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JASON's involvement with the Human Genome Project and JASON's members


Invitation to join JASON
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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I was then invited by Goldberger, I think, to join this group, JASON, which at that time was a group of young physicists advising the government, or rather doing technical work for the government on all kinds of questions, not only military question but also various civilian questions, and I jumped at the chance. I enjoy applied work and I always have felt it was good, from the Bomber Command experience, to talk to the soldiers and to let some light into their windows which... which otherwise they lack. And so I was very happy with that and I have stayed with JASON all my life ever since, it's been a big part of my life. It means spending six weeks every year doing technical work on various interesting problems and it's a negotiation between the members and the government. We have to find sponsors in the government for things we're interested in, and so they have to agree to pay us so much for working so many days on a particular problem. So it has to be interesting to us as well as interesting to them, and on the whole the thing has worked extremely well over the years. We haven't changed the culture very much, I mean we haven't made big changes in government policy, but I think we have done a great deal to save money inside the government, especially in the military. The thing that JASON is best at is demolishing unsound projects and, there are many expensive and very stupid things that the military does, and JASON has a habit of criticising these things and getting them stopped. So we've actually saved the money that would otherwise have been wasted. Probably we've saved the government hundreds of billions and what we have cost over the years is – the total budget of JASON is I think a couple of million a year – so from the point of view of the government we're certainly very cost effective. And the reason the government likes us is because we are independent, our jobs are not at stake. The requirement for joining JASON is you have to have a tenured position so that you can always quit if you disagree with the government, and you're also not bound to any industrial organisation. So we can be independent umpires when there are competing bids on a contract, and so you... we don't allow people to join JASON who are employees of a company and we don't... we don't allow people who are still waiting to get tenure at universities.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who was born in England, moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He published several books and, among other honours, was awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: JASON, RAF Bomber Command, US, Federal government of the United States, Marvin Goldberger

Duration: 2 minutes, 43 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008