Linus Pauling

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The world progresses, year by year, century by century, as the members of the younger generation find out what was wrong among the things that their elders said. So you must always be skeptical — always think for yourself.

Linus Carl Pauling (1901-02-281994-08-19) was an American quantum chemist and biochemist, a pioneer in the application of quantum mechanics to chemistry, and one of the founders of molecular biology. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954, and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962; he is the only person in history to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes.


  • Science cannot be stopped. Man will gather knowledge no matter what the consequences – and we cannot predict what they will be. Science will go on — whether we are pessimistic, or are optimistic, as I am. I know that great, interesting, and valuable discoveries can be made and will be made… But I know also that still more interesting discoveries will be made that I have not the imagination to describe — and I am awaiting them, full of curiosity and enthusiasm.
    • Lecture at Yale University, "Chemical Achievement and Hope for the Future." (October 1947) Published in Science in Progress. Sixth Series. Ed. George A. Baitsell. 100-21, (1949)
  • We may, I believe, anticipate that the chemist of the future who is interested in the structure of proteins, nucleic acids, polysaccharides, and other complex substances with high molecular weight will come to rely upon a new structural chemistry, involving precise geometrical relationships among the atoms in the molecules and the rigorous application of the new structural principles, and that great progress will be made, through this technique, in the attack, by chemical methods, on the problems of biology and medicine.
    • Nobel Lecture (11 December 1954)
  • I realized that more and more I was saying, "It seems to me that we have come to the time war ought to be given up. It no longer makes sense to kill 20 million or 40 million people because of a dispute between two nations who are running things, or decisions made by the people who really are running things. It no longer makes sense. Nobody wins. Nobody benefits from destructive war of this sort and there is all of this human suffering." And Einstein was saying the same thing of course. So that is when we decided — my wife and I — that first, I was pretty effective as a speaker. Second, I better start boning up, studying these other fields so that nobody could stand up and say, "Well, the authorities say such and such "
  • I have always wanted to know as much as possible about the world.
    • Linus Pauling In His Own Words (1995) by Barbara Marinacci ISBN 0684813874
  • Only when I began studying chemical engineering at Oregon Agricultural College did I realize that I myself might discover something new about the nature of the world.
    • Linus Pauling In His Own Words (1995) by Barbara Marinacci
  • When an old and distinguished person speaks to you, listen to him carefully and with respect — but do not believe him. Never put your trust into anything but your own intellect. Your elder, no matter whether he has gray hair or has lost his hair, no matter whether he is a Nobel laureate — may be wrong. The world progresses, year by year, century by century, as the members of the younger generation find out what was wrong among the things that their elders said. So you must always be skeptical — always think for yourself.
    • Linus Pauling: Scientist and Peacemaker (2001) by Clifford Mead and Thomas Hager
  • What astonished me was the very low toxicity of a substance that has such very great physiological power. A little pinch, 5 mg, every day, is enough to keep a person from dying of pellagra, but it is so lacking in toxicity that ten thousand times as much can [sometimes] be taken without harm. (word in brackets added)
    • About vitamin B3, (either niacin or niacinamide), in How to Live Longer and Feel Better,, 1986, Avon Books, ISBN 0-380-70289-4 , page 24.
  • "I have something that I call my Golden Rule. It goes something like this: 'Do unto others twenty-five percent better than you expect them to do unto you.' [Pause.] The twenty-five percent is for error."
    • Pauling's reply to an audience question about his ethical system, following his lecture circa 1961 at Monterey Peninsula College, in Monterey, California.


  • Everyone should know that most cancer research is largely a fraud, and that the major cancer research organizations are derelict in their duties to the people who support them.
  • Do not let either the medical authorities or the politicians mislead you. Find out what the facts are, and make your own decisions about how to live a happy life and how to work for a better world.
  • Facts are the air of scientists. Without them you can never fly.
  • Hemoglobin is in some ways the most interesting of all substances.
  • Satisfaction of one's curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.
  • Just think of the differences today. A young person gets interested in chemistry and is given a chemical set. But it doesn't contain potassium cyanide. It doesn't even contain copper sulfate or anything else interesting because all the interesting chemicals are considered dangerous substances. Therefore, these budding young chemists don't get a chance to do anything engrossing with their chemistry sets. As I look back, I think it is pretty remarkable that Mr. Ziegler, this friend of the family, would have so easily turned over one-third of an ounce of potassium cyanide to me, an eleven-year-old boy.
    • Quoted in Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten (Knopf, 2001), p. 86 (no citation given)


  • From time to time throughout his long life, scientists and commentators dismissed him as a showman. Would that we had a whole troupe of such scientific showmen.
  • Linus Pauling was not always right in his ideas. But my belief is that, in most cases, if somebody is always right in his ideas you find that he does not have much to say. It is an expression of somebody's fertility that he does produce quite a number of ideas, and I think Linus Pauling's score is pretty high... I do not think, as I said earlier, that it is right to discuss the impact of Linus Pauling on molecular biology. Rather, he was one of the founders of molecular biology. It was not that it existed in some way, and he simply made a contribution. He was one of the founders who got the whole discipline going.
  • Although Pauling was often controversial and was sometimes criticized in both scientific and political arenas, it is incontrovertible that he had a major impact on science, education, and international peace.
    • Harden M. McConnell, Science (1990)
  • An extraordinary person — a scientist, educator, humanist, and statesman with worldwide impact in each of these roles.
    • John D. Roberts, Chemical & Engineering News (1990)
  • Linus Pauling undoubtedly stands as one of the most influential scientists of the twentieth century.
    • Zelek S. Herman, The Chemical Intelligencer (1996)
  • He combined scientific brilliance, political courage, and a stubborn, quirky single-mindedness in ways that... will probably always resist simple explanation.
    • Jeremy Bernstein, The New York Review of Books (1995-11-16)
  • Whatever the context and whatever the audience, he was clear, he was committed, he was compassionate, and, far more often than most, he was right — or if not, at least on the side of the angels.
    • Derek A. Davenport
  • Pauling scooped out a hollow on the narrow ledge and covered himself with a big map he carried in his pocket. He dared not sleep because of the cold. He counted in French and German and Italian to keep himself awake; he exercised as he lay in his narrow quarters. He told the unheeding ocean about the nature of the chemical bond. When the stars came out, he sighted the end of his walking stick and tried to tell time by the constellations. He recited the periodic table of the elements. He grew more and more anxious, not for himself, since he knew he would eventually be found, but for Ava Helen, whom he could not tell that he was uncomfortable, but unharmed. He was chagrined by his predicament….
    • Ted and Ben Goertzel, Linus Pauling: A Life in Science and Politics
    • About an incident on a cliff at Pauling's ranch.

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