Daniel Kleppner’s Reference Frame about Samuel Goudsmit (PHYSICS TODAY, February 2009, page 8.) brought back memories. Almost 40 years ago in the winter of 1969, one of us (Snyder), a postdoc at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, along with three coauthors, submitted a three-page article to Physical Review Letters announcing that interstellar formaldehyde had been detected with the NRAO’s 140-ft telescope. 1 As a scientist and assistant to the director of the NRAO, the other of us (Howard) was in close communication with assistant editor George Trigg as the paper progressed smoothly through the PRL review process. Everything blew up around 5:30 one evening, when editor Goudsmit, en route home from the West Coast, read in the New York Times that the formaldehyde results had been leaked and picked up on the news wires.

We two spent about 30 minutes on the receiving end of a Goudsmit telephone barrage in which he said over and over that because of the newspaper leak there was no way that PRL could publish the article. Part of Goudsmit’s problem was that the NRAO and Brookhaven National Laboratory were jointly managed by the same organization, the Associated Universities Inc (AUI). Goudsmit, whose PRL office was at Brookhaven, wanted to avoid the appearance of playing favorites in putting an NRAO discovery paper on a fast track.

At one point during the barrage, we made the mistake of noting that Trigg, who was much more understanding, had already locked the article in the PRL press. Goudsmit roared, “In that case, I’ll jerk the article out and send through blank pages!” His anger eventually subsided after he realized that we had nothing to do with the Times leak, and he went ahead with publication.

A few weeks after the irate phone call, we learned that a professor from a prominent eastern university had heard about the discovery and had leaked the news to a newspaper reporter. In addition, Howard learned from someone who was listening to Goudsmit’s end of the conversation that when Goudsmit slammed down the phone, he looked up, grinned, and said something like, “That’ll hold ’em. Let’s go get coffee!”

The article appeared in PRL, 1 with no further mention of Goudsmit’s displeasure.

L. E.
Phys. Rev. Lett.