/ 3-stars

Science: The Endless Frontier

GoodReads: 3 stars

"Science: The Endless Frontier" is a landmark in the history of American science because it launched the National Science Foundation. At FDR's request, Vannevar Bush wrote this report to lay out how science would be funded in the US after WWII. Bush's career - entrepreneur, dean of MIT, president of the Carnegie Institute, and head of the wartime Office of Science Research and Development - afforded him a rare perspective on how things get done in science. So in 1945, he assembled a group of eminent scientific researchers and administrators to lay out his vision for how to keep American science moving forward.

At the core of Bush's philosophy is the idea that basic (as opposed to applied) research is the key to scientific progress. Quotes like "applied research invariably drives out pure" are sprinkled throughout the book. He constantly emphasizes that:

in order to be fruitful, scientific research must be free — free from the influence of pressure groups, free from the necessity of producing immediate practical results, free from dictation by any central board

There's not a lot of evidence backing up this important claim - it's just taken as a given. And yet, I am not entirely convinced. For one, this is clearly a self-serving argument. As the Committee (full of research scientists) recommends, "unrestricted grants... would be the most valuable and productive form in which Government support could be given." Yes, please! Just put the money in the bag. Thank you kindly sir, now begone! How do I get in on this deal?

Secondly, I don't understand why applied / mission-oriented science should be a less efficient engine for generating significant advances in our scientific understanding. Any big, hairy, audacious goal (like putting a man on the moon or sequencing the human genome) requires inventing solutions to lots of problems and "unknown unknowns" that aren't clear at the beginning of the project. Sarewitz's "Saving Science" influenced my thinking on this question and I have yet to come across a compelling counterargument in support of the primacy of basic research. Bush constantly states how important basic research is as an input to the science -> social utility pipeline, but this is such a complex system that I don't see how he could possibly have any way of testing this assertion.

Finally, another danger of Vannevar's focus on funding "influence-free" basic research is that it distances the scientific community from the general public. If the money is coming from the government with no strings attached, the scientific community has a significantly reduced incentive to communicate with the public - a dynamic discussed at length in Shawn Otto's "The War on Science".

But enough criticism of basic research - there are other elements of Bush's report that warrant some commentary.

The rhetorical framing of the report is notable. As Bush declaims, "scientific progress is one essential key to our security as a nation, to our better health, to more jobs, to a higher standard of living, and to our cultural progress." The primacy of national security is an indication that this is technically a military report. The phrase "one essential key" Bush's attempt to build general non-scientist support for his plan. As he repeatedly emphasizes, "science can be effective in the national welfare only as a member of a team." He also gives the politicians some ammunition with some Frederick-Jackson-Turner-esque dreams of the frontier:

The pioneer spirit is still vigorous within this Nation. Science offers a largely unexplored hinterland for the pioneer who has the tools for his task

The inclusion of "more jobs" is a telltale sign that this report was written in the 40's. Bush states that "clearly, more and better scientific research is one essential to the achievement of our goal of full employment." In fact, it is quite unclear to me that scientific understanding and full employment go in the same direction. In a highly automated, winner-take all digital global economy... not sure that Bush's original employment arguments hold water anymore. But the good news is that the entire section about "how do we store and organize all this data?!" is completely obviated by the Internet, so at least there's that.

Bush most captured my attention when he discussed the importance of training new scientists and nurturing the best minds. He says, "the most important single factor in scientific and technical work is the quality of personnel employed" and he devotes much thought to funding the academic talent and leadership pipeline. I was surprised to learn that National Science Foundation fellowships come along with an obligation to be "enrolled in a National Science Reserve and be liable to call into the service of the Government, in connection with scientific or technical work in time of war or other national emergency." Old Vannevar also won some points by drawing a roadmap for undergrad-driven commercialization of science (which was exactly my experience in bringing SilviaTerra out of a lab at the Yale School of Forestry):

New types of industrial activity could be aided if students of engineering and science were strongly encouraged at the undergraduate stage to study unsolved technical problems and to invent solutions for them. On graduation those young men who wish to strike out for themselves should have the opportunity to complete their inventions, both theoretically and practically, in an actual enterprise.

Speaking of Yale, I couldn't help but notice that there wasn't a single Yalie on any of the multitude of committees that put together this report. James Conant, president of Harvard and Bush's underling at NRDC, gets plenty of airtime though. There's no denying that the Boston schools (particularly MIT) and places like CalTech got a massive amount of government funding as part of the war while schools like Yale seem to have been largely passed by. I think we're still seeing the consequences of that today. I'm still looking for a good book to read about funding battles between universities today.

Overall, this book gave me a better framework for understanding the structure and funding of modern science. We're now dealing with some of the flaws of Bush's vision - including ossification at the top, a publicly-disconnected scientific establishment, and challenges with commercialization of research. Most troubling is a problem that Bush himself foresaw:

If the necessity were not clearly demonstrable, several considerations might argue for the undesirability of such Federal support. These center upon the fear that Federal aid might lead to centralized control. It is the firm conviction of the committee that centralized control of research by any small group of persons would be disastrous whether such persons were in government, in industry, or in the universities.

This centralized, self-justifying Government-Science complex is called "The Cathedral" by some on the alt-right (including Moldbug in his "Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations". I'm not sure that they're completely wrong here, and it's a bit unnerving to see that this was one of Bush's concerns as well.

My highlights below


INTRODUCTION

The major recommendation was that a “National Research Foundation” should be established by the Congress to serve as a focal point for the support and encouragement of basic research and education in the sciences and for the development of national science policy. Five years later, in May 1950, the Congress passed the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, bringing the new foundation into being.

At the present time, science policy is constantly being made by the National Science Foundation with respect to basic research; by the President’s Science Advisory Committee in matters in which the Chief Executive is responsible for direct action; and by the Federal Council on Science and Technology on coordination and planning that involve the interaction of the agencies of the Government concerned with research and development.

There are now three standing committees in the Congress whose concerns are directly related to science and technology: the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy; the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences; and the House Committee on Science and Astronautics.

Basic research is necessary to national defense if the United States is not to find itself fighting the next war with weapons merely improved from the last.

In 1959 the AFL-CIO sponsored a conference on “Labor and Science in a Changing World.” The conference acknowledged the inevitability of the technological progress and explored ways in which organized labor could meet the challenges and demands of the new technology.

Dr. Bush recommended that the proposed program be administered by a “Division of Medical Research” of the “National Research Foundation”; the committee recommended that a second organization be established, to be called the National Foundation for Medical Research. Actually, both recommendations have been met by subsequent events, which resulted in both a division within the National Science Foundation that supports basic medical science (Division of Biological and Medical Sciences) and in a completely independent organization, the National Institutes of Health, which has far surpassed in its support programs anything that the Committee envisioned in the recommended Medical Research Foundation.

The central laboratories originally associated with OSRD contracts, such as the Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University, the Radiation Laboratory at M.I.T., and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, developed into the research centers, which, though supported by military funds, are operated by civilian scientists under civilian management.

In a chapter entitled “Renewal of Our Scientific Talent,” Dr. Bush takes as a major premise the statement of James B. Conant that “… in every section of the entire area where the word science may properly be applied, the limiting factor is a human one. We shall have rapid or slow advance in this direction or in that depending on the number of really first-class men who are engaged in the work in question…. So in the last analysis the future of science in this country will be determined by our basic educational policy.”

Science, the Endless Frontier also emphasized the importance of teaching in these words: “Improvement in the teaching of science is imperative; for students of latent scientific ability are particularly vulnerable to high school teaching which fails to awaken interest or to provide adequate instruction.”

As a nation we still seem a long way from a universal understanding and appreciation for intellectual activity generally and probably will remain so until we attach roughly the same importance to academic achievement as we do, for example, to prowess in sports.

The recommendation of Science, the Endless Frontier that the National Research Foundation should include a Division of Publications and Scientific Collaboration has been substantively realized by the creation within the National Science Foundation of the Office of Science Information Service.

Dr. Bush enunciated five basic principles that should characterize an effective program of Government support for scientific research and education:

  1. Whatever the extent of support may be, there must be stability of funds over a period of years so that long-range programs may be undertaken.
  2. The agency to administer such funds should be composed of citizens selected only on the basis of their interest in and capacity to promote the work of the agency. They should be persons of broad interest in and understanding of the peculiarities of scientific research and education.
  3. The agency should promote research through contracts or grants to organizations outside the Federal Government. It should not operate any laboratories of its own.
  4. Support of basic research in the public and private colleges, universities, and research institutes must leave the internal control of policy, personnel, and the method and scope of the research to the institutions themselves. This is of the utmost importance.
  5. While assuring complete independence and freedom for the nature, scope, and methodology of research carried on in the institutions receiving public funds, and while retaining discretion in the allocation of funds among such institutions, the Foundation proposed herein must be responsible to the President and Congress.

In the operation of its program, the National Science Foundation has sought to hold to a minimum the burdens imposed upon academic institutions. Administrative requirements on grantees, fellows and contractors are the minimum consonant with accountability and responsibility for public funds. In the last analysis, however, the scientific and academic communities must be the final judge of the extent to which Federal support has been given without interference in internal affairs or burdensome controls. During its first ten years of operation the Foundation has had no serious complaints on this score.

The Director enjoys cordial working relationships with the Special Assistant to the President and with the President’s Science Advisory Committee. Whenever circumstances require it, he has direct access to the President. The Director is a member of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, the Federal Council on Science and Technology, a consultant to the President’s Science Advisory Committee and a member of the Defense Science Board.

It is estimated that in 1956 the Federal Government obligated about $200 million for basic research. Of this amount somewhat less than $120 million went for basic research related to “national defense” (Department of Defense $72 million, and Atomic Energy Commission $45 million). Twenty-six million dollars represents the total basic research reported by the National Institutes of Health for the year. The remainder of the $200 million is variously distributed among the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution.

In the summer of 1955 the Foundation published a National Research Council study, Soviet Professional Manpower, which drew sobering comparisons between the rates at which the U. S. and the U.S.S.R. are training scientific and technical manpower. One result of these findings was that the Congress sharply increased Foundation funds for education in the sciences. The Foundation appropriation for fiscal year 1957, $40 million, more than doubled that of the preceding year. The next large increment came in 1959 when $130 million was appropriated in the wake of intense national concern over the Russian sputnik and all that it implied. Funds available for fiscal year 1960 total more than $159 million.

The distinction between applied and pure research is not a hard and fast one, and industrial scientists may tackle specific problems from broad fundamental viewpoints. But it is important to emphasize that there is a perverse law governing research: under the pressure for immediate results, and unless deliberate policies are set up to guard against this, applied research invariably drives out pure. This moral is clear: It is pure research which deserves and requires special protection and specially assured support.


LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL

Can an effective program be proposed for discovering and developing scientific talent in American youth so that the continuing future of scientific research in this country may be assured on a level comparable to what has been done during the war?

The pioneer spirit is still vigorous within this Nation. Science offers a largely unexplored hinterland for the pioneer who has the tools for his task. The rewards of such exploration both for the Nation and the individual are great. Scientific progress is one essential key to our security as a nation, to our better health, to more jobs, to a higher standard of living, and to our cultural progress.

PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT’S LETTER

The Office of Scientific Research and Development, of which you are the Director, represents a unique experiment of team-work and cooperation in coordinating scientific research and in applying existing scientific knowledge to the solution of the technical problems paramount in war. Its work has been conducted in the utmost secrecy and carried on without public recognition of any kind; but its tangible results can be found in the communiques coming in from the battlefronts all over the world. Some day the full story of its achievements can be told.

SUMMARY OF THE REPORT

Science can be effective in the national welfare only as a member of a team, whether the conditions be peace or war. But without scientific progress no amount of achievement in other directions can insure our health, prosperity, and security as a nation in the modern world.

The death rate for all diseases in the Army, including overseas forces, has been reduced from 14.1 per thousand in the last war to 0.6 per thousand in this war.

Approximately 7,000,000 persons in the United States are mentally ill and their care costs the public over $175,000,000 a year. Clearly much illness remains for which adequate means of prevention and cure are not yet known.

Clearly, more and better scientific research is one essential to the achievement of our goal of full employment.

The most important ways in which the Government can promote industrial research are to increase the flow of new scientific knowledge through support of basic research, and to aid in the development of scientific talent.

strengthening the patent system so as to eliminate uncertainties which now bear heavily on small industries and so as to prevent abuses which reflect discredit upon a basically sound system.

The real ceiling on our productivity of new scientific knowledge and its application in the war against disease, and the development of new products and new industries, is the number of trained scientists available.

If ability, and not the circumstance of family fortune, determines who shall receive higher education in science, then we shall be assured of constantly improving quality at every level of scientific activity.


Part One - INTRODUCTION

Advances in science when put to practical use mean more jobs, higher wages, shorter hours, more abundant crops, more leisure for recreation, for study, for learning how to live without the deadening drudgery which has been the burden of the common man for ages past. Advances in science will also bring higher standards of living, will lead to the prevention or cure of diseases, will promote conservation of our limited national resources, and will assure means of defense against aggression.

Science, by itself, provides no panacea for individual, social, and economic ills. It can be effective in the national welfare only as a member of a team, whether the conditions be peace or war. But without scientific progress no amount of achievement in other directions can insure our health, prosperity, and security as a nation in the modern world.

It has been basic United States policy that Government should foster the opening of new frontiers. It opened the seas to clipper ships and furnished land for pioneers. Although these frontiers have more or less disappeared, the frontier of science remains. It is in keeping with the American tradition — one which has made the United States great — that new frontiers shall be made accessible for development by all American citizens.

But we must proceed with caution in carrying over the methods which work in wartime to the very different conditions of peace. We must remove the rigid controls which we have had to impose, and recover freedom of inquiry and that healthy competitive scientific spirit so necessary for expansion of the frontiers of scientific knowledge. Scientific progress on a broad front results from the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown. Freedom of inquiry must be preserved under any plan for Government support of science in accordance with the Five Fundamentals listed on page 32.

Part Two - THE WAR AGAINST DISEASE

The reduction in death rate from diseases of childhood has shifted the emphasis to the middle and old age groups, particularly to the malignant diseases and the degenerative processes prominent in later life. Cardiovascular disease, including chronic disease of the kidneys, arteriosclerosis, and cerebral hemorrhage, now account for 45 percent of the deaths in the United States. Second are the infectious diseases, and third is cancer.

Another aspect of the changing emphasis is the increase of mental diseases. Approximately 7 million persons in the United States are mentally ill; more than one-third of the hospital beds are occupied by such persons, at a cost of $175 million a year. Each year 125,000 new mental cases are hospitalized.

The history of medical science teaches clearly the supreme importance of affording the prepared mind complete freedom for the exercise of initiative. It is the special province of the medical schools and universities to foster medical research in this way — a duty which cannot be shifted to Government agencies, industrial organizations, or to any other institutions.

Between World War I and World War II the United States overtook all other nations in medical research and assumed a position of world leadership. To a considerable extent this progress reflected the liberal financial support from university endowment income, gifts from individuals, and foundation grants in the 20's. The growth of research departments in medical schools has been very uneven, however, and in consequence most of the important work has been done in a few large schools. This should be corrected by building up the weaker institutions, especially in regions which now have no strong medical research activities.

Part Three - SCIENCE AND THE PUBLIC WELFARE

One of the peculiarities of basic science is the variety of paths which lead to productive advance. Many of the most important discoveries have come as a result of experiments undertaken with very different purposes in mind.

A nation which depends upon others for its new basic scientific knowledge will be slow in its industrial progress and weak in its competitive position in world trade, regardless of its mechanical skill.

Publicly and privately supported colleges and universities and the endowed research institutes must furnish both the new scientific knowledge and the trained research workers. These institutions are uniquely qualified by tradition and by their special characteristics to carry on basic research. They are charged with the responsibility of conserving the knowledge accumulated by the past, imparting that knowledge to students, and contributing new knowledge of all kinds. It is chiefly in these institutions that scientists may work in an atmosphere which is relatively free from the adverse pressure of convention, prejudice, or commercial necessity. At their best they provide the scientific worker with a strong sense of solidarity and security, as well as a substantial degree of personal intellectual freedom. All of these factors are of great importance in the development of new knowledge, since much of new knowledge is certain to arouse opposition because of its tendency to challenge current beliefs or practice.

Research within the Government represents an important part of our total research activity and needs to be strengthened and expanded after the war. Such expansion should be directed to fields of inquiry and service which are of public importance and are not adequately carried on by private organizations.

Part Four - RENEWAL OF OUR SCIENTIFIC TALENT

It would be folly to set up a program under which research in the natural sciences and medicine was expanded at the cost of the social sciences, humanities, and other studies so essential to national well-being.

There is never enough ability at high levels to satisfy all the needs of the Nation; we would not seek to draw into science any more of it than science’s proportionate share.”

To get top leadership there must be a relatively large base of high ability selected for development and then successive skimmings of the cream of ability at successive times and at higher levels. No one can select from the bottom those who will be the leaders at the top because unmeasured and unknown factors enter into scientific, or any, leadership. There are brains and character, strength and health, happiness and spiritual vitality, interest and motivation, and no one knows what else, that must needs enter into this supra-mathematical calculus.  “We think we probably would not, even if we were all-wise and all-knowing, write you a plan whereby you would be assured of scientific leadership at one stroke. We think as we think because we are not interested in setting up an elect. We think it much the best plan, in this constitutional Republic, that opportunity be held out to all kinds and conditions of men whereby they can better themselves. This is the American way; this is the way the United States has become what it is. We think it very important that circumstances be such that there be no ceilings, other than ability itself, to intellectual ambition.

The plan is, further, that all those who receive such scholarships or fellowships in science should be enrolled in a National Science Reserve and be liable to call into the service of the Government, in connection with scientific or technical work in time of war or other national emergency declared by Congress or proclaimed by the President.

Part Five - A PROBLEM OF SCIENTIFIC RECONVERSION

Basically there is no reason to believe that scientists of other countries will not in time rediscover everything we now know which is held in secrecy. A broad dissemination of scientific information upon which further advances can readily be made furnishes a sounder foundation for our national security than a policy of restriction which would impede our own progress although imposed in the hope that possible enemies would not catch up with us.

Part Six - THE MEANS TO THE END

Research is the exploration of the unknown and is necessarily speculative. It is inhibited by conventional approaches, traditions, and standards. It cannot be satisfactorily conducted in an atmosphere where it is gauged and tested by operating or production standards. Basic scientific research should not, therefore, be placed under an operating agency whose paramount concern is anything other than research. Research will always suffer when put in competition with operations.

The Armed Services cannot be expected to be experts in all of the complicated fields which make it possible for a great nation to fight successfully in total war. There are certain kinds of research — such as research on the improvement of existing weapons — which can best be done within the military establishment. However, the job of long-range research involving application of the newest scientific discoveries to military needs should be the responsibility of those civilian scientists in the universities and in industry who are best trained to discharge it thoroughly and successfully. It is essential that both kinds of research go forward and that there be the closest liaison between the two groups.

The National Research Foundation should develop and promote a national policy for scientific research and scientific education, should support basic research in nonprofit organizations, should develop scientific talent in American youth by means of scholarships and fellowships, and should by contract and otherwise support long-range research on military matters.

Since research is unlike the procurement of standardized items, which are susceptible to competitive bidding on fixed specifications, the legislation creating the National Research Foundation should free the Foundation from the obligation to place its contracts for research through advertising for bids.

As in the case of the research sponsored during the war by the Office of Scientific Research and Development, the research sponsored by the National Research Foundation should be conducted, in general, on an actual cost basis without profit to the institution receiving the research contract or grant.

On the wisdom with which we bring science to bear against the problems of the coming years depends in large measure our future as a Nation.



APPENDICES

Appendix 2 - Report of the Medical Advisory Committee

The universities are the chief contributors to pure science, for research thrives best in an atmosphere of academic freedom.

The administration of these funds should be decentralized to the fullest possible extent, allowing** full play to the wisdom and experience of medical school faculties and administrators.**

The prompt arrest of the Naples epidemic of typhus by means of the insecticide DDT is a dramatic example of preventive medicine.

It must be emphasized that nearly all that was good or apparently new in war medicine had its roots in civilian medicine. The pressure of war served chiefly to accelerate the development and large scale application to military needs of previously known facts. Medicine must consider now how to attack the medical problems of peace.

It is the Committee’s opinion that unrestricted grants, with no portion earmarked for specific purposes, and with administration delegated to local research boards, would be the most valuable and productive form in which Government support could be given.

Federal funds should be used to support fellowships, extending over periods up to 6 years, to be awarded by the Government agency to enable selected men to obtain training in research, to learn techniques in fields other than those of their basic scientific education, or to undertake research on a full-time basis.

Since perhaps the majority of institutions do not capitalize their patent privileges, and since such practice would be incompatible with Government sponsored research, it is suggested that, where a patent be granted on research which has been sponsored by Government in whole or in part, the ownership of the patent remain in the inventor, and that the Government receive, in addition to a royalty-free license, the power to require the licensing of others.

One of our colleagues has written “The common history of social organizations has been their creation in response to an idea, their flowering under the influence of the idea, their loss of the idea, and their perpetuation for the maintenance of the prestige of the office-holder.” Only if authority to experiment with organization is written into its charter will an agency designed to aid medical research escape this fate.

The agency should not attempt to dominate or regiment medical research but should function by creating greater opportunities and more freedom for investigation, and by aiding in cooperative efforts. It should not attempt to influence the selection of personnel, the conditions of tenure, the salary level, or other internal affairs of the institutions to which it gives aid.

As Senator Pepper has stated, “Government can not, and must not, take the place of philanthropy and industry in the sponsorship of research.”

A grave danger in any effort to accelerate discovery is the ease with which the quality of the work can be lowered by encouraging men to undertake research who are inadequately prepared or unfitted for the task. Mediocre research work in medicine is not only apt to be useless, but may prove dangerous by misleading medical practice and by fostering false hopes in the public. This danger must be guarded against by constantly encouraging confirmatory work or “challenging investigations.”

It is believed that it would be unwise for a national body concerned with medical research to give prizes or otherwise to dispense praise or blame. It is also believed that this agency should avoid even the semblance of scientific authority. What is acceptable or unacceptable in medicine must be established by tested methods of examination and not be made to appear as such because of the imprimatur of a national body.

The institutions are to be allowed wide latitude in the expenditure of general research funds, but these expenditures are to be subject to review periodically by the Foundation, which is to have the power of cancellation.


Appendix 3 Report of the Committee on Science and the Public Welfare

Even if a nation’s manpower declines in relative numbers, even if its geographical frontiers become fixed, there always remains one inexhaustible national resource — creative scientific research.

If this new knowledge and an adequate supply of trained men are provided, it is our opinion that the ordinary course of industrial activity can be relied upon to convert to practical application in industry most of the advances made in research. However, we believe that in certain instances measures can and should be devised to expedite the transition from scientific discovery to technological application. To this end we recommend that procedures be devised for supplying research information to small companies and stimulating them in the application of the latest technology.

Research carried on directly by the Federal Government represents an important part of our total research activity and needs to be strengthened and expanded after the war. Expansion, however, should be limited to fields of inquiry and service which are of public importance and are not adequately carried on by private enterprise.

If the necessity were not clearly demonstrable, several considerations might argue for the undesirability of such Federal support. These center upon the fear that Federal aid might lead to centralized control. It is the firm conviction of the committee that centralized control of research by any small group of persons would be disastrous whether such persons were in government, in industry, or in the universities.

Moreover, it is part of our democratic creed to affirm the intrinsic cultural and aesthetic worth of man’s attempt to advance the frontiers of knowledge and understanding. By that same creed the prestige of a nation is enhanced by its contributions — made in a spirit of friendly cooperation and competition — to the world-wide battle against ignorance, want, and disease.

The land-grant colleges are examples of harmonious cooperation among State and Federal Governments, private individuals, and industry.

For, in order to be fruitful, scientific research must be free — free from the influence of pressure groups, free from the necessity of producing immediate practical results, free from dictation by any central board.

Much of the success of science during the war is an unhealthy success, won by forcing applications of science to the disruption or complete displacement of that basic activity in pure science which is essential to continuing applications. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, scientists willingly suffer during war a degree of direction and control which they would find intolerable and stultifying in times of peace.

Scientific research may be divided into the following broad categories: (1) pure research, (2) background research, and (3) applied research and development.

Pure research is research without specific practical ends. It results in general knowledge and understanding of nature and its laws.

The preparation of accurate topographic and geologic maps, the collection of meteorological data, the determination of physical and chemical constants, the description of species of animals, plants, and minerals, the establishment of standards for hormones, drugs, and X-ray therapy; these and similar types of scientific work are here grouped together under the term background research. Such background knowledge provides essential data for advances in both pure and applied science.

Applied research and development differs in several important respects from pure science. Since the objective can often be definitely mapped out beforehand, the work lends itself to organized effort. If successful, the results of applied research are of a definitely practical or commercial value. The very heavy expenses of such work are, therefore, undertaken by private organizations only in the hope of ultimately recovering the funds invested.

But it is important to emphasize that there is a perverse law governing research: Under the pressure for immediate results, and unless deliberate policies are set up to guard against this, applied research invariably drives out pure. The moral is clear: It is pure research which deserves and requires special protection and specially assured support.

It is significant that the first considerable sum for the support of pure science came from a foreigner, the Englishman James Smithson, with whose bequest Congress — after debating its acceptance and disposition for nearly 10 years — created the Smithsonian Institution.

Two of our best-known privately endowed institutions devoted to pure research, the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the Rockefeller Institute, were created shortly after the turn of the century. From the same gigantic fortunes stemmed the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation. Their tremendous contributions to the progress of scientific research, not only in America, but throughout the world, cannot be exaggerated.

But no factor in the gradual emergence of American science from its dependent state is more striking than the growth of research laboratories in industry. Prior to 1880 there were few, if any, commercial laboratories worthy of the name; but in the last decades of the nineteenth century powerful new industries, especially in the electrical field, grew out of basic technological discoveries and the inventive genius of men like Bell, Edison, and Elihu Thomson.

Of the three principal groups engaged in research, private industry contributes by far the largest portion of the total national expenditures, with the Government coming next and the educational institutions last.

During the war, the Government expanded its research budget from [Page 86] $69,000,000 in 1940 to $720,000,000 in 1944. Not all of this large increase took place in Government laboratories. Substantial sums went to industry and to the universities.

Idle scientific talent and a retarded rate of scientific and technological progress have been the usual result of economic depression.

Historical development has given the sanction of tradition to the prominent role played by the universities in the progress of pure science.

The university at its best provides its workers with a strong sense of group solidarity and security, plus a substantial degree of personal and intellectual freedom. Both are essential in the development of new knowledge, much of which can arouse opposition because of its tendency to challenge current beliefs and practices.

Industries have found that generous expenditures for assistance to research workers are economical in the long run.

The preservation of academic freedom requires that funds be allocated in a way that would minimize the possibility of external control and would encourage long-term projects.

The principle of variety and decentralization of control is nowhere more important than in scientific work, where the fostering of novelty must be the first concern. One of the most useful ways of preserving these opportunities is to allow the greatest possible latitude to the accumulated wisdom of university administrative officers and faculties.

Matching grants, however, may well be attacked as a method of main taining the status quo, in which a few universities tend to dominate scientific research. It is, in fact, essential to the healthy growth of science that the Foundation should help to spread the research spirit as widely as possible throughout the United States. If the recruitment of future scientific personnel is to proceed from a sufficiently broad base, it is important that as large a number of students as possible be made aware of the research point of view.

The Moe Committee is recommending a substantial program of undergraduate and predoctoral science fellowships. We should like to reinforce these recommendations by stating our belief that the need for additional personnel is one of the most pressing which faces universities, industry, and Government. The very heart of any successful program of research is the existence of a strong body of highly trained men.

In theory, the sabbatical year gives an opportunity for intensive research or travel, but in recent years universities have been less and less able to grant such freedom from academic routine. The resulting immobility of the senior staff serves to isolate the intellectual life of a university from that of its fellows, and the individuals concerned, lacking outside stimulation, may incline more and more to perfunctory performance of routine duties. The tendency of American universities to select full professors and department heads from within their own staffs only aggravates these undesirable conditions.

The types of research in which it is directly engaged may be roughly classified under three headings: (1) research that is essential to the effective operation of Government departments; (2) research of broad scientific and economic importance that has long-range value to the Nation and for which the Federal Government has assumed a large share of the responsibility (particularly important has been Government research for industries made up of many small units); and (3) technological research of public concern, which is either too expensive or whose success is too problematical or too far distant to attract the research efforts of commercial enterprise. In this category would also be placed research programs, requiring elaborate coordination, which the Government is peculiarly well-fitted to direct.

If research is to be conducted by Government, its distinctive character should be recognized, and it should be freed from as many as possible of these hampering restrictions. Fiscal and budgetary procedures should be modified to fit the particular needs of research work rather than attempting to adapt research procedures to inflexible regulations applicable to other items of Government expense. Civil Service regulations should be modified to permit the most advantageous procedures for recruiting and classifying scientific personnel.

The most important single factor in scientific and technical work is the quality of personnel employed.

The Civil Service was instituted to replace the demoralizing “Spoils System” by an orderly merit system of recruiting efficient personnel for Government service. It has been largely successful in eliminating the “spoilsmen”; and any modifications designed to improve present methods of recruiting and protecting personnel must not imperil the defense now afforded against political influence and favoritism in making appointments.

The security of tenure in Civil Service is partial compensation for the lower salaries in many types of governmental employment, especially during periods of depression. But if [Page 104] scientific and professional personnel are to be classified separately from other Government employees, and if they are to receive salaries approximating those of their colleagues in universities and in industry, care must be taken that this security of tenure does not become a shelter for incompetence and mediocrity.

Government employees engaged in research should be encouraged to participate in the activities and publications of national scientific societies. This means, among other things, more liberal funds for travel to scientific meetings. Furthermore, it should be legally possible for any Government bureau to keep in close touch with modern ideas within its field of science by assigning employees on full pay for graduate work at universities or for research projects to be conducted at endowed or industrial institutions or at official research organizations in this or other countries.

Attention should be given to the recommendations of the National Patent Planning Commission that all inventions made within the specifically designated duties of Government employees be assigned to the Government and that doubtful cases be decided by a central board on Government patents.

At the same time it is evident that research in American industry is concentrated to a considerable extent in a relatively small number of industrial units and in a few particularly progressive industries. Thirteen companies employed nearly one-third of all industrial research personnel in the year 1938. In the rubber industry, one-quarter of the companies employed 90 percent of the research workers, while in petroleum and industrial chemicals the respective percentages were 85 and 88.

New types of industrial activity could be aided if students of engineering and science were strongly encouraged at the undergraduate stage to study unsolved technical problems and to invent solutions for them. On graduation those young men who wish to strike out for themselves should have the opportunity to complete their inventions, both theoretically and practically, in an actual enterprise.

Thus the young man leaving the university with a proposal for a new kind of industrial activity is frequently not able to find a matrix for the development of his ideas in any established industrial organization. Neither is it always satisfactory that such a potential scientific entrepreneur remain in the university for graduate work. The Ph.D. degree in the American university may not best fit a man for such a career; it makes him a good scholar but may dampen his early leanings in the direction of the commercial development of his ideas. The Committee was not able to agree on a solution to this problem.

Perhaps more than any other national activity, scientific research and development depend upon close relationships with other countries.

As far as the United States was concerned, however, [Page 114] its representatives were frequently hampered, especially when they were acting as hosts for conferences held in this Country, by the lack of Government financial aid and by difficulties in arranging for official courtesies relating to the travel of outstanding men from abroad and for other marks of official recognition which are commonly available in Europe. An organization such as the National Research Foundation could be very helpful in making these arrangements.

Because the progress of science depends in great measure on the vigorous and progressive abilities of younger men, the Committee suggests that in making appointments to the board and in its policies on retirements an effort be made to keep the age distribution such as to assure dynamic leadership.

Under the guise of “promoting the general welfare,” the agency should not be able to set itself up in business to produce in competition with existing industry.

promoting the conservation and better utilization of natural resources,

It is expected that the obtaining of patents by universities on work financed by the National Research Foundation will remain a minor byproduct of the fundamental research undertaken. The patent policy of the universities and research institutions should not be permitted to interfere with early publication of results.

The three largest libraries in this country, the Library of Congress, the Harvard University Library, and the New York Public Library, have long ago given up any hope of collecting all materials necessary for research. Considerable evidence exists that over the past 150 years, libraries in this country have been doubling in size every 16 years. This geometrical progression raises great problems requiring that attention be given to the various technical proposals which have been made for reducing the bulk of this material and for simplifying the problem of storage and cataloguing. Pending the widespread adoption of really revolutionary technical aids, it will be necessary to make comprehensive arrangements for interlibrary cooperation.

The replies are of some interest, however, and they suggest that the small liberal arts colleges fall into two definite groups. Some of these schools view themselves as purely teaching institutions and have no interest in developing research programs. Furthermore, a number of them are strongly opposed to Federal subsidy. The following comment is typical: In general it is my opinion that the Federal Government should not undertake to establish any far-reaching program for the support of research in either public or private colleges or universities. I do not believe such relations can be established and permanently maintained without involving political control, which has proved so disastrous in Germany and other totalitarian states.


Appendix 4: Report of the Committee on Discovery and Development of Scientific Talent

Our plans, simply, are plans—as respects science and engineering—to train for the national [Page 138] welfare the highest ability of the youth of the Nation without regard to where it was born and raised and without regard to the size of the family income.

All those who receive benefits under this plan, both Scholars and Fellows, should be enrolled in a National Science Reserve and be liable to call into the service of the Federal Government, in connection with scientific or technical work in time of war or other national emergency declared by Congress or proclaimed by the President. Thus, in addition to the general benefits to the Nation by reason of the addition to its trained ranks of such a corps of scientific workers, there would be a definite benefit to the Nation in having these scientific workers on call in national emergencies.

If well selected on their merits as students of science, these men would constitute the premium crop of future scientists and we know that the future of our country in peace and war depends on that premium crop.

Germany and Japan show us that it is not. They had fine science; but because they did not have governments “of the people, by the people and for the people” the world is now at war. This is not to say that science is responsible: it is to say, however, that, except as a member of a larger team, science is of limited value to the national welfare.

This is a profound social fact: a large part of the world’s leaders in science and other fields of scholarship, in the creative arts, and even in public affairs, has required a financial leg up, while working toward leadership.

Why we as a nation should be concerned to do better appears in the [Page 144] following statement by Dr. Robert Gordon Sproul, President of the University of California — a statement of such cogency and sound common sense that we are glad to adopt it as our own: One of the major responsibilities of the university of the future, is to see that the money it spends goes toward the education of the most worthy candidates in each generation. The intelligence of the citizenry of a nation is a natural resource which transcends in importance all other natural resources. One may condone the waste of many natural resources on the ground that science will some day discover a substitute that is just as good. But intelligence is quite unique, and though science search diligently it will never find a substitute for it, nor will the war lords.

Dr. James B. Conant, President of Harvard University and a member of this Committee, coming at the question from another direction, has made a statement to like effect which his colleagues of the committee would adopt as their own: in every section of the entire area where the word science may properly be applied, the limiting factor is a human one. We shall have rapid or slow advance in this direction or in that depending on the number of really first-class men who are engaged in the work in question. If I have learned anything from my experience in Washington as chairman of the National Defense Research Committee, it is that ten second-rate men are no substitute for one first-class man.

At present the opportunities for education beyond high school are accidental to too large an extent—determined by the accidents of geography and economic income. We seek, in this constitutional Republic, as respects science and engineering, to train for the national welfare the highest ability without regard to where it was born and reared and without regard to the size of the family income.

This is the American way: a man works for what he gets.

We think, also as stated, that while we have no fears that too much top ability can be found and developed there is some danger that too many scientists of less than top ability may be trained, thereby debasing the currency of scientific training to the point where scientific careers may not look attractive either to the best or to the second best.

Admiral J. A. Furer, Coordinator of Research and Development, United States Navy Department, has said: I want to mention the great personal interest that the Secretary of War, Mr. Stimson, and the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Forrestal, are taking in postwar military research.

It is proposed that there be four principal sources of information and judgment upon which final selection of the Scholars should be based; but that only the first two of these be used in the preliminary screening:   (1) Score on test of scientific promise.   (2) School record, especially rank-in-class.   (3) Candidate’s application including an inventory of activities and interests.   (4) Recommendation of principals and teachers regarding candidate’s ability and personal qualities.


Appendix 5: Report of the Committee on Publication of Scientific Information

The first, and most important, step is to obtain the release of scientific material from its military classification as soon as conditions permit. Basically there is no reason to believe that scientists of other countries will not in time re-discover everything we now know.

Max Nova

Max Nova

I love books! My reading theme for 2017 is "The Integrity of Western Science." I'm also the founder of www.SilviaTerra.com.

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