IT is a year since, at 5:58 p.m. on October 4, 1957, the Moscow radio announced that the Soviet Union had placed in orbit the first man-made, man-launched earth satellite. In many ways it has been an extraordinary year. There can be no doubt about some of the positive gains which it has brought, stimulated in part by the shock of sudden nation-wide realization that we have no easy superiority in that world of military technology that had so long been a special pride. The focusing of renewed attention on vital and extraordinarily difficult questions of organization in the military departments, the partial stemming of some very dangerous relaxations in military posture which threatened us in 1957, some real expansions in the scale of research and development for new weapons, and increased emphasis on certain vital elements in our defense technology--all these represented welcome immediate reactions.

There was also much, of course, that was noisy and transitory, bearing the stamp of an all-too-human eagerness to wish away unpleasant questions or to dismiss them with quick and facile answers. On second thought, some of this discussion already appears rather meaningless and of little permanent significance. But there is a residue which, because it shows continuing vitality and may lead to erroneous and even dangerous sequiturs, deserves attention.

At the close of this turbulent year the frenetic quality of our concern has already begun to wear away. Subsequent Soviet satellite launchings, for better or for worse, have not excited anything like the same public anxiety as the historic first, though their significance was no less. We have begun to realize that the basic pattern of our technological effort in national defense was firmly established long before the satellite launchings and that its present magnitude, scope and direction, in the larger sense, are projections from this base, affected far less by the event of the satellite than by more massive and permanent domestic considerations--technical, fiscal, organizational and political.

In this somewhat lengthened perspective, there may be an opportunity now--which perhaps will not be vouchsafed us in quite the same way ever again--to bring this experience into focus, to assess its message at a deeper level than that of immediate defensive reactions, while the experience itself is fresh in mind. If we can do this with the intensity that is required, demanding of ourselves the long view of the kind of world that we and our children may expect, our own proper place in it, and the severe requirements that our rôle imposes on us, then the year past will indeed have been worth while.

One misconception which has survived from the year must excite particular concern, not only because it is erroneous and may lead to harmful conclusions, but because it vividly illuminates the change of scale that is required in our thinking, in both magnitude and time. It is the notion that the October launching demonstrated that the United States had irrevocably lost a technological race with the Soviet Union and must now think of itself as occupying a "second place" in the technical competition of the world. It was a viewpoint, of course, which was not lost on the Soviets--indeed they recognized it instantly as a substantial propaganda asset and capitalized on it vigorously in the foreign-language broadcasts that issued from Moscow in Arabic, French, German and English within hours of the original announcement.

There can be no question today of the magnitude, skill, capability, drive and imagination of Russian science and technology to which this remarkable achievement, among others, attests. There can be no stint in our admiration for it, and, above all, in our respect for it. There can be no doubt of the significance of the achievement itself in scientific terms, nor of its sinister potential in military terms. Above all, there can be no doubt of the tremendous strides that it symbolizes for a nation, in skill and organization and intellect, now and in the future. But the image that we sometimes posed to ourselves last fall and winter, and that even today we have not wholly outgrown--the image of a technological race lost by our nation--is not only wrong but paltry because it poses the easy image of the single contest--the image, almost, of the playing field--where one event, one action, one failure, could be conclusive. It is a dangerous view, not only because it could encourage the human temptation to relax effort in the face of a fait accompli, whether of failure or success, but even more because it misreads the whole nature of our world and its challenges.

The factual error is easily disposed of. It lies in the very basis of science and technology itself. In one important respect, science and technology, like the twentieth-century patterns of industrialism which accompany or follow them, are great common denominators of modern states. Regardless of the divergent natures of their cultures, regardless of the chasms of history, of political orientation, of values, of self-image, of conduct, of deepest belief which sunder them, when nations deal in the realm of science and technology they deal in a common discipline. Here the parameters of content are set not by men or social systems but by the nature of the physical world, a constant for all states. The rate and the success of a nation's technical progress will be an important function, among other things, of its organizational capacity, application and zeal, and of how well the modes which it chooses fit its aptitudes and traditions. But an indispensable element, the stock of knowledge upon which it can draw, is a common heritage of all states, derived from the whole body of learning. From this unalterable condition, and from the richness and the immensely varied character of the world's technology and its protean character, it follows that no meaningful assessment of the relative position of two technically gifted and powerful states can ever be made at a given time from the evidence of a single achievement, regardless of how spectacular.

Far more important than the factual incorrectness of the conception is a dangerous conclusion which may follow from it. It reasons that, because the Soviet Union has transformed itself from a technically rather backward state to a modern and vastly powerful one in a breathtakingly short time, the operating forms by which this was accomplished themselves have a special validity. It follows, of course, that, in a literal sense, they may serve as practical models for our own efforts. Imitations that have been suggested run all the way from placing exaggerated emphasis on specific technical areas to which the Soviets are known to be devoting special attention to detailed comparisons of the numbers of Soviet and American students in training in various scientific fields, and the means of their selection.

This reasoning entirely ignores a complementary all-important truth. Though the factual basis of knowledge and insights about the natural world and their use in the service of man is indeed available to all modern peoples, the modes by which that knowledge can be most effectively assimilated and used and new knowledge created are highly human factors, conditioned by the basic assumptions of each society. They must be as profoundly characteristic of each society, indeed, as the very concepts of what, out of total experience, is genuine and relevant--of what indeed constitutes reality. We may--and we must--learn a very great deal from Soviet science, as the Russians, with possibly greater diligence, are learning from ours. We shall find that in some areas our needs are similar and their efforts superior, and here it is imperative that we catch up. But to make the assumption that failure to parallel their pattern is remiss is gravely to risk the autonomy of our own scientific effort.

And there can be few things more precious to us than our autonomy, in science no less than in other areas of our national life. In the most literal sense it is the only firm guarantee that we have of the originality and boldness of our scientific effort, the only certain assurance that our technical growth will be adaptive and truly our own, achieved and assimilated in our own way. Beside this central point ancillary arguments seem slight. Yet it is worth recalling that if this autonomy were ever lost, and with it the strength, balance and confidence that it conveys, we could easily fall prey to false leads in our scientific and technical emphasis, in substance no less than in approach. It is worth noting, too, that the impression we give of autonomy, strength and audacity in science must be as convincing abroad as at home. As of today, there is much evidence that the Soviets are at least as impressed by the dimensions of our technology and as eager to profit from them as we are by theirs--that indeed a principal ambition is to surpass us. Clearly it is our own garden that we must cultivate.

We must not forget, however, that there is a corollary to all of this, which alone can make it valid. It would be exceedingly dangerous were we to consider the autonomy needed in our approaches to science and technology as a luxury that we can afford instead of as an element vital to that high level of ardor and effectiveness which is a requirement of our times. We have been well alerted over the past year to at least some facets of the military threat that confronts us in an age when power balances are unusually delicate. Even partly to meet the requirements of defense will demand unremitting effort on an unprecedented scale, extended into an indefinite future. Such effort is an absolute precondition for all else that we may do. But much more than this is demanded of us.

Over the past year we have had some striking exposures of the perilous fallacy which we as a people are all too prone to cultivate: the notion that peace is the normal and happy condition of our world, that periods of war and intense struggle are but episodes interrupting our tranquility. The concept that we are to be continuously challenged to reaffirm our values and prove their effectiveness is new and difficult for us to grasp. The analyses which we have had of the continuing rôle that limited military conflict may play emphasize one aspect of this situation, which so far we have taken far too little to heart. Now, before we have fairly assimilated this concept or escaped from a preoccupation with total war, we are required to take a longer and more subtle step of understanding. We must recognize that today none of our larger problems will be amenable to clear and final solution. They will instead present lengthy tests of persistent and concentrated purpose.

It has required sober reflection on the events of the past year to drive home once more the truth that except in cataclysmic war the processes of social change and growth in dynamic systems are continuous and involve every part and aspect of the whole. No facet of the national effort, no national resource, can be insignificant or stand apart. The total strength of a nation is involved. In the modern world, the measure of the strength and, in the truest sense, the wealth of a nation is the creativity, originality and ardor of its people. These elements, always in short supply, affect every field of activity. In many, science and technology among them, devotion to intellectual quality, to learning and to a certain kind of intellectual adventure is prerequisite to their healthy growth. In a world where technical achievement is a prominent factor in the total capacity for survival, the scientific capabilty of a people and, above all, their understanding and esteem of scientific values are extremely important elements of strength. Many factors must underpin them--the opportunities for scientific education, the material support available to science and technology, the breadth of comprehension of their nature and proper management. All great states must seek to maximize these components of their national wealth. The way it is accomplished and, above all, the incentives offered for individual growth, must be peculiarly characteristic of each, and will mirror its deepest social values. What are the specific challenges to us?

There can be no doubt that the Soviets have achieved an amazingly effective level of scientific education. There is considerable evidence that on the whole it surpasses our own in the severity of the challenge which it offers, the seriousness of purpose which it demands and the thoroughness of its preparation. Its character well typifies the startling kind of innovation that Russia has managed in so many fields. The system is clearly the beneficiary of the older one of Tsarist days--itself adapted from institutions in Western Europe and more particularly, in the nineteenth century, in Germany. The original purpose was to train a relatively limited intellectual minority, bringing to it extremely high standards of performance. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Soviet development has been the extension of this system to a huge scale, rivaling our own in massiveness but governed by the philosophy that from its tremendous volume of candidates early and ruthless selection will be made.

It would be folly not to recognize the gravity of the challenge of this development and all that underlies it. It seems likely that Soviet scientific education has already laid the groundwork for a technological advantage in the immediate future that we shall be hard pressed indeed to meet. The system is well adapted to the Russian tradition, fitting closely the philosophy of a nation convinced by its historical background that escape from poverty and obscurity--and latterly, in bolder and more optimistic terms, the achievement of unexampled wealth and power--are to be had only through the rigid subordination of the individual to the group. The incentives to achievement are very great. Talent and dedication receive powerful extrinsic rewards: surcease from grinding poverty and toil, material inducements of a high order, honor and recognition.

Not many years ago the complacent view was widely held that original scientific research can flourish only in a general climate of political freedom, like that of the Western democracies. We should be well warned today that it is quite possible to establish local climates of great substantive freedom, where original research can go forward most effectively, within a political system in which the social responsibility--and indeed the social concern --of those working on the intellectual frontiers of technology is rigidly constricted. Because the ideal of our civilization is the development of the whole man, whose daily tasks may be specialized but whose sense of responsibility and concern embrace the entire fabric of society, a necessary condition for creativeness among us is the wide and unimpeded horizon, the total freedom, of the individual. It is easy to forget that other social and political systems may operate in other ways. If we are tempted to do so, the current Soviet successes in science and technology should serve as urgent reminders that the test is not as simple as we thought.

Yet the challenge, severe as it is, is not insurmountable. We cannot meet it by imitating another system based on the form of numbers or of method but by achieving an equally widespread ardor in the scientific way, an equivalent appetite for its disciplines and rewards, an equivalent appreciation of all that it entails in the context of our own values. Some of the incentives to excellence in scientific training and achievement which are paramount in the Soviet system are not open to us, nor would we wish them to be--escape from hardship, for example, or disproportionately high material reward. But there are other rewards which our society is peculiarly able to afford: the intrinsic satisfaction of intellectual accomplishment attained by personal commitment to the limits of capacity; the excitement of discovery; the satisfactions of service; the identification with worlds transcending individual concerns. There is every reason to believe that once our society is geared to the effort, it is especially well adapted to nourish and expand the ideals of hard individual effort, discipline, adventure, frugality and dedication which the culture of individual excellence implies in every path including the scientific. But the road will not be easy, and we have some special difficulties to overcome, derived in large part from our history.

When a society which has from its beginning emphasized the worth and weight of the individual passes in a few generations from material poverty to great plenty it necessarily acquires some conceptions which may handicap its future. Among them is the conviction that the production of consumer goods and their provision to the individual are of overwhelming importance to society, and hence that the maximizing of this process is one of the most important functions of an industrial democracy. In a world where the true strength of a nation must be measured less in the plethora of its consumer goods than in its resources for production, and less in these than in the quality and creativity of its citizens, such a viewpoint is outmoded and in need of overhauling. The revision cannot fail to lay increased emphasis on the social importance of intellectual attainment and of the means to seek and cultivate it.

There is a deep antithesis between the attitude of the citizen-as-consumer--constantly served and entreated to express ever more varied and extensive material wants, upon the satisfaction of which the prosperity of a free economy so largely rests--and that of the citizen-as-creator, geared to making demands on himself to the limit of his capacity in his own interest and for the further benefit of his society. It requires great maturity to combine these rôles effectively. In our present wealthy and complex society it is undoubtedly much harder to cultivate some of the unities of motivation and some of the essentially Puritan ethic which the full prospering of the life of the mind requires. Yet this is what the times demand of us.

The task is huge, but we have resources that can be powerful and important aids if we will but tap them. Perhaps there is no greater strength of a free society than the sense of individual competition that it cultivates among its citizens. In an economy of plenty such competition in the acquisition or dispersal of material things cannot much longer offer us personal challenges that are genuinely satisfying. But to every citizen the keenest sort of competitive challenge--intense and absorbing and immune to satiety --is offered by the world of the mind, in whatever aspect and at whatever level his tastes, aspirations and abilities may dictate. It is only necessary that our scale of values comprehend this dimension and accord it the high place it deserves.

In the special intellectual fields of science and technology there are additional and compelling incentives to excellence. They inhere in the very nature of the scientific way. It is a characteristic of science that it is essentially dual in nature, including two quite disparate facets of human activity. Neither profound philosophy nor practical experiment was novel to Copernicus, nor to Archimedes, nor quite possibly to Amenhotep. What gave the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries immense significance was that these two elements, apparently so dissimilar, were wedded in effective partnership. To these two strands, effectively interwoven, science owes a large part of its intellectually ennobling character on the one hand, and on the other its practical power. Science is a way of life, a view of the world, a challenge and an inspiration to some of the highest and most absorbing efforts of individual self-expression and self-development that man can know. Its rewards lie in the joys of dedication, in the intoxicating adventure of discovery, in its astringent discipline and in the combination which it demands of creativity with critical appraisal. These have always been sufficient to bring to the scientific way those minds and spirits which can give it its character, penetration and vitality. This is the very essence of science--highly individual, unfettered and free. Upon our understanding of this fundamental aspect, upon our nourishing of these values, the whole vitality of our science and indeed our future as a dynamic society in good measure rests.

But science is also a way of getting things done, and to this highly practical characteristic, together with the cumulative and explosively self-propagating nature of the knowledge which it gathers, it owes its striking rate of growth. An interesting study recently made in England suggests that the growth-curve is essentially exponential, with a slope to indicate a doubling of the volume of the scientific effort approximately every 10 to 15 years. No comparable study seems to have been undertaken for the United States, but it is unlikely that the figure would be lower. This is not a new phenomenon, for the curve can be extrapolated without much change in slope to the time of Newton. But as with populations, constant exponential rates of growth in science soon result in awesome magnitudes. A doubling of the scientific effort two or perhaps even three times in a generation has resulted in our day in a huge and diversified structure, whose massiveness is only suggested by the eight-billion-dollar expenditure which a recent McGraw-Hill survey has estimated for 1958 for science and technology in American industry alone.

There are several implications of this situation, one of the most vital of which relates to the proper use and cultivation of scientific manpower. Given the degree of training and dedication that the scientific way demands, it is clear that such a rate of growth must severely strain our human reserves. In every society, of course, the greatest burden of scientific innovation must rest with minds innately gifted and with a strongly inborn bent to the scientific way. Like very great talent in any field, such minds will always be rare. We have to accept this fact, recognizing that, while we must do everything in our power to discover and cultivate them, there is a certain level of talent and drive which in the nature of things must remain more sharply limited biologically than socially, whatever we may do. But we must also remember that one such mind can break ground requiring thousands less gifted to cultivate successfully. A very significant part of scientific growth--and especially the pivotal area of testing and proving scientific innovation and translating it to practical use--rests with a host of expert but more ordinary intellects of extremely varied quality and kind. Discovering them and training them provide the keenest challenge to our system of education. We also have the strongest obligation to use and appreciate them properly in the years of their maturity. Here the advantages of our social structure, with all the immense diversity of opportunity which it provides, should stand us in good stead.

There is also a requirement for capable management. Where the total demand for scientific talent always threatens to exceed the supply, an efficient use of human resources, a reduction of duplication and waste, and a sharing of talents among industrial, academic and governmental responsibilities become imperative. We are not doing this at present as well as we can or should.

The very size of the scientific and technical effort, and its importance to our national welfare and power, mean that science must inevitably be an important concern of government. In the purely private field alone it has been estimated that fully half of the projected eight-billion-dollar industrial expenditure for 1958 will stem from governmental sources. We have not yet adequately met the problems posed by this volume of science and technology, by its national importance and also by its dual nature. We have no adequate understanding in government of the special nature and requirements of scientific management, different, perhaps, from any enterprise of similar weight and import in a democratic society. We do not fully understand how best to mobilize even relatively small sectors of that effort as a practical instrument without at the same time severely damaging or even destroying the center of its creative being, where flexibility and individual freedom are the very breath of life.

In the past we have never felt the need to mobilize our total scientific strength--just as we have felt no need to mobilize our total economic strength--except in time of war. Then, the effort has been heroic but necessarily improvised. Only since the experience of the Korean War, and more especially within the last year, have we begun to appreciate that this cannot meet our needs, that the means must be more comprehensive and persistent. Even the nature of the task--gigantic, subtle, protean--is not yet understood. But our ability to devise effective ways of meeting it,within our own pattern of values and within the peculiar requirements of science, will affect our national safety and our national power to an important degree. Significant steps have been taken in this direction during the past year in the creation of the entirely new post of Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and in the intensified duties and widened scope of the President's Science Advisory Committee.

We have made only a start at this gigantic task. We face years of the grimmest sort of military challenge, on land and sea and above all in the air. And since the challenge involves the survival of the free world as a whole, the response must be from the whole free world, in science as well as in other areas. We are only beginning to recognize the necessity of properly coördinating the free world's over-all scientific strength. Some encouraging beginning steps have been taken this year in strengthening NATO scientifically, and progress has been made in implementing the scientific capabilities of the Department of State. We seem to be gaining some appreciation that in view of the development of technologies that bear on military power in the free world we must seek new opportunities to share knowledge with our allies. But with events moving at such speed, we still accept delays that should be recognized as involving the gravest sort of hazard.

One more consequence of the growth of science and its place in our national life is too important to go unmentioned, namely the particular difficulty of communication between the world of technology and those who formulate national policy. In the past, as today, there have been brilliant individuals who have accomplished this liaison effectively when the need was acute. Some had backgrounds of technical education and had contrived to train themselves to the breadth of understanding and judgment required in making high policy. Others, trained in the formulation of policy, managed to acquire scientific literacy. Their task was herculean, for the gulf between the modes of thinking normal to science and those used in judgment of general affairs is greater than can be appreciated by those who have not tried to span them. There can never be more than a handful of men who, coming exclusively from one background or the other, can learn to close the gap effectively in the full tide of adult life. Today a handful is not enough.

Neither is it enough to rely on the mere advice of specialists in one field given to those in another, important though this be. When a sensitive feeling for very detailed scientific nuances may condition policy decisions of enormous import, that bridge of communication is too narrow, too shaky. This has been underlined by the difficult task of the Congress in this last year, faced with the responsibility of making policy decisions in scientific and technical matters of the greatest national importance, where nothing in the earlier experience of most of its members helped or could have been expected to help.

There seems only one answer. Just as we must recognize that, for better or for worse, we live in an era when scientific and technical creativity are important aspects of our national wealth and strength, so we must recognize that ipso facto science is an important element of our general culture. And so it is incumbent upon us to see that those who in future may be making decisions of national policy, whether military or civilian, shall have received a sufficiently thorough grounding in the scientific way to be familiar not only with its basic content, but, more important, with its modes of thinking, its peculiar reservoir of skills and its scale of values. And with this goes the complementary requirement: that those who are training professionally for the world of science and technology but who have tastes and abilities that will inevitably confront them at some time with responsibilities in the world of political action must become familiar at an early age with the context of that world and the requirements for successful service in it.

These, then, are some of the reflections that the year has brought. Ahead of us lies the enormous task of preparing ourselves as a nation to live with credit--indeed, just to live--in a world requiring individual and collective excellence, creativity and capacity for innovation, and in which the fullest development and use of our rich resources of science and technology will be one of the conditions of survival. We must meet this high requirement in our own way, without fear, without imitation, in accord with our traditional values. The undertaking will require boldness of mind, appreciation of the nature of the crisis in which we live and the demands it makes on us, and, above all, the discipline and dedication of spirit which we have shown in other times of crisis. In its present intensity, extended into an indefinite future, this demand is new to our experience, but we can meet it if we will. We have, in fact, no alternative.

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  • CARYL P. HASKINS, President, Carnegie Institution of Washington; member of the President's Science Advisory Committee
  • More By Caryl P. Haskins