Alexander King

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"Alexander King, who died recently aged 98 [in 2007], led efforts to establish EIRMA while director general for scientific affairs within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

"King was a scientist, international civil servant and pioneering environmentalist. In 1968 he co-founded the Club of Rome, a think-tank concerned with global issues and the future of humanity, which has been called "the conscience of the world."

"In his autobiography, Let the Cat Turn Round: One Man's Traverse of the Twentieth Century (CPTM 2006), King explains how EIRMA was formed, and praises its work...

"King was born in Glasgow in 1909 and attended Highgate School in London. He took a degree in chemistry at the Royal College of Science, and met his wife while doing postgraduate research at the University of Munich. On his return from Germany he was appointed a lecturer in physical chemistry at Imperial College of Science and Technology.

"The outbreak of war saw King appointed assistant director of scientific research at the Ministry of Supply. It was there that a letter from the Geigy company in Switzerland to its subsidiary in Manchester was intercepted by the censor in Liverpool and landed on King's desk.

"The letter detailed the patent for a new mothballing agent that, while toxic to insect pests, was not toxic to humans. King recognised its utility as an insecticide, and called it DDT after its chemical formulation. Within months DDT was in production, protecting troops from malaria and other illnesses transmitted by insects.

"In 1943 King went to Washington to discuss DDT with the Americans. While he was there he was asked to act as the head of the British Mission, overseeing the exchange of scientific information. He then became director of the British Scientific Office in Washington, co-ordinating the Commonwealth scientific representation in the US.

"After leaving the US in 1947 King was appointed head of the UK's Central Scientific Secretariat, a personal scientific adviser to the Lord President of the Council, Herbert Morrison, and secretary of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy. He was involved in civilian aspects of national science policy, operating at the centre of government.

"In 1951, King moved to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, where he promoted research into the economic and behavioural sciences in British universities, as well as the physical sciences. In 1957, he took up a post in Paris as director of the recently established European Productivity Agency, part of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation. In 1961 the OEEC became the OECD, and King became a director, later a director-general.

"His concerns about the long-term consequences of untrammelled growth developed from this time at OECD. The Club of Rome was born a year later, in April 1968. Within a few years, the Club's ideas were being discussed widely. The Limits to Growth, based on its thinking, explored how a planet with finite resources would cope with a rapidly growing population. Published in 1972, this book has sold over 12 million copies in 37 languages." [1]

"The application of science to business created some interesting results. The British used to think that they knew best how to operate factories, but a post-war scientific study showed that the productivity of US firms was often better than that of British ones. Scientists were needed to help British factories become more productive. King was part of that process, not least as chief scientist at the department of scientific and industrial research (1950-56). He was also involved in what is now called management training and education.

"In 1956 he became director of the European Productivity Agency in Paris. In 1960 he became director-general of education and science at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. He retired in 1974, received a CBE in 1948 and CMG in 1975." [1]


  • Alexander King, Let the Cat Turn Round: One Man’s Traverse of the Twentieth Century (2006).

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  1. Obituary - Alexander King, CMG CBE, Innovation Quarterly, accessed August 26, 2008.
  2. World Health Foundation for Development and Peace Board, organizational web page, accessed April 15, 2012.