Author: Henry

How to Moonlight as an Environmental Activist

How to Moonlight as an Environmental Activist

Nicholas Goldberg: Can scientists moonlight as activists — or does that violate an important ethical code?

It is not a crime to be an activist or to moonlight as a scientist. But can scientists moonlight as activists and what would happen if they were caught?

As a scientist who moonlights as an activist, I can report that in my experience the two are largely unrelated.

I had been working for more than 30 years as a biomedical researcher in academia and government before I became a full-time activist in the late 1980s, when I learned the story of Fred Hoyle, who moonlighted as a theoretical physicist and turned to advocacy of environmental causes.

I soon came to realize that Hoyle’s story was not unusual.

When the British physicist Fred Hoyle gave up his career as a laboratory scientist in 1946 and became a full-time anti-nuclear activist, he had become a professional activist. By the late 1960s, as science, technology and environment became issues of growing concern — in the United States, Canada and Europe — his involvement in “politics” included campaigning for the abolition of the nuclear weapons treaty in which he had participated as a fellow, and he remained on the faculty at Cambridge University until his death in 1990.

Yet while Hoyle was an accomplished and well-travelled scientist with many friends and an enviable resume, he was not a trained biologist — although he did hold a PhD in physics from the University of Cambridge.

Instead, Hoyle had become a popular science writer — that is, he had written for magazines like Nature, Proceedings of the Royal Society, The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, and others — and he had become an expert on the dangers of nuclear fission and of the atmospheric testing of atomic bombs. At the same time he was an astute observer and practitioner of the popular-science methodology.

Scientists and Activists

I first learned of this story only after I had been in my activist role for at least three

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