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Manifesto by 1,284 Noted U.S. Scientists Denounces Racialism, Fascist Position on Science

December 11, 1938
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The fascist position toward science and the racial theory were denounced today in a manifesto signed by 1,284 American scientists, including three Nobel prize winners, which summoned their colleagues to the defense of democracy to avoid the fate of scientists in totalitarian states.

The manifesto was made public by a committee of prominent scientists headed by Prof. Franz Boas, dean of American anthropologists, who said. “The present outrages in Germany have made it all the more necessary for American scientists to take a firm anti-fascist stand. We are sure that the great majority of German scientists and the German people as a whole abhor fascism. The thousands of teachers and scientists who have been exiled since Hitler came to power bear testimony to the incompatibility of Fascism and science.”

“Our manifesto,” Dr. Boas Added, “declares that we scientists have the moral obligation to educate the American people against all false and unscientific doctrines, such as the racial nonsense of the Nazis. The agents of fascism in this country are becoming more and more active, and we must join with all men of good will in defending democracy today if we are to avoid the fate of our colleagues in Germany, Austria and Italy.

The other members of the committee making public the manifesto are professors Karl M. Bowman, New York University psychiatrist; Wesley Clair Mitchell, Columbia University economist; John P. Peters, Yale University medical scientist; Dr. Henry E. Sigerisy, John Hopkins University medical scientist; D. J. Struik, Massachusetts institute of technology mathematician; Harold C. Urey and Milton C. Winternitz, Yale Pathologist.


The three Nobel Prize winners signing the manifesto are prof. Urey, Columbia University chemist; Prof. Robert A. Millikan, California institute of technology physicist, and Dr. Irving Langmuir, chemist. The signers include 64 members of the National Academy of Sciences.

The manifesto follows:

“In an article entitled ‘the pragmatic and dogmatic spirit in physics,’ which appeared in the April 30 issue of nature (with strong editorial disapproval), wide publicity is given to the official nazi position on science and scientific research. In essence, the article is an attack on all theoretical physics, and, by obvious implication, on scientific theory in general. It introduces the official racialism of the Nazis to divide physicists into good, i.e. non-theoretical and ‘Aryan,’ and bad, i.e., theoretical and Jewish. Similar notions have appeared in many popular magazines and scientific journals in Germany, in the addresses and writings of the Minister of education, of university rectors and deans, of scientists and non-scientists. apart from racial theories, furthermore, science and art are subject to ruthless political censorship. These ideas have found concrete expression in the dismissal and persecution of over 1,600 teachers and scientists (By the fall of 1936) from German Universities and research institutes (and now Austria and Italy too), and in the restriction of higher education to students having the ‘proper’ political and racial qualifications.


“American scientists, trained in a tradition of intellectual freedom, hold fast to their conviction, that, in the words of the resolution adopted by the American association for the Advancement of Science, ‘Science is wholly independent of national boundaries and races and creeds and can flourish only when there is peace and intellectual freedom.’ If science, to quote the AAAS resolution again, is to ‘continue to advance and spread more abundantly its benefits to all mankind — and who can attack that goal — then the man of science has a moral obligation to fulfill. He must educate the people against the acceptance of all false and unscientific doctrines which appear before them in the guise of science, regardless of their origin. only in that way can he insure those conditions of peace and freedom which are essential for him and for the progress of all mankind.

“It is in this light that we publicly condemn the fascist position towards science. The racial theories which they advocate have been demolished time and again. We need only point to the work of Heinrich hertz in physics, fritz Haber and Richard Willstatter in chemistry, Ludwig Traube, Paul Ehrlich, and August Wassermann in biology and medicine, all German Jews and all empirical scientists. The charge that theory leads ‘to a crippling of experimental research’ is tantamount to a denial of the whole history of modern physics. From Copernicus and Kepler on, all the great figures in western science have insisted, in deed or in word, upon the futility of experimental research divorced from theory.

“We firmly believe that in the present historical epoch democracy alone can preserve intellectual freedom. Any attack upon freedom of thought in one sphere, even as non-political a sphere as theoretical physics, is in effect an attack on democracy itself. When men like James Franck, Albert Einstein, or Thomas Mann may no longer continue their work, whether the reason is race, creed, or belief, all mankind suffers the loss. they must be defended in their right to speak the truth as they understand it. If we American scientists wish to avoid a similar fate, if we wish to see the world continue to progress and prosper, we must bend our efforts to that end now.”

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