In Praise of Lesser Evils
Can Realism Repair Foreign Policy?
Since the time of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, scientists and engineers have participated in the high councils of this nation. Though these men were not elevated to high office because they were scientists and engineers, there have been many cases in which scientists, as scientists, have had a conspicuous influence on the activities and policies of our federal government.
One need not be in public office, of course, in order to have an important influence in national affairs. Indeed, the vast program of industrial and technological development of this country has been carried forward by scientists and engineers working within the private enterprise system- advancing our scientific knowledge as well as building railroads, steel mills, agricultural equipment, oil wells, dams, electric power systems and all the rest. They clearly have had an important influence on public affairs, as did hosts of other private citizens who never left their private occupations to accept government posts.
Let us look, however, at the ways in which scientists or engineers have directly participated in the operations of the federal government.
The employment of scientists by the government to work as scientists is not a new phenomenon. For a long time the military services, the Coast and Geodetic Survey, the Geological Survey, the National Bureau of Standards, the Smithsonian Institution and other agencies have employed technical personnel. But this situation has changed so markedly since 1940 that it is to this period that we shall direct our attention.
It is obvious that there are many ways in which scientists[i] can participate in federal affairs. It will be useful to list some of these, recognizing that some individuals could be classified-simultaneously or successively-in two or more categories.
The scientist may be employed in a government laboratory, such as the Naval Research Laboratory, an army "arsenal," the National Bureau of Standards or the National Institutes of Health.
He may work in a laboratory which is operated under a government contract by either a university, a research institute or an industrial company; examples are the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, the Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the RAND Corporation.
He may be an officer or active member of the National Academy of Sciences or its operating agency, the National Re search Council-a private organization with a federal charter, which has a major responsibility for advising the government on scientific and technical matters.
The scientist may serve on one or more of the many technical advisory committees or panels set up by various government agencies-the military services, the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and others.
He may be a member of certain advisory committees charged with advising on general matters of government policy in areas importantly affected by scientific and technical developments: e.g. the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Com mission, the President's Science Advisory Committee, or one of the many temporary commissions or panels set up to recommend policies in specified areas, including the President's Commission on National Goals (which included three scientists).
A scientist may serve as an administrator of important government scientific programs. He might be the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, a member of the Atomic Energy Com mission, or the Director of the National Science Foundation.
A scientist could, conceivably, serve in an important political office (though very few have done so), such as that of a member of the Cabinet or of the Congress.
Finally, a scientist may serve the interest and needs of the federal government without any official government appointment at all. Heads of colleges or universities, directors of industrial laboratories, science faculty members in universities, and other scientists have, either individually or through various non governmental organizations, exerted an influence on government affairs and government policy.
We shall not discuss all of these various capacities in which scientists serve their government, but shall restrict ourselves to those cases in which the scientist has a direct responsibility for policy advice or determination. It is true that it is not always easy to draw a line between technical matters and policy matters, and there is no point in drawing such a line too sharply. Clearly, however, it is one thing to give technical advice to the scientific group at the Los Alamos laboratory (or to be employed there) on problems associated with the design and development of a nuclear weapon, and it is a different thing to advise the Atomic Energy Commission, the Defense Department or the President on whether new types of nuclear weapons should be developed, or whether it is appropriate and desirable to test them in the atmosphere, underground or in outer space.
By restricting the discussion to policy matters, we are of course neglecting a vast area of effective scientific service to the government. The scores of technical advisory committees have commanded the effective services of hundreds of scientists and engineers. Some of the committees have been more effective and influential than others, but all have been important in guiding the government's scientific activities in many fields. Indeed, many major policy issues have been formulated or brought to fruition through a series of technical decisions and developments to which scientists both within and outside the government have made essential contributions. Furthermore, most scientists who have participated in policy matters had their first contact with government affairs through one or more technical committees.
What has happened in the policy field since 1940 is best brought out by considering in some detail the work of certain important government scientific agencies which have had specific policy responsibilities.
II. THE OFFICE OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
In early 1940, when the United States' participation in World War II was already a possibility, a group of scientists was authorized by President Roosevelt to form the National Defense Research Committee (N.D.R.C.) to mobilize and utilize the scientific and engineering talent of the country for the purpose of increasing the nation's military power. This and later the Committee on Medical Research (C.M.R.) were subsequently incorporated into the Office of Scientific Research and Development (O.S.R.D.).The great achievements of this organization in the fields of radar, long-range radio navigation, proximity fuses, antisubmarine warfare, nuclear weapons, penicillin and other fields relating to wartime needs are too well known to be recited here. The important point is, however, that under the leadership of Dr. Vannevar Bush, a distinguished engineer and educator, O.S.R.D. not only managed a vast scientific and technological program but also formulated and implemented a new body of policy relating to the performance of military research and development. There were at least three important policy decisions which have affected the government's scientific program ever since:
First, military research and development need not be carried on exclusively in military laboratories directed by military personnel; it can also be done in civilian scientific laboratories directed by civilians, under the sponsorship of either a military or a civilian agency. After the war this policy was extended to non-military government research.
Second, a suitable mechanism for government financing of research in universities, industrial laboratories and other private agencies is the research or development contract. This is a written agreement between the government and the private corporation to carry out investigations in a specified area, making the results available to the government. The government pays all of the costs incurred, both direct and indirect. The university or the company continues its normal salary and personnel policies and assumes responsibility for technical management within the scope of the contract. Civil Service rules and military "control" of scientists are thus both avoided.
Third, the military services must set up suitable mechanisms for close liaison between civilian scientists and responsible military authorities to ensure that scientific developments may be governed by practical military needs and requirements, and that military tactics, strategy and training may be adapted to forthcoming new weapons. This liaison needs to be effected both at the working level and at the highest policy level. The nuclear-weapon problem is but one of many in which decisions had to be made by the Commander-in-Chief in consultation with top scientists.
In all three of these areas policies were developed and implemented under O.S.R.D. auspices-though not always without serious difficulties and misunderstandings. The military services were concerned (not without some reason) about adequate security measures, and about the willingness of scientists to recognize the hard facts of military requirements. The scientists were often irked by what they regarded as unduly troublesome security rules, and they were impatient with military officers who seemed to be slow to appreciate the value of their new inventions.
Yet these and other problems were, for the most part, solved, and the over- all results were of historic importance. There was an increased respect on the part of military officers for the values which scientists could contribute to military matters, and there was an increased understanding by the scientists of military needs and problems-and even of military tactics and strategy.
Hence, immediately following the end of the war, as O.S.R.D. disbanded and even before it was clear that a cold war would ensue, the military moved quickly to retain their science advisory groups, to establish new ones, and to take over or continue many university and industrial research contracts. Attention in the university contracts was shifted from immediate military matters to longer-range research, partly in recognition of its possible ultimate values and partly to retain the interest and collaboration of university scientists even after they returned to their normal peacetime activities. Thus the support of basic research by military agencies was initiated, largely under the leadership of the Office of Naval Research, which asked a committee of scientists-the Naval Research Advisory Committee- to assist in formulating and guiding the program.
When the Atomic Energy Commission was later organized, it established an extensive program of basic research supported by contracts at the universities. Still later the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and National Aeronautics and Space Administration followed suit-though their university agreements were termed grants rather than contracts, a distinction which need not concern us here. (In fact, NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, had made research grants to universities even before the war.)
By 1962, university and industrial research and development grants and contracts amounted to some $12 billion annually. The lessons learned and the policies established by O.S.R.D. during World War II have thus become a major factor in military preparedness and in the strength of the nation's science, technology and industry.
The work of O.S.R.D., involving the close association between men like Vannevar Bush, James B. Conant and Karl T. Compton with the highest civilian and military offices of government, established not only the new patterns in the scientists' participation in national affairs, but introduced a new era of government participation in the affairs of science.
III. THE ATOMIC ENERGY COMMISSION
The enormous potential impact of nuclear energy on both military and civilian affairs led to the establishment in 1946 of the Atomic Energy Commission as an independent civilian agency to take over from the Army's Manhattan District the further development of this new area of science and technology. This organization brought scientists into contact with the government, on both a working and a policy level, in an unprecedented way. And, because of the highly important and often controversial nature of the issues that grew up in this field, the participation of scientists became active and widespread-and the disagreements and misunderstandings were (and are) frequent and often bitter. The disagreements-which have drawn wide public attention-have often overshadowed the wide areas of agreement and collaboration. Yet both are a part of the picture.
The official participation of scientists at the policy level in the A.E.C. has been through membership of one or two scientists on the five-man Commission itself, or membership on its General Advisory Committee (G.A.C.) composed of nine scientists.
In view of the controversies, it is important to note that the A.E.C. and the G.A.C. have counted among their members some of the most able and highly respected scientists of the nation. Thus, the disagreements have arisen not because of the inadequacy of the men involved but from the inherent difficulties of the problem and the intimate admixture of technical, political, administrative, military and security factors in many policy decisions.
It would require a whole volume to explore even those policy issues which have received great public attention, much less those that were settled more quietly. But to name a few will illustrate how difficult these questions were:
How large a stockpile of fissionable weapons was required to assure national security? (1947-1950) When or under what circumstances, if at all, should the vastly more powerful thermonuclear weapon be developed and produced? (1950) How should the responsibility for the development and operation of nuclear power reactors be divided between government and private agencies? To what extent shall nuclear weapons be tested in the atmosphere, underground or in outer space? What are the "tolerable" limits of atmospheric radioactive contamination? What aspects of the science and technology of nuclear energy must be kept secret, which ones "declassified," and how shall security measures be made both acceptable and effective, without impeding progress?
This incomplete list of problems which have been faced indicates that scientists have been pressed to the limit to examine the full technical background of each problem and to examine its military, political and other aspects-and then to use their best judgment in making recommendations.
The G.A.C., of course, is only an advisory body-advising the A.E.G. itself. On many problems the A.E.C. may make the final decision; on others it can only pass on its recommendations to the President. It does not have to follow the G.A.C.'s advice, of course-nor to divulge what that advice was. In no case has the G.A.C. taken the initiative in revealing its recommendations publicly. Often it was reluctant to see its recommendations made public at all, for they were based in part on secret technical information which could not be revealed. This, of course, is not an uncommon situation in military matters-the public must learn of the decisions, but it cannot be told all of the reasons for making them.
There are three essential points to bring out in this discussion, however:
First, the G.A.C. has from the start been in an important position to advise the A.E.C. on vastly important policy matters, but not to decide them. Yet, since the G.A.C. was established by statute, its advice had to be taken most seriously and was usually followed.
Second, its members have been given full information on all the known and pertinent technical, military, political and other factors (often including a résumé of sensitive international situations). Intimate discussions between G.A.C. and A.E.C. members normally precede formal policy recommendations.
Third, membership on the G.A.C. is on a rotating basis and many able men have devoted much time and thought to its work. Their performance has been excellent and a major source of strength to the A.E.C. and the nation.
Some recommendations of the G.A.C. were outdated by later unforeseen (and often unforeseeable) technical or political or military developments-and thus, in retrospect, seemed "wrong." Often the G.A.C. was the first to recognize the new developments and altered its proposals accordingly. Yet it is an essential requirement of any advisory body that its advice be based on what is known at the time, or what can be reasonably expected from normal developments. New scientific or technical discoveries are not foreseeable-and advice cannot be based on hopes or dreams. Thus, scientific advice is, by its nature, of an evanescent quality. It must be reviewed from time to time in the light of new developments. An enterprise wisely initiated in 1958 may have to be canceled or altered because it is obsolete in 1961-even though large sums of money may have been invested. Too often political pressures, or a false sense of economy, have prevented this from happening. On the other hand, to cancel every weapon development project because better ideas have emerged may leave the nation with no modern weapons actually in being. Equipment which is theoretically obsolete is better than none at all, and must be accepted when the new and better ideas cannot emerge from the production line in time to maintain a force adequate for current requirements.
In the same way the technical situation at one time may appear to be against initiating a proposed new enterprise for which there may be a great need but only a small chance of success. Yet, a few weeks or months later a new development may utterly change the picture-and prompt a new set of recommendations. This actually happened in the case of the thermonuclear bomb; but it was the first and not the later situation that has been publicized.
The age of technology is not an easy one to live with!
IV. THE PRESIDENT'S SCIENCE ADVISORY COMMITTEE
The group now known as the President's Science Advisory Committee (P.S.A.C.) was organized in 1951 under the chairmanship of Dr. Oliver E. Buckley, then just retiring from the presidency of the Bell Telephone Laboratories. Dr. Buckley visualized it as a stand-by committee to keep aware of the technical-military developments in the United States and abroad and, in case of a new emergency, to advise the President on how the scientific talent of the country should then be mobilized. It was visualized that the committee should always have available a proposed mobilization plan, including the names of the top scientists to be called on to organize and operate a "new O.S.R.D."
For administrative convenience, this committee, while in the Executive Office of the President, was asked to report through the Office of Defense Mobilization-and that agency provided office, secretarial and other facilities, and served as a channel of communication to the White House.
As time went on, as the cold war and the Korean War developed, and as the committee met and discussed the many complex problems of nuclear weapons, guided missiles, chemical, biological and radiological warfare, the members felt that a more positive approach was needed and that recommendations on current problems should be prepared. In late 1952 Dr. Buckley retired because of failing health, and I was asked to succeed him as chairman. With the warm support of President Eisenhower as he came into office, our activities were stepped up, special studies were initiated by ad hoc panels and many reports and recommendations were made to the President on broad problems of national security. The President requested certain of these reports to be presented to the National Security Council, and even to the Cabinet. Two panel studies directed by James R. Killian, Jr., and H. R. Gaither, Jr., respectively, were especially important and influential. In 1956 my term as chairman and member of the committee ended, and Dr. Killian became chairman.
In 1957, after the Russian sputnik and the ensuing excitement, the President asked that the committee henceforth report directly to him; and he requested Dr. Killian to accept appointment, full time, to a new office- that of Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology. A new era of activity then began for the P.S.A.C. Its staff was greatly enlarged; many new panels were established to conduct special studies, some of which were published as unclassified reports, issued as White House papers, e.g. three reports on scientific and engineering education and research. An intimate relationship was established with the White House and Defense Department, and the committee became the top scientific advisory body in the government. Dr. G. B. Kistiakowsky succeeded Dr. Killian in 1959 and Dr. Jerome B. Wiesner was appointed to this post by President Kennedy, in 1961. The P.S.A.C. has considered a bewildering variety of problems-ranging from disarmament negotiations to federal aid to education. It has clearly become an essential arm of the President's staff. Its achievements-mostly not made public-have been noteworthy. Yet even here-as is illustrated by recent controversies in the space exploration field-the P.S.A.C. is not free of criticism, either by independent scientists or by other government agencies.
V. THE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
A rather different set of functions and responsibilities was faced by those appointed to the 24-man National Science Board[ii] when it was established in 1950. This was not to be an advisory agency-though its advice has been asked and given. It was not to be an operating agency in the sense of managing scientific programs. It was a granting agency-to make grants of federal funds in order to enhance the nation's scientific and technological strength.
In this field of stimulating the advancement of the research capacities of the country-including the education of more research scientists-the National Science Board was a policy-forming body. Its policies were to be implemented, within the limitations of budgets and governmental administrative regulations, by the Director of the National Science Foundation and his staff. Since the budget of the Foundation is now approaching a half-billion dollars a year, it evidently plays a key role in the national scientific program, including the field of scientific education. Its purpose is not to sponsor research primarily because of its military or industrial applications, but to sponsor basic science-the search for knowledge for its own sake. Such research (including the concomitant educational activities) must of necessity be carried out largely in the colleges and universities of the nation.
The policy function of the Board, then, was to decide how such support was to be most effectively administered, how the worth of various proposals for support was to be evaluated, and in what areas of science its funds were to be expended, taking into account the national needs and the activities of other research-supporting agencies of government such as the National Institutes of Health, the Atomic Energy Commission and the military services. In general, the National Science Foundation was expected to take leadership in evolving policies and attitudes which the government should adopt in promoting basic science.
To enable its work to go forward effectively, the National Science Board established many advisory committees and panels whose functions were to evaluate proposed scientific projects, to select candidates for fellowships, or to advise on the general needs, requirements and potentialities in the various scientific or educational areas. Often the National Science Foundation has depended on committees from the National Academy of Sciences to recommend policy in special scientific areas, e.g. the International Geophysical Year program, oceanographic research, Project Mohole.
The 24-man National Science Board has necessarily had a make-up somewhat different from that of other advisory bodies. Since it is a statutory body- its members appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate-it was important that the membership represent not only all fields of science, but also all parts of the country, the various types of institutions (state, private, Catholic, Negro) and, in addition, include members with interests in education, science, social science or public affairs.
When the appointment of the first members was announced, there was consternation on the part of many scientists. How, they wondered, could such a heterogeneous group of people, many of them with little or no previous government or administrative experience, ever work together and evolve sensible policies for the promotion of science? There were certainly problems; it was a new experiment. But, under the skillful leadership of men like J. B. Conant, Chester I. Barnard and Detlev Bronk, the successive chairmen, the Board did learn to work well together. The unifying influence throughout all the years since 1950, however, has been the quiet, competent leadership of Alan Waterman, the first and so far the only Director of the Foundation. As Board members have come and gone (six-year terms, with a few serving two terms), the confidence in Dr. Waterman has remained unanimous, and differing points of view have eventually been resolved.
VI. THE NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
No single government agency has more awesome responsibilities in scientific and engineering fields than the recently created civilian space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Though its program carries important implications in the field of national prestige, international relations and military security, it is, in its major functional aspects, a huge program of scientific research, implemented by a vast effort in engineering development.
Directly and indirectly, NASA employs the services of more scientists and engineers than any other single agency. It directly operates an array of government research and development laboratories or "centers," is responsible for one major government-owned but privately operated establishment (the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology), coöperates with the Air Force in the operation of the huge launching facilities at Cape Canaveral, and directs a large number of industrial contracts for research and development and for the fabrication of the elaborate equipment required for space exploration. It also has the major responsibility for evolving the policies which shall govern the United States civilian space program, though of course, as for all government agencies, these are subject to approval by the President and the Congress. The National Aeronautics and Space Council (headed by the Vice President) was established to coördinate all government activities in the space field.
NASA was not provided with, and has not yet officially established, a top- level scientific policy advisory committee, such as the G.A.C. But the large scientific staff in its headquarters, the many key scientists in its various laboratories and active "space scientists" in private organizations collaborate in developing plans and proposals for the space program. Also, a close working relationship has been set up with the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences.
No enterprise ever undertaken has involved such an intimate collaboration of all the fields of pure and applied sciences as has the space program. And none has ever involved in so extensive a way the public interest and public opinion. And, except possibly for the field of nuclear weapons, no program has faced such a direct and fearsome challenge from the achievements of another nation.
Nor has any national scientific program involved such a bewildering combination of great enthusiasm-and serious misgivings. All scientists probably agree that space research is the most exciting and challenging new area of scientific endeavor ever opened up to human beings. Yet many also feel that the prestige and competitive factors have forced us to move too far too fast, to spend too much money and devote too much effort to the "spectacular" as contrasted to the purely scientific ventures. Still other scientists, however, rejoice that the international aspects of space exploits have generated so much public (and Congressional) interest that the scientific programs have been accelerated and expanded beyond what could have been dreamed of without the Russian competition. The nature and immediacy of the military values of space have also been hotly debated.
There is little hope that these conflicting opinions will be fully compromised soon. Yet there is no longer any doubt that official national policy will continue to support the present vast, high-pressure and high- cost program. And it is also clear that purely scientific considerations will not be the only, or even the predominating, factors in the formulation of government policy.
Here indeed is an area in which scientists, government officials and representatives of the public must collaborate closely in formulating and implementing a program which adequately takes cognizance of all the elements involved. Is there an adequate mechanism for such collaboration? Apparently not, as yet. Indeed it can be argued that there is no time for such extensive collaboration and for the deliberate consideration which would be necessary to formulate a program which would command universal or even substantial agreement and support among all competent and interested parties. "We must push ahead, or be left still further behind," it is said.
It cannot be denied that the scientific results of the United States space program are already impressive. Our feats may seem less spectacular than those of the Soviet Union, largely because of our late start in developing very large rockets (another example of a technical-military decision made prior to 1954 which seemed "right" at the time but in retrospect seems, to many, to have lacked adequate foresight). Still, in terms of scientific value our space program is outstanding-reflecting effective participation by the country's scientific community. The recent brilliant success of Mariner II in collecting a great quantity of data from interplanetary space and the vicinity of the planet Venus is a fine example of scientific achievement. Also the Telstar satellite opened a new era in communication technology.
This is not the place to explore the pros and cons of the policy issues now being so vigorously discussed both in the public domain and in the private councils of government. The point to emphasize is that space research is another field in which able, intelligent and public-spirited scientists are urgently needed-not only to carry on the work in the laboratory but also, in collaboration with others, to help formulate major national policy.
VII. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
The above description of a few important scientific groups within the government illustrates both the extent and the variety of the ways in which the government of a modern nation is involved in scientific and technical matters. And we have not touched on the ways in which such matters impinge on the affairs of the Department of State, which has a scientific adviser in Washington and scientific attachés in several embassies, and has used scientists as advisers in international negotiations; or of the Department of Commerce, which operates the National Bureau of Standards; or of other agencies. And I must leave it to others to examine the vast program of the National Institutes of Health.
Science and technology are now essential elements of national concern and national policy. Yet, most of the responsible officers in the executive branch and most of the members of the Congress have little or no scientific training. Since it appears unlikely that this situation will change-for most scientists abhor the idea of running for political office-it is imperative that ways be found to continue to bring scientists and engineers into policy-making and policy-advising positions in even more intimate and extensive ways than in the past.
Some new steps have been taken in recent years. Certain departments have placed scientists at the assistant-secretary level to supervise scientific activities within the department and to coördinate them with the programs of other departments. The Federal Council for Science and Technology, consisting of representatives of the various departments and the independent agencies, was established specifically to promote such coördination.
More recently, through a reorganization plan approved by Congress, there was established in the Executive Office of the President a new Office of Science and Technology to be headed, normally, by the President's Special Assistant for Science and Technology. As a statutory body (unlike the President's Science Advisory Committee), it is authorized and directed to advise Congress as well as the executive branch on scientific policy matters. The P.S.A.C. will retain its status as a personal advisory body to the President-specifically shielded from Congress.
The National Science Board and other agencies recommended the creation of such an office to have cognizance of the work of all departments and agencies-as no other group has. Since the Office of Science and Technology is just now being organized, it is too early to foretell how effective it may be. But it does fill a serious gap in the government structure, and if it can be adequately manned with top people it can be a most effective instrument for giving science a voice at high levels. This voice will not be subject to the suspicion that its views are biased by a vested interest in its own operations-since it will not be an operating agency. And possibly most important of all, it will provide for the first time a top scientific group available to advise the Congress.
The creation of this office would seem to render unnecessary and obsolete the proposals for the creation of a Department of Science headed by a Secretary of Science who would be a Cabinet member. Such a department would necessarily have operating functions; this means that its head would become a special pleader for his department, as are all other secretaries. Hence it would not provide an over-all science coördinating and advisory group whose cognizance and responsibilities covered all departments. Furthermore, scientific activities have become too pervasive to be lumped into a single department; it is essential that many departments and agencies carry on such scientific activities as are appropriate and necessary to their respective missions. Also, many scientists throughout the country are properly fearful of a single "czar" of science; science is too variegated in its scope and methods to be susceptible to effective control by a single office. The present diversity of control is both satisfactory and fruitful.
VIII. AN EVALUATION
No organizational setup within the government can be effective if the best scientists do not actively participate. How have they performed in the past?
A single answer is not easy to give. Scientists have been criticized for being too opinionated, too dogmatic and too naïve in matters involving political, fiscal, military or other considerations. Some have claimed that scientists have been given too much "power"; they should "be on tap but not on top."
Since scientists are human, many of them have exhibited the same frailties for which other human beings are noted. Scientists, as scientists, are not endowed with any greater (nor any less) degree of foresight or wisdom or sense of prophecy than anyone else. Some have not been above, on occasion, plugging their own self-interests at the expense of the general welfare; others have risen to great heights of selfless and patriotic service.
But these statements miss the point of this discussion. The government must have scientific help. The question is whether the government has been-and will be-able to attract into its top policy-making and advisory posts those particular scientists who are able and willing to take a broad view, who will treat their responsibilities seriously, act and advise objectively after all the available facts and views have been examined.
By and large, I think it can be said that we as a nation have been very fortunate in this respect. During the war men like Vannevar Bush, James B. Conant, K. T. Compton, Richard C. Tolman, Lyman J. Briggs, Roger Adams and others proved to be scientific statesmen of the very highest order. Since the war an equally impressive list can be cited: Robert F. Bacher, Detlev Bronk, Enrico Fermi, James R. Killian, Jr., G. B. Kistiakowsky, C. C. Lauritsen, I. I. Rabi, H. P. Robertson, Glenn T. Seaborg, Alan Waterman, J. B. Wiesner, Herbert F. York, J. R. Zacharias-to name only a few with whose work I happen to be personally familiar. These men have all made very great- and usually quite unpublicized-contributions to the task of helping our government enter the age of science in an intelligent and effective manner. They, along with a host of others, have given sacrificially of their time and energy to carrying on in a responsible way the tasks connected with offices which they themselves did not seek.
There also, of course, have been those who have been less than fully responsible and objective in their utterances and writings. But, for the most part, it will be found they were not at the time in responsible government posts. They spoke as individuals or through private groups. They had every right to do so, of course. And very often such individuals or groups have been well informed, objective and effective. But some were neither fully informed (possibly because of military security rules) nor fully objective. Some of the public doubts about the wisdom displayed by scientists in public affairs probably arise from the wide publicity given to statements from such unofficial sources. In contrast, the advice given by the official groups is usually not publicized at all. Scientists occupying official positions have usually been reluctant to make public statements on matters connected with their responsibilities except when their views or actions were released through appropriate channels.
Because of this situation, one should not underestimate the enormous importance of the public discussions which have been carried on by private individuals and by non-government groups. When official bodies are not fully free to publicize their views and their findings, it is doubly important that non-government groups, free of such restrictions, should take the lead in the necessary public education and free discussion of many national problems involving scientific and technological matters. There have been a host of statements from the public platform, articles in professional journals, in the public press, and in publications such as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which have contributed greatly to informing the public on various public issues, some of which were highly controversial and resulted in vigorous and often bitter debates. In a democracy such free discussion is absolutely essential and, in the long run, contributes greatly to the formation of public opinion and to the formulation of national policy. As in all public discussions, not all of the views expressed will have equal degrees of validity or objectivity.
It is fruitless to argue which groups or individuals have been "right" or adequately farsighted in their views. As has already been pointed out, the knowledge of science and the status of engineering developments change rapidly and often in unexpected directions. What is a "right" course of action today may be "wrong" tomorrow. And many considerations other than technical ones must frequently intervene and even be decisive. These factors, too, may change from time to time. Note, for example, that no political leaders were much interested in space exploration in 1956, though a number of scientists certainly were. The recent cancellation of the Skybolt project is another example of a decision forced by changes in the technical, military, fiscal or international situation-the full story of which may not be revealed for some time.
Any attempt to keep score on the number of right and wrong recommendations of scientific groups, however, is again beside the point. First, the vast majority of the recommendations of various official scientific groups were private and were given due consideration by the responsible agencies in making final decisions. Some of the recommendations were made public only long after the original report had been made, and often after either the technical or the political situation had changed. The question is not whether all recommendations were "right," or were free from criticism or controversy, but whether they were based upon the best scientific thinking of the time, whether they were made by earnest, able individuals, and whether in the long run such advice and recommendations have been in the best interests of the country.
On these points there can surely be no dispute. The best scientists of the country have been involved; they have, for the most part, attempted desperately to evaluate all of the factors present in each situation, and have presented their findings clearly and objectively. One who has had full access to the record cannot help but be proud of the way in which the nation's best scientists, when brought into responsible posts in public affairs, have carried out their tasks conscientiously, selflessly, intelligently-and often with great brilliance and breadth of vision. We can be confident that we shall continue to find in the scientific community men who can and will contribute high talent and great wisdom to national affairs. This is fortunate, for such men will be sorely needed.
[i] We shall use the term "scientist" broadly and, for brevity, synonymously with the phrase "scientist or engineer," even though the scientists and the engineers have often contributed in quite different ways. Also we shall mean by a scientist one who has not only been formally trained in science or engineering but who has, for a time at least, actively carried on professional work in his chosen field. The term "public affairs" will be used in a restricted sense, referring only to activities, enterprises or policies directly connected with the federal government.
[ii] The National Science Foundation Act of 1950 provided for the creation of the National Science Board to serve as the responsible governing board of the Foundation.