The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
“The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe,” remarked Albert Einstein, one of the spiritual Godfather’s of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in May of 1946. The goal of the Bulletin, in the words of its senior editor Mike Moore, is to render that wonderfully apt Einstein quote obsolete.
The title of the magazine would suggest a journal crammed with sexless QED formulas for the titillation of its PhD. audience. But to flip through the pages of any Bulletin is to encounter thoughtful, well- written articles accessible to anyone interested in international security and nuclear policy issues. From Novaya Zemlya to the Moruroa atoll, from Baghdad to Tel Aviv, from the worldwide Wild West tactics of the Bush administration to the wasteful nuclear greed of Soviet-relic Minatom, the Bulletin audits the nuclear health of the world.
Called to life in May of 1945 by a group of former Manhattan Project nuclear physicists, from its very outset the Bulletin has been dedicated to changing how people think about war-and-peace issues in a world that can self-destruct at the push of a button. Not until May of 1947 did the leaflet publication receive an honest-to-God cover, one which featured the “Clock of Doom”, as it was then called, and which went on to become known as the “Doomsday Clock” – the most famous symbol of the world’s countdown to zero hour.
“The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe…”
The clock was the creation of a Chicago artist known as Martyl, the wife of physicist Alexander Langsdorf, a Bulletin founder. Years later, Martyl said she hit upon the clock idea as a way “to symbolize urgency,” and as for the decision of placing the minute hand at seven to, it was merely a matter of “good design.”
Since the Doomsday Clock’s inception, the minute hand has been pushed forward or moved back on seventeen different occasions. Doomsday was never so close as in 1952 – two minutes to midnight – following successful thermonuclear weapons testing by both Superpowers; and never so far away – seventeen minutes until midnight – as in 1991 after the United States and the Soviet Union signed the long-stalled Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
In February of this year, the minute hand was pushed forward to the same setting at which the clock debuted – seven minutes to midnight. This time the decision was not for “design reasons,” but because of the U.S. administration’s decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, concern about the security of the world’s huge stockpile of nuclear weapons, the crisis between India and Pakistan, the increased peril of nuclear terrorism, and the U.S. administration’s threats of using pre-emptive force over diplomacy in order to halt nuclear proliferation.
For 57 years The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has helped the world visualize the possibility of the unimaginable. Perhaps that’s why we’re still around.