Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Mrs. Pauling was right about two things

For Christmas (two years ago) my sister-in-law gave me a copy of
Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary by Mina Carson, a historian at Oregon State University, which is home to the Linus Pauling archives. I read it then but it has taken me a while to get around to writing this post.

Aside: There are many personal dimensions to this gift choice. My sister-in-law and her family live in Corvallis, and their younger daughter attends Linus Pauling Middle School. Of course, they knew about my great admiration of Pauling. But also, the author has been in a book club with my sister-in-law.

I enjoyed reading the book and it gave me a different perspective on Pauling's life. Although, some of the more intimate details in the book I would rather not have known about...

The author nicely highlights how Ava Helen was really the driving force behind Linus' political activism, which ultimately led to his second Nobel Prize (in Peace) for the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It is interesting to wonder whether today she would have shared the prize with him.

But, here I want to focus on two things that really struck me from the book.

In the 1950s Mrs. Pauling advocated two positions that we (or at least most people) just take for granted today. Yet at the time, the Paulings were persecuted for their advocacy of these views, particularly by powerful political, governmental, and commercial interests.

1. Above ground nuclear testing and the associated radiation exposure is bad for peoples health.

2. Faculty at public universities should be allowed to hold and advocate any political views they choose.

The context of the second was the Loyalty Oath Controversy that ripped apart UC Berkeley from 1949-1951.

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