History Magazine

Pauling at UCSD: Season of Tumult

By Scarc

Pauling at UCSD: Season of Tumult

[Part 2 of 3 in a series exploring Linus Pauling’s years on faculty at the University of California, San Diego.]

As his program on orthomolecular psychiatry began to take off, Pauling’s work as an activist moved forward with as much zeal as ever. Despite criticism that his association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) and his protests against the Vietnam War made no sense in the context of his scientific career, Pauling had stopped viewing his interests as an activist and his scientific research as being separate branches of a single life.

Pauling happened to be at the University of Massachusetts a mere five days after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Invited to deliver a series of lectures as the university’s first Distinguished Professor, Pauling fashioned his remarks around the topic of the human aspect of scientific discoveries. Reflecting on the tumult of the previous week, Pauling told his audience that it was not enough to mourn the fallen civil rights leader. Rather, individuals of good conscience were obligated to carry King’s legacy forward by continuing the work that he began.

In keeping with this theme over the course of his lectures, Pauling emphasized the scientist’s responsibility to ensure that discoveries be used for the good of all humanity and society, rather than in support of war and human suffering. Scientific inquiry should also emphasize solutions to current issues, he felt, pointing to the lack of equality in access to medical care in the United States as one such issue. Pauling saw his work in orthomolecular medicine as potentially solving this problem: vitamins were fairly inexpensive, more accessible, and could, he believed, significantly improve one’s mental and physical well-being.


Pauling at UCSD: Season of Tumult

Notes used by Pauling for his talk, “The Scientific Revolution,” delivered as a component of the lecture series, “The Revolutionary Age, the Challenge to Man,” March 3, 1968.

Pauling made similar connections to his work on sickle cell anemia.

Though he was no longer involved in the daily operations of the CSDI, he continued to participate in a public lecture series that the center sponsored throughout his time in San Diego. In one contribution to a series titled “The Revolutionary Age: The Challenge to Man,” Pauling put forth a potential solution to sickle cell disease. As science had succeeded in identifying the gene mutation responsible for the disease, Pauling believed that forms of social control could be used to prevent carriers of the mutation from marrying and procreating. Over time, Pauling reasoned, the mutation would eventually be phased out.

Pauling specifically called for the drafting of laws that would require genetic testing before marriage. Should tests of this sort reveal that two heterozygotes (individuals carrying one normal chromosome and one mutation) intended to marry, their application for a license would be denied. Pauling put forth similar ideas about restricting the number of children that a couple could have if one parent was shown to be a carrier for sickle cell trait.

In proposing these ideas, Pauling aimed to ensure that his discovery of the molecular basis of sickle cell disease was used to decrease human suffering. Likewise, he felt that whatever hardships the laws that he proposed might cause in the short run, the future benefits accrued from the gradual elimination of the disease would justify the legislation.

Partly because he called this approach “negative eugenics,” Pauling came into harsh criticism for his point of view; indeed, his ideas on this topic remain controversial today. In a number of the lectures that he delivered around the time of his CSDI talk, however, Pauling took pains to clarify that his perspective was not aligned with the broader field of eugenics, a body of thought to which he was opposed. On the contrary, Pauling’s focus was purely genetic and his specific motivation was borne out of a desire to eliminate harmful genetic conditions.


Pauling at UCSD: Season of Tumult

Bruno Zimm. Credit: University of California, San Diego

At the end of February 1968, Pauling turned 67 year old, and the University of California regents used his age as a mechanism to hold up discussions about his obtaining a permanent appointment in San Diego. Sixty-seven, the board argued, was the typical retiring age within the UC system. Moreover, the UC regents were empowered to veto any age-related retirement exceptions and, given his radical political views, Pauling was unlikely to receive any support at all from the group, much less an exception.

One of the stated reasons why the regents harbored concerns about Pauling’s politics was his increasingly strident rhetoric. Pauling frequently commended student strikes and demonstrations, and although he emphasized nonviolence as the most effective means to foster social change, he encouraged students to recognize that authorities may incite violence through tactics of their own. In these cases, he felt that retaliation was justified, even necessary.

Pauling also believed that the regents and their trustees wielded too much power; for him they were part of a system that largely inhibited social progress and took power away from students. For their part, the regents saw Pauling in a similar light: a dangerously powerful radical who was constraining the university’s capacity to grow.

Realizing that, in all likelihood, Pauling was soon to be forced out, his UCSD colleagues Fred Wall and Bruno Zimm began searching for a way to shift the governing authority for his reappointment to the university president, Charles Hitch, with whom Pauling had maintained a positive relationship. After months of negotiations, Zimm succeeded in winning for Pauling a second year-long appointment.

Pauling expressed gratitude to Zimm for his efforts, but the slim possibility of a permanent position at UCSD had emerged as a source of lingering dismay. Looking for a longer term academic home, Pauling began considering other universities that might also provide better support for his research.

Over time, Ava Helen had also found herself frustrated with UCSD and La Jolla in general. In particular, she disliked their rental house and missed their previous home in Santa Barbara, where she had been able to tend a beautiful garden. As 1968 moved forward, the couple began spending more and more time at Deer Flat Ranch, with Ava Helen hinting that she would like to make the ranch their permanent home in the coming years.

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