Courtesy Reuters

Scientists, Seers and Strategy

That scientists today crucially affect decisions on national and international security-and therefore the fate of us all-will come as no news. After radar and jets and the A-bomb and the H-bomb and intercontinental rockets, the statement surely is obvious enough. But what does it mean? Like much else that is obvious, it is not very clear. Just how do the results of scientific research and the methods of science and the scientists themselves actually figure in decisions on arms and arms control? And how is the role of the scientist in such matters related to the more familiar functions of the politician, the military man and the ordinary citizen? Above all, what does "scientist" mean in such statements?

Even partial answers to these hard questions might help us deal with some others that are even harder and trouble us more. If by "science" is meant a difficult and specialized discipline currently accessible only to the few, a trained minority, what does this do to the democratic process? At the end of his term in office, President Eisenhower spoke of the danger that "public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific- technological élite." On the other hand, scientists, it seems, might become the captives. When scientists are drawn into the pulling and hauling of "politics," what happens to the freedom and objectivity of science or scientists? Again, given the partially hostile world in which we live, defense decisions must sometimes be made in secret. Where scientists are involved in such decisions, what does this mean for the vital features of science as a fallible but open, verifiable and self-correcting enterprise?

Especially in the two years or so since Sir Charles Snow's Godkin Lectures, discussion of these and related issues has been intense, sometimes bitter, and I think on the whole useful. But the issues have provided matter for both of Sir Charles' renowned "Two Cultures": exciting literary material and a supply of blunt weapons for the factional quarrels and feuds

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