Oral history of British science

Lovelock, James (part 12 of 13). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Climate Change Science

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee’s home, Cornwall

  • Interviewees

    Lovelock, James, 1919 - (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 12: Story of early work for JPL, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), United States as instrument designer. [04:41] Story of visiting NASA biologists; biologists’ schemes for detecting Martian life; own idea of measuring entropy reduction in chemistry of Martian atmosphere, published in ‘Nature’ as ‘A Physical Basis for Life Detection Experiments’; unofficial appointment as ‘lead experimenter’; 1965 cancellation of JL’s experiment prompted by objections of biologists. [11:17] Story of being shown by Astronomer Lou Kaplan infrared spectrograms of atmospheres of Martian and Venus, implying absence of life. Mentions presence of Carl Sagan [CS] and philosopher Dian Hitchcock [DH]. Story of rejection of paper by peer reviewers for Royal Society. [12:57] Detailed comments on disequilibrium of Earth’s atmosphere. Story of first conceiving the ‘Gaia Hypothesis’ [GH], that Earth’s atmosphere and climate is regulated by life. [16:24] Comments on difficulty of publishing scientific papers from a private address. Detailed comments on advantage of ‘multiplex interferometer’ invented by PF, attached to telescope at French ‘Pic du Midi’ Observatory. [18:39] Comments on effect of seeing NASA photographs of Earth from space. Story of seeking proof for GH in various places, from 1960s onwards. Mentions evidence of ice cores, seaweed, sea voyages. Comments on need to collect evidence at a global scale; slow development of Gaia Theory; fitting in Gaia researches between consultancy work for JPL, Shell, Pye, MOD. [25:12] Comments on influence on GH of CFC researches. Story of changed atmosphere south of Inter Tropical Convergence Zone south, resulting in sunburn on Shackleton, 1971. [27:55] Story of origin of working relations with DH. Comments on role of DH as editor of JL’s early Gaia thinking and arguments. Mentions paper published with DH in CS’s ‘Icarus’ journal; places of work with DH. [32:05] Story of origin of relations with Lynn Margulis [LM], early 1970s. [audio muted briefly] Negative comments on early presentations of GH with LM. Positive comments on DH’s focus on roles of microorganisms. Comments on negative effect on relations with biologists of LM’s combative approach; criticism of LM in ‘Science’, late 1970s; JL’s response in ‘Science’. [36:10] Mentions walks and expeditions with LM. Story of evidence for GH of observations on expedition led by LH to salt beds, Baja California. Mentions visit to European salt mines with ICI during CFC researches. [40:36] Comments on relevance to GH of LM’s fieldwork on interaction between salt crystals and microorganisms. Mentions LM’s microscope, collection of samples. [42:47] Comments on femininity of DH, LM and AS. Story of LM stressing to JL that their relationship should be professional. Comments on lack of sexism in own judgements. Story of attractive female graduate student at CCRU. [47:38] Negative comments on feminist analysis of women’s exclusion from science. Comments on reasons for female lack of interest in scientific careers, connected to role of male peer group.

  • Description

    Life story interview with James Lovelock, independent scientist, environmentalist, author and researcher.

  • Related transcripts

    James Lovelock interviewed by Paul Merchant: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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