Appreciating Edward Teller

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Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this evehanded and interesting appreciation at Physics Today for the controversial "father of the H Bomb," Edward Teller.

A snippet:

close to Teller's heart were two causes that might surprise those who knew him only in caricature. One was his dislike of secrecy, especially in technical matters. Teller saw secrecy as harmful to the US in a fundamental way. It lessened the key American advantage of broad, free discussion and criticism while it assisted closed societies, which were better at maintaining secrecy. One of his examples was the nuclear weapons program itself. He maintained that the Soviet program was ahead of ours precisely because of US secrecy. At the same time, he argued, the US was forging ahead of the Soviets on other defense initiatives that were not so highly classified.

Whole thing here.

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  1. Teller is also infamous for tarring Oppenheimer as a commie for having the audacity of questioning his physics.

  2. R.C. Dean,

    …nations with functioning copyright and patent protections have, as far as I know, more productive economies as a whole.

    Hmm, most of U.S. experience with copyright laws at least undermines that point actually; after all, America had a very strong arts scene throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries without the “robust” copyright laws that have so characterized the post-WWII era. There are utilities and disutilities to patent and copyright laws (and TM laws as well); ignorning said disutilities will not make them go away.

    Official secrets create no economic incentives whatsoever, as far as I can tell.

    Keeping secrets creates an incentive to steal those secrets; an incentive that will allow actors to place a monetary value on such theft.

  3. Will someone relate the overrating of secrecy to the overrating of copyrights and patents?

  4. He maintained that the Soviet program was ahead of ours precisely because of US secrecy.

    Was it? When? It sure wasn’t by the ’80s, as far as I can tell.

    Will someone relate the overrating of secrecy to the overrating of copyrights and patents?

    Happy to distinguish them for you. Copyrights and patents create economic incentives by creating/protecting property rights; nations with functioning copyright and patent protections have, as far as I know, more productive economies as a whole. The holder of a copyright or patent has an incentive to distribute licensing of its IP as broadly as possible to maximize revenue.

    Official secrets create no economic incentives whatsoever, as far as I can tell.

  5. While he may not have been a GRU or Cheka asset, the assertion that Oppie was, in fact, a commie is not without evidence.

    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/04/23/MNG5I69UIJ1.DTL

    Whether Teller knew about the “Berkeley cell,” I couldn’t say.

    Kevin

  6. Folks!, Let’s not beat around the bush. Oppenheimer was a communist party regular, however ‘secret’ (as so many were). Into a seperate ‘secret high profile unit’ of the party at Berkeley. Lots of evidence of all this. Also his ex-wife was CP, his brother, his lover, and just about everyone else in his debased ‘crowd’ was CP. He ‘looked the other way’ as American born physicists betrayed Western Civ., giving the bomb plans and chemical formulae to Stalin’s guys (Beria was their point man). So much so that the first Soviet nuke weapons were American designed.
    We’ve named laboratories after Oppenheimer. Time to start naming something after other, more obvious Soviet killer agents. Suggestions???
    G

  7. Teller is also infamous for tarring Oppenheimer as a commie for having the audacity of questioning his physics

    Other people have already addressed the fact that there is considerable evidence that Oppenheimer really WAS a communist. But let’s set that aside for a moment. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that he wasn’t really a Communist. It is still a proven fact that his wife, ex-fiancee, brother and sister-in-law were all members of the Communist Party.

    Imagine if the head of nuclear research at Los Alamos turned out to be married to a member of Hamas and had relatives who belonged to al Qaeda. Would you feel comfortable with that?

  8. A “strong art scene” has no bearing on economic success. Some might even argue the opposite, that great art comes from deprivation rather than affluence in the popular belief you cannot have insight without suffering first.

    You can say an artist who died in poverty did great work but I tend to believe he would have opted for a little less greatness and for more regular meals if given the option.

  9. Folks!, Let’s not beat around the bush here. Oppenheimer was a communist party regular and espionage agent, however ‘secret’ (as so many were). Into a seperate ‘secret high profile unit’ of the party at Berkeley. Lots of direct and indirect evidence of all this. Also his ex-wife was CP, his brother, his lover, and just about everyone else in his debased ‘crowd’ was CP. He ‘looked the other way’ as American born physicists betrayed Western Civ., giving the bomb plans and chemical formulae to Stalin’s guys (Beria was their point man). So much so that the first Soviet nuke weapons were American designed.
    We’ve named laboratories after Oppenheimer. Time to start naming something after other, more obvious Soviet killer agents. Maybe Nazis? Maoists? Suggestions???
    G

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