Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
The cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has featured the famous Doomsday Clock since it debuted in 1947, when it was set at seven minutes to midnight.
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The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a nontechnical online magazine that covers global security and public policy issues related to the dangers posed by nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, climate change, and emerging technologies and diseases. It has been published continuously since 1945, when it was founded by former Manhattan Project physicists after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists of Chicago.
One of the driving forces behind the creation of the Bulletin was the amount of public interest surrounding atomic energy at the dawn of the Atomic Age. In 1945 the public interest in atomic warfare and weaponry inspired contributors to the Bulletin to attempt to inform those interested about the dangers and destruction that atomic war could bring about. To convey the particular peril posed by nuclear weapons, the Bulletin devised the Doomsday Clock in 1947, with an original setting of seven minutes to midnight. Using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero), the Clock conveys man-made existential threats to humanity and the planet.
The minute hand of the Clock first moved closer to midnight in response to changing world events in 1949, following the first Soviet nuclear test. Now set at three minutes to midnight, the Doomsday Clock is recognized as a universal symbol of threats to humanity from a variety of sources: nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, climate change, and emerging technologies. In 2015, the Bulletin unveiled its Doomsday Dashboard, an interactive infographic that illustrates some of the data the Bulletin's Science and Security Board takes into account when deciding the time of the Clock each year.
In the 1950s, the Bulletin was involved in the formation of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, annual conferences of scientists concerned about nuclear proliferation, and, more broadly, the role of science in modern society.
Founders and contributors
The original founder and editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was biophysicist Eugene Rabinowitch (1901–1973). He founded the magazine alongside physicist Hyman Goldsmith. Rabinowitch was a professor of botany and biophysics at the University of Illinois and was also a founding member of the Continuing Committee for the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In addition to Rabinowitch and Goldsmith, contributors have included: Morton Grodzins, Hans Bethe, Anatoli Blagonravov, Max Born, Harrison Brown, Stuart Chase, Brock Chisholm, E.U. Condon, Albert Einstein, E.K. Fedorov, Bernard T. Feld, James Franck, Ralph E. Lapp, Richard S. Leghorn, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Lord Boyd Orr, Michael Polanyi, Louis Ridenour, Bertrand Russell, Nikolay Semyonov, Leó Szilárd, Edward Teller, A.V. Topchiev, Harold C. Urey, Paul Weiss, James L. Tuck, among many others.
In 1949, the Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science incorporated as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization to serve as the parent organization and fundraising mechanism of the Bulletin. In 2003, the Board of Directors voted to officially change the foundation's name to Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists began as an emergency action undertaken by scientists who saw urgent need for an immediate educational program about atomic weapons. One of the purposes of the Bulletin was to educate fellow scientists about the relationship between their world of science and the world of national and international politics. A second was to help the American people understand what nuclear energy and its possible applications to war meant. The Bulletin contributors believed the atom bomb would only be the first of many dangerous presents from "Pandora's box of modern science." The aim of the Bulletin was to carry out the long, sustained effort of educating people about the realities of the scientific age.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists seeks to educate citizens, policy makers, scientists, and journalists by providing non-technical, scientifically sound and policy-relevant information about nuclear weapons and other global security issues. The Bulletin also serves as a reliable, high-quality global forum for diverse international opinions on the best means of reducing reliance on nuclear weapons. Since its inception in 1945, the Bulletin has sought to educate the American public of the continual danger posed by nuclear weapons and other global dangers, most recently adding climate change and emerging technologies in the life sciences to the list of concerns.
Throughout the history of the Bulletin there have been many different focuses of the contributors to the Bulletin. In the early years of the Bulletin it was separated into three distinct stages. These stages, as defined by founder Eugene Rabinowitch in "The Atomic Age" were Failure, Peril, and Fear. The "Failure" stage surrounded the Bulletin 's failed attempts to convince the American people that the best and most effective way to control them was to eliminate their use. In the "Peril" stage, the contributors focused on warning readers about the dangers of full-scale atomic war. In the "Fear" stage, the unsuccessful attempts at deterring readers from supporting the disarmament of nuclear weapons led many, including the contributors to the Bulletin, to question the patriotism of others.[clarification needed]
Even before the Bulletin was established in December 1945, there was an effort by the scientists working inside the United States to prevent atomic warfare from ever taking place. These fears and uncertainties about the effects of nuclear warfare existed long before the United States dropped the first bomb on Hiroshima. The contributors strongly felt that the best and most effective way to prevent nuclear war was to prevent the use of atomic weapons. The contributors to the Bulletin insisted that, once it was known that the United States possessed atomic weapons, it was important that the control of the nuclear energy be out of the hands of the state. In one article of the June 1946 Bulletin, written by J. Robert Oppenheimer entitled, "International Control of Atomic Energy," he examined the idea that non state officials should control atomic energy. He said, "It may be permitted that men who have no qualifications in state-craft concern themselves with the control of atomic energy." This period of the Bulletin 's history was coined as the "Failure" stage by Eugene Rabinowitch because the Bulletin 's attempt to establish control over atomic weapons was unsuccessful.
While the first stage of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was labeled as the Failure stage by founder Eugene Rabinowitch, the second stage was labeled Peril. Following the Soviet Union's first atomic test on September 24, 1949, the focus of the Bulletin shifted to warning against the dangers of full-scale atomic war. Once the Soviet Union established that it had atomic capabilities, the arms race began and the danger of atomic war was continually growing. In an article entitled, "The Dangers We Face," written in the November 1957 issue of the Bulletin, Harrison Brown stated, "I believe that we (the United States) are rapidly approaching the time when industrial society will reach a 'point of no return' – a point beyond which recovery from major disruption may literally be impossible..." The dangers of full-scale nuclear war were a major concern of the Bulletin contributors, and the fear and "Peril" that they felt was expressed through their writing.
Once the Soviet Union developed atomic weapons, the concern surrounding the world's destruction was a great fear of the scientists working on the Bulletin. The proximity of nuclear devastation was a popular interest and, as a result, the Bulletin scientists developed a symbol of nuclear danger in 1947 known as the Doomsday Clock. The clock, which only has bullets labeling the numbers in the upper left hand corner, has graced the cover of the Bulletin many times since its creation. The proximity of the minute hand to midnight has been the Bulletin contributors' way of predicting the potential of nuclear war. When it began in 1947, the minute hand was 7 minutes to midnight. In 1953, when the Soviet Union continued to test more and more nuclear devices, it was 2 minutes to midnight. This proximity to midnight of the Doomsday Clock during the early 1950s shows the concern that the Bulletin contributors had about the Soviet Union and the arms race. The warnings of the Bulletin continued throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and the focus of the efforts shifted slightly from warning about the dangers of nuclear war to the necessity of disarmament. Throughout the history of the Doomsday Clock, it has moved closer to midnight, and farther away, depending upon the status of the world at that time. The Doomsday Clock has been getting closer to midnight since 1991, when it was set to 17 minutes to midnight after the superpowers reached agreement on a nuclear arms reductions.
As of January 22, 2015, the Doomsday Clock stands at 3 minutes to midnight. The decision to move the hand of the Clock is made each fall by the Bulletin's Science and Security Board at the Doomsday Clock Symposium; the announcement of the decision is made each January. The 5th Annual Doomsday Clock Symposium was November 14, 2013; it was a daylong event that was open to the public and featured panelists discussing various issues on the theme "Communicating Catastrophe." There was also an evening event at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in conjunction with the Hirshhorn's current exhibit, "Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950." The panel discussions, held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, were streamed live from the Bulletin's website, and can still be viewed there. Reflecting international events dangerous to humankind, the Clock's hand has been adjusted twenty times since its inception in 1947, when the Clock was initially set to seven minutes to midnight (11:53pm).
As the United States and Soviet Union continued to develop more nuclear weapons, it was obvious that the best way to secure world safety was to disarm, deter and control the arms. The "Peril" stage was relatively unsuccessful in deterring the United States from ending the nuclear arms race and, as a result, the next stage, coined by Rabinowitch as "Fear," set in. During this time period, many people were suspicious of others for not being patriotic Americans, and these issues were an interest of the Bulletin for some time. The issues of foreign espionage, loyalty, and security were all main topics of discussion for the Bulletin in the early arms race years.
Throughout all of these times, there were also discussions in the Bulletin of the applications of nuclear energy as a possible harvestable energy source. Today, this has become a focal point of the Bulletin due to the increasing use of nuclear power to fulfill the world's energy needs. With the understanding that the world’s resources were depleting, many scientists described the pros and cons of using nuclear energy as an alternative to those that were already in use.
In more recent years, articles of the Bulletin have focused on many topics, ranging from the dangers of radiation following the Chernobyl disaster to the impact of the fall of the Soviet Union. In the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, other articles have focused on issues such as military spending and the continued funding of missile defense systems designed to thwart nuclear attacks but that in reality may not work. With the ever-growing number of nuclear power plants and the demand for nuclear energy as a solution to climate change, the publication has focused a great deal on the costs and problems surrounding nuclear energy. In 2015, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists unveiled the Nuclear Fuel Cost Calculator, an online tool that estimates the full cost of electricity produced by three configurations of the nuclear fuel cycle. Two years in the making, this interactive calculator is the first generally accessible model to provide a nuanced look at the economic costs of nuclear power; it lets users test how sensitive the price of electricity is to a full range of components—more than 60 parameters that can be adjusted for the three configurations of the nuclear fuel cycle considered by this tool (once-through, limited-recycle, full-recycle). Users can select the fuel cycle they would like to examine, change cost estimates for each component of that cycle, and even choose uncertainty ranges for the cost of particular components. This approach allows users around the world to compare the cost of different nuclear power approaches in a sophisticated way, while taking account of prices relevant to their own countries or regions.
Although the arms race and the Cold War, which were focuses of the Bulletin for many of the earlier years, are no longer occurring, the publication still focuses on the nuclear dangers that exist in the world today. As more countries such as Pakistan and India have tested nuclear weapons, the Bulletin has focused on the dangers posed by these countries. The Bulletin's bi-monthly "Nuclear Notebook" is written by Federation of American Scientists experts Hans Kristensen and Robert "Stan" Norris, and tracks the number of nuclear weapons in the world by country In 2015, the Bulletin added the Nuclear Notebook Interactive, an infographic that illustrates which countries have nuclear weapons and when they got them, and how many nuclear warheads they have in any given year. All nine nuclear-armed states are featured: the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, France, Britain, Israel, and North Korea.
In the 21st Century, articles have covered threats to humanity from a variety of sources. The potential dangers of nuclear weapons and energy, military and political developments in the Post-Cold War world, political unrest in the Middle East (and its attendant potential for proliferation risks of nuclear and chemical weapons), myriad negative consequences of climate change, cyber warfare, and changes wrought by emerging technologies have all been examined in the Bulletin in the most recent years. Examples include North Korea, Middle East, Syria, Fukushima, Cybersecurity, and Climate Change.
The Bulletin sponsors the Leonard M. Rieser Fellowship in Science, Technology, and Global Security, which provides one-time awards of $2,500-$5,000 to undergraduate students seeking to explore the connections between science, technology, global security, and public policy.
In January, 2015, longtime Executive Director and Publisher Kennette Benedict retired. The new Executive Director and Publisher is Rachel Bronson, and the editor of the Bulletin is John Mecklin.
The Bulletin has been partially available on-line for some years. In 2008 the Bulletin redesigned its website to accommodate both free web content and subscription-based premium content, the John A. Simpson Collection. The backfile of the Bulletin has also been made available free of charge via Google Books, from the first (1945) issue through the November 1998 issue. Several e-newsletters and feeds are also available without charge by signing up via the Bulletin website.
Notes and references
The records of the Bulletin are kept at the Special Collections Research Center of the University of Chicago Library.
- John Mecklin to succeed Mindy Kay Bricker as Editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
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