From Kemsoc Newsletter: May 1970

In the current issue of Kemsoc Newsletter (Vol 3, No 2, May 1970) there is this letter on the CBW research issue from HW Douglas:

Dear Editor,

One of the recent demands made in connection with the recent “sit-in” and other student action relates to Chemical and Biological Warfare and, in the Chemistry Department, I am the obvious scapegoat,

I write now, not to clear my own reputation, which, with a clear conscience, I am happy to leave in the hands of my equals or betters, but to declare that this Department and the University are without blame in the matter.

It is a fact that for some 15 years, ending in October last, I received financial support from governmental sources and that I collaborated with scientists in the Microbiological Research Establishment, Porton.

Over the years, roughly a dozen papers have been published in appropriate journals of the highest repute, and these contributed significantly to the D Sc degree which I was honoured to receive from this University some years ago.

The work has been entirely academic and bore no relation to pathogenic organisms.  I can see no reason to have to justify adding to pure knowledge.  What does concern me, however, is that a small minority of misinformed and academically ignorant individuals, regrettably including a few would-be chemists, appear determined to continue dragging this emotional red-herring across the paths of the sensible majority of students to further their studies in their chosen subjects.

I trust this letter will be published in full and that, should there be any further correspondence on this subject, the writers will have the courage to stand behind his or her real name.


Here’s an example of the research that HW Douglas was engaged in at the time.  I wouldn’t claim to be able to determine whether this was anything sinister or had military potential: Micro-electrophoresis of Pox Viruses in Molar Sucrose


Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

One thought on “From Kemsoc Newsletter: May 1970”

  1. I guess there would be scientists thirty years earlier justifying themselves in similar manner over their contribution to ‘pure knowledge’ and ‘academic research’ into the properties of Zyklon B.

    That point made, another is necessary. While scientists cannot be justified in having scant regard for the purposes to which their findings might be put, nor can they be wholly responsible. This was the conundrum faced by Robert Oppenheimer in the design of the A-bomb. Hence, conducting research for Porton Down might not be unreasonable in itself; nor might the existence of Porton Down as a C&B research centre be unreasonable.

    On reflection, we made the error of assuming that, since CBW was unreservedly a bad thing, any activity associated with it must be bad too. But the UK has been signatory to long-standing international treaties outlawing CBW. Hence the UK renounced aggressive use or stockpiling of CB weapons. That leaves Porton Down as a research centre for defensive & security purposes. We might be grateful one day if the research undertaken there allows us to contain the impact, heaven forbid, of a sarin attack or anthrax bomb.

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