Linus Pauling: When I was 11 years old, I became interested in insects -- entomology. And for a year I read books about insects and collected specimens of butterflies and beetles in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. When I was 12, I became interested in rocks and minerals. I couldn't collect very many; where I was wasn't a good source of minerals except agates, but I read a great deal about minerals. Then when I was 13, I became interested in chemistry in these remarkable phenomena in which one substance is converted into another substance, or two substances react to produce a third substance with quite different properties. Then when I was 18, in 1919, when I was teaching quantitative analysis full time at Oregon Agricultural College for one year between my sophomore and junior years, I read the papers of Irving Langmuir in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, in 1919 and went back to G.N. Lewis's 1916 paper. These papers dealing with the nature of the chemical bond, the role of electrons in holding atoms together interested me very much. That has been, essentially, the story of my life ever since.
Did you read an enormous amount as a young boy?
Linus Pauling: My father, when I had just about reached my ninth birthday, wrote a letter to the Portland Oregonian, asking for advice as to what books to get for me. He said that I seemed to have an unusual interest in reading, especially history. Then he went on to say, "And don't say the Bible and Darwin's Origin of Species, because he has already read them."
Well, I think I can remember reading the Bible at an early age, but my father's word is the only evidence I have that I had read Darwin's Origin of the Species before I was nine years old. I did like to read, and my father had some influence on this way of thinking because I used to watch him compounding prescription drugs in the back room of his drug store, and he was interested in teaching me a little medical Latin and other things.
I early developed a great curiosity about the nature of the world, the nature of the Universe. So, as time went on, I became more and more interested to learn more by reading about the universe, the world, but also to discover something new.
As I understand it, your first interest in chemistry came when you were a young boy and a friend of yours got a chemistry set.
Shortly after Lloyd Jefress showed me these experiments, I decided that I would be a chemist. It may have been a year or two later. When I was 15 or 16, Lloyd Jefress and I were visiting my grandmother in Oswego, Oregon, and she said to me, "What are you going to be when you grown up, Linie?" And I said, "I am going to be a chemical engineer." Lloyd Jefress, who became a leading psychologist later on, said, "No, he isn't. He is going to be a professor."
I got my bachelor's degree in chemical engineering at Oregon Agricultural College because I didn't know that there were such people as professional chemists. They didn't have advisors about your choice of profession in schools at that time. I knew about chemical engineering, so I thought that was the way I could earn my living and still be doing chemistry.
What did your parents think of this? Did they encourage you?
My mother was having so much financial trouble as a widow with three children that she was hoping I would continue in the machine shop and continue to bring a salary. Lloyd Jefress's aunt and uncle, however, were determined that I should go on to college, and they convinced me that it was my duty that I go on to college. It didn't require much money. There was no tuition at Oregon Agricultural College. For the first six months, my mother sent me 25 dollars a month that I was able to live on, and then she couldn't send it and I had some trouble the next three months getting by. But from then on I was able to earn my living and even help my mother out somewhat.
We understand worked your way through school. One of the jobs you had was as a road inspector, wasn't it?
Linus Pauling: Well, I would be called a paving engineer now. I was responsible for the quality of the bituminous pavement that was laid by the contractor for the state. Later on I worked for Warren Construction Company. Warren Construction Company wanted me to stay with the company and not go on with my education. I did that for five summers, and I had spare time, even during the eight hours that the paving plant was operating, and I could read chemical books and look over the tables of properties of substances and continue to wonder about the possibility of getting a better understanding of these substances and their properties.
You've mentioned reading books about natural science and history. Did you read any fiction as a young man? Was there anything that captivated you in other ways?
I bought the Saturday Evening Post nearly every week if I had a nickel that I could spare, and read the stories in the Saturday Evening Post. One of them, I realized later, had been written by an author who collaborated with a well-known American physicist. The physicist was Wood, professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University. It was called The Man Who Rocked the World. It was about someone who had discovered a way to make a substance radioactive, to induce radioactivity. And there was a cliff in Greenland, I think, containing the substance that could be made radioactive by this method. So the plot involved a man having the idea that he would illuminate this cliff in such a way that the radioactive particles were shot out and that could shift the axis of rotation of the earth. So he was using this to blackmail the countries, the people of the whole world, into paying tribute to him.
And I remember a series of stories about a boy who had an extraordinary memory. He apparently could recall memories in such a way that he saw the scenes that he had viewed at some earlier time. So he was called in to help solve problems such as discovering a criminal by recalling a scene and pointing out some features that weren't in his conscious memory before. I learned later this is called eidetic memory, when you can see a scene as though it were on a television screen in your mind. I read everything I could get my hands on about it.
What interested you so much about the story of the boy with the amazing memory? Something to do with your curiosity about the world?
Linus Pauling: Yes. The boy was called Marcus Aurelius Fortunatus Todd, and I suppose I identified with him, being the hero, providing the solution to a problem. But it's something like reading detective stories, which I liked to do. Early science fiction, Argosy magazine, mainly sort of adventure stories, but some of them could be called early science fiction. And, of course Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
Which of Wells's stories did you like the most?
Linus Pauling: I can't say which I liked the most at the time I read them. I probably liked all of them, but of course I've re-read them since then. The War of the Worlds, for example. I think that was the one in which these flying machines came over at the tremendous height of four hundred feet above the ground and dropped bombs. I remember one of his stories where there were large speakers at the street corners for advertising, saying, "Buy Glaxo cold medicine and control your cold," and things like that! He anticipated many developments just as did the other writers of science fiction.
I have given up reading novels, romantic novels because it seems to me there is nothing new. I have read it all before, and I am no longer very interested anyway. And the same thing is true of science fiction stories. It seems to me the plots of the new science fiction stories are all plots that I have run across before.
Looking back on your childhood years and early college years, is there anything you would have done differently?
Linus Pauling: Well, I'm sure that I got in the habit of working, and not being lazy, not wasting my time.
In the third term of my freshman year, when my mother was no longer sending me money, I was able to make 25 dollars a month -- which was barely enough for me to get by with -- by working 100 hours a month chopping wood and cutting up quarters of beef for the girls' dormitory. Chopping wood for the wood burning stoves in the kitchen of the girls' dormitory and cutting the beef for them and mopping the kitchens every night. And, in order to do this, to work 100 hours a month at a job for 25 cents an hour and to keep up with my studies, it was necessary that I not waste any hours during the day. So, I think I developed the habit of working.
My success in solving scientific problems I think is the result of two qualities that I have. One is that of being able to formulate or discover problems. The other is that of being able to make a decision as to what problems I might be able to solve, and which I probably will not be able to solve, so that I don't waste time on those.
Linus Pauling: Well, I have some idea.
As the years have gone by, starting quite early, I realized I tried to formulate a picture of the universe. In a sense, a theory of everything. Whenever I hear something new, I try to fit it into the picture that I have already formed of the universe. If it fits in, well and good, I don't need to worry about it. But, if it doesn't fit in, then I ask, "Why doesn't it fit in with my ideas about how the universe ought to be operating?" I'd better try to find the answer to that. So, then I can ask, "How well is my background of knowledge and experience, such that I have a reasonable chance of finding the answer?" And if it isn't, then I say, "Well, perhaps someone else will make some progress with that idea, but I better go on with the others." So, I have lots of ideas. I do a lot of scientific reading, and quite often, every week perhaps, I read about something that someone is reporting that puzzles me. So I have a big pile of questions of this sort that I would like to settle down to work on.
Who was a big influence on you as a young man?
This was really extremely fortunate for me, in my opinion. I don't think that there was any field that was more suited to my interests, and I don't really know why Dr. Noyes selected me out of eight or ten new graduate students to do x-ray crystallography. Dickinson had a remarkable mind. He was a very careful investigator and thinker, a very logical thinker. When he was teaching me x-ray crystallography, he also taught me to ask at each stage in the argument, "What assumptions are being made? How reliable is the conclusion that you draw? What chance is there that one of the assumptions you have made is not correct?" "You should recognize," he said to me, "that there is in almost every investigation a lack of complete rigor. You should understand just how reliable the arguments are that you are presenting."
There was a professor of physical chemistry and mathematical physics in the California Institute of Technology who was very influential with me, Richard Chase Tolman. He immediately began giving a course of the basis of science. A very interesting course in which he discussed the question of how science is in fact prosecuted. He also began giving a course on quantum theory and atomic structure, using the book, The Origin of Spectra, by Foote and Muller.
This was the old quantum theory, of course, in those years. I studied quantum theory with Tolman in a seminar in which Arnold Sommerfeld's book on quantum theory and atomic structure was used as the text. One year it was the German edition because there was no English edition, and the next year the English translation. Tolman made a great impact on me in regard to physical and chemical theory. Those two people, I think, were probably most important in the early period of my career.
It sounds like they not only imparted knowledge to you, but also gave the tools to work with for the rest of your scientific career.
You discovered all sorts of new relationships in the physical world. Can you summarize, for the non-scientist, what those things tell us about the way the world works?
Linus Pauling: After the electron was discovered in 1896, and the nucleus of the atom -- an extremely small part of the center of the atom -- was discovered in 1911, it became possible to determine many properties of molecules, such as how far apart the atoms are. That hadn't been available for experimental study before. X-ray diffraction was one of the methods. I was fortunate in being able to use this essentially new experimental technique discovered in 1914, eight years before I became a graduate student, in attempting to answer many questions that I had formulated about chemical substances and their properties. And yet, they had only experimental answers to them.
The next important development was that the theory of quantum mechanics was discovered in 1925 and 1926. This was an improvement on the old quantum theory. The old quantum theory was an approximate theory which sometimes worked in a very remarkable way, and sometimes failed. But quantum mechanics -- so far as chemistry is concerned -- quantum mechanics is the basic theory, and there is nothing wrong with it. It works.
I realized in 1926 already that quantum mechanics could be applied to answer many additional questions about the nature of the chemical bonds, the structure of molecules and crystals. So, during the next ten years I was able to apply quantum mechanics to chemical problems in very productive ways, changing the whole basic nature of chemistry in such a way that essentially all chemists make use of these new ideas, along with the old structural chemistry that had been developed much earlier.
It must be very exciting to be involved with something that you realize, at least later, is a turning point, the opening of a door for scientists and researchers to walk through into a new area of discovery.
Linus Pauling: Yes. Someone asked me, not long ago, what was the discovery I made that excited me the most? And I answered that it was the basic discovery about directed chemical bonds that I made in January of 1931. I had published a paper in 1928, two years after I began learning quantum mechanics, in which I said that from quantum mechanics, by a treatment that I call "the resonance theory," I could explain the tetrahedral nature of the bonds of the carbon atom, and that I would publish details later. Nearly three years went by before I published the details.
So I worked nearly all night, very excited about applying this idea. I not only can easily derive the tetrahedral arrangement of the bonds of the carbon atoms, but also various other arrangement of atoms around a central atom, not only tetrahedral, but also octahedral ligation, and square planar ligation, which does occur with certain substances. And I did make predictions about relationships between magnetic properties and the arrangements of the atoms around each other. I considered that paper, which was published 17th of March, 1931, as my most important paper, and I believe I am right in saying that it is the one that developed the greatest feeling of excitement in me.
What other experiences or events had a major impact on you?
Linus Pauling: I think that meeting the young woman whom I married a year-and-a-half later was the event that had the greatest effect on my life. I can see in retrospect, she felt that her duty was to see to it that her husband lived as good a life as possible. And in particular, that she would handle the problems and stresses associated with family, leaving me free to devote all of my time and effort to working on the problems that I wanted to work on, the scientific problems.
I've been asked from time to time, "How does it happen that you have made so many discoveries? Are you smarter than other scientists?" And my answer has been that I am sure that I am not smarter than other scientists. I don't have any precise evaluation of my IQ, but to the extent that psychologists have said that my IQ is about 160, I recognize that there are one hundred thousand or more people in the United States that have IQs higher than that. So I have said that I think I think harder, think more than other people do, than other scientists. That is, for years, almost all of my thinking was about science and scientific problems that I was interested in.
So I owe much of this to my wife.
Linus Pauling: So far as my scientific career goes, of course, there was the decision that I made in 1945 -- '46 perhaps, but starting in 1945 -- and that may have been made by my wife rather than me, to sacrifice part of my scientific career to working for control of nuclear weapons and for the achievement of world peace. So, for years I devoted half my time, perhaps, to giving hundreds of lectures and to writing my book, No More War, but in the earlier years especially, to studying international affairs and social, political and economic theory, to the extent that it enabled me ultimately to feel that I was speaking with the same authority as when I talked about science. This is what my wife said to me back around 1946. If I wanted to be effective, I'd have to reach the point where I could speak with authority about these matters and not just quote statements that politicians and other people of that sort had made.
What was it that first got you interested in becoming an activist in the social and political sense?
Linus Pauling: When the atomic bomb was dropped at Hiroshima, and then at Nagasaki, I was immediately asked, within a month or two, by the Rotary Club perhaps in Hollywood, to give a talk, an after dinner talk about atomic bombs. My talk, as I recall, was entirely on what the atom is, what the atomic nucleus is, what nuclear fission is, how it's possible for a substance to be exploded, liberating 20 million times more energy than the same amount of dynamite or TNT liberates. A couple of days after my talk, there was a man in my office from the FBI, saying, "Who told you how much plutonium there is in an atomic bomb?" And I said, "Nobody told me, I figured it out." And he went away and that was the end of that. But, I kept giving these talks and I realized that more and more I was saying, "It seems to me that we have come to the time when war ought to be given up. It no longer makes sense to kill 20 million or 40 million people because of a dispute between two nations who are running things or decisions made by the people who really are running things. It no longer makes sense. Nobody wins. Nobody benefits from destructive war of this sort and there is all of this human suffering." And, Einstein was saying the same thing of course. So, that's when we decided -- my wife and I -- that first, I was pretty effective as a speaker. Second, I better start boning up, studying these other fields so that nobody could stand up and say, "Well, the authorities say such and such..."
Do you think the scientist in particular has an obligation to be engaged in those kinds of activities?
But all minor problems too, the ecological problems, are largely scientific problems. And while scientists may not be able to decide what the best course is to follow, nevertheless, I think their judgment has to be a little better about these problems than that of the non-scientist. I have said that the scientist has an obligation to his fellow citizens to help them to understand the problems and to make the right decisions.
Linus Pauling: By 1957, I had been talking for a dozen years about the need to control nuclear weapons, to prevent a nuclear war and to make treaties for world peace.
I was asked to speak at the honors convocation at Washington University in St. Louis. During the preceding months there had been additional information released about damage done by radioactivity from testing of nuclear weapons, and by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. So, my talk was about that. It got a tremendous response from the audience when I said, "We have to stop the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere because hundreds of thousands of unborn children and people now living are being damaged." So with two other professors, Barry Commoner and Ted Condon, I decided to write a petition. The next day we met, each of us had written a version of the petition, and I think mine was, essentially, the one selected by the three of us. We sent immediately, mimeographed it, and sent it out to 25 scientists that we knew. They all sent it right back, signed. So then I got back to Pasadena and my wife and I and some of our students and other people in the lab got busy and sent out hundreds of copies with the names of these first 25 signers -- or perhaps there was twenty-five, the three of us and 22 others. And, within a month or two I had 2,000 signatures from American scientists which I presented to Dag Hammarskjold. Scientists from all over the world began signing this petition. Originally, it was a petition by American scientists, but then it became a petition by world scientists. I think it was about 9,000 signatures that I gave, my wife and I gave to Dag Hammarskjold and ultimately, about 13,000 scientists all over the world had signed this petition. So, that had a great effect and I think even on President Kennedy because a couple of years later he gave a speech about a need for a treaty limiting bomb testing and of course pretty soon this treaty was made.
Linus Pauling: Well, back in 1945, my first talks were just pedagogical. I was just explaining nuclear fission. Then I began rather gradually expressing the opinion that the time had come to work for international treaties and international law to settle disputes rather than to use the barbaric method of war, made especially barbaric by the nuclear weapons. So, I was working toward the goal of a world without war. But, I didn't ever think that I would attain the sort of prominence in this effort that I have attained. The McCarthy period came along, of course -- 1950, '51, '52 -- and many of the other people who had been scientists who had been working on these same lines, gave up. Probably saying, "Why should I sacrifice myself? I am a scientist. I am supposed to be working on scientific things, so I don't need to put myself at risk by talking about these possibilities." And, I have said, perhaps I'm just stubborn. I don't like the idea. I have said, "I don't like anybody to tell me what to do or to think, except Mrs. Pauling."
I ran across that statement in some testimony I was giving before a Senate committee. I said, "Nobody tells me what to think, except Mrs. Pauling."
Your views and actions came under a great deal of scrutiny during that period, and a great deal of suspicion. Would you talk about that period?
For a while I didn't understand what it was about, and I telephoned the National Institutes of Health, and the man that I talked to said, "You have associates, why don't you split up the application. You can apply for part of the work, and your associates, Dr. Corey and Dr. Campbell, can apply for other parts." So we sent in these revised applications. In another week Dr. Corey and Dr. Campbell had their grants approved, the amount increased and the period extended, but they never acted on my application.
I was fortunate that this political action by the National Institute of Health, who were worried about McCarthyism, didn't seriously interfere with my researches. But there were, I understand, 40 scientists who had their grants canceled at this time. I remember talking with one of them at Columbia University. He was despondent. He didn't know what to do. The university wouldn't support him, and his work was more closely knit. He didn't have an associate who could apply for the grant.
So there were scientists who were really very hard hit in their scientific work by this political action. Oveta Culp from Texas, who was Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, was frightened enough by McCarthy to have the people go over the list and select people they thought might be attacked by McCarthy, and cancel their grants.
The State Department prevented me from traveling for two years. The first time, when the Royal Society of London was holding a two-day conference to discuss my work, I was to be the first speaker [to discuss] work on the structure of protons an international conference just to discuss these discoveries that I had made. And, I couldn't go to the conference because I couldn't get the passport. So for two years, the State Department caused trouble for me. They wouldn't tell me why. They said "Not in the best interest of the United States," or "Your anti-Communist statements haven't been strong enough." I was having a scrap with the Communists -- the Russians and the Soviet Union -- at the time, and I was critical of the Soviet Union, but they used that as an excuse, saying they weren't strong enough, my statements. I'm sure this interfered seriously with my work. When I was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the New York Times had an article saying, "Will Professor Pauling be allowed to go to Stockholm to receive this Nobel Prize?" So I received the passport, which had been turned down only a short time before. It was sent to me.
Senator Thomas C. Hennings of Missouri was chairman of a committee in the Senate, investigating the State Department's passport division. The Assistant Secretary of State was testifying after I testified. Senator Hennings said, "How did Pauling happen to get his passport then? Was there an appeal?" They said, "A sort of self-generating appeal." So Senator Hennings said, "Do you mean to sit there and tell me that the State Department of the United States of America allows some committee of foreigners in a foreign country to decide which Americans will be allowed to travel?" Well, he didn't have any answer to that question.
Linus Pauling: The trustees, of course, were mainly business men, and conservative, and supporters of the cold war, and they seemed to consider that working for peace between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was in some way subversive, as compared with preparing for a war that would rid the world of the menace of communism. Probably socialism worried them rather than communism.
Trustees tried to get the institute to fire me and a committee was set up -- I didn't know about it at the time, learned only later they reported that they couldn't find a way by which I could be fired. I wasn't guilty of moral turpitude in the usual sense, which was one way in which a professor can lose his job. So they began sort of harassing me. I was chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. The president said, well, that's one job they could take away from me which would mean a decrease in salary. I didn't mind. I had served in that position for 22 years and felt that I had done my duty with respect to that administrative job. But, they began interfering with my research projects and I decided that I was going to have to leave the institute.
Did anyone at Cal Tech express any regrets about this?
Linus Pauling: The Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering did not hold a party to celebrate my getting the Nobel Peace Prize. Whereas, they had held one when I got the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. But, the Biology Division did hold a party for me. The biological scientists, I think, were more sympathetic to what I was saying about damage done by fallout radioactivity and carbon-14 than the physical scientists. I was, I think to some extent, disappointed that my colleagues in the institute did not express sympathy with me in this situation.
Did you have any discussions with any of them on a one-on-one basis about that?
Linus Pauling: I'm not sure that I can remember. Beadle, the chairman of the Biology Division, had been a member of the committee to recommend to the trustees whether they could fire me or not, and he told me about it some years later. I don't remember when it was that he told me about it. I note that he was, in a sense, sympathetic to me. There were many people at the Institute that I considered my friends, and perhaps if they are still alive, still consider them my friends. But it was a difficult period, so I can't complain about their not being open in expressing sympathy for me.
You did a great deal of work on the molecular basis of disease, which has also been controversial. What led you in that direction?
In 1945 I had the idea about molecular diseases, and this started a field of medicine, a class of diseases called hemoglobinopathies. It had not been known before my discovery of the hemoglobinopathies that you could have diseases of molecules, these large molecules of the human body. So it was an important contribution. I decided after working on the hemoglobinopathies for several years to shift to mental disease, and reported some new ideas about anesthesia, and about schizophrenia and other diseases. In 1968 I published my first two papers introducing the adjective "orthomolecular." These were about orthomolecular psychiatry and orthomolecular medicine in general.
Orthomolecular medicine is the adjustment of the amount of orthomolecular substances in the human body to achieve the best of health and the smallest incidence of disease and provide the best additional methods even of treating disease.
Orthomolecular substances, I said, are substances that are normally present in the human body and are required for life. Some of them we make for ourselves in the liver, say, or in other cells in the body. Some we have to get in our foods or in vitamin supplements or other dietary supplements.
The remarkable thing about orthomolecular substances, such as vitamins, there are many others, is their astonishingly low toxicity. If a patient with severe arthritis takes ten times as much aspirin as the doctor has prescribed, the patient will be dead. In general, drugs are given in amounts coming close to the amount that will kill a person. I was astonished to learn, some 25 years ago, that vitamins are very powerful substances, in that a little pinch of a vitamin every day is all that you need to keep from dying of scurvy or berri-berri or pellagra or other vitamin-deficiency diseases, but that you can take 1,000 or 10,000 times that much, day after day, without any serious toxicity showing up. No problems with these large amounts. So, I thought, this is something that I hadn't known before. My picture of the universe did not include these orthomolecular substances -- a term that I invented -- these orthomolecular substances that have powerful physiological effects but are also essentially non-toxic. So the question comes up in my mind, I know that the authorities recommend an intake, the RDA [Recommended Daily Allowance] of the various vitamins. And, they say this intake will keep most people from showing signs of vitamin deficiency or from dying of vitamin deficiency. So I ask, since you can tolerate very much larger amounts, even 1,000 times larger, what are the amounts that would put me and other people in the best of health? So for over 20 years I have been working on that problem.
I think it really offers great opportunities for improved health. People who take these vitamins and other orthomolecular substances in the optimum amounts can live 25 or 35 years longer than otherwise. More than that, they will be free of diseases. This optimum nutrition, with the orthomolecular substances, cuts down the probability of developing cancer, or heart disease or diabetes, or infectious diseases.
There has been a lot of positive response to your views on the use of vitamins, but there are still many skeptics, including many people in the scientific community. To what do you attribute that skepticism?
Linus Pauling: I don't think that there are many skeptics in the scientific community. Scientists know me from way back. They are in a position to appreciate the significance of anything that I say. It is the MD's -- the physicians -- that constitute the problem, with a few exceptions. A few oddball scientists say that I am wrong. It is mainly just the medical establishment that supplies the opposition to orthomolecular medicine. Two books have been written discussing just this problem. One of them is The Vitamin C Controversy by Dr. Ebolene Richards. Another, by Ralph Moss, is called The Cancer Industry. Each of them suggests that the profit motive plays an important part.
The drugs that are used to treat cancer and heart disease and other diseases often are sold at very high prices. They run hundreds of millions, hundreds of billions of dollars every year spent on medicine. Much of it goes to the cost of the drugs, which may be several thousand dollars per year per patient, and the cost of paying physicians for their time and paying for the very expensive diagnostic instruments that are used, and so on. And I can understand concern about opposition coming through the treatment of diseases or prevention of diseases by substances that cost almost nothing. Vitamins are very cheap, you know. So the profit motive probably is operating here, even though the medical authorities might deny it.
I gather from what you are saying, you don't feel that there is as much danger of people getting a toxic level of vitamins, as there is a danger of them not having enough in their system to prevent disease.
I knew a man who took 130,000 milligrams of vitamin C a day for 13 years to control his cancer -- that's a quarter of a pound of vitamin C a day -- so he wouldn't need to eat so much starch. He could rely to some extent on burning the vitamin C in the cells of his body to provide energy, as well as controlling the cancer. I take 300 times the RDA of vitamin C per day. I have been doing that for years. And I take 80 times of the RDA of vitamin E. I take about ten times the RDA of vitamin A, plus a good slug of betacarotene. I take about 25 times the RDA of the other B vitamins. And I take the recommended amounts as far as minerals too -- not large amounts, the recommended amounts. I drink milk everyday. I am not one of the people with a deficiency of lactose, the people who get digestive upsets if they try drinking milk, or eat milk products that contain lactose, milk sugar.
Do you find the controversy over your views terribly frustrating? You feel that you know what is right, but you still hear people either dismissing it, or saying there are dangers from doing what you think is an excellent way to good health.
Linus Pauling: Yes, it bothers me.
For 17 years -- for 16 years starting in 1973, I tried to get the National Cancer Institute to carry out some studies of vitamin C in the prevention and treatment of cancer, without success. They gave us some money once for animal studies, but only once. They turned us down eight times and then I stopped applying to NCI. Last year, I went to see the new director of the National Cancer Institute. He didn't want to talk to me at first, but he agreed and said that he could spare an hour. He listened to me for three hours. The first two hours he was incensed by my saying I thought it was criminal that the authorities were not paying attention to this really important possibility of controlling cancer. He didn't like that, but he continued to listen to what I had to say. Finally, after he had said the Mayo Clinic has shown that vitamin C has no value in the treatment of cancer, I said that Mayo Clinic study was a fraud. And I can explain just how. The Mayo Clinic people didn't follow the procedure that Dr. Ewan Cameron used at all. They say that they did, but they didn't. We know that they didn't. So you can't rely on that. Finally, he became interested.
The National Cancer Institute, together with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, sponsored jointly an international conference, held in the fall of 1990 in Bethesda in the National Medical Library Building, at which 40 scientists presented papers on vitamin C and cancer, basic scientific studies bearing on the question of the use of vitamin C in the control of cancer.
The National Cancer Institute has now set up a panel of physicians to examine the case histories of the patients that my associate Dr. Cameron has sent to them as having remarkable responses to vitamin C. So it looks hopeful in this respect. The National Cancer Institute is also carrying out studies on the value of increased intake of vitamin C in preventing cancer, an epidemiological study. So things are moving along. I regret that it took 16 years to get the National Cancer Institute interested, but I am pleased now that they are moving ahead.
Do you finally feel vindicated, at least to some extent, that people are taking an interest?
It must be very rewarding to you, in spite of the controversy, to know that people everywhere, when they think they're catching a cold, they think of vitamin C.
Linus Pauling: Yes, it is. I'm sure that most scientists accept what I have been saying these years. I wasn't the first to say it either. Other people had been advocating vitamin C for controlling the common cold and cancer and other diseases back starting 50 years ago. I do feel satisfaction in thinking that I have been able to contribute to this, what I think is a great step forward in the control of disease and the decrease in the amount of suffering.
It seems that so many people these days are dying from cancer or suffering from cancer. Has something changed in our world?
Linus Pauling: We don't have good evidence for that.
Up to 40 years or 50 years ago, people suppressed the fact that someone had died of cancer. When Arthur Amos Noyes, the head of our chemistry department, died of cancer in 1936, the death certificate said pneumonia. Well, many cancer patients develop pneumonia because they are so debilitated they no longer have any resistance. So in the old days, cancer was not put down as the cause of death. It was thought to be - it was a stigma for a person to develop cancer and die of cancer. So, the old statistics are not of much value. The more recent statistics indicate that the incidence of cancer -- the age standardized incidence -- has not changed much. Despite all the hullabaloo about the anti-cancer drugs and other new methods, the death rate stays essentially the same.
What do you see as the next frontier in this area?
Linus Pauling: I think that I was fortunate, by the time I got my doctors degree, in getting a good understanding of physics, basic physics and advanced physics and of chemistry as a whole.
I had one short course in organic chemistry, but I'm considered to have made great contributions to organic chemistry. I had no courses in biochemistry, but I'm usually described as "the great biochemist Linus Pauling." You see, I have made contributions to biochemistry. There were no courses in molecular biology. I had no courses in biology, but I'm one of the founders of molecular biology. I had no courses in nutrition or vitaminology. Why? Why am I able to do these things? You see, I got such a good basic education in the fields where it's difficult for most people to learn by themselves. Very few people are able to study mathematics by themselves, they need to have it taught. I learned a lot of mathematics, a lot of physics, a lot of chemistry. The chemistry, much of it I might have learned by myself, but when it comes to these other subjects, I was able to learn enough about these other fields just by reading because my basic understanding was so great that I could interpret the sentences that I read. I can read -- if I become interested in cardiology say, or in general -- I can read books, medical books about heart disease and understand what the authors are saying.
So my recommendation to young people, which I have been making for 50 years, is that if you want to go into biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, why don't you start out by majoring in physics and chemistry and mathematics and then move on later? I recommended 50 years ago to students interested in biology to take the Ph.D. in chemistry, rather than biology, and then get a job in plant physiology or some other field. With your basic understanding you will be able to be successful in this field.
So ever since then, I have said to students, if you are interested in science, I think a good thing for you to get is as much training as possible in the basic sciences -- mathematics, physics, chemistry, including physical chemistry. And then you can move on into these more applied fields. Many of these fields I consider to be just applied chemistry. Molecular biology is a branch of chemistry, just as biochemistry is a branch of chemistry. Astronomy in some respects is because the astronomers are studying the molecules in interstellar space that show up on the spectrographic studies that they make. And the geologist of course, much of geology depends on minerals, and that essentially is a branch of chemistry.
Linus Pauling: Sometimes I say you shouldn't think that your efforts, your demonstration, participation in peace walks or writing letters to members of Congress or to the local newspaper are wasted efforts. You can contribute and you can't be sure how great your contribution is, but you can contribute, so do it.
So then, of course,
I wrote my book Vitamin C and the Common Cold in 1970, August 1970, sitting mainly there in this room. I thought, you know, everybody will be happy to have this book that tells about how to keep from suffering with the common cold. The doctors will be happy, they won't be pestered by patients with this minor problem the way they are now. They can concentrate on more serious diseases. And, what happened? A month later, The Medical Letter published an attack on me for having written this book. And, all the other medical... Modern Medicine published an attack on me for a whole lot of things. I wrote to the men, the editor of Modern Medicine and said, "You remember that Modern Medicine gave me the Modern Medicine Award four or five years ago for my work on sickle cell anemia. And, here you are attacking me." And, then I went up and said, "I want you to publish this retraction." And, I wrote a very abject retraction on all the points and they published it just the way I had written it, retracting. I've been astonished at the response of the medical profession to orthomolecular ideas.
Do you find this resistance to your views on orthomolecular medicine annoying? I know it's irritating, but do you ever get just downright angry about it?
It brings to mind the controversy surrounding Robert Oppenheimer and the dispute with Edward Teller. You were a bit outside that because you declined to work on the Manhattan Project.
Linus Pauling: That's right. I had known Teller from 1930 and, of course, had much respect for him as a scientist. A very smart fellow, too emotional.
Do you have strong feelings from that era when Oppenheimer lost his security clearance, when there was that whole debate over who is and who isn't a "real" American?
Linus Pauling: Yes. I think it was shocking that the United States government authorities showed so little gratitude to Oppenheimer, the way they did in these hearings.
Teller wasn't the only one who testified against Oppenheimer. There were two or three other scientists, too. And, of course, the main person involved was Strauss. Strauss, a banker, began thinking of himself as a theoretical physicist, and began to be jealous. Strauss was the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. He began to be jealous of Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer of course could be caustic in his criticisms, and I was told the story about a seminar that Teller gave at Los Alamos. Oppenheimer said, "Here, how could you have made such an elementary mistake as the one that you made back...so none of your equations are any good." Teller felt that he was demeaned by this.
There are a number of people who are great physicists who say that they would have been chemists but found it too difficult.
Linus Pauling: Well, Einstein, for example. Einstein, of course, was very smart. In 1931 perhaps, I've forgotten which year, Einstein was visiting at Cal Tech, and I gave a physics seminar on quantum mechanics and chemical structure. Einstein was there sitting in the front row in the physics lecture room. There were reporters there, of course, as usual wherever Einstein was. And at the end, the reporters asked him, "What did you think of Professor Pauling's talk?" And he said, "It was too complicated for me." This was published in the Pasadena Star News. Perhaps I did include too much detail for a physicist. Chemists are more interested in the details than physicists are.
How do you feel about the contributions you have made? All modesty aside, what do you think are your greatest contributions?
Linus Pauling: I have answered that question in the past by saying that I think my 1931 paper was the most important of the papers that I have written. There were others, too, that all together changed the science of chemistry. It's hard to say what practical effect there is of that. How many people have benefited from the fact that chemists are able to work more effectively now than they were before 1930? I don't know. In a practical sense, stopping the bomb tests. I was not alone responsible for that, but if, for the sake of argument, we say, as in fact the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said,
There probably would not have been a bomb test treaty if there hadn't been somebody doing what I was doing for those years. If the bomb testing had gone on at the same rate for a few more years, it would have meant that millions of children -- according to my calculations, which seem to have been essentially in the right order -- millions of children, infants, would have been born with gross physical or mental defects that otherwise would not have had the defect and millions of people would have died of cancer at an earlier age than otherwise. So that -- to the extent that I was involved -- that was, I think, pretty important. The ideas about orthomolecular medicine, I think, have already affected millions of people. So, I feel much surprised by it that I have contributed something to the well-being of human beings.
As you were building on your discoveries, and you discovered the alpha-helix, you just missed being the first person to discover the double helix. Is that right?
Linus Pauling: It's hard to say. For a while I said I didn't want to make a statement, but more recently I have been saying...
Perhaps, if I had been allowed to go to that meeting in London, which is what people say interfered, perhaps, I would have discovered the double helix. I had described it several years earlier, saying that the gene consists of two mutually complementary molecules which, when separated, each could act as a template for the synthesis of the other. And, Watson and Crick knew that and they were using my method by which I had determined the structure of proteins, the alpha-helix and the two pleated sheets in their attack on the double helix, just as I was. I think my wife may have been right in sort of implied criticism -- not really implied -- afterwards, when she said to me, "If that was such an important problem, why didn't you work harder at it?"
As I look back, my feeling is that I didn't work very hard at it. I have to admit, I sort of had the feeling that I didn't need to work very hard, that I would probably discover it in the course of time, as a structure of the nucleus. So, this was a sort of hubris, I suppose, the sort of feeling that I was better than I really am.
In all this time, did you ever worry about failing?
Linus Pauling: I don't think so. I never got involved in a race.
You know, I have said I wasn't in a race with Watson and Crick. They thought that they were in a race with me. My feeling was that it wasn't a race. I wasn't working very hard on the DNA problem, I was doing other things, too. And, I probably did have a sort of feeling that sooner or later I would work out the DNA puzzle.
When I was working in the effort to understand the structure of proteins, I was doing it by a method that nobody else used, which was to think about proteins in relation to the principals about chemical bonding that I had laid down in my book, The Nature of the Chemical Bond. It turned out, of course, that other people were working on the same problems, but not by the same method. In Cambridge, England, Sir Lawrence Bragg and his collaborators John C. Kendrew and Jean Baptiste Perrin published a long paper on helical structures of polypeptide chains. All the structures were wrong. They had not used the principles in my book, and they had a more difficult problem than I had, of course, but I succeeded in finding the alpha-helix and the pleated sheet structures. I was apt to be the only person attacking that problem on the basis that I was using.
Now recently, I have been trying to determine detailed structures of atomic nuclei by analyzing the ground state and excited state vibrational bends, as observed experimentally. From reading the physics literature, Physical Review Letters and other journals, I know that many physicists are interested in atomic nuclei, but none of them, so far as I have been able to discover, has been attacking the problem in the same way that I attack it. So I just move along at my own speed, making calculations, and I don't worry about someone else publishing their results a month before I publish mine.
Nobel, in his will, referred to "the greatest single discovery or invention made in the preceding year." I thought that the discoveries I made in the period 1927 to 1937 altogether constituted a considerable advance in our understanding, but I couldn't think of a "single discovery." Albert von Szent-Gyorgyi wrote to me, saying that he was going to nominate me for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This, I think, people are not supposed to do. So what should he say was the discovery that I had made? I thought about it for a while, and I wrote back and said I thought he should say the discovery of hydrogenation of bond orbitals. That's the one thing in the 1931 paper that I would say is more important than any of my other ideas. I don't know what he did, if he did nominate me. But the Nobel committee apparently decided they could lump all of my discoveries together and say, "For his work on the nature of the chemical bond."
In a more general sense, including your personal and professional life, how much control does a person have over his or her future?
Linus Pauling: I think life it apt to be full of surprises. My feeling is, first, about a young person...
How can a young person be happy? I think a good way of increasing the probability of leading a happy life is to do two things. First, to think about what you'd like to do, whoever you are, what you like to do, and then see if you can make your living doing it. Second, look around, keeping your eyes open and your brain working and find somebody of the opposite sex with whom you enjoy talking and with whom you can get along. Get married young and stay married. So, those are the two ways in which I believe young people can be doing something wise to determine, to some extent at any rate, the nature of their future lives.
That, and take plenty of vitamin C, and they will be on the right track.
Linus Pauling: Well, there is no doubt about that. There are health practices that can be followed. If you want to lead a miserable life, all you need to do is start smoking cigarettes. I think that we ought to be doing something more than we are doing to control the cigarette smoking habit. I don't think that abolishing tobacco is the way to do it. That is, to have the government pass a law against tobacco. But to have the government subsidizing the tobacco industry, seems to me the wrong thing to do.
Looking back over your career, you became a famous person, someone who got a great deal of attention in public. What effect did that have on your family, on your wife and your children?
Linus Pauling: I'm not sure that it had very much effect. I was fortunate when I compare myself with Henry Ford.
Henry Ford was asked, "What effect did becoming a multi-millionaire have on your life?" He said, "Mrs. Ford stopped cooking for me." My wife, although she complained a bit, didn't stop cooking for me. You know, I don't know my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren well enough to know what effect having me for a father or a grandfather or a great-grandfather has on their lives. I just don't know. It's hard for people to know other people, even for me to know my children. They are pretty good children, to the extent that I know them.
Why don't you know them well enough?
Is there a particular talent that you don't have that you always wanted, that you thought would have been helpful?
Linus Pauling: Well, I probably should just say no. There was a period of five years, or four and a half, during which I learned no additional mathematics. And when I got to Europe with my wife in 1926, I discovered many young theoretical physicists there who knew mathematics more thoroughly than I did. If, from the time when I was 17 years old to 21, I had been learning the sort of mathematics that I started again to learn in graduate school, I might well have been more adept at the mathematical side of science than I am. But, you know, I'm not really complaining. I've succeeded in handling some reasonably difficult mathematical problems.
You certainly have. It's hard to imagine how you could have accomplished much more. Thank you for spending so much time with us.