Angered over the Soviet Union's internal exile of scientist Andrei Sakharov, American scientists are engaging in unprecedented, tough political action which ties the future relationship of the two countries' scientists to improvement of the Soviet human rights record.
Preliminary results of a survey of prominent members of the US National Academy of Sciences, including a number of Nobel Prize laureates, indicate 90 percent favor tough action against the Soviets for the treatment of Dr. Sakharov. Two-thirds of the respondents preferred that no joint scientific programs be undertaken with the Soviet either in the United States or the Soviet Union until Dr. Sakharov is released from confinement in the Russian city of Gorky.
A delegation of prominent Soviet scientists this week acknowledged the importance of human rights issue in furthering international scientific cooperation. Dr. Sakharov was not invited to the Soviet academy meeting. In a statement he issued Tuesday, the dissident nuclear physicist said he had in effect been deprived of his status as an academician by the academy. But no decision on expulsion had been made by the Soviet academy at this writing.
Last week, a 17-member research council of the US Academy of Sciences voted to suspend all bilateral programs with the Soviet Union for six months. Four upcoming meeting will be canceled: a March physics conference on fusion and three planning meeting this summer on science policy, physics, and experimental psychiatry. In addition, the US government has decided to defer "high visibility" science programs with the Soviet Union and review others case by case.
But the US government, academy, and other science bodies have made it a point to stay out of the decision individual scientists may have to make on whether to continue to work with their Soviet counterparts.
The California-based Committee to Save Orlov and Shcharansky (SOS) which was formed to lobby for better treatment for scientists Yuri Orlov and Anatoly Shcharansky, is expanding its purpose and soon will be asking scientists throughout the world to commit themselves to a six- month moritorium on cooperation with the Soviet Union. SOS's chairman, Dr. Morris Pripstein of the Lawrence-Berkley Laboratories in California, says the moratorium would begin May 12, the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki human rights accords.
"It is our feeling that the Soviets are very sensitive to this," says Dr. Pripstein. "We feel that many actions (such as the SOS-sponsored moritorium) conducted in parallel might have an effect on the status of Dr. Sakrahov."
Already, the outcry may be having some result. On March 3, the Soviet delegation to a Hamburg, West Germany, science conference on the Helsinki agreement joined scientists from 35 nations in signing a document which states that "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms by all states represents one of the foundations for significant improvement of their mutual relations and of international scientific cooperation at all levels."
Among the Soviet Signatories, says a spokesman for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, was the president of the USSR Medical Academy of Sciences and members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences' ruling presidium. These would be among the Soviet academy members faced with the decision on whether Dr. Sakharov should be expelled from the academy. A two-thirds vote was necessary for such action.
The director of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), which has a record of activism in the human rights area and is strongly concerned about Dr. Sakharov, says that with each episode of human rights violation in the Soviet Union there is "a kind of ratcheting effect" on American scientists causing them to be less and less trustful of the Soviet Leaders on the issue. This, in turn, is causing American scientists to become more and more politicized.
Dr. Jeremy Stone of FAS says he believes American scientists increasingly will be "voting with their feet" by declining invitations to visit the Soviet Union. But Dr. Stone says a break in the long- term arrangement under which such exchanges take place would be counterproductive.