Proposed Legislation Threatens to Silence Scientists

This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email

Proposed Legislation Threatens to Silence Scientists

by Herb Fox

Science for the People’ Vol. 2, No. 3, August 1970, p. 4 – 5

In Germany, they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Pastor Martin Niemoller

The Defense Facilities and Industrial Securities Act of 1970 now pending in the Senate would require security clearance for workers in, “any plant, factory, industry, public utility, mine, laboratory, educational institution, research organization, railroad, airport, pier, waterfront installation, canal, dani bridge, highway, vessel, aircraft, vehicle and pipeline.” Workers are denied employment if they have committed, “any act … which effects any plan, policy, recommendation, directive, tactic, or strategy of any communist, Marxist, Leninist, revolutionary socialist, anarchist, nihilist, Nazi, fascist, or any other organization which has its purpose the destruction of the constitutional form of government of the United States by any means deemed necessary to that end.” Rep. Louis Stokes, House Leader of the opposition to the bill points out that, “The range of activity which, under this definition, would constitute an act of subversion is boundless.”

A campaign against the bill has been launched by thirty petition signers whom the Falmouth Enterprise describes as “a distinguished cross-section of the Woods Hole scientific community.” Including “…three former scientific advisors to Presidents of the United States and three Nobel Prize winners.”

In a letter soliciting signatories to the protest petition (to be returned to Professor Walter S. Vincent, Box 145, Woods Hole, Mass. 02543), the thirty “distinguished scientists” point out: “Among the dangers to liberty in this measure is the denial of recourse to the courts until administrative procedures are exhausted. There is no provision either for full disclosure of charges or for cross-examination of adverse witnesses; it also denies the right of individuals against self-incrimination.” A most revealing comment on the attitude of liberal establishment scientists to this attack is in an editorial in Science (2/27/70): “This bill could have a decisive effect on the employment or prospects of employment of many people and an equally adverse impact on the careers of people who might be denied access to research information or research facilities.” [our italics]

Of course every scientific and technological worker (and everyone else) should oppose this bill, but these “distinguished scientists” should also try and transcend the element of self-interest and protection of special privilege that is evident in their response. After years of holding security clearances and sitting on government councils, they feel threatened. The broken lives of victims of the last two decades of ‘industrial defense security’ did not seem to trouble them. The daily brutalization of black Americans seemed so remote. Now that their privileges are threatened, will they learn that there is but one struggle, one repression?

The best defense against this and other repressive acts the Government may attempt in order to stop the growing struggle for a just and humane society is to increase the awareness of all Americans and to persistently state and pursue with meaningful action criticism of the present system that rationally pursues irrational ends. Large numbers of scientific workers must actively oppose the policies of the Government; then such legislation as HR14864 will have less chance of passage. When they threaten us with prosecution for “conspiring to cross state lines to incite to riot,” we must cross state lines to incite people to criticize criminal government in word and deed. When they threaten our jobs if we speak out, we must speak out.

If every signatory of the statement denies his present security clearance and calls on his colleagues and students to do the same, the insidiousness of the thought control act would be best exposed. That is the difference between a forceful call for redress of grievances and a timorous supplication. And the historical lesson of fascism is that timorous supplications are only interpreted as weaknesses.

To recognize that the various repressive acts of the Government against different groups are all part of one reaction of a moribund system against fundamental change, is to avoid being divided and conquered. “Distinguished scientists” should speak not just to save their threatened privileges, but for everyone’s threatened rights. They should understand and speak of the relationship of today’s attack on them to yesterday’s attack on others, to every day’s attack on our black brothers.

To put into practice the idea of a coordinated, mutually informing struggle, scientists should call meetings at which blacks, students, chicanos, and other victims of repression could show the relationship of their repression to this new threat to the scientists and technologists. In every statement against the bill, scientists and other technical workers should include expression of support for liberation struggles. It is the Government that is isolated; but to demonstrate that, we must unite.


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