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Six professors, including three from Harvard, have protested strongly against a Congressional move to require applicants for National Science Foundation grants to list any crimes of which they have been convicted.
The provision is part of a bill now pending in Congress and, along with a section making it a crime for any member of a Communist organization to apply for an award, would replace the disclaimer affidavit required in the National Science Foundation Act of 1950.
In a letter printed in the Dec. 22 issue of Science magazine, the six professors warned that the new bill might create "an atmosphere of intellectual intimidation" and lead to the rejection of "a politically cantankerous but brilliant applicant." They criticized it as "a return toward an earlier McCarthyite obsession with internal security."
At that time the signers were not aware that the new provision would replace the disclaimer affidavit requiring each applicant to state that "he does not believe in, and is not a member of and does not support any organization that believes in or teaches, the overthrow of the United States Government by force or violence or by any illegal or unconstitutional methods."
"This makes the situation look very different," John T. Edsall '23, professor of Biological Chemistry, explained yesterday. "The disclaimer affidavit, as a statement of beliefs, is far more objectionable than a statement of objective facts, such as the new bill would require."
He pointed out that Harvard and several other universities have objected to the affidavit in both the NSF Act and the National Defense Education Act. Harvard currently refuses to accept NDEA funds because of the disclaimer section.
"If we have to choose between the disclaimer and the new provision, we would prefer the latter," Edsall said, stressing, however, that the letter writers still stand behind their basic philosophical objections to the pending bill.
In addition to Edsall, the signers are Bernard D. Davis '36, professor of Bacteriology and Immunology; Donald R. Griffin '38, professor of Zoology; Cyrus Levinthal and S. E. Luria, professors of Biology at M.I.T., and Bentley Glass of Johns Hopkins University.
They object particularly to a section of the bill (H.R. 8555) requiring that each applicant "provide the National Science Foundation with a full statement of the crimes of which he has been convicted (other than crimes committed before attaining 16 years of age and minor traffic violations for which a fine of $25 or less was imposed) and information regarding any criminal charges punishable by confinement of 30 days or more which may be pending against him."
"The most important consequence of this bill. . .would be the intensified pressure on students for political conformity. By that token, the measure would undoubtedly discourage some exceptionally independent individuals from undertaking careers in science," the letter declares.
"If universities, in their increasing dependence on government for financial support, are to maintain their traditional role as centers of free inquiry and are to encourage intellectual adventure, they must not resist influences from the government that restrict their freedom and discourage boldness in their students.
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