Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR)

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR)


* Anti-U.S. military, anti-nuclear group founded in 1961
* Lobbied for the banning of the pesticide DDT in late 1960s and early 1970s
* Has 40 local chapters and 50 student chapters in the United States

Based in Washington, DC, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) was founded in 1961 to combat the growing nuclear threat posed by the Cold War. The group’s co-founders were Drs. Jack Geiger, Victor Seidel, and Sidney Alexander. PSR’s first major undertaking was to document the fact that trace amounts of Strontium 90, a silvery metal that is a by-product of the fission of uranium and plutonium in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons testing, were present in the teeth of many children. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Strontium 90, if inhaled or ingested, collects in bones and tissue and increases the risks of cancer and leukemia.

PSR’s research led to the adoption of the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, which restricted nuclear testing to underground sites. The organization then expanded its mission to include the study of the effects of nuclear proliferation and the projected consequences of a nuclear war. It also lobbied for nuclear disarmament, sharing the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. This was during the height of the Nuclear Freeze Movement, a Soviet-sponsored initiative that would have frozen Soviet nuclear and military superiority in place.

PSR has opposed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) efforts to develop any type of post-nuclear war emergency plans; the Air Force’s Ground Wave Emergency Network (a military communication system intended for use during a nuclear war); American efforts to develop a missile defense system; and the development of nuclear energy facilities for non-military purposes. 

PSR opposed President Bill Clinton‘s plans to reintroduce limited nuclear testing in 1993 and again in 1995, by its own admission employing foreign governments to pressure the U.S. into acceding to PSR’s “zero testing” demands. The organization was also one of many signatories to an April 2001 petition (presented to the Chairman of the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development, or CSD) expressing the signers’ “deepest regret and extreme concern that … this dangerous and unsustainable technology [nuclear energy] might, in effect, be given a fresh start by the actions of the CSD.” 

Measures supported by PSR include: ratification of the Kyoto Accord; the banning of DDT and other pesticides; and a ban on so-called “cheap guns.”

Critical of the American embargo of Fidel Castro‘s Communist Cuba, PSR has endorsed Project USA/Cuba-InfoMed, which seeks to “increase awareness about health achievements in Cuba and the impact of U.S. policies on the health of the Cuban people,” and “to build opposition” to the embargo. 

In a 2003 report, Martin Butcher, PSR’s lead security analyst, criticized the invasion of Iraq and condemned the notion of America taking unilateral military action at any time. Butcher argued that the U.S. should seek multinational consensus before any military undertaking; ratify the Test Ban Treaty; reduce, with a view to eliminating, its nuclear arsenal; and abandon its first-strike nuclear capability.

PSR’s Executive Director is Robert Musil, who also opposed America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. Musil, in collaboration with Butcher, has advocated PSR’s Smart Security plan (which calls for a reduction in American defense spending, increases in “humanitarian aid,” U.S. endorsement of multilateral agreements as a prerequisite for military action, and the acceptance of the International Criminal Court).  

A member of the Abolition 2000 and Win Without War anti-war coalitions, PSR has 40 local chapters and 50 student chapters across the United States, with a combined membership of 24,000.

In addition to its nuclear and environmental concerns, PSR also advocates on behalf of women’s unrestricted access to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand. Toward that end, it was a Cosponsoring Organization of the April 25, 2004 “March for Women’s Lives” in Washington, DC. 

PSR receives financial support from the Allstate Foundation, the Bauman Family Foundation, the Beldon Fund, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the Blue Moon Fund, the Bullitt Foundation, the Colombe Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation, George Soros‘s Open Society Institute, the Pew Charitable Trust, the Ploughshares Fund, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Scherman Foundation, the Turner Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and numerous other foundations.

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