500 Scientists Spurn Work on Biological Arms

Times Staff Writer

More than 500 scientists, alarmed by the Reagan Administration’s stepped-up research on biological and chemical weapons, pledged Friday to refuse to take part in such work and urged others to join their boycott.

“We believe that biomedical research should support rather than threaten life,” the group, which includes three Nobel Prize winners, said in signed pledges displayed at a press conference.

But Pentagon officials said they expect no shortage of scientists willing to accept the research projects from the Defense Department.

“If, as we do believe, our primary adversary--the Soviet Union--has a chemical and biological weapons potential, then we certainly want to be prepared to negate those weapons should they be used against us,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Rick Oborn.


The boycotting scientists, who represent universities and research institutions across the country, asserted that when dealing with deadly viruses and chemicals, the distinction between offensive weapons and defensive weapons is meaningless.

‘Against Our Goals’

Advancing such military capabilities “is not what we went into science for, and we do not want our work to be used for purposes that are completely against our goals” said Dr. Jane Kortz of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy, N.Y. She called such research “a perversion of our work.”

The Reagan Administration is pressing plans for the construction of a $5.4-million laboratory in the Utah desert to develop methods to counter biological weapons. Concerned that the United States is falling behind other nations in biological and chemical warfare research, it has boosted funding for projects in that area by more than 500% this decade.

One molecular biologist who is now completing a $1.7-million Pentagon project on a fast-breeding hybrid of the Rift Valley fever virus called the proposed boycott “pretty silly.”

Urges Specific Evaluation

“A flat-out boycott is being quite unscientific. You have to take each situation and evaluate it on its own merits,” Dr. Marc Collett of Minnetonka, Minn., said in an interview. At the press conference, though, Dr. Jonathan King, a molecular biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the surge in defense research threatens “a violation of the spirit, if not the letter” of a 1972 international treaty banning offensive biological weapons.

Nobel Prize laureates who signed the pledge were biologists Christian B. Anfinsen of Johns Hopkins University; Salvador E. Luria of MIT and George Wald of Harvard.