Rubbia Reportedly Threatened To Resign
Harvard Nobel physicist Carlo Rubbia threatened to resign earlier this month after his colleague and fellow Nobel Laureate Sheldon L. Glashow praised a controversial book which criticizes him, a source close to Rubbia said yesterday.
In a Time magazine article earlier this month, Glashow, Higgins Professor of Physics, was quoted defending a book that charged Rubbia with employing Machiavellian tactics in his successful attempt to win the 1984 Nobel Prize in Physics.
The source said that in response to Glashow's remarks, Rubbia, who won the Nobel for discovering the W and Z particles, wrote a letter to the Physics Department chairman threatening to leave Harvard, the source said.
Rubbia retracted his threat after Glashow showed him a copy of a letter he wrote to Time, clarifying his comments on the book and upholding Rubbia's integrity, the source said.
In an telephone interview from Geneva, Switzerland Saturday, Rubbia refused to comment on his threatened resignation.
However, several professors and staff members in the Physics Department said they had heard Rubbia threatened to resign. Glashow refused to comment on whether Rubbia had threatened to resign but added that such action would be in character for his colleague.
Physics Department Chairman Francis M. Pipkin refused to comment on the incident.
The recently released book, "Nobel Dreams: Power, Deceit and the Ultimate Experiment," by Gary Taubes '77 depicts the competitive nature of the field of research physics.
The book focuses on an experiment Rubbia conducted in 1984 in which he expected to uncover a sixth particle, which would fulfill a prediction he had made earlier and, the book says, insure his winning a Nobel. However, after Rubbia won the Nobel, the sixth particle turned out to be a fluke.
Rubbia called Taubes' book "terrible." Headded, "Most of it is false. It doesn't tell theright story."
Glashow, who won the Nobel in 1979, was quotedin Time as saying, "The book is a fair picture."The quotation followed a statement from Taubesthat Rubbia "has a history of distorting andexaggerating his experimental results."
Time published a letter last week from Glashowwhich calls the book "sensationalized" and saysRubbia "is a physicist in the tradition of Galileoand Fermi, with only a wee bit of Machiavellithrown in."
"True, Rubbia is a hot headed honcho who willmove mountains when they are in his way, but he isa supernally brilliant physicist and a man ofunimpeachable integrity," the letter says.
Glashow said he wrote the letter to Time on hisown initiative. But he added that others hadsuggested he write the letter before Timepublished it. "People thought it might be a goodidea to write the letter," he said, adding he did notremember who they were.
But Glashow still stands by his originalcomments in Time, which he said misrepresented hisquote as an attack on Rubbia. Glashow said thatthe book is an accurate portrayal of Rubbia'sfailed experiment and the world of "Big Physics."
"The book is still a fair picture, and I'llstill suggest it to my students," Glashow said.
Glashow said Taubes correctly depicts Rubbia ata "peculiar period" in which the physicist'shoped-for scientific breakthrough of finding apreviously undetected particle turned out to be afluke.
To write his book, Taubes, a science writer forDiscover magazine, travelled to Geneva, whereRubbia was working in his laboratory at theEuropean Center for Nuclear Research (CERN).
Taubes, who was an applied physics concentratorat Harvard, said he originally planned to writethe book on the events which would lead up to thediscovery of the sixth particle. But "about twomonths into it, there appeared to be somethingwrong," he said. "The breakthrough wasn't what itwas meant to be."
In an attempt to beat his competition to whatwould have been a highly significant discovery,Rubbia published a paper on the project withoutadequate experimental documentation, Taubes said