The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a journal and nonprofit organization focusing on risks of human extinction, especially from nuclear warfare, climate change, and transformative technology. It was founded in 1945 by former scientists and engineers of the Manhattan Project, and was the first academic journal ever devoted to promote nuclear disarmament and to prevent human extinction.
Two events were key precursors to the formation of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. First, the writing of the Franck Report in June 1945, which argued against the use of nuclear weapons against civilian populations in Japan and instead recommended that the bomb be demonstrated in an uninhabited area. The Report was authored primarily by Eugene Rabinowitch, who would become one of the Bulletin’s co-founders. Second, the creation of Atomic Scientists of Chicago (ASC), an organization open to any past or present scientific employee of the Manhattan Project with the mission “to address the moral and social responsibilities of scientists regarding the use of nuclear energy and to promote public awareness of its possible consequences.” (University of Chicago Library 2007) ASC became the Bulletin’s founding organization.
Since 1947, the Bulletin has maintained a “Doomsday Clock”, intended to provide a vivid depiction of how close humanity is to “destroying the world”. (The Bulletin does not appear to define the meaning of that expression precisely.) Every year, the clock is set to a certain number of minutes and seconds to “midnight”, with times closer to midnight representing a higher risk of catastrophe. The Doomsday Clock measures risk on a merely ordinal scale: it does not purport to claim that e.g. 23:58 is associated with half the risk of 23:59, or that the difference between 23:57 and 23:56 is of the same magnitude as the difference between 23:55 and 23:54, as would be the case if the risk was measured on ratio or interval scales, respectively.
The Doomsday Clock was last updated on 27 January 2021. It was set to 100 seconds to midnight (Mecklin 2021).
Bronson, Rachel (2020) Why is the Doomsday Clock the closest it’s ever been to midnight?, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, March 5.
Mecklin, John (2021) This is your COVID wake-up call: It is 100 seconds to midnight, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 27.
Smith, Alice Kimball (1965) A Peril and a Hope: The Scientists’ Movement in America: 1945-47, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
University of Chicago Library (2007) Guide to the Atomic Scientists of Chicago Records 1943-1955.
Wilson, Henrietta (2010) Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in Nigel J. Young (ed.) The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 217–220.
An excellent concise history of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Official website.