Courtesy Reuters

Soviet Science Appraised

Soviet science has been in the public eye for the last two decades. The dramatic confrontation of Marxist theory and genetics epitomized the dangers of Communism as a thought-controlling system. The rapid development of atomic weapons by the Soviets underlined the effectiveness of the Russian scientific task force. The flights of sputniks, luniks, laikas, cosmonauts showed the world that the party leadership had made an imaginative commitment to daring scientific ventures and that Soviet technology was discharging this commitment.

The reaction in the West was immediate. The Lysenko genetics controversy produced amazement that in a modern state, a political ideology should stifle development of a science. The Soviet weapon success showed that in the military area, science and technology often develop more rapidly in a dictatorship than in democracies. The space spectaculars of the Russians astonished the world. The alibi that Soviet success was based solely on "secrets stolen from the West" was broken. American education was made a scapegoat for the lack of American successes in space. On the basis of comparison of curricula and statistics, and as the result of superficial visits to select Soviet schools, a cry was raised that the United States was losing the "battle of the classroom." The average American became convinced that Soviet science and education were the best in the world. Our highschool curriculum was revised, new mathematics introduced. Government leaders were shaken into introducing new administrative agencies in Washington and new advisory councils in the White House. The Soviet challenge of a human flight to the moon was accepted by launching a multi- billion-dollar space program.

In the meantime, a cultural-exchange program was initiated to bring about understanding between American and Soviet scientists and to explore areas of scientific coöperation. The three Geneva Conferences on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, massive exhibits in New York and Moscow, numerous exchange visits of prominent scientists, prolonged stays by smaller numbers of younger scholars-all these brought about a better understanding between Western "capitalist culture"

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