News & Comment

Science and Politics: Free Speech Controversy at Lawrence Laboratory

Science  21 Aug 1970:
Vol. 169, Issue 3947, pp. 743-745
DOI: 10.1126/science.169.3947.743


The Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, one of the nation's most distinguished scientific institutions, has been struck by a series of "free speech" controversies in recent months. The laboratory, which is operated by the University of California and is almost entirely funded by the Atomic Energy Commission, has facilities in two California locations, Berkeley and Livermore. Each has been under fire for allegedly stifling open discussion of controversial issues.

The Berkeley facility, a leading center for the study of high-energy physics and fundamental nuclear science, has been split by an internal debate over the right of scientists to hold formal political discussions at the laboratory during their lunch hours. The controversy has led to the banning of meetings, the circulating of petitions and counterpetitions bearing hundreds of names, the publishing of an underground newspaper, and the suspension of a controversial physicist.

The Livermore facility, a major center for developing nuclear weapons, has been accused of trying to muzzle two staff scientists who contend that existing radiation standards are too lax to protect the public from nuclear radiation hazards. Livermore has also been the target of demonstrations and of a lawsuit seeking to open the weapons laboratory to allow discussions between outsiders and staff scientists concerning the implications of weapons research. The article below discusses the controversy at the Berkeley laboratory, where only unclassified research is performed. A subsequent article will discuss the conflict at security-conscious Livermore.