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UC Professor Joins 47 Laureates For Kerry

Friday June 25, 2004

“I’m 77 now, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said UCB Professor Donald Glaser. “I’ve never gotten so involved with politics before. I’ve given money to candidates in the past, but this year we’ve stretched ourselves financially.” 

In addition to digging into his wallet to support John Kerry’s run for the White House, Glaser also reached for his pen—joining 47 other Nobel Prize “hard science” recipients as signatories of a passionate plea on behalf of the Democratic candidate. 

“I was happy to sign, because the present administration—to put it politely—is leading us in the wrong direction. They’ve done a lot of damage to us, both to us here at home and to our standing in the international community,” Glaser said. 

Awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1960 for his invention of the bubble chamber, a critical tool in the exploration of subatomic particles, Glaser now serves as a Professor of Physics and of Neurobiology of the Graduate School, working in the department of Molecular & Cell Biology to create a computational model of the human visual system. 

“Both as a citizen and as a scientist, I am horrified at Bush’s attitude toward stem cell research,” he said. “This has become a main field of medical research, and the Koreans are now well ahead of us with several significant discoveries and the British are now building a new lab. 

“At the urging of Nancy Reagan, 58 senators, including members of his own party, signed a letter begging him to allow research to continue. But so far, nothing.” 

But Glaser’s reasons for opposing Bush go far beyond the realms of pure science. 

“I could give you 40 reasons,” he quipped. “We were led into the war with Iraq based on misleading and incorrect statements, either deliberate lies or the C.I.A. is as bad as they say—though I don’t so,” Glaser said, adding that he does believe the nation’s intelligence agencies are badly organized.  

“By attacking the wrong country, [the president] has made us less safe. We should have gone after al-Queda decisively, but instead, by fighting the wrong war, we are creating terrorists,” he said. 

Glaser also blasted Bush for his “absolutely irresponsible” fiscal policies, which have created a record national debt and a massive deficit. 

He also took off after Attorney General John Ashcroft, adding that “together, he and Bush created the PATRIOT Act, which has endangered our civil liberties.” 

The soft-spoken scientist also deplores what he calls the administration’s “special preference for special interests, mainly large corporations. The most egregious instance is Halliburton, but there are many others which are given special preference over the needs of the public.” 

Glaser has had personal experience with another of reasons for opposing Bush. “He has wrecked our reputation in the world. Almost everywhere I go outside the U.S., people ask me, ‘I don’t blame you, but what the hell has happened to your country?” 

Also prominent on Glaser’s worries is the adverse impact of Bush environmental policies. 

“First he tried to ease the safety limits on arsenic, but there was such a hue and cry he had to back off. Now he’s trying it with mercury, and who knows what the outcome will be?” said the physicist.  

“He’s also allowing roads to built into wilderness areas, the obvious precursor to massive logging operations.” 

Glaser also faults Bush for creating a climate of enormous hatred between Democrats and Republicans unlike anything he’s seen in his lifetime. 

“I’m also bothered by the way he often seems to lie and to say things that turn out to be lies,” Glaser said, “and all these things I observe as an ordinary guy. 

“It’s simply awful. In almost every sphere his policies have sent us in the wrong direction. And the use of torture is immensely damaging to our world standing.  

‘Worst of all, it all seems to be ideologically motivated. He didn’t consult with his own father before he decided to invade Iraq—the only living former President to have waged a war. 

“But one thing I know a lot about, and that’s the way he’s damaging science in our country. His scientific advisory committees are becoming subject to an ideological litmus test,” Glaser said. 

“The worst example I know of is Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, a highly respected professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UC San Francisco.” 

Without warning, on Feb. 27 the White House dismissed Blackburn and another scientist from the President’s Committee on Bioethics, to which Bush had appointed her two years earlier. 

Blackburn, a proponent of abortion, was replaced by an anti-abortion conservative. 

“Considering the circumstances,” Glaser said, “it’s hard not to get involved.” 

Glaser is also saddened that the press has devoted only minimal attention to the Nobel laureates’ letter. “So much seems to get buried these days,” he said. 

Asked if he thought the administration might pay attention to the letter, the Berkeley scientist recalls another petition he signed back in the Reagan years. “He went on the tube and said, ‘What I don’t need is advice from a bunch of Nobel laureates.’” 

Another Berkeley Nobel reicipient also signed the letter, physicist Charles Townes, who won the award in 1964 for pioneering research that led to the development of the laser. 

Professor of Economics George Akerlof, a third Berkeley Nobelist, has also raised his voice against the administration. Because the petition was restricted to the hard sciences of physics, chemistry and medicine, Akerlof, a practitioner of the dismal science, wasn’t included in the letter.›