered a sort of conceptual sequel.


220      “acted as a front”: The 1978 memo again. (R. B. Seligman, “To: Center for Tobacco Research File | Subject: Meeting in New York — November 15, 1978,” November 18, 1978.)

This kind of language—during tobacco’s half-century denial experiment—would eventually help do in the industry. The no-prisoners honesty of it.

This is from the New York Times, 1992, discussing one of the first semi-successful claims against the industry.

“The tobacco industry’s chief research arm for 40 years described its own mission as a ‘front’ and a ‘shield’ against potentially harmful Congressional hearings, lawsuits or scientific research about the health risks of smoking, according to a ruling by a federal judge here who publicly quoted secret industry memorandums for the first time.

“The judge, H. Lee Sarokin of Federal District Court, said on Thursday that a jury might reasonably assume that the industry’s decades-old vow to disclose its research findings were ‘nothing but a public-relations ploy—a fraud—to deflect the growing evidence against the industry, to encourage smokers to continue and nonsmokers to begin, and to reassure the public that adverse information would be disclosed.’ . . . The memo was written on Nov. 17, 1978, by R. B. Seligman, who was not further identified in the ruling.”

Charles Strum, “Judge Cites Possible Fraud in Tobacco Research,” The New York Times, February 8, 1992.


221      All of which made Dr. Frederick Seitz: As Scott Cutlip noted about Clarence Little in The Unseen Power, “Scientists were greatly perturbed that Dr. Little would lend his name and credibility to the tobacco companies. What Little’s motivation was in going over to ‘the other side’ is an unknowable.” 488.


221      a “very active retirement”: The friend (for an idea of the physicist’s professional and social range) Seitz was writing is Bill Hewlett, of Hewlett-Packard.

Letter from Frederick Seitz to Bill Hewlett, March 29, 1978.


221      shining on the buildings”: American Institute of Physics, “Oral Histories: William Shockley,” Interviewed by Lillian Hoddeson, September 10, 1974.

Accessed 6-22-22.


221      Seitz wrote a foundational textbook: Like his friend Shockley (who we’ll see again), Seitz did work that ended up in the devices on which this book is being end-noted, and in many cases read.

This comes from Time, “Something to Offer,” May 4, 1962. “In the ‘30s, Seitz and Princeton’s Eugene P. Wigner devised a method for calculating the forces that bind atoms together in a metal, an application of new theory to solid-state physics. Later, Seitz wrote The Modern Theory of Solids, the first comprehensive survey of solid-state physics, and made significant contribution to the development of such solid-state devices as transistors.”


221      then resumed civilian life without scars or ribbons: In a photo from the February 13, 1950 Life (“A Week of Shock and Decision”), Seitz looks handsome and happy. Ed Harris-like, in the thick of it. It’s a story about the need to accelerate arms development. Caption: “Dr. Seitz Declares We Must Speed Up.”

How do you return to un-dramatic, non-accelerated life after that?


222      roundtable broadcast to millions: NBC and University of Chicago, “The University of Chicago Roundtable: The Facts About the Hydrogen Bomb,” February 26, 1950.


222      “That is definitely so”: Hans Bethe, Harrison Brown, Frederick Seitz, Leo Slizard. “The Facts About the Hydrogen Bomb,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Volume 6, 1950. Issue 4.


222      “the chiller to top all chillers”: Time, “Hydrogen Hysteria,” March 6, 1950.


222      Why scare the daylights out of everyone?”: Richard K Winslow, “Lilienthal Hits ‘Cult of Doom’ On Atom Bomb: Says ‘Oracles’ of Disaster Serve No Useful Purpose and Merely Spread Panic,” New York Herald Tribune; March 2, 1950.

Atomic reply came a couple of days later.

New York Herald Tribune, “Fear and the H-Bomb: Dr. Leo Szilard Replies to Mr. Lilienthal’s Criticisms,” March 4, 1950. “It is the people who will pay the price, and it must be their decision to pay it, and they will have to discuss it before they will be able to decide.” A sort of very beautiful apothegm.


222      astonishment or distaste”: One of the chapter’s tart ironies: across three decades and many lifetimes and offensives, this is just what Seitz will accuse warming scientists of doing. Two things I learned: human beings are infinitely flexible and forgiving about their own failings and contradictions; human personality itself is fairly inflexible. Seitz had that inability to understand that a side he was on was not correct simply because he was on that side. This is true of most deniers, and less true of scientists. The scientists did their research, made their predictions, tallied the results. That is, the deniers’ overall loyalty is to themselves as protagonists. For scientists, the protagonist was accuracy.


222      Who among us will feel sinless”: Frederick Seitz, “Physicists and the Cold War,” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1950 Volume 6, Issue 3.


222      an extraordinary stir”: Time, “Call to Arms,” April 3, 1950.

Arthur Krock, “In The Nation: The Duty of Scientists in the Cold War,” The New York Times, March 24, 1950. Note that the Times, during this frightening period, is not in disagreement with Dr. Seitz. “An article by Dr. Frederick Seitz, research professor of physics at the University of Illinois, published in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, has already made a great impression on the Government and the impression is growing,” the paper reports. “The duty of American scientists in these times to engage in military research is both real and imperative, according to Dr. Seitz, and he lists a number of arresting reasons.” The paragraph gives you the anxieties of the time.


222      “If physicist Seitz wants to prostitute”: John Cummings, “Letters [Call to Arms],” Time, April 24, 1950.


223      Their tactics encourage universal fear”: On the Frontier: My Life in Science, American Institute of Physics, 1994. 381.


223      simple annihilation”: Frederick Seitz, “Offensive or Defensive Weapons,” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1953, Volume 9, Issue 9.


223      National Academy of Sciences: The New York Times, “Physicist To Head Science Academy: Seitz Will Succeed Bronk in National Advisory Group”; Apr 25, 1962. Per the Times, Seitz was “expected to expand even further the academy’s role in advising the Government on scientific policy.”

Two things: (A) in Seitz’s case, “Government” meant “the military”; (B) In the Kennedy era, the Times capitalized “government.”


223      “planned to prod even more scientists”: Time, “Something To Offer,” May 4, 1962. A useful little National Academy history lesson here; the Academy is going to play a big role in the overtext.

“The exclusive academy (present membership 650) has been a willing servant of the U.S. Government ever since it was founded by President Abraham Lincoln 99 years ago. The academy conducts research for any Government agency that requests it, charging only expenses. In the past, its investigations have ranged from the economics of fertilizer use to the effectiveness of military uniforms. And, through hot and cold wars, the academy’s offspring, the National Research Council, has mobilized the nation’s scientific resources. In an era when science is intimately involved with national policy, the academy is the scientific community’s most articulate spokesman in Washington.

“ . . . Throughout much of his career (Stanford, Princeton, Rochester, Pennsylvania and Carnegie Tech as well as Illinois), Seitz has been an outspoken champion of scientists who devote their talents to national problems. In the midst of the loud soul-searching that followed President Truman’s 1950 announcement that the U.S. would develop a hydrogen bomb, Seitz stood before the American Physical Society and laid it on the line for his anti-H-bomb colleagues. Said he: ‘Who among us will feel sinless if he has remained passively by while Western culture was being overwhelmed?’ In his new job at the academy, Seitz plans to prod even more scientists into working for national security. Says he: ‘This is the way a democracy works. It depends on the private citizen making his services available in the public interest when he has something to offer.’”


223      “highly unpopular”: Seitz, On the Frontier, 288. “At that time, our country was involved in the war in Vietnam, and many members of the Academy were deeply hostile toward the administration of President Johnson because of it, even though he had inherited the problem. Since it was inevitable that the Academy would be called upon to assist that administration in one way or another, it was not difficult to foresee troubled times ahead.”


223      “in bad odor”: American Institute of Physics, “Oral Histories: Fredrick Seitz,” Interviewed by Allan Needell and Ronald Doel, July 19, 1994.

Accessed 6-22-22.


223      “with a brilliant display of fireworks”: American Institute of Physics, “Oral Histories: Fredrick Seitz,” Interviewed by Spencer Weart (!), October 7, 1982.

Accessed 6-22-22.


223      “You’d have to say he was rather hawkish”: The New York Times, “Militant Physicist: Frederick Seitz,” April 4, 1968. Two things. Note, in eighteen years, the complete turnaround in reception for Frederick Seitz. (“Militant” physicist. Under his slightly egghead photo is the statement that says it all. “A long-time supporter of military research.”) This is being written during Vietnam. Second, in the final graf, Seitz is described as “the six-foot-tall, 1815-pound scientist.” Which seems uncomfortable or unlikely.


224      “a very nasty word in those days”: American Institute of Physics, “Oral Histories: Fredrick Seitz,” Interviewed by Spencer Weart (!), October 7, 1982. 

Accessed 6-22-22.


224      anti-science, anti-technology”: American Institute of Physics, “Oral Histories: Fredrick Seitz,” Interviewed by Spencer Weart (!), October 7, 1982.

Accessed 6-22-22.


224      the “stir among the youth”: It’s an interesting, paranoid exchange. And shows how alienated Seitz had—or had allowed himself—to become.


Weart: What do you think were the effects of the Vietnam War in all of this?

Seitz: Well, it helped generate the anti-science and anti-technology mood. However I think you can trace it back earlier, to the Berkeley riots and all those things, the stir among the youth.: “Let’s turn away from new technology!”

Weart: Away from authority.

Seitz: You can easily trace the stirring as far back as 1959.


224      propose radical social reforms”: On the Frontier, 329.


224      You must be new here”: AIP, Oral History, Interviewed by Spencer Weart. Throughout the interview, Seitz uses words like “ringleader” and “the agitation” and calls his office assistant “my girl.” (Seitz: “I think your card index is pretty good. It must be that my girl gave you some of the information on committees which they love to collect.” You can’t be interviewed in excess of two questions without telling an interviewer who you are.


224      different grades of toilet paper: American Institute of Physics, Oral History Interviews, Michael Goldhaber, Interviewed by Patrick Catt, July 20, 1995.

Accessed 6-20-22.

“And Frederick Seitz, whom I’ve actually known since I was a child, turned out to have a lot of Rockefeller connections and other right-wing connections. He became president of the university at that time. And students also had just worked on the basic class dynamics of the place, had dug up things like there were three different kinds of toilet paper used depending on the status of the people who would be using the toilet. It was quite absurd, I mean, the level that it went to. Some of this struck me as more amusing than anything else and I didn’t get as involved in the class issue . . . I became a member of a brand new faculty executive committee that was attempting to take power away from the President, for there had never been any faculty senate or anything like that there.”

Mary Abraham and Georgia Patikoglou, “That Seventies Paper,” Natural Selections: A Newsletter of the Rockefeller University Community, December 2006–January 2007.


224      the greatest embarrassment”: The New York Times, “Rockefeller University Hit by Storm Over Tenure,” Israel Shenker, September 26, 1976.


224      It was the bumbling of Fred Seitz”: Even two decades later, the storm still drizzled. This is from a Times tribute to a Rockefeller mathematician. “Hao Wang, 73, Expander of Logician’s Themes,” New York Times May 17, 1995. “He joined the faculty of Rockefeller University in 1967 and helped assemble a group of renowned philosophers and logicians. The group disbanded in 1976 under budgetary pressure from the university’s president, Dr. Frederick Seitz. Dr. Wang was the only logic professor to remain at the university.”


224      cultivation of the mundane”: Seitz, On The Frontier, xiv.

The Parrot and the Igloo by David Lipsky