Counterfactual Bomb

Lisa Jardine
Tanner Lectures

Lecture II – Science and Government: C. P. SNOW and the Corridors of Power

In March 1945, as it became increasingly clear that the US government was inclining toward the use of the newly developed atomic bomb, Albert Einstein wrote a letter of introduction to President Roosevelt on behalf of the most senior scientist working on the secret development of the bomb, Leo Szilard.


Einstein’s letter states with particular urgency the matter Snow urges us all to consider. It is “the lack of adequate contact between scientists who are doing [the] work and those members of [the] Cabinet who are responsible for formulating policy” that poses the greatest danger of the wrong policy decisions being made in matters with a considerable scientific content.

It is one of the tragedies of the twentieth century that President Roosevelt died only two weeks later, before he had met Szilard (though an appointment with his wife, Eleanor, had been made). From Snow’s perspective, President Truman’s decision to use the bomb—twice—on civilian populations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the following August, was the most powerful example that could be produced of the absolute necessity for permanently and irrevocably bridging the two-cultures divide.

If Szilard … If Roosevelt had not died …

Right science. Right time and place. Right decision.

Science literacy augments the chances.

And so for day 2698

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