David Joravsky

American historian

David Joravsky (September 9, 1925 – October 4, 2020) was an American professor of history and chair of Northwestern University's history department. His book The Lysenko Affair (Harvard University Press, 1970) won the 1971 Pfizer Award of the History of Science Society.


  • ... Natural science is not occult but accessible to any normal mind, and it generates real, not imaginary power—which confronts us as an alien force, which may even destroy us all. Nuclear bombs are the appropriate symbol, not only in their literal capacity to destroy us all, but also in the universal irresponsibility that they embody. Scientific inventors created them as an unrestricted gift to military and political leaders, who keep insisting in advance that “the adversary” will be responsible if “we” are “obliged” to initiate some “nuclear exchange.”
  • In August 1945 British military intelligence unwittingly performed a splendid experiment in the social psychology of natural scientists. They delivered the news of Hiroshima to interned German atomic scientists, and secretly recorded the conversation that resulted. Only fragments of the record have got past restrictions on “classified” material, but they are enough to reveal the German scientists’ mentality—their soul, if I may use an outmoded term. They were conscience-stricken; they had failed “German science.” Casting about for reasons, they took note of the obvious disparity in size: the American A-bomb project had been enormously larger than their own. But that contrast only deepened the anguish of self-accusation. “We would not have had the moral courage,” Werner Heisenberg, the originator of the Uncertainty Principle, exclaimed, “to recommend to the government in the spring of 1942 that they should employ 120,000 people.” ...
    Implicit in that soul-searching was one measure of the scientist’s social and moral worth: his capacity to beat the competition, to win, whether fame for himself or wars for his country, or both together. When Heisenberg emerged from internment and discovered that the winners were uneasy, he turned to a different measure of the scientist’s worth. He and his colleagues had shown moral courage, he decided, of a higher order. They had dragged their feet, to withhold the A-bomb from their Nazi masters. ...

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