Burdens of Proof: Can Civilization Cope With the Unthinkable?

Publication Date: 
January 2007

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February

The Advanced Methods of Cooperative Security Program
Document Type: 
Articles and Op-Eds

The Bulletin’s Clock evokes the ominous sense of catastrophe brought to mind by the destructive power of nuclear explosives demonstrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Scientists at the time were concerned that access to nuclear energy would generate danger of unprecedented magnitude if it were harnessed to historical antagonisms of the sort displayed in the war that the original weapons helped to terminate. As they expressed alarm, however, they also sought to convey constructive aspiration—at least a reasonable hope that the achievements of science might stimulate commensurate refinements in the management of human belligerence. Doomsday was to be avoided; identifiable catastrophes were to be systematically prevented—the Clock’s minute hand could move away from midnight.