Kurt Gottfried PhD ’55, a nuclear physicist and co-founder of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), will be honored this weekend for his lifetime of work as a “civic scientist” who advocated for arms control, human rights, and integrity in the use of science in public policy making.
He will receive the 2016 Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) at the group’s annual meeting in Boston on February 16.
Dr. Gottfried, professor emeritus of physics at Cornell University, helped found the UCS in 1969 and still serves on its board. The AAAS commended him for “acting on his concerns about the militarization of scientific research and the Vietnam War. He was among the first to publicly raise concerns about missile defense strategies, developing a draft treaty to ban space weapons and presenting it to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”
In a blog post, David Wright, co-director of the UCS Global Security Program, shared a personal appreciation of Gottfried’s role as a professor at Cornell since 1964 and his broader impact founding groups that bring together scientists and policy makers:
“Over the years, UCS not only helped inform debates and shape policy on a wide range of issues, it also helped legitimize the active role of scientists in these debates and created staff positions allowing scientists to work on these issues full time. And it helped engage a broad set of scientists in part-time policy work, educating them about the issues and training them in writing and speaking for policy makers,” says Wright.
Gottfried also worked for human rights, particularly traveling to the Soviet Union during the Cold War to meet with dissidents. He served on the executive committee of Scientists for Andrei Sakharov, Yuri Orlov and Natan Sharansky (SOS), which called for a moratorium on scientific cooperation with the Soviet Union, an effort supported by 8,000 scientists and engineers from 44 countries. Dr. Gottfried co-founded the American Physical Society’s Committee on International Freedom of Scientists, which helped scientists oppressed by governments in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.
He also took action against the George W. Bush administration for “distorting scientific knowledge and the scientific advisory process” as the government made policy decisions, says Wright. Gottfried recruited 62 eminent scientists to sign a 2004 statement titled Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making.
Born in Vienna, Gottfriend and his family emigrated to Montreal in 1939 after Kristallnacht. He completed his undergraduate studies at McGill University and studied with Victor Weisskopf at MIT. He is known for his work on quantum mechanics and particle physics.
The AAAS annual meeting includes free Family Science Days, Feb. 18-19 and live streamed sessions on topics from global climate science to the ethics of gene editing. The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science.