Science, Scientists, and Politics
Robert M. Hutchins
[An exchange involving Robert M. Hutchins, Scott
Buchanan, Donald N. Michael, Chalmers Sherwin, James Real, and Lynn
White, Jr. Reprinted from The Center Magazine,
This article, which first appeared as a Center
Occasional Paper in 1963, is made up of some of the papers that
were presented at a conference on the role and responsibilities
of science executives in the service of government. The
conference was sponsored by the Center in cooperation with the
Twelfth Region of the United States Civil Service Commission. At
the time of publication, Robert Hutchins was the president of
the Fund for the Republic, Inc. Scott Buchanan was a consultant
to the Center. Donald N. Michael was the author of the Center
pamphlet Cybernation: The Silent Conquest and the director of
the Peace Research Institute in Washington, D.C. Chalmers
Sherwin was the vice-president and general manager of the
Laboratories Division of Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles.
James Real was a management consultant for government and
industry and the coauthor of the Center book, The Abolition of
War. Lynn White, Jr., was the former president of Mills College
and a professor of history at the University of California, Los
I do not know much about science, but I know a lot about scientists.
Though I do not know much about professional politics, I know a lot
about academic politics - and that is the worst kind. Woodrow Wilson
said that Washington was a snap after Princeton. Not only is academic
politics the worst kind of politics, but scientists are the worst kind
of academic politicians.
I wish at the outset to repudiate C. P. Snow, who intimates in one of
his books that scientists should be entrusted with the world because
they are a little bit better than other people. My view, based on long
and painful observation, is that professors are somewhat worse than
other people, and that scientists are somewhat worse than other
professors. Let me demonstrate that these propositions are
The foundation of morality in our society is a desire to protect
one's reputation. A professor's reputation depends entirely upon his
books and his articles in learned journals. The narrower the field in
which a man must tell the truth, the wider is the area in which he is
free to lie. This is one of the advantages of specialization. C. R
Snow was right about the morality of the man of science within his
profession. There have been very few scientific frauds. This is
because a scientist would be a fool to commit a scientific fraud when
he can commit frauds every day on his wife, his associates, the
president of his university, and the grocer. Administrators,
politicians (not campaigning), and butchers are all likely to be more
virtuous than professors, not because they want to be, but because
they have to be.
One odd confirmatory fact is that those whose business it is to lie,
such as advertising men, are often scrupulously honest in their
private lives. For example, Senator William Benton, founder of the
firm of Benton and Bowles, used to say that he had to be honest on
Madison Avenue because if he wasn't word would get around that Benton
was a crook and he would be ruined. When he retired from the
advertising- business he became vice president of the University of
Chicago, whereupon he was prompted to say, "Look at these
professors,. What harm would it do them if word got around that they
were crooks? They are all on permanent tenure!"
The general moral tone of academic life was once handsomely
demonstrated at a University of Chicago faculty meeting. It was a
solemn occasion. Two hundred full professors had assembled to discuss
whether the bachelor's degree should be relocated at the end of the
year, giving it and other degrees a meaning had never had before. The
faculty debated this proposition for two hours without ever mentioning
education. The whole discourse concerned the effect of the proposed
change on public relations and revenue. Mr. Benton, fresh from Madison
Avenue, stormed out of the assembly shouting, "This is the most
sordid meeting I ever attended in my life!"
There are many examples of this kind of professional morality. The
chairman of a scientific department of the University of Chicago
marched into my office one day and told me mat we could not appoint
one of the world's leading theoretical astronomers because he was an
Indian, and black. Another faculty member, a great American
sociologist, who was president of the American Statistical Association
and president of the American Sociological Association, once informed
me that it would be impossible to appoint a Negro to the faculty
because all the graduate students would leave. We appointed the Negro
anyway. As far as I know, no graduate students left.
The University of Chicago medical school violently resisted admitting
Negro students. Negroes and Jews who had noncommittal names and were
not otherwise visible to the naked eye were detected in photographs
required with applications for admission. It took an executive order
from my office to eliminate this requirement. Fortunately the medical
school did not know that under the statutes of the University I had no
power to issue such an order.
It is clear that the behavior of professors is questionable at best.
Scientists are worse than other professors because they have special
problems. One of these is that their productive lives often end at
thirty-five. I knew an astronomer who was contributing to the
international journals at the age of eleven. Compare that with the
difficulty of contributing at a similar age to an international
journal on, let us say, Greek law. A scientist has a limited
education. He labors on the topic of his dissertation, wins the Nobel
prize by the time he is thirty-five, and suddenly has nothing to do.
He has no general ideas, and while he was pursuing his specialization
science has gone past him. He has no alternative but to spend the rest
of his life making a nuisance of himself.
Scientists are the victims of an education and a way of academic life
created by their misinterpreters and propagandists. These
misinterpreters have propagandized an entirely inconsecutive chain of
consecutive propositions: The pursuit of truth, they say, is the
collection of facts. Facts can be experimentally verified. Thus, the
only method of seeking truth is the scientific method. The only
knowledge is scientific knowledge, and anything else is guesswork or
superstition. So Lord Rutherford could say to Samuel Alexander, the
great English philosopher, "What is it that you have been saying
all your life, Alexander? Hot air. Nothing but hot air."
A recollection I shall always cherish of one of our leading
mathematicians, now a professor at Chicago, affords a stunning example
of the frame of mind the propagandists have created. He came to
Chicago as a graduate student. Toward the close of his first year I
asked the chairman of the mathematics department how the boy was
doing. "Oh, Mr. Hutchins," he said, "he's a fine
mathematician, but I'm sorry to have to tell you, he's crazy." I
said, "What do you mean 'crazy'? How does he evidence this
unfortunate condition?" And the professor responded, "He's
interested in philosophy!" The misinterpreters' and
propagandists' doctrine has paralyzing educational repercussions.
According to its tenets, education consists in cramming the student
with facts. There is not enough time to stuff in all the facts.
Therefore, facts outside a narrow area of specialization must be
excluded. One of our consultants to the Center has described the
education in science in the state university from which he graduated
as two years of German, two years of military training, and all the
rest mathematics, physics, and chemistry.
Seduced by the fact formula, the medical school at the University of
Chicago set out on a perfectly sincere, although somewhat misguided,
campaign against liberal education. There are countless facts in
medicine. A medical school must fill its students with these facts or
they will fall behind. This meant that there was no time to teach
anything else. The medical school strongly recommended that the whole
freshman and sophomore years be abolished - the junior and senior
years had already gone - and that the entire curriculum be devoted to
science and medicine. I can conscientiously say that any senior in the
University of Chicago medical school knew more facts about medicine
than any professor in a German university.
The consequences of this line of educational endeavor are clear
enough. Everybody specializes. There can be no academic community
because scientists cannot talk to one another. The chairman of the
anatomy department of the University of Chicago brought this home to
me once when we were discussing the great biological symposium that
had been held to celebrate the University's fiftieth anniversary. I
said, "Tell me, how was it?" He said, "I didn't go."
When I asked why not, he replied, "Well, there weren't any papers
in my field." Scientists cannot talk to anyone else because there
isn't anyone else worth talking to. Hence, university life offers no
remedy for the defects of their education.
The propagandists and misinterpreters of science have set the tone
for the whole learned world in the United States. Their slogan is, "If
you can't count it, it doesn't count." The influence of this
slogan is felt in literature, philosophy, languages, and, of course,
in the social sciences. The most striking feature of social science
today is the total absence of theory. Its greatest modern achievement
is the public opinion poll. Social scientists can count, but cannot
Those who live their lives without theory are technicians, or
mechanics. As a result there is no significant contemporary social
science. Politics is viewed as power because power can be observed and
measured. Power is something real. Therefore, using the
misinterpreters' logic, it is all that is real about politics or
political science. The most characteristic book title in social
science in the past thirty years is Politics: Who Gets What: When,
In spite of the misinterpreters' nonsense, science contains elements
of sense. Serious scientists know that science is just one very
important way of looking at the world. When scientists are actually
doing science they are caught in a great tradition. They know they are
not simply collecting facts or conducting random experiments. No
serious scientist believes that if a million monkeys were put down at
a million typewriters one of them would eventually turn out Hamlet.
Nor does he think the scientific method is the only method. Scientists
do not use the scientific method outside of science. How the
propagandists and misinterpreters of science have managed to take over
all the academic virtues and label them "scientific" escapes
me. I ran across a fascinating study of the scientific attitude by a
professor of education. This learned gentleman had written to sixteen
eminent scientists and asked them what characterized the scientific
attitude. These were the replies:
CHEMIST: Openmindedness ... PHYSIOLOGIST: Intellectual
honesty ... BOTANIST: Openmindedness ... ZOOLOGIST: Observation,
inquisitiveness, perseverance and industry, objectivity and critical
PHYSICIST: Objectivity; ...
observation? ... MATHEMATICIAN: Openmindedness ...
ANTHROPOLOGIST: Openmindedness ... CHEMIST: Practiced
willingness to label conclusions tentative until supported by
reproducible or confirmed data ... AGRICULTURIST: Desire to
tolerantly explore ideas ... MATHEMATICIAN: An open mind
... PHYSICIST: A will to know the truth
on critical examination ... DIRECTOR OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH: Intellectual
PSYCHOLOGIST: An inquiring mind.
Obviously this study shows that science has a corner on all the
rational processes of thought.
But there is not an honest scholar in any field who would not insist
on being openminded, honest, and objective, and on considering all the
evidence before he reached a conclusion. You can hear Thomas Aquinas
The propagandists of science say, "Sure, but fellows like Thomas
Aquinas had commitment^; They all had philosophies and principles that
distorted their thinking. Scientists haven't any." The answer to
this is that everybody has a metaphysics. Every scientist, for
example, has a commitment to the reality of the external world. The
distortion comes when the metaphysics is denied instead of being
recognized and made as rational as possible.
Understanding science is an indispensable part of a liberal
education. To demonstrate my sincerity, I point out that at the
University of Chicago one whole half of the first two years of every
student's education was natural science. St. John's College, with
which I also had something to do, is the only college in the United
States that requires four years in the laboratory for every student.
An education without science is no education at all. The limitations
and possibilities of science cannot be understood without scientific
training, and our very existence depends on comprehending these limits
We do not know what science is, and partly as a result we do not know
what politics is. Mr. C. R Snow is wrong about the two cultures. There
is only one, and it is pseudo-scientific.
The leading phenomena of our time exhibit a curiously ambiguous
character. Technology may blow us up, or it may usher in the paradise
of which man has been dreaming ever since Adam and Eve got kicked out
of the first one. Bureaucracy may stifle democracy or be the backbone
of democratic government. Nationalism may disrupt the world or prove
to be the necessary precondition of a world community.
Unfortunately these ambiguities do not lend themselves to scientific
procedure. Our essential problem is what kind of people we want to be
and what kind of world we want to have. Such questions cannot be
solved by experiment and observation. But if we know what justice is,
which is not a scientific matter, science and many other disciplines
may help us get it.
The problems resulting from these ambiguities are not going to be
solved by men of fractional or pseudoculture. The solution depends on
moral and intellectual virtues rather than on specialized knowledge.
It is a humbling thought to recall that twenty-five percent of the SS
guards in Nazi Germany were holders of the doctor's degree.
The solution of these problems must lie in the reorganization of
American education and in the redefinition of its purposes. A liberal
education, including scientific education, must be established for
all, and true intellectual communities must be built where men may
overcome the limitations of their fractional cultures. This would
require a drastic change in what the nation expects of American
education, and an equally drastic alteration in the habits of academic
people. I think it will be agreed that this cataclysm is not likely to
occur in the lifetime of the youngest person reading this.
The immediate program, then, has to be something else. It must be an
attempt to build intellectual communities outside the American
education system and to form widespread connections among the
intellectual workers, using these communities as points of
interconnection. The hope for the immediate future, as far as we have
one, must rest in our capacity to communicate with the adult
population. For one thing, unless we do, the rising generation may not
have a chance to rise.
It is in centers like the Center for the Study of Democratic
Institutions and in the multiplication of meetings like the one that
produced these papers that we might get some help with the development
of a real culture, and a real understanding of kinds of knowledge and
the limits and potential of each kind. The radiation from these points
might light the path to a just community for ourselves and for the
world. - ROBERT M. HUTCHINS
The implication in discussing the nature of science and technology is
that a distinction should be made between science and technology. Such
a distinction is almost wholly unrecognized in our scientific cultural
environment. In a recent seminar in which I participated the question
of the difference between science and technology came up and the
answer was: "There isn't any. We no longer separate them."
This is a shocking statement. It is sobering to think that there is no
possibility of distinction.
C. P. Snow has said that scientists and technologists have become
soldiers. They are not working for themselves: They accept orders from
others. They are hot able to take responsibility for their own
strategic judgments in science, to say nothing of the uses to which
their work will be put. Whether the decisions are being made on the
scientific or the technical level, scientists are not making them.
President Eisenhower in his farewell speech pointed out two things
that needed to be watched: the hook-up among the military, the
scientific community, and the industrial community, and the hook-up
between the scientists and the administrator. We may have heard more
about the scientist-soldier than about the scientist-manager, but the
latter is equally threatening to the political community.
When a scientist is a soldier, he is subject to direction and is a
means to an end established by someone else. When he is a manager, he
sets the goals and directs other people. But this may not be as deep a
paradox as it first appears. Both as a soldier and as a manager the
scientist is involved in practice, in practical activity. He is
working in what a traditional philosopher would call the "realm
of practical reason." Usefulness is the standard by which he
judges his work. Thus it is difficult to distinguish between science
and technology because part of the meaning has gone out of science.
The scientist has diminished not because he has become irrational,
unreasonable, or arbitrary but because he has become a technologist.
Limiting science to the practical realm is comparatively new. The
word "science" has had a long usage - about three thousand
years - and until modern times its meaning contained concern about
truth, pursued by speculative or theoretical reasoning rather than
practical reasoning. These too are diminished words. Speculation has
become something done on the stock market, and theoretical means "academic"
to the general public. To the technical scientist, theory is simply a
means to an end. But there are some slightly old-fashioned scientists
around who feel that the essential nature of science is not involved
with practical reason. They say the scientist's work is to discover
the truth, formulate it, and make it a matter of public as well as
In Thorstein Veblen's striking phrase, a scientist is "addicted
to the practice of idle curiosity." This defiant definition
states in a humorous way a high dogma about what science is. This is
the origin of the popular notion that the scientist is neutral on
questions of utility or on the affairs of practical life. Idle
curiosity means that the scientist is concerned Only with truth. The
results of the search for truth may be used for good or evil, but it
is now said, even by scientists, that judgments about their use cannot
be made by science.
If the scientist's concern is truth, it is his responsibility to be
sure that science is not misused or that something false comes out of
it. The burden of maintaining the activity of discovery implies a
responsibility for academic freedom, but few scientists have defended
academic freedom in this country though it has been in danger for the
last generation. Perhaps it is because most scientists do not
distinguish science from technology. Academic freedom may not be
essential to questions of application and use. There is not much point
in defending it if truth is not the object. If there is any absolute
reason for academic freedom, it is that the search for knowledge of
truth is an activity of human beings essential to everything else they
do. The heaviest responsibility of the scientist to society may be to
refuse to make himself useful.
Several kinds of sharply different judgments are to be made about the
whole range of science and technology. The scientist, as a man
concerned about the truth, makes one essential judgment about his
findings: whether they are true or false. The technician, as an
original inventor or as an adapter of something already discovered,
makes a judgment of usefulness of fitness. He decides whether it
works, and need not judge whether it is good or bad in any other
sense. Business or industrial interests make different judgments from
those of the scientist or technologist, which partly explains the
difficulty of communication between the laboratory and the industrial
manager. A much more general judgment about the utility, validity, and
desirability of scientific work is made by society and imposed by
But there is something missing in this series of judgments. The
purposes of science may be considered by the scientist as a
professional man. "Profession," as it was once understood,
meant more than a specialty. Universities were founded in Europe to
educate and certify those who aspired to the professions, and the
training included more than science. Students were taught the liberal
arts, and achieved a realization of a larger theoretical, speculative
body of knowledge in which the sciences are placed. From this point of
view it is possible for a scientist to stand before the community and
say "yes" or "no" to the alternative applications
of science. But we no longer understand what the liberal arts are. We
call them philosophy, but philosophers have shrunk into departmental
academicians. The professional man, in fact the whole society, does
not have a good philosophical background, and as a result there is a
kind of judgment that is not being made. It is the only kind of
judgment that could distinguish between science and technology.
Although medicine has lost a great deal of the philosophical
professional integrity that was once expressed for an earlier time in
the Hippocratic oath, physicians as individuals and as a group still
make professional judgments. They do not prescribe poisons
indiscriminately; they do not let commercial pharmacists dispense
certain drugs without prescription; they judge malpractice. Although
these judgments seem to belong to ethics, they are not primarily
ethical. They are based on the professional theoretical knowledge of
the physician. If the natural and social sciences wish to become
professional, they need to discover and formulate such judgments both
for themselves and for society. But in order to do that they will have
to become philosophical enough to distinguish between truth and
workability. -- SCOTT BUCHANAN
Anthropologists and historians tell us that a crucial juncture in the
life of a culture occurs when the assurance that it has gained from an
unchallenged world view of values, goals, and logic confronts the
unchallenged world view of another culture, ft is not easy for men to
change their view of the world, for it is part of their view of
themselves. The challenge of other values threatens all that has given
them comfort and support. It takes strong men and felicitous
circumstances for a society to ride out the storm of contact with
another culture and learn and grow anew.
It is by no means certain that this will happen. Some people are
shattered by new experiences; so are some cultures. As segments of
society splinter and converge, new institutions and new modes of
thinking are generated. Some societies blossom in their revised form;
Today we are faced with such a cultural crisis. The problems of
making suitable policies for scientific work in the government arise
chiefly from a profound cultural conflict. This conflict is the
three-way confrontation among the scientific community, the
nonscientific political governmental community, and the general
What is meant here by an adequate policy for federal science must be
made clear at the outset. Such a policy would reconcile the needs of
science and technology with the needs of the rest of society. Policy
now springs from resolving disputes for priority among various
projects. It is made in many places, from the Pentagon to the
Department of Agriculture, as well as in those offices assigned part
of the policy-making task. But nowhere do the social implications of
science have a basic part in the formulation of policy.
Today, science and technology are not neutral. Not only does their
development require vast social and human resources, but they are
pursued because their powers for enhancing or degrading humanity are
recognized. This non-neutrality demands an explicit relation of
science and technology to the needs and processes of society. This
relationship should be the foundation of federal science policy.
The one consensus among the three cultures - the scientific
community, the nonscientific political community, and the public -- is
that the task of government is to serve the general public. There is
no such agreement about the relationship of science to government and
to the general public. There is no set of values mutually subscribed
to by the three cultures that defines the proper purposes of science
and technology and thereby the appropriate restraints and supports
needed to fulfill those purposes. Nor is it clear that such a set of
values can be deliberately produced. Values do not derive solely from
rational considerations. They are historical products of emotion and
plain accident as much as, or more than, reason. This is one weakness
in the thesis that the scientific method by itself can solve society's
Within each of the three cultures are men and institutions with
different viewpoints and different goals. These dissimilarities are
crucial. Some of them derive largely from training; some are induced
by the preconceptions that each group has about the other two and
about itself. Two of the three are contending for the power to insure
that their particular values will prevail: the science community and
the nonscience governmental community. The general public has
essentially no power.
The science community is represented at its upper levels by
two types of scientists. The "traditional" type considers
government to be synonymous with mediocrity and irrationality. These
men feel that science must be left free to pursue its own ways. Their
attitudes toward the rest of society are frequently ambivalent. They
avoid involvement in social questions. Some of them perceive society
as subject to, if not already operating along, logical lines. Others
consider society as incorrigibly irrational and therefore unrelated to
them. They are seldom asked to consider the social implications of
their actions. By attending to their work, advising on the technical
merits of this or that proposal, they can maintain the comfortable
delusion that science can still be pursued without thought of the
social consequences. Frequently they work for the university or for
big industry, advancing the favorite programs of their employers.
Then there is the new breed of scientist around high Washington
conference tables - the science entrepreneur, the "political"
scientist. These men want to manage the bureaucracy to the extent
necessary to make it behave the way they think it should. They have a
sense of political technique, and they enjoy and seek power. Like the
traditionalists, they feel that science is theirs, that no one else
has the right to tamper with it. It is they who should decide which
projects deserve emphasis. They believe a good dose of science would
fix society fine, as C. R Snow has so frequently tried to demonstrate.
There are wise and modest men with social imagination in this
subculture, but frequently the powerful members of this group are
self-assured to the point of arrogance about their own abilities,
about the overriding Tightness of scientific values and methods, and
about the validity of their view of how society operates and what it
The science entrepreneurs are supported by and in turn support big
business, big publicity, big military, sometimes big academia and
parts of big government. They are both the captives and the kings of
these powerful coalitions - kings for obvious reasons, captives
because in reaping the benefits of affiliation they capitulate in some
degree to the operating principles of these institutions. They have
climbed to power through conservative hierarchies and tend to hold
conservative values. The infusion of Emigres from the disciplined
institutions of Europe seems, in general, not to have been a
liberalizing influence. The more powerful the "political"
scientist gets, the more omnipresent he is at major deliberations on
The nonscience community in Congress and the bureaucracies
regards itself as the bones, meat, and brains of government and
society. They resent the "woolly-headed" scientist who may
be trying to change their ways or implying that these ways are
inadequate. They are not about to be displaced by a new attitude or a
new kind of knowledge. Scientific expertise is respected, but the
political and social naivete that is supposed to accompany it is
regarded with disdain. A general feeling exists among these "nonscientists"
that science must be controlled. Usurpation of power is feared, partly
because of a conviction that science somehow cannot be stopped.
These men consider society a nonrational environment. They see the
political process as subtle and changing, responsive to many pressures
of which science is only one, and by no means the most important. They
view science as a means, not as an end. But they are confused about
means and ends in general, as well as about the implications of
science, and have no clear view of the proper role of scientists in
These two cultures between them decide on national science programs.
They are in deep conflict within and between themselves. There are
great political and ethical splinterings in the science community
alone. The entrepreneurs claim to speak for science, but speak only
for their faction. The traditionalists are fearful and envious of the
"political" scientists, upon whom they must depend for their
survival, especially if they hope for accomplishment in fields
requiring expensive equipment or team research. Both groups are
dissatisfied with the workings of government.
Given this dash of cultures, how can a valid basis be found for
policymaking in federal science? We must discover a common ground from
which science and technology can be intelligently directed. We must be
able to evaluate the social consequences of scientific innovation. We
need to plan our economics to assure the effective and humane
introduction of modern technologies. We must equip government to meet
new regulatory and managerial tasks. It is not clear that these
responsibilities can be met by a traditional form of government; nor
is it certain that democracy can be preserved in doing so. What is
clear is that we cannot continue to bumble along.
Already we are in desperate trouble over nuclear weapons. We are
about to be overwhelmed by that terrible blessing of medical
technology, overpopulation. The social implications of biological and
psycho-pharmacological engineering are already evident. Cybernation is
causing serious problems. What is more, our environment is being
changed in ways no cybernetical system can cope with indefinitely. It
must respond to a tremendous and growing range of information at
increasing speed and with increasing accuracy. Instability of the
system is the inevitable result.
In spite of these menacing developments we remain unable to forecast
the social consequences of technology. This is partly because of the
limited vision of both the nonscientists and the scientists. The first
group does not have sufficient knowledge of technology to sense the
potentialities of new developments and therefore cannot predict their
social impact, and they are too preoccupied with conventional
assessments of political issues and impacts. The second group is aware
of the technological possibilities but is not sufficiently sensitive
to their social implications. Some of the scientists care only about
the success of their favorite projects. Some apply to these problems a
personal psuedo-sociology made useless by its arrogance or naivete.
And still others dodge responsibility by arguing that technology
itself is neither good nor bad, that its virtues are determined by its
Another reason why the social repercussions of science are difficult
to forecast is that we have too little understanding of the social
processes. This limitation has been fostered by the disinclination of
the natural scientist and the government operator to stimulate work in
the social sciences. The bureaucrat feels threatened by the
possibility that formalized knowledge will replace "experience"
and "political know-how." Furthermore, the social sciences
might demonstrate that the products of technology, or even science
itself, need social control. This is an unhappy prospect for those
scientists who are feeling for the first time the satisfactions of
Since the consequences of scientific and technological developments
are not fully predictable, it would seem impossible to establish
priorities for individual projects on any sensible basis. Yet the
forces of technological advance compel some kind of choice. Creative
talent is a scarce resource and the availability of money is a
political, if not a real, limitation. "Political" scientists
push their preferences vigorously, and the very existence of large
programs influences selections in the absence of better criteria.
Priority decisions today depend on political and economic pressures,
personalities, and public relations.
The public relations juggernaut, in particular, imposes a crippling
distortion on science and on those who would make scientific policy.
From the laboratory to the launching pad science and technology are
harried by promises about "product superiority" and the
glamour of "breakthroughs." Commitments are quickly
publicized and then science is pressed to maintain the "reality"
of the commitments. The natural failures of science and the natural
limits of accomplishment are covered by an ever-depending layer of
misrepresentation, deviousness, and downright lies. So pervasive
becomes the aura of untruth that it is hard for anyone, from the man
in the laboratory to the public, to know where reality lies.
A cliche of our political folklore is that somehow the public will
make everything right. In its wisdom it will judge between the
contending power groups, evaluate technologies, establish a scale for
priorities. But the public, the third culture, hardly knows what is
happening. Understanding or judging the conflicts and compromises now
occurring between science and government is far beyond its capacity.
The public is caught between a publicity-induced fantasy world where
science knows all the answers and a frustrating actuality which it
does not realize is caused at least in part by the inadequate or
incorrect use of science and technology. The frustrations are blamed
on someone else: Russia, the government, perhaps the intellectuals,
seldom on science. The public still believes in the mad scientists
working on bombs, or in the humble scientist laboring over polio
vaccine. The member of government, civil servant or politician, is
perceived no more realistically.
Rather than becoming able to resolve the problems of science policy,
the public is likely to become increasingly alienated both from
government and from science. As with many other groups in the past
that have met cultures somehow superior to their own, the public may
withdraw from the challenge of "adjusting up" to the new
priests and the new power. How, in fact, can the ordinary citizen
adjust up to a computer-run society and classified questions of life
One segment of the public will not surrender without protest. This is
the group of articulate, concerned laymen who are not solely
scientists, politicians, or civil servants and who worry about the
arms race, overpopulation, the ascendancy of the "political"
scientists, and the inadequacy of nonscientific bureaucracies. These
people might be the moderators, the synthesists, for a new culture.
They do not have the trained incapacities of those solely immersed in
the two contending cultures, and they do have perspective that the
general public lacks. But these very characteristics may deny them the
opportunity. The day of the technical specialist grows ever brighter.
The scientist will not freely yield his newly gained power, nor will
the government worker relinquish his long-held dominion. Neither is
likely to give ground to a non-specialist who cannot build bombs or
tread bureaucratic water, or otherwise play according to the rules of
science and government.
The character of the coming generation of scientists is changing. The
attributes attractive to laboratory directors interested in team-work
are bringing a new personality into science. The old-guard
traditionalists may be on the way out. Those who succeed will be those
who are good at working with - or subverting - the nonscientific
bureaucracy. Will these men be good scientists? This is not the
important question. The real concern is for whom they will speak, and
for what ends. The problem in trying to resolve the ambitions of the
two power cultures is that neither group has a clear view of what it
wants in the way of policy for governmental science. As long as there
is no community of values to guide judgment, basic policy decisions
cannot be made, much less decisions on specific priorities for
specific projects. Yet crises are arising on every hand. The evolution
of a consensus cannot be awaited. If this society does not learn how
to assimilate the changes that confront it, it will not survive. --
DONALD N. MICHAEL
Science and technology are the key to the future, the key to power,
and the key to the solution of the problems we face today. They alone
will not save us, but if we seek to untangle our problems without
them, we are lost.
In the last thirty years the increasing sophistication of the
physical and biological sciences has exhibited the properties of a
true revolution. It has radically altered the social organization
within which it grew. It emerged in less than one working generation,
and the suddenness of it caught all of us off balance. People still
believe that science can be handled by the techniques and devices that
it has itself made obsolete, or that if the problems it has brought
are ignored they will vanish.
A common modern complaint is that while government has spread like an
octopus, our problems have grown worse. It follows that the cure for
our ills is less government. But government did not bloom
spontaneously. It grew in response to the scientific revolution. As
men have invented more gadgets and uncovered more, knowledge about the
world, an enormous expansion of government has been necessary,' both
to protect the public interest and to foster further scientific
In 1800 the government of the United States played a modest role. It
had an army, a postal department, a tax on whiskey, and some import
duties: The Department of State kept track of the world. That was
about it. But by 1830, railroad and steamboat traffic began to grow,
and, to regulate it in the public interest, so did federal power.
Later, internal combustion engines were invented, more was discovered
about aeronautical science, and suddenly airways had to be regulated.
Tele^ graph, radio, and television each generated complicated
governmental problems. Modern chemistry and pharmaceuticals brought
into being the whole field of food and drug control.
The economic disaster of agricultural overproduction, a triumph of
applied science, is a prime example of the difficulties that
technology has handed to government. The farm problem really began in
1862 when land-grant colleges were founded with federal support. By
1900 science was being applied to agriculture on a big scale, and by
1920 food production was beginning to be excessive. Hybrids, modern
machinery, new methods of food processing, and new types of
fertilizers were developed, and all at once America was producing too
much food. Science and technology caused the surplus, but the federal
government had to try to cope with it. Its efforts to do so, plus its
efforts to make agriculture still more efficient, have spawned a giant
The biggest surge of all in government growth was caused by the
exploration of the atom. In 1938, when science suddenly found a major
key to the secrets, no one but the government could afford to exploit
it. Science has not stopped finding keys - those to space, for example
- and the job of the federal government has not stopped getting
bigger. Atomic and space research are unsuitable for private
exploitation, not only because the government alone can afford the
massive costs but also because the results require governmental
The expansion of government suggests support for the idea that
government should control science and technology. The feeling that
modern knowledge and power must somehow be turned to the public good
has currency. Even those interested only in the progress of science
want government to help sustain its advance. Whether government's job
is constraining science to serve the public interest or promoting the
scientific front, or both, it must understand the phenomenon with
which it is dealing.
Unfortunately, the people running government often do not understand
science and technology. Despite some notable exceptions, scientific
ignoramuses usually handle scientific decisions. The serious technical
questions, such as how atomic energy and military space operations can
be controlled, will remain unanswered until this basic difficulty is
Government managers of science and technology often do not know their
business, partly because, as C. P Snow argues, our educational system
is no longer geared to the source of our power. Our power now rests on
science, but we let those who administer and govern remain incompetent
in the substantive knowledge of the area.
The revolution in science can be distinguished from the industrial
revolution by the fact that a high school undergraduate can understand
the principles of the latter. The steam engine, a railroad train, and,
with a . little more effort, even an electrical generator are within
his grasp, but he gets lost in modern biochemistry, electronics, and
nuclear physics. Mastery of this new knowledge is not quickly won. The
subtleties of modern research and development, or even of technical
production, are not easily learned late in life. But a manager must
know the substance behind the problems he handles if he is to be
effective. It is increasingly true that critical evaluation of
substantive technical details is the very heart of policy decisions.
The era of classical administrative formulation, "You name it,
I'll manage it," is past. Today, few people except professional
scientists have the technical sophistication necessary to make many of
the crucial decisions affecting both science and society.
Using scientists in government seems an obvious answer to the dilemma
of management. But creative scientists and engineers are usually
outside government. Most creative physical scientists are in
universities, which is remarkable considering the salary structure.
Private industry employs a big proportion of our scientific talent,
which means that these scientists are under pressure to serve
industrial aims and their loyalties are often diverted from the public
Part of the reason why the scientific community is clustered outside
government has been the mismanagement of science by the military.
Military power must now be considered primarily in terms of science
and technology. Yet military organization and education have not
changed to fit the new facts. Obviously the military will need more
and more scientifically mature personnel and fewer squadron leaders,
but it continues to train squadron leaders. What is more, up to now it
has had a negative approach to its selection of scientific management.
Processes used to select a good man to run a submarine are applied,
despite their inappropriateness, to selecting a man to run a
laboratory or to choose between two complex weapons systems. Good
scientific managers are automatically weeded out, and poor ones
Unfortunately, the traditional military organizational structure
tends to be inimical to the promotion of scientific progress. It was
designed to produce specialists in violence. Now suddenly me most
critical task is the selection of highly technical weapons systems - a
function for which the military structure is not particularly suited.
But scientists outside government still try to influence matters from
the edges by pulling strings and poking their fingers into the wheels.
They give generalized advice, but the problems are specific. Someone
must choose, for instance, between spending $500 million to make
better reentry vehicles for missiles or spending $500 million to build
a completely different missile with a different basing system, and
these decisions must be lived with. The kibitzing scientist, not
responsible for the consequences of his advice, is at best of limited
usefulness; at worst, dangerous.
Responsibility and scientific competence must somehow be brought
together if government is to serve the public interest and if the
right decisions are to be made to advance the intricate giant that
science has become.
Having the top ranks of government heavily staffed with people
trained in science, who really know how to handle scientific problems,
is a solution apparently not available to this country. Obviously it
is being tried in Russia.
In the United States the government, lacking scientific expertise,
farms out its scientific problems to industry. The ordinary
profitmaking company has a very limited sense of public
responsibility. It may be effective in production and capable of
top-notch research and development, but its interests often - and
necessarily - diverge from the public interest. There is a tendency to
let die government finance the long shots but to seize promising
developments and exploit them with company money. Industry naturally
tries to exploit governmental support for private gain (within legal
limits) and steers the short course of its own health and well being.
If a company is to survive in this quasi-capitalist society, it must
look out for itself first. Because of this inevitable self-interest,
industry must not be allowed to become the arbiter of national science
policy by default.
One promising scheme for handling science and technology in the
public interest has been the nonprofit organization, or, as they
prefer to be called, the public trust organization. The government
first used the nonprofit device in about 1820, when it gave a contract
to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to find out what made steam
boilers explode. In the last thirty or forty years there has been a
proliferation of nonprofit organizations that have been extremely
effective in basic research, applied research, and even production. A
number of these are run by universities, such as the Argonne
Laboratories of the University of Chicago, MIT's Lincoln Laboratory,
and the University of California's two weapons research labs and its
operation at Los Alamos. There are also private nonprofit companies
like Rand, System Development Corporation, and Aerospace Corporation.
The main advantage of these organizational inventions is that they
are insulated from bureaucratic meddling. They work on governmental
problems outside the governmental structure. They typically have a
broad charter in which their responsibilities are general, their
budgetary restraints nonspecific, and monitorship of their operation
reasonable. They permit a freer use of scientific talent. They break
through the unrealistic ceilings set by government on the salaries of
scientists and allow the public service to compete on an even economic
footing with private industry. Most important, they are able to
maintain an atmosphere congenial to the scientific community. This
kind of freedom is necessary for scientific accomplishment, and the
method has proved itself. In terms of technological productivity the
nonprofit groups have been extremely successful, particularly with the
Atomic Energy Commission. But the freedom on which their success is
based is achieved by a delegation of power from government, and even
though they have strong internal commitments to the public interest,
and their actions usually serve that interest well, they do not
literally represent government.
What is needed is an invention inside government equivalent to these
nonprofit corporations. Within government a delegation of authority
and responsibility could be made to large self-contained units. The
liberty necessary for a benign environment for science could be
preserved, and creative scientists might be lured into government
service. Yet the power to direct the course of science and weigh its
consequences in terms of the public welfare would not be relinquished.
The AEC system, an experiment in governmental management of science
and technology, is a significant step in the right direction.
A new and better marriage must be made between governmental
responsibility and scientific capability if the full promise of
science is to be realized and its perils escaped. - CHALMERS
Almost eighty percent of all research and development monies are
furnished by government, of which all but a small fraction are
directed at prompt application to the technologies of warfare and its
endless supporting apparatus.
It is unlikely that we shall ever hear again such lines as were
delivered in 1958 by a distinguished Nobel Laureate physicist to an
assembly of his colleagues. "The scientist," he insisted, "has
no idea what disposition will be made of his work. There is usually at
least a two-year lag between his discoveries and their unpredictable
applications." The Laureate went on to spin out this thesis of
disassociation, even though everyone in the hall was intimately aware
of die hundreds of laboratories and plants created for and totally
supported by government, populated by tens of thousands of physical
scientists working cheek to jowl with lesser folk to achieve specific
and immediate technological ends.
As incredible as this posture was in 1958, it is now even more
absurd. Today there are fourth and fifth generations of scientists who
have never worked on anything but weaponry and who view their careers
as lifelong. They are permanently dedicated to the invention and
construction of what may appear to be a succession of weapons systems
stretching through foreseeable time. In a real sense, these men are
institutionalized: captive to their narrow specialties and to the
paymaster, the grant, and the contract.
The military, who are the ultimate appliers of the laboratory
invention, are not threatening to us because of their eagerness to
fight or to govern. I believe that they are generally a good deal less
belligerent than some of their predecessors in these last twenty-five
years. .It is the delicate and dangerous gear with which they are
charged that raises the specters of the consequences of accident,
irresponsibility, or madness, common phenomena of any war, to such
heights. And it is the latitude in making decisions for which the
military is asking that suggests future perils for us. The military
does not object to the decisions once they come; what it complains
about is that getting the decisions through the civilian bureaucracy
renders the strategic and tactical advantages of modern war equipages
What is the value of computerized, highly mobile war gear, they ask,
when the opponent can come back in an hour with a decision that takes
us three days to make and transmit? It should be apparent that a major
crisis of decision will some day, somewhere, once and for all tumble
the system whereby ultrasonic weapons and their attendants are
controlled by the ponderous machinery of nineteenth-century
It is clear that weapons diplomacy, the application of force as the
trump card in international relations, is archaic. Worse, it is
useless. To think otherwise, one is forced to ignore the microsecond
weapons systems which have created such an unbearable crisis in
international political decision-making processes everywhere,
especially in the democratic societies.
My contention is that it does not have to be left this way; that
perhaps before it is institutionalized completely, the scientific
community can make a massive attempt to balance the war system which
they have bestowed on the republic with devices and systems to block
its use. They can decide to turn a portion of their interest from the
redundancies of thermonuclear overkill and the versions of outer space
to the aid of the political process and the real defense of the free
society. Specifically, I am asking if it is not possible to build into
the framework of democratic governing processes advanced technological
systems that will give us a chance to understand the current
conditions and attitudes of the rest of the world, its peoples, and
its leaders; devices that will enable us to abort crisis situations
or, once they are upon us, provide us with alternatives to violence.
There are obstacles to any significant movement of science toward a
concentrated assault on problems of this magnitude. For one thing,
they are hard. Science, for all its awesome facade, now likes to do
easy things. A large portion of the physical science population has
been immersed in polishing inventions twenty or more years old. The
behavioral and social sciences, bemused by access to electronic
counting gear, each year load the trade magazines with projects of
increasing triviality. In spite of some progress, the scientific
pecking order is still much as it has been, rigidly segregated by
craft status and increasingly insulated, one discipline from another,
by staggering inventions of professional syntax.
In a very few areas, attempts are being made to attack the problems
of the social and political orders by at least asking questions of the
technicians stultified by their long tenure in the weapons business:
- What, if anything, can the wondrous machines do to help us
assess the hopes, fears, and aspirations of the world in a
continuous way? Is there, for example, nothing science can do to
close the technical gap between doorbell-ringing opinion-gathering
methods and the capacity of the million-bit memory drum, which is
now sometimes diverted to such uses as predicting the best bus
schedules from California to a Nevada gambling house?
- Is there no better way to guide our governors than by the
guesswork of the people who have elevated themselves to the role
of "operations analysts" and who, for lack of our
possession of better methods, profoundly affect the gravest
decisions of history?
- What, we ask, is "credibility"? Is it the same to one
man as it is to another?
- In the same patois, what is "rational behavior"? Is
it the same to an Israelite as to a Formosan, to a Japanese as to
- What are the components of "threat" that filially
tote up to being "intolerable"?
- Can incipient paranoid behavior out of the forces of complex
circumstances be predicted in a people or their leaders? If not, a
useful understanding of mass behavior is not foreseeable, and most
of psychiatry, psychology, and a good deal of physiology must be
marked off as limited individual therapeutic techniques.
The questions go on, inferentially urging all the disciplines of
science to consolidate and press a fraction of the ingenuity and
energy that has gone into the war system toward an information
gathering and analysis system that can begin to help us out of the
horror that by 1965 will cause the equivalent of thirty-five tons of
TNT to be assigned to the personal containment of every human being
then living on the globe.
Walter Lippmann has warned that neither the United States nor Soviet
Russia must push the other beyond that point of provocation and
humiliation at which even the most rational nation "can be
provoked and exasperated to the point of lunacy where its nervous
system cannot endure inaction - where only violence can relieve its
feelings. It is the business of government to find where that line is
- and to stay well back of it." And, I would add, it is the
business of science to help government find and hold the line.
Science must mount an unprecedented effort to furnish government with
an assessment system that draws on the pertinent knowledge of all its
branches and to transmit it in usable form to the managers of the
political and the military systems. The scientist no longer has the
right to remain apolitical. These efforts will have to be launched,
maintained, argued, and defended by individual scientists. For
example, since money is not only the lubricant but the propellant of
scientific development, the scientist himself must start to influence
the disposition of governmental research and development funds.
I am not asking for an overlying organization of scientists to tell
us what to do and how to do it. I am asking for the attention of the
individual scientist who is now immersed in weaponry or in the Next
Fifty Years at Bell Labs. Science and its common-law wife, technology,
have bathed long enough in the adulation of the popular press and in
the awe in which great segments of the society have held them because
of their creation of such impressive murder machines. Now they must
turn to inventions of far greater novelty, complexity, and importance.
The mounting of the thermonuclear war machine has stultified
international order and crippled our hopes to revive it by traditional
political and social means. Now science must somehow furnish us a
parallel system of equal impressiveness under which their highly
refined system of murder machines may be controlled. -- JAMES REAL
About 130 years ago Auguste Comte schematized human history in terms
of three ages: the age of religion, the age of philosophy, and the age
of positive knowledge or science. He had faith in science, and his
positivism is the heart of modern orthodoxy. All of us today take for
granted that humanity is progressing from bondage to mastery of the
natural environment, from superstition to knowledge, from darkness to
light. It is axiomatic that science is the exploration of an endless
frontier and that its processes cannot be reversed or even seriously
interrupted. Every American or European, every Asian or African deeply
influenced by Western culture, has implicit trust in the inevitability
and Tightness of this onward sweep of science. Even the churches
embrace the new orthodoxy, if they are judged more by what they do not
say than by what they say.
The modern positivist is a man of faith as much as was the medieval
mystic. The concept of human destiny secularized by Comte was evolved
by Joachim of Flora, a Cistercian abbot of the late twelfth century,
who divided history according to the Trinitarian dogma, equating die
ages of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost with an age of fear,
an age of love, and an age of freedom. Joachim's vision was taken up
by the left wing of the Franciscan movement and broadcast over Europe.
It was inherent in the thinking of late medieval and early modern
proletarian revolutions and underlies the Marxist straight-line notion
of human destiny. When Comte transmuted Joachim's formula, he was
replacing one faith with another closely related to it.
No faith can afford to reign unexamined. Our habit of regarding
scientific progress as inevitable may in fact be dangerous to its
continuing vigor. In every civilized society something that can
legitimately be called science has existed, but the amount of energy
put into it has varied enormously. In every age minds of great ability
are attracted to the focus of cultural interest, be it the fine arts,
literature, religion, science, or something else. If the cultural
climate shifts, the concentration of intellectual energies and capital
Science must have a positive emotional context to thrive, as well as
economic and political encouragement. Legislatures and corporate
bodies must reach decisions favorable to science, and investors and
voters must approve what their representatives do. Parents must want
science in the education of their children. Above all, a significant
proportion of the ablest minds must choose to dedicate themselves with
passion to scientific investigation if the movement is to progress.
The modern outburst of scientific activity is not necessarily
permanent. The cultural support that science enjoys today rests more
on fear of foreign enemies and of disease than upon understanding, and
fear may not be a healthy of lasting foundation. Science needs its
statesmen, and statesmanship demands the long view. The future of
science, like its past, will largely be a matter of accident unless
measures to assure its continuance are attentively sought. Since the
energy that civilization expends on any activity depends on the
cultural climate, the important question today is: What can be done to
insure an affirmative social context for science?
The historian has no ready answers. No professional historian thinks
that history repeats itself. History does not foretell the future, but
study of the past may provide some keys to understanding. Above all,
knowledge of history should liberate us from the past and enable us to
be vividly contemporary. Viewing human experience in vastly different
circumstances helps to dislodge presuppositions, and may free our
ideas about what needs to be done to assure the future of science.
The prestige of science today sustains a common but false assumption
that any robust culture must have had considerable scientific
activity. Now, Rome was immensely vigorous. Languages descended from
Latin are still spoken from Tijuana to Bucharest. The overwhelming
mass of legal structures of the world, not only in Europe but in Asia
and the Communist countries as well, is descended from Roman law. The
Romans had vast creative ability and originality; yet there was no
ancient Roman science. Nothing that can be called science existed in
the Latin tongue until the twelfth century. From our modern point of
view, Roman indifference to Greek science was absolutely spectacular.
It has been argued that, by the time of the Roman Empire, Greek
science was so far past its great days that it could not attract the
vigorous Roman mind. But distinguished Greek scientists, such as
Galen, lived for long periods in Rome. As for the "petering out"
of Hellenic science, one of the most original Greek scientific
thinkers, Philoponus of Alexandria, was contemporary with Justinian in
the sixth century. Greek science was available to the Romans, but was
Even more disconcerting is the case of Islamic science. During some
four centuries, from roughly 750 to 1150 A.D., Islam held the lead in
scientific activity. In the eighth century a government-supported
Institute of translation emerged in Baghdad. Very nearly the complete
corpus of Greek science and a major part of Indian science were made
available in Arabic within about eighty years. Original scientific
work began appearing in Arabic by the late ninth century, especially
in mathematics, optics, astronomy, and medicine.
In the early tenth century, Al-Razi, an Islamic physician, produced a
book known eventually in Latin as Liber Continens, an
encyclopedic codification of Greek and Hindu medicine, including a
great deal of Al-Razi's own observation. It is probably the biggest
single book ever written by a medical man, and is a superb work. In
1279 it was translated into Latin for Charles of Anjou by a Jewish
physician of Agrigento in Sicily. It was published in Brescia in 1486
and reprinted four times before 1542. It was a fundamental medical
reference book for centuries, and was entirely absorbed into the
stream of Western medicine. But perhaps the most striking thing about
it is that no complete copy of Al-Razi's great medical encyclopedia
exists in Arabic, It was practically forgotten in Islam after a few
The Arabic-speaking civilization knew what science was and was
proficient in it. For four hundred years science was one of its major
concerns. But a crystallization of other values occurred in the late
eleventh century that shifted the whole focus of Islamic culture.
Science was abandoned, and abandoned deliberately.
Christianity's relation to scientific activity has varied greatly
through the ages. It has been said that early Christianity killed
Greek science; but Christians were no more indifferent to science than
were contemporary pagan Romans. The early Christian attitude was based
on the view that natural phenomena were relatively unimportant. Only
spiritual values had significance. The natural world deserved
attention solely because God used it to communicate specific messages
to the faithful.
This concept of the function and nature of the physical world is
illustrated in a sixth-century story about Pope Gregory the Great.
Gregory, not yet pope, had seen English slaves in the Roman slave
markets, and decided to evangelize this pagan people. He received
permission from the then pope and started for England. On the evening
of the second day out, while he was resting and reading, a locust -:
locusta in Latin - hopped up on his book. He knew that God was
speaking to him. The Latin words loco sta mean "stop";,he
took this to be the meaning of the message and went no farther. The
next day, couriers from Rome reached him and summoned him back. The
people of Rome had demanded that the pope recall Gregory from what
would have been a lifelong mission because they desperately needed his
It is plain that science could not flourish in a culture that held to
such a "rebus" interpretation of natural phenomena. But by
the twelfth century this attitude began to change, at least in the
Latin West. People began to pay more attention to the physical world.
Sculpture of the early Gothic period clearly shows that the artist
looked at real vegetation when he carved ornamental leaves or flowers.
In the thirteenth century, St. Francis of Assisi, supplemented the
doctrine that material things convey messages from God with the new
idea that natural phenomena are important in themselves: all things
are fellow creatures praising God in their own ways* as men do in
theirs. This new notion opened a door to natural science, and partly
explains the enthusiasm for experimental science in the Franciscan
order at that time.
Another concept crucial for the whole development of modern science
was emphasized in the thirteenth century and found its clearest
spokesman in the Franciscan friar Roger Bacon. He said that there are
two sources of knowledge of the mind of God - the Book of Scripture
and the Book of Nature - and that each of these must be searched by
the faithful with equal energy. He pointed out further that study of
the Book of Nature had been sorely neglected.
This idea - natural theology - changed the role of men from passive
recipients of spiritual messages through natural phenomena to active
seekers for an understanding of the Divine nature as it is reflected
in the pattern of creation. Natural theology was the motivational
basis of late medieval and early modern science. Every major scientist
from about 1250 to about 1650 - four hundred years during which our
present scientific movement was taking form - considered himself
primarily a theologian: Leibnitz and Newton are notable examples. The
importance to science of the religious devotion which these men gave
their work cannot be exaggerated.
Why did the idea of an operational natural theology emerge in the
thirteenth century, and in the Latin West alone? There was no similar
development in Greek Christendom. It may have sprung from the key
religious struggle of the time, the battle of Latin Christianity with
the great Cathar heresy. Early in the thirteenth century it looked as
though the Cathars were going to get control of a strip of territory
extending from the middle Balkans across northern Italy and southern
France almost to the Atlantic coast * separating the Papacy from the
more orthodox areas of northern Europe. The Cathars' major doctrine
was that there are two gods - a god of good and a god of evil. The
visible universe is the creation of the god of evil, which means that
living a good life involves having as little as possible to do with
physical actuality. Christianity holds that matter is the creation of
the one good Deity. In the process of upholding the Christian position
against Catharism, natural theology assumed a new relevance and
Natural theology was unquestionably a major underpinning of Western
science. By the time the theological motivation began to diminish,
Western science was formed. Today the motive force of natural theology
has long been spent, and it does not seem to have been replaced with
any other idea of equal power. Are modern scientists quite sure why
they are pursuing science? Science is fun, and the exhilaration of the
chase may keep it going for a long while. But will scientific advance
continue without more serious impulsion?
Scientists must become increasingly aware of the complexity and
intimacy of science's relationships to its total context. The modern
tendency to regard science as somehow apart from, or even dominant
over, the main human currents that surround it is dangerous to its
continuance, and can be harmful even to progress within science. The
veneration of the circle is an example of a general presupposition
that constricted even so great a scientific mind as Galileo's.
Galileo, in bondage to the axiom that the circle is the perfect curved
form and therefore necessary to any significant speculation, could not
seriously contemplate Kepler's thesis that the planets move in
elliptical orbits. He neither accepted nor refuted Kepler's notion. He
committed the unforgivable sin: He disregarded it.
Fixation on the circle was almost complete in ancient culture. The
Romans recognized only three ovoid forms: in arenas, in shields, and
in the bezels of rings. Pagan Scandinavians used the oval for a type
of brooch, but discarded it as soon as they were Christianized, that
is, Mediterraneanized. The Middle Ages had no oval forms except
occasionally the nimbus surrounding Christ in scenes of the Last
Judgment or the Ascension, and even this was a version of the ancient
Christian fish symbol, pointed at both ends. As late as the fifteenth
century, artists could not draw a picture of the Coliseum which showed
it oval. The first ascertainable oval design in a major European work
of art is the paving that Michelangelo designed in 1535 for the
remodeling of the Capitoline Piazza in Rome. Michelangelo and his
successors during the next fifty years created an atmosphere in which
ovoid forms became respectable, until finally Baroque art was
dominated by the oval. Kepler's astronomical breakthrough was prepared
by the artists who softened up the circle and made variations of the
circular form not only artistically but also intellectually
While the sanctity of the circle long impeded science by closing
avenues of speculation, another inherited classical idea of a very
different sort restrained progress by divorcing thought from practice.
Manual labor was extolled for seven hundred years by monks, especially
the Benedictines, as being not merely expedient but spiritually
valuable as well. With the late medieval revival of Greek and Roman
attitudes, however, the classical contempt for manual labor reasserted
itself. The universities emerging in the thirteenth century had
faculties in the liberal arts, law, theology, and medicine. Medicine
was the only discipline with an embarrassing manual aspect, and in
order to retain their prestige the medics separated surgery from
medicine. Surgeons did not want to be downgraded either, so surgery
became largely theory. There are pictures showing a professor of
medicine lecturing to students, while a theoretical surgeon in turn
directs a barber surgeon, who dissects the cadaver. Medicine advanced
during the latter Middle Ages, but it seems likely that it advanced
less rapidly than would have been the case if the study of surgery,
anatomy, and medicine had been carried on by the same people.
Speculation too far removed from substance is often of limited value.
The trend to purge university curricula of "vocational"
courses may contain a seed of decay.
Current discussion of the problems of maintaining scientific progress
usually focuses on the importance of providing an adequate economic
base for science and creating an atmosphere of political and
intellectual freedom in which science may flourish. But, as we have
seen, changes in science in the past have also to be related to
changes in basic religious attitudes, in aesthetic perceptions, and in
social relationships. More of our attention should be directed to an
examination of the sources of our faith in science today, and to the
wellsprings of motivation that lead men to pursue science. Why does a
man become a scientist? Why does he choose his manner of work, and how
does he select the area that engrosses him? The answers to questions
like these are not entirely economic or political.
Our science itself may contain unexamined axioms, like the circular
prison mat held Galileo captive. Hypnotism is an example of a
phenomenon that science has not really tried to explicate, apparently
because in some way it seems outside accepted categories of "reality,"
although it has been used in amazing ways in dentistry and surgery.
A distinguished surgeon told me about a delicate heart operation
carried out under hypnotism, and added, "That sure is fooling
them." But who is being fooled?'
The continuation of civilization as we know it depends on science,
and the continuance of science would seem to depend on our ability to
examine this sphere of human activity objectively and relate it to its
human context. Those responsible for the statesmanship of science must
develop a scientific understanding of science itself. They must become
increasingly aware of the intricacy of the ecology of the scientist.
We must learn to think about science in new ways unless we intend to
leave the future of science to, chance. - LYNN WHITE, JR.