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Science History Podcast

Frank A. von Hippel

22 episodes

Oct 10, 2020

Episode 35. The Pentagon Papers: Daniel Ellsberg 

Whistleblowers are admired or vilified. They are saviors of democracy or traitors to their country. They confront those in power and drive the news, and some, such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, are household names. But one man is their inspiration, the person who made whistleblowing a phenomenon of modern times, and his name is Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg was born in 1931 in Chicago and grew up in Detroit. He graduated with honors from Harvard with an AB in economics in 1952, and then studied at the University of Cambridge. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1954-1957, and then returned to Harvard where he completed his PhD in economics in 1962. Ellsberg worked as a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation beginning in 1958, and then in the Pentagon beginning in 1964 under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. He worked for the U.S. State Department in South Vietnam for two years, and then returned to the RAND Corporation. At the end of 1969, with help from his colleague Anthony Russo, Ellsberg secretly copied the Pentagon Papers. His illegal dissemination of these papers to newspapers and the subsequent aftermath is the subject of today’s interview, along with his work related to nuclear war planning and the prevention of nuclear war. We discuss this history, and how it relates to the Vietnam War and the downfall of President Nixon, along with many other topics stretching from World War II to the disastrous Trump Administration. Our discussion centers on Ellsberg’s two seminal books, Secrets – A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers and The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Ellsberg as much as I did – his wit, his charm, and his deep historical perspective on critical moments of the 20th century. On top of the many interesting things Ellsberg has to say, he also reveals some new information for the very first time. (Photograph of Ellsberg by Christopher Michel https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daniel_Ellsberg_2020_CM.jpg)

Aug 11, 2020

Episode 33. Industrial Denial: Barbara Freese 

Why is it that decades after scientists discover problems of paramount importance, such as global climate change or lead pollution, those problems still persist? Why do corporations get away with producing products that harm human health or the environment? How do corporations shape our society, our politics, and even our psychology? With us to untangle these questions is my guest, Barbara Freese. Barbara is an author, energy policy advocate, and environmental attorney.  After earning a law degree from New York University in 1986 she returned to her home state of Minnesota and spent a dozen years enforcing the state’s environmental laws as an Assistant Attorney General. In the mid-1990s, she litigated the science of climate change against the coal industry. She became so interested in coal’s larger impact on the world that she dug deeper into the issue, and in 2003 published the book, Coal: A Human History. An updated edition of Coal was published by Basic Books in 2016. After writing Coal, she spent years working with and for nonprofit groups, particularly the Union of Concerned Scientists, where she was a senior policy advocate. Her work focused on pushing for state and national policies to protect the climate, on stopping the construction of new coal plants, and on closing old coal plants. The subject of today’s episode is Barbara’s latest book, Industrial-Strength Denial, published this year by the University of California Press. 

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