Speaking at a Ciba Foundation symposium in London some years ago, Alvin Weinberg talked of the dangers that can arise when a highly technical issue such as nuclear reactor safety is subject to frenetic public debate. "There develops an escalation of contingency," the then-director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory said. "Each unlikely event connected with a reactor, once it becomes a matter of public discussion, seems to acquire a plausibility that goes much beyond what was originally intended. In consequence, re actors now, at least in the U.S.A., are loaded down with safety system after safety system. The safety and emergency systems dominate the whole technology."

Many scientists would have backed up these remarks with strong words about the damaging effect of public antipathy on the vigorous development of science and technology. Weinberg did not. Instead, he went out of his way to extol the American climate of open debate...

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