Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

The "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" is a nontechnical magazine that covers global security and public policy issues, especially related to the dangers posed by nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. 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". The "Bulletin"'s primary aim is to inform the public about nuclear policy debates while advocating for the international control of nuclear energy.

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. ["By the Bomb’s Early Light", 70] To convey the particular peril posed by nuclear weapons, the Bulletin devised the Doomsday Clock in 1947. The original setting was seven minutes to midnight. 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. The Clock is now recognized as a universal symbol of the nuclear age. In the 1950s, the Bulletin was involved in the formation of Pugwash, an annual conference 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. [Grodzins, Morton (ed.) and Rabinowitch, Eugene (ed.) (1963). "The Atomic Age: Scientists in National and World Affairs". New York: Basic Book, Inc. Publishing. xv] In addition to Rabinowitch and Goldsmith contributors have included: Morton Grodzins, Hans Bethe, Anatoli Blagonravov, Max Born, Harrison Brown, 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 N. Ridenour, Bertrand Russell, Nikolai N. Semenov, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, A.V. Topchiev, Harold, C. Urey, Paul Weiss, among many others. [The Atomic Age, xv- xviii]

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.

Purpose of the "Bulletin"

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. [The Atomic Age, vii] 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 “Pandoras box of modern science.” ["The Atomic Age", vii] The aim of the "Bulletin" was to carry out the long, sustained effort of educating man about the realities of the scientific age. The "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" sought 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. [http://www.thebulletin.org/ - Home page of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists] 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. [http://www.thebulletin.org/- Home page of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists"] 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.

Changing focus of the "Bulletin"

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. ["The Atomic Age", 5] 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. ["The Atomic Age", 5]


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 atomic 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 Atomic Age", 5] 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. ["The Atomic Age", 5] In one article of the June 1946 "Bulletin", written by Robert J. 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.” ["The Atomic Age", 53] 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. ["The Atomic Age", 173] 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 Atomic Age", 173] The dangers of full scale nuclear war were a major concern of the "Bulletin" contributors and the fear and “Peril” that the they felt was expressed through their writing.

Doomsday Clock

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.” [http://www.thebulletin.org/ - Home page of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists] 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 it was 2 minutes to midnight when the Soviet Union continued to test more and more nuclear devices. [http://www.thebulletin.org/ - Home page of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists] 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 status of the world at that time. [http://www.thebulletin.org/- Home page of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists] As of January 17, 2007, the clock stands at 5 minutes to midnight because of "the perils of 27,000 nuclear weapons, 2000 of them ready to launch within minutes; and the destruction of human habitats from climate change."


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 Atomic Age", 269 - 275] 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. ["The Atomic Age", 355 - 493]

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 larger focal point of the "Bulletin" as nuclear energy a large role in fulfilling the world's energy need. 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. ["The Atomic Age", 498 - 522]

The "Bulletin" today

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 things such as military spending. The cover story of the May/June 1998 issue entitled "Plain Crazy: The Joint Strike Fighter Story" discussed the development of a new set of military fighter jets that could "blow a hole in the attempt to create a leaner Post-Cold War military." [http://www.thebulletin.org/past_issues/054_003.htm - May/June 1998, Volume 54, No. 3, Brendan Mathews] . With the ever growing number of nuclear power plants and the demand for nuclear energy, the "Bulletin" has focused a great deal on the dangers and problems surrounding nuclear energy. One such focal point was the Chernobyl accident and its aftermath in the 1980s. [http://www.thebulletin.org/past_issues/042_007.htm - August/September 1986, Volume 42, No. 7, Michael McCally] Although the arms race and the Cold War, which was a focus of the "Bulletin" for many of the earlier years, is no longer going on, the "Bulletin" 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 that are being posed by these countries. One article written in August of 1992 by David Albright and Mark Hibbs discussed Pakistan’s bomb development and how after the demise of the Soviet Union, other nations such as Pakistan were beginning to develop nuclear programs. [http://www.thebulletin.org/article.php?art_ofn=ja92albright – "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists", July/August 1992, Volume 48, No. 6, David Albright and Mark Hibbs]

Even more recently there have been articles written about the threat of North Korea. In an article written for the January/ February 2002 issue of the "Bulletin", David Albright and Holly Higgins addressed the threat of North Korea and the many dangers that could result from the poor relationship between North Korea and the rest of the world. [http://www.thebulletin.org/article.php?art_ofn=jf02albright_039 "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists", January/February 2002, Volume 58, No. 1, Albright and Holly Higgins] The potential dangers of nuclear weapons and energy as well as military and political developments in the Post-Cold War world has been the focus of the "Bulletin" in the most recent years.

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.

The current Executive Director and Editor of "The Bulletin" are Kennette Benedict and Jonas Siegel respectively.

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.

ee also

*University of Chicago
*Franck Report
*Eugene Rabinowitch
*Kennette Benedict
*Doomsday Clock
*Nuclear weapon
*Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs

Notes and references

The records of the Bulletin are kept at the Special Collections Research Center of the University of Chicago Library.

External links

* [http://www.thebulletin.org Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists] (online edition)
* [http://www.thebulletin.org/minutes-to-midnight/ Doomsday Clock]
* [http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/spcl/manhat.html University of Chicago Library Special Collections] - Exhibit commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the world's first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

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