WASHINGTON—Leftist members of the peace movement here have challenged the commitment of renowned physicist Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker to their cause, sparking a debate over the role of scientists in political issues.

Weizsäcker, at 75 an elder statesman in the movement, was a key member of a small team of German scientists who worked unsuccessfully on controlled nuclear fission during World War II. For the past 40 years he has analyzed the dangers of nuclear war.

Last fall, however, a magazine article by Alfred Mechtersheimer, a member of the West German parliament from the leftist Green Party, accused the elderly scientist of being an ivory-tower intellectual. The author, a former researcher in an institute headed by Weizsacker, said the physicist had been unwilling or unable to transform his analysis into opposition to government policy.

Weizsäcker has declined to comment publicly on the controversy. But Mechtersheimer, in a recent phone interview,...

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