Category Archives: Science

95. A Letter to the Lancet: the story of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War

On 20 January 1951, at the height of the Korean War, seven distinguished doctors published a letter in the Lancet expressing concern about the arms race, the impact of arms spending on healthcare (“each pound spent on bombs means … more dead babies now”) and the apathetic drift towards another world war.

Signatories to letter of 20 Jan 1951 in the Lancet

Signatories to letter of 20 Jan 1951 in the Lancet

The signatories (Richard Doll, Alfred Esterman, Ian Gilliland, Horace Joules, Duncan Leys,  Lionel Penrose, and Martin Pollock) argued that doctors could use their unique expertise and authority to work towards disarmament:

“We appeal to all our fellow doctors who think there may yet be an alternative to merely providing treatment for casualties ; we ask them to join us, in the spirit of our chosen profession of healing, in doing all in their power to halt preparation for war …”

The letter provoked many responses, to the Lancet and privately.  Not all agreed with its perspective.  Doll et al. summed up and tried to refute those arguments in a further letter in February.

Typescript of first paragraph of letter to the Lancet 17 February 1951

Typescript of first paragraph of letter to the Lancet 17 February 1951

Some respondents had argued that war and peace were political matters which should not be discussed in a medical journal.  The seven profoundly disagreed: “Doctors have a social responsibility as well as a personal one to their patients ; they have an ethical tradition and an international allegiance.  War is a symptom of mental ill health.  Its results include wounds and disease.  Doctors are therefore properly concerned in preventing it”.

The February letter called for a forum to discuss how doctors could put these ideas into action.  The resulting event, held in London on 16 March and chaired by Dr Joules, was attended by 130 doctors and led to the founding of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW).

Detail from cover of MAPW Journal June 1983

Detail from cover of MAPW Journal June 1983

Over its forty year lifespan, MAPW brought the expertise and authority of doctors and, later, other medical professionals to many issues via its publications, conferences and advocacy: nuclear weapons, chemical and biological warfare, radiation, terrorism, the medical needs of developing countries, even expressing concern about the bellicose lyrics of national anthems.  It was explicitly politically independent, though accused of being a communist front and proscribed by the Labour Party during the 1950s.

In 1992, MAPW merged with the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW), which had been founded in 1980. A merger had been discussed since the mid-1980s but, as Dr Alex Poteliakhoff observed in a position paper in 1990 “the changing international and global scene, namely the collapse of the cold war, hesitant moves towards nuclear disarmament” and increased public concern about environment and quality of life meant both organisations needed to rethink their missions to survive and be useful.

Medact logo, from press release of April 1992

Medact logo, from press release of April 1992

Given their long-term collaboration on joint conferences and projects such as the Medical Educational Trust (not to mention shared office and fax machine!), a merger made sense.   The result was Medact, which continues to bring together health professionals working for a “fairer, better and safer world”.

I decided to write about medical campaigners this week as I recently learned that the Wellcome Library plan to catalogue the substantial and hitherto inaccessible MCANW and Medact archives they hold.   I look forward to working with the Wellcome to promote the distinctive archives of medical professional campaigns to researchers in many disciplines.

Sources: quotations and images from MAPW Archive (references H2, M3, M10.  Note that we are about to release a new edition of the Archive catalogue).  I am indebted also to Physicians and the Peace Movement, by Nick Lewer (Cass, 1992) and many published and unpublished articles in the Archive concerning the history of the association.

Postscript (18 December 2013): the catalogue of this Archive is now online as part of our Quick Wins programme.  Find it on the MAPW webpage in PDF and Word format.


86. Scientists in the Quest for Peace: Joseph Rotblat, the Manhattan Project, and the Pugwash Conferences

This week, we explore the work of a remarkable scientist and humanitarian who turned away from work on the atom bomb: Professor Joseph Rotblat (1908-2005).

Cover of The Atom Bomb, Social Science Association, 1945

I chose this little pamphlet to introduce Rotblat’s book collection, because it was published in August 1945 i.e. just after the two atom bombs were dropped. Not written by Rotblat, however it discusses the concerns to which he devoted his post-war career and illustrates the range of the collection: science fiction explorations of nuclear issues, alongside pamphlets like this one , reports and textbooks.

A pioneer of atomic physics at the Free University of Poland, Jo Rotblat came to Liverpool University in 1939, drawn by the opportunity to work with James Chadwick and his new cyclotron.  Rotblat caught what was to be the last train out of Poland; his wife, Tola, sick with appendicitis, was due to follow, but was unable to leave in time – she later died in a concentration camp.  Chadwick took Rotblat to Los Alamos in 1944 as part of the team working on the Manhattan Project: developing a workable atomic weapon.

Cover of War and Peace, The Life and Work of Sir Joseph Rotblat

Cover of War and Peace, The Life and Work of Sir Joseph Rotblat. This delightfully personal and informative book from Liverpool University looks at themes in his life and includes memories of those who knew him and lots of interesting images.

However, Joseph Rotblat took the difficult decision to leave the Project later that year.  He had agreed to work on the weapon because of the fear that Nazi Germany would develop theirs first, but he realised that the Allies’ resources put them far ahead in this race.  He was also shocked by the project’s looking towards future conflict with (and use of weapons on) the USSR.

Thereafter Jo Rotblat directed his research towards the beneficial uses of nuclear physics, especially in medicine.  He settled with his remaining family permanently in Britain, returning at first to Liverpool, then becoming Professor of Medical Physics at St Bartholomew’s in 1949 where he worked until his  retirement in 1976.

Above all he encouraged his fellow scientists to consider the social impact of their research and to seek to remove nuclear weapons from this earth.   In 1955 he was one of the distinguished scientists who signed what became known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto: drawn up by peace campaigner Bertrand Russell and signed by Einstein just before his death, the Manifesto outlined the need for peaceful ways to resolve conflict rather than war given the arrival of weapons which could obliterate humanity and that “we feel that scientists should assemble in conference to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction”.

Cover of Scientists in the Quest for Peace, Joseph Rotblat's history of the Pugwash conferences

Scientists in the Quest for Peace, Joseph Rotblat’s history of the Pugwash conferences, is an essential read if you’re interested in him or the conferences. It also includes many useful appendices.

The first Conference of Science and World Affairs took place in 1957, at a Canadian village called Pugwash, which gave its name to later meetings.  Rotblat played a key role in setting it up, held many offices within Pugwash, and has often been described as its moving spirit.  His and their work was recognised by the award of the the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, “for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics”.

Jo Rotblat’s work has a particular resonance at the University of Bradford.  He shared the concern of our first Vice-Chancellor, Ted Edwards, around the social responsibility of scientists and science and was instrumental in the creation of the first Chair of Peace Studies.  These links were recognised by the award of Honorary Doctor of Science in 1973.

Special Collections holds Rotblat’s book collection: works by and about him, works presented by their authors (often with interesting dedications which show the esteem in which he was held) and a huge range of popular and academic works on nuclear issues and the social responsibility of scientists.  He appears throughout our archives of peace and nuclear campaigns, from his involvement in the early days of CND during the 1950s to his support for the 1990s Campaign to free nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu.

Note on sources. In addition to the above titles, Ending War which includes Rotblat’s essay on leaving the Manhattan Project.  Rotblat’s Papers are at Churchill College Archives.  Other useful websites include Pugwash Conferences and the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize page.

65. Universities, Science and the Just Society: Writings of Ted Edwards

This week’s Objects: two lectures and a book by our first Vice-Chancellor Dr E.G. (Ted) Edwards, The Relevant University, Higher Education for Everyone, and Science, Education and Society.  Universities are complex organisations shaped by many people and influences over many years.  The University of Bradford is perhaps unusual in that so much about its story and even its present nature can be traced back to the ideas and enthusiasms of its first Vice Chancellor, expressed in these particular works.

Front cover of Higher education for everyone by Ted Edwards

Front cover of The Relevant University by Ted EdwardsTed Edwards had strong ideas about universities and society.  Known as “Red” Ted for his membership of  the Communist party until the 1950s, and his generally radical views, he argued that, in the atomic age, scientific research could not be objective.  A University should not, could not seek knowledge without also considering the benefits or dangers of that knowledge to society.  Linked to this was his call for “interdisciplinarity”.  Though, as he acknowledged, this was a cumbersome word, Dr Edwards argued that breaking down the artificial silo mentalities of academic disciplines would allow researchers to gain wider understanding, and hence benefit society.  His philosophy was inclusive: he called for higher education to be democratic, open to all, rather than educating elites.  He also considered that student involvement in University government was essential in making the institution relevant to students – and society.

E.G.Edwards, laughing, with the Students' Union Presidents for 1957/58 (J.Butler) and 1977/78 (David Pope) (archive ref X462/ UNI PEGE2)

E.G.Edwards with the Students’ Union Presidents for 1957/58 (J.Butler) and 1977/78 (David Pope) (archive ref X462/ UNI PEGE2)

He was able to put his philosophies into practice at Bradford during the 1960s and 1970s: a new university, in a city with a radical tradition, in an era of rapid technological change and booming higher education in which social and intellectual norms were being questioned.  Witness the wording of the Charter, which added “the application of knowledge to human welfare”.  Ted overcame considerable opposition to include a student place on University council.  With his support, Bradford pioneered interdisciplinary teaching and research which aimed to help people lead better lives and support others in so doing: Interdisciplinary Human Studies, Project Planning for Developing Countries, and Peace Studies.

Front cover of Science, Education and Society by Ted EdwardsAlthough the University did not then teach these subjects, Ted was keen to develop arts on campus, to ensure a rounded and enjoyable experience for students.  He set up the Fellowships in Visual Arts, Music and Theatre, and encouraged the purchase of artworks to enhance the campus.

He took great interest in Yugoslavia, encouraging the creation of research and teaching into the region, and offering practical help to Skopje, twin city of Bradford, after the terrible earthquake in 1963.

Ted Edwards retired in 1978.  He wrote Higher Education for Everyone  and other pieces about the areas that interested him and continued to be active in peace campaigning.  He died in 1996.  His work is continued in the University’s community involvement, its links with industry, its pioneering concern for the environment and in the continuing story of the areas of study he encouraged.

This account is based on a piece written for a 2006 exhibition about Ted Edwards’ legacy: Art and Archives.   Special Collections includes masses of archive material about his work and ideas: his own Archive and those of the University and its predecessor BIT.

60. Bones, Bodies and Disease: the Rare Medical Books of Dr Calvin Wells

These striking images are from a collection of historic medical books gathered by Dr Calvin Wells.  This unfortunate child has “measels”: he appears in the frontispiece of Domestic Medicine, by William Buchan. New ed. 1782, along with illustrations of smallpox, ring worms, scald head and various intestinal worms.  Buchan’s work was aimed at the general public and proved very popular, running into many editions (this interesting article from Boston Medical Library explains his appeal to British and American readers).

Detail from frontispiece of Buchan's Domestic Medicine, new ed 1782 Calvin/BUCDr Wells (1908-1978) was a fascinating individual, a doctor turned archaeologist.  He began his career in medicine in London, training at University College London and University College Hospital and specialising in obstetrics.  He also became interested in anthropology. Later, when he had moved to Norfolk, Dr Wells began to combine these two strands, using his medical knowledge to interpret archaeological finds and so shed light on the diseases and injuries suffered by ancient people and sometimes also on modern health problems. His best-known work was Bones, Bodies and Disease (1964). His widow, Winifred “Freddie” Wells, donated his books and archive to the University of Bradford in 1984.

Emblems of Immortality, p.170 of Thornton's Philosophy of Medicine vol 2 1799-1800 Calvin/THOThis beautiful engraving shows emblems of immortality (caterpillar to butterfly, acorn to oak tree).  It is from volume 2 of Thornton’s Philosophy of medicine (1799-1800) which is full of intriguing illustrations and interesting anecdotes.  This illustration accompanies an article about the brain in which the author defends ideas of the soul and immortality.

Both Calvin and Winifred Wells collected historic medical books.  Their book collection is particularly rich in 17th and 18th century volumes on gynaecology and obstetrics, by authors such as Thomas Sydenham, Francois Mauriceau and William Smellie.  There are also 20th century works on archaeology and anthropology, practical medical and nursing works, and books on exotic travels, ear, nose and throat medicine, and the archaeology of Norfolk.

More on Dr Wells’ archaeological interests in a later Object!

59. Brilliant, Ruby, Sapphire: The Cabinet of Gems, by Samuel Batchelor

This week, meet one of my favourite items in Special Collections: The Cabinet of Gems, by Samuel Batchelor.

Gemstones, from The Cabinet of Gems by Samuel Batchelor (1840)

Its magnificent subtitle is: Vocabulary of Precious Stones, arranged according to their comparative value : together with a description of the largest known diamonds and coloured gems in the world; the commercial history of rough diamonds; an account of the pearl fishery and the regalias of England, Scotland &c.  Ours is the revised edition, printed in 1840 by W. Langdale of Knaresborough.

Diamonds, from The Cabinet of Gems by Samuel Batchelor (1840)

The Cabinet is an interesting book packed with quirky information, as the subtitle suggests.  I particularly like the fact it is printed in Yorkshire.  What I really love about this little volume though are the plates, especially the colourful illustration of gemstones, above.  I’ve re-used this many times (here and here, for example), to illustrate the point that Special Collections are themselves gems or treasures.  Sometimes they are hidden gems, uncatalogued and unknown; it is so rewarding to bring such collections to people’s knowledge, as we’re doing with this exhibition.

29. Wild Nature’s Ways: the Kearton Brothers and the Stuffed Ox

Shouldering the Imitation OxOur next object illustrates the story of two brothers from Yorkshire who found new ways to photograph the natural world.  These photos show an ox-hide, which was placed over a wooden frame to hide the photographer and enable him to capture better images of wild birds and their nests.  The “Stuffed Ox” was one of many methods that Richard and Cherry Kearton developed in their pioneering photographic careers.

The stuffed ox in operation

The brothers were from Swaledale: born in Thwaite, educated in Muker.  Richard published his first book, Birds’ Nests, Eggs and Egg Collecting, in 1890.  After Cherry took the first ever photograph of a bird’s nest with eggs, in 1892, the two worked together on British Birds’ Nests (1895), the first such book fully illustrated with photos.

Richard published many more books, including his autobiography, A Naturalists’ Pilgrimage.  He became a sought-after public speaker, illustrating his nature talks with lantern slides.

Flyer for new nature book by Richard Kearton

Cherry became a wildlife photographer and film-maker, travelling the world to photograph in remote locations.  He also published extensively, with particular intereste in Africa, penguins, and the adventures of his menagerie of animals.

Cherry Kearton and penguin

Cherry Kearton and penguin

Find out more about the Keartons’ lives and works via Watch the Birdie!, by Dr W.R. Mitchell and Direct from Nature, by John Bevis.  Dr Mitchell gathered many of the brothers’ published books and some papers (correspondence and publicity) in researching his book: these are now in Special Collections.

Mounted on the imitation ox

21. Death and the Woolsorter: Bradford doctors against anthrax

Bradford’s phenomenal growth and prosperity in the 19th century were founded on the wool industry.  But the industry had a dark side.  Alongside bad working conditions and poverty,  a deadly disease awaited some wool workers.

Death in the Woolpack, 1880s cartoon

Death in the Woolpack, 1880s cartoon ANT 1 p.45

In Object 3 we learned about the innovative Bradford products based on new wools from overseas such as alpaca and mohair.  These bales of wool were often contaminated with blood or skin and sometimes contained the anthrax bacillus.  Workers quickly made the link between these wools and  “bronchitis, pneumonia, and so-called blood-poisoning of a peculiar deadly nature”.  Those who sorted the bales were most vulnerable to what became known as “woolsorters’ disease”, or “la maladie de Bradford”, though other cases were known e.g. a woman who washed her husband’s contaminated clothes, or a boy who fell asleep on a bale of wool.  Death could result within a day or so, accompanied by terrible pain.

Two Bradford doctors played key roles in researching and removing the disease: Dr J.H. Bell, who established in 1879 that “woolsorters’ disease” was indeed anthrax, and Dr Fritz Eurich.  In his capacity as bacteriologist to the Bradford Anthrax Investigation Board, the latter spent many years of dangerous work growing  and experimenting on the bacillus.  He found a method of killing it by disinfecting fleeces, removing the danger without spoiling the fleece or harming the workers.

This week’s Object comes from The Anthrax Papers, copies of two scrapbooks of press cuttings about the disease in Bradford between 1878 and 1911.  The Papers have added resonance because the originals were collected by the two doctors and used as evidence in their work.  They were also used by Dr Eurich’s eldest daughter, Margaret Bligh, in writing her biography, Dr Eurich of Bradford (also in Special Collections).