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Each Sunday the New York Times runs a carefully informative column called Sciences in Review. The text for last Sunday's article was "Could a Hydrogen Cobalt Bomb Be Made Big Enough to Destroy the Human Race?"
It seems one could not, not right now at least. The column presented the arguments of two physicists named Arnold and Szilard both of whom had much to do with the original atomic bomb. Szilard had claimed last April that a Hydrogen-Cobalt bomb would distribute enough radioactivity around the earth to wipe out everybody. Arnold recently disagreed, estimating that for $40,000,000,000 such a bomb could be built, but that the bomb's explosion would leave some areas relatively uncontaminated, some people relatively alive.
What makes this little debate much more horrifying than the simple shop-talk of a pair of scientists is its easy acceptance by the Times and the times. Two practical-minded men are deciding when the human race can be wiped out; one says in a few years, the other claims it will take much longer. The important decision seems to have been mislaid: "Could the Human Race be Smart Enough to Prevent the Use of a Hydrogen-Cobalt Bomb?"
This is a good example of what the Social Sciences people like to call Cultural Lag--man's inability to keep up with his technical progress. The smooth conviction of the Times' debate shows that lag quite neatly. For it relegates our collective death to the science column, to a question of costs, industrial potential, and mechanics. It is a hell of a place for it.
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