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Harlow Shapley: Measurement of Galaxies of Vast Distances, 1945

In the Interest of Science

During his time at the Harvard Observatory, Shapley was involved in many scientific societies, including the American Astronomical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Sigma Xi. He also served on the committees that helped to found the National Science Foundation and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). A member of numerous academies and the recipient of many prestigious prizes, Harlow Shapley did much to help popularize the field of astronomy. He was active in the professional as well as political interests of science.

Shapley was a political liberal and became a victim of McCarthyism. Joseph McCarthy claimed that Shapley was a communist in the State Department, even though Shapley had no real connection to it. Shapley's response to the press was: "the Senator succeeded in telling six lies in four sentences, which is probably the indoor record for mendacity." Shapley was, however, a friend of Henry A. Wallace and atteded the Progressive Party convention in 1948. He supported Wallace on a personal level, but was against the pro-Soviet positions of the Progressive Party.

Next to astronomy, Shapley's greatest interest was myrmecology, the study of ants. He spent much time studying them in the daylight hours at Mount Wilson, and even published a few papers on ant behavior.

Harlow Shapley died on October 20, 1972—just shy of his 87th birthday—in Boulder, Colorado, during a visit to his son.