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I don't think that scientists are any more prone to truth telling than anyone not any other group in our society. The reason why science does have a reputation for sticking to the truth is that we have certain principles which force us to make our mistakes in public. I can understand that the public and the young young people in the public particularly would feel a little bit and bitter about the direction and about the uses that are science is put to. Now we have neither the truth from theology nor the truth from science to depend on as a basis for judging what is and what ought to be. And I think this complicates the value crisis for this society. Most of our population most any of our college population are scientifically illiterate in a cultural sense. And I think that to bridge this gap I mean we're simply going to have to learn to get science and the right kind of way into our schools and colleges. Yes indeed.
It was just going to run the risk of people through science and society. One program in the series the circumstance of science exploring the forces of contemporary science and technology and their possible effects on society. The ultimate source of the strength of science will not be found in its impressive products or in its powerful instruments. It will be found in the minds of the scientists and in the system of discourse which scientists have developed in order to describe what they know and to perfect their understanding of what they've learned. The words of the Committee on Science and the promotion of human welfare of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on the integrity of science depend the welfare and safety of mankind. We have been making serious mistakes you know who are dealing with the environment. In other words science has not adequately guided our technology in understanding the consequences of introducing technology for the balance of the
environment. Dr. Barry Commoner the director of the Center for the biology of natural systems at Washington University served as chairman of that committee on science and human welfare. The group concluded with the following. It is a major responsibility of science to provide society with a proper guide to its interaction with nature. Apparently in modern circumstances science has not met this responsibility and it becomes important to inquire into the possible reasons for this divide. We cited the case of the starfish explosion of a nuclear weapon in high altitude. This was designed to test the effect of the radioactive particles from the explosion on radio communication and it led to a question concerning the effect of these particles on the Van Allen belts and the belts of radioactive atomic particles that surround the earth held in place by the Earth's magnetic field.
Astronomers before the test explosion complained that we knew so little about the Van Allen belts that it was difficult to predict the long term effect of the so-called starfish explosion. Some of them felt that it would disrupt the Van Allen belts and prevent our analysis of the still poorly understood natural phenomenon. The government replied after consulting secretly with a scientific committee that the effects of the starfish explosion would disappear in a matter of weeks. And the test was carried out it turned out that some of the effects won't disappear for a matter of 30 years. This is a serious mistake and a serious failure of science to serve as a proper guide to society in its interaction with nature and this is the kind of example that we cited in reaching our conclusion in that report.
This state in progress of science and technology have just become matters of immediate concern not only to scientists but to society. Science has become public in this first program you'll hear a discussion of the scientist role in contemporary life the circumstance of modern science. Dr. T.S. by Alade the director of the cooperative state Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture was one of the members of that Committee on Science in the promotion of human welfare for those of the roots of the whole thing certainly. Were related to a very public concern of a concern of many of those with the problem of radiation damage. But primarily it comes to the concern of scientists and other factors and it certainly had to do with the two worlds that CPS know advocated for about that time of the. World of science who talks to itself in the world that doesn't
understand what science says. So. Basically it is only the scientist who can say to a nonscientist what he has found out and just has the obligation of trying to express it in terms of making sure that he is communicating. I think this is the principal factor here though the other part of course is the integrity of science. There's been a systematic problem there and probably a good idea that there was a semantic problem the integrity of science means exactly what it says that science as a body of information is so correcting and can maintain its integrity so long as there is freedom of communication. In the absence of freedom of communication it may become lumpy in the state of the art. Some indication fails to be self corrective to the same extent it does when there is full and free communication. It would mean communication between the science of inflation. Yes yes. Oh it goes beyond that. You see I don't believe in two worlds. I only believe in one world.
So communication problems only look more difficult between the service the non-scientists finitism ups to schools science. And things that changed since the time of that report. Perhaps for the better. As far as I'm concerned I do not think this is the best of all possible worlds I do think it's the best we've got. So. We have increased in communication. We have increasing communication vesting we have increasing communication devices if they are changed for the better it is Worsley a matter of change in awareness and I think that is for the better. Thus the effects of modern science and technology reach into the physical and mental lives of a man's numbers of people and effects simultaneously all aspects of society. Dr grenade Abbas has written such increase in the rate of a fax amounts to
qualitative difference and has completely altered the attitude toward scientists. How does the public view the scientist. Dr Barry Commoner notes that as science is called upon to accomplish political and social goals and to determine public policy the citizen has begun to doubt what he used to take for granted that science is closely connected with truth. We asked several scientists for their reactions to that statement. First Dr. Donald Hornig the president's adviser on science and the director of the Office of Science and Technology and political policy is concerned with less than what the country wants. And. What it's willing to spend money on. What science can contribute to these things is to say what certain facts relevant facts are and with certain consequence. Sense of certain actions are in this respect. There is no reason why science shouldn't retain its integrity completely. But the second half of this problem which is
using that information to decide. What the country should then do this is a political process and as long as the distinction is kept clear between defining the boundary conditions and the political action I don't think those questions that arise. Dr Walter Roberts director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Well I can understand with the great social problems that seem linked with science and with the. The political implications of many aspects of science I can understand that citizens would begin to have doubts I can also understand how young people with their very strong views about the Vietnam War and with and of course with their
knowledge of the important role that the use of science and technology makes in in development of modern means of warfare. With all of their horror I can understand that the public and the young young people in the public particularly would feel a little bit embittered about the direction and about the uses that are science is put to. But I personally have no doubt whatsoever that science is indeed related to the truth. It's the uses that are often mistakes and these uses by the way are in many people's minds often confused with the process of science with science itself. It's not atomic energy that's wrong. Are the mathematical equations that that led to the discovery of the use of atomic power. It's
the uses that man make of this achievement that are wrong when they're used in in warfare for example so that the citizen is rightly concerned with the uses that are made with science. But I think should not confuse it with the process of science itself. Science is ours. It's the it's the knowledge of mankind and it's up to us to use it for our benefit. We can eliminate pollution. We can improve education. We can greatly advance the quality of our environment if we use science wisely. Dr. Donald and Michael old professor of psychology of the Center on research of the utilization of scientific knowledge at the University of Michigan. The implications of this or are enormous because. At least when it was believed by important parts of the
decision making and policy planning in my opinion making population that somehow science was identified with truth there was a kind of court of last resort where one could appeal to rational analysis and the data and or experiment as a way of making judgments in principle. Now that doesn't even exist I think increasingly as commoners as one has every right to be cynical about the protests of scientists that they're only concerned with the truth. Increasingly scientists and technologists are allied with politicians and vice versa. So that now we have needed the truth from theology nor the truth from science to depend on has a basis for judging what is and what ought to be. And I think this complicates the value crisis for this society. We asked Dr commentator to comment on his suggestion that today's citizen begins to doubt the truth of science.
I think that the fall out controversy is a good example. During the fall out controversy we had the spectacle of some scientists who were closely connected with the government's nuclear weapons program claiming on scientific grounds that there were no hazards associated with nuclear weapons. It seems to me that when it turned out that. The statements didn't take into account the available data. There was inevitably an erosion of the public confidence in science and scientists to get at the truth. I think what the public needs to know is that the way science gets at the truth is a by open discussion. I don't think that scientists are any more prone to truth telling than anyone on any other group in our society. The reason why science does have a reputation for sticking to the
truth is that we have certain principles which force us to make our mistakes in public the way in which science it gets at the truth is by correcting mistakes which are made. These mistakes are made openly in open publication and open discussion. And if another scientist comes along and points out that these mistakes are there then they're corrected and we begin to get closer to the truth. And the difficulty with scientists becoming deeply involved in making political decisions and cloaking them in a. The scientific foundation it seems to me is that inevitably when there when there are controversies about the policy the public will begin to get the idea that these controversies relate to the facts of the scientific material that has been used to support the policies. In other words I think we need to make a sharp distinction between
scientific facts that are related to public policy and political judgments of what these policies ought to be. And unless this separation is made and I think the public will get confused about the ability of scientists to get at the truth. How well does science heed society's demands for solutions to social problems. Not too well I think it seems to me that. Particularly in the last 25 years science has developed the notion in many quarters that anything that a scientist thinks is worth doing probably should be supported by society. We have developed as a result. Tendency to avoid the issue of the relevance of scientific knowledge to human needs. And I think we're beginning to see the consequences
now for this. What I regard as a failure of some science to meet its responsibility to society. For example the government has just appointed a committee to speed up the translation of basic medical knowledge to medical practice. In other words we've spent billions of dollars in the last generation to carry out medical research at the same time. There is a Vic stream shortage of doctors. Many people in this country simply don't get adequate medical attention. And there is obviously a sharp gap between the fact that we have allowed medical and biological science to have its head so to speak in developing new knowledge and at the same time we are not yet reaping the benefits. Well this raises a serious question. How much of the basic research that's been carried out is going to turn out to be useful in improving
medical practice. My own feeling is that a good part of it will turn out to be irrelevant to medical questions. It will turn out I think that a good deal of research is too abstract to support new medical practice. Now this raises a serious question. It seems to me it raises the question of the degree to which society ought to demand from science research which is actually relevant to human needs. The objection of course can be raised that this would put a constraint on the kind of work that scientists can do that would interfere with their with the freedom of research. I'm not sure what the answer to that problem is. It's a very serious one because certainly freedom is essential for the proper development of basic research. Nevertheless there are constraints. No one is free to carry out research of the sort that the we can call it that of the sort that the Nazi.
Surgeons did it during World War 2 when they attempted a brutal organ transplant patients on political prisoners you might say that no one had done it before and that it was useful to find out whether or not it would work. However there was no evidence that he could work at the time. And this certainly was a freedom which I think no society can tolerate among any of its members. I cite this as an extreme but I think that we also need to think about the degree of freedom that scientists ought to be given to pursue their own ideas regardless of expense regardless of the diversion of talent from human needs. For example look at how much money should we put into the development of larger and larger accelerators for atomic research. These are becoming enormously expensive. What is to be Gates point I'm making is that this is an issue
which we can't duck and it needs to be discussed much more fully than it has been in the past. Scientists that must discuss and publicly implications of their findings especially as they relate to the autor of society. Dr. common I would ask if there is a need for more scientists in public life in Congress for example. Well obviously. With science being so important in major public issues every administrative body needs to have access to its own scientific specialists. I think that certainly that type of person is used. It is necessary in Congress. The difficulty I think that we need to keep in mind there is that so to speak a captive Senate this does not the proper way to inform oneself about scientific facts for reasons that I've already discussed the way in which science gets at the truth for example.
It's perfectly clear that in order to understand what science has to say about something you've got to appeal to the total community of scientists. There has to be an open discussion of what the facts are. I think it would be a mistake for any group or congressional committee for example to believe that because it has a staff person trained in science or even a committee of outside side as as consultants that it is adequately informed about the scientific basis of any particular issue. There is no way of resolving scientific issues by committee. It's got to be done by science as a whole. Thus the scientist must the Vacaville interact with the non scientists the citizen. What kind of person is this modern scientist. Is he the stereo type who spends his time secluded in a laboratory and working and speaking in a language strange to the layman. If he can articulate his relationship with the public it's always
easy to speak of the shortcomings of any particular group. Dr Walter Roberts president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Scientists are human beings after all. Some of them are very articulate and very concerned. Others keep rather closely to their laboratories in their specialties of work both kinds of scientists are really necessary in our world. I am myself I'm always gratified when scientists are willing to take a part of their time to come out of the laboratory and talk about what the what science is about about its shortcomings about the things we know and about the things that we don't know about the limitations of scientific knowledge as well as the fascinating exciting advances of scientific knowledge. So. While it may be a minority of the scientists who take the time and take
pleasure in doing this it's something very much to be encouraged and I don't think the scientists are nearly so inarticulate if they used to be. Dr L R HOUSE dad vice president of the research laboratories of General Motors has characterized the scientists citizen relationship as an impedance mismatch in the electrical circuit theory. One of the things we learn is that it is impossible to transfer energy effectively from one circuit to another unless the impedance is of the two circuits are matched. I have used this as an analogy and the problem of transferring information from the scientific community to the layman. Here the problem is that we can use the same words but we find that the words have different meanings as used by the scientists and as used by the layman. The implication of this is that neither group fully appreciates what the other is saying when there is a dialogue. There are lots of scientists who are pretty articulate and are quite concerned
with reaching the public in an understandable way to explain what science is about and how it affects the quality of life. Dr Barry Commoner. I think in the last 25 years there's been an enormous increase in the frequency with which scientists leave their laboratories and talk to the public. We have developed in the last 10 years what we like to speak of is the scientific information movement. Groups of scientists in various communities in the country who organize themselves for exactly this purpose for speaking to the public about the scientific background of major social issues such as environmental pollution. And I think that there is an increasing interest among young people in finding ways of tying academic disciplines such as science to our daily lives. And I think this is an encouraging development. And the old picture of
the scientist hidden away in his laboratory not talking with anyone I think is rapidly fading from the scene. Speaking before the American Physical Society in 1987 the president's adviser on science Dr. Donald Hornig said the scientific community is going to have to learn to articulate its hopes to describe the opportunities to express the excitement to do these in terms which the American people who are expected to pay the bill will generally understand and have faith in. We asked Dr. Horn to give the opportunity for an extensive dialogue among science and the layman is available and it's taking place increasingly I think still in adequately the Saturday Review of literature has science sections there. Popular magazines or something popular magazines like Scientific American and other school science services. So I think the dialogue is taking place better in America than in any other country I know of except possibly the Soviet Union where I just
don't know enough and I should point out that particularly in the Congress the Congress has begun to ask these quite the very questions I mentioned very hard and very pointedly and so it has constantly called in representatives of the scientific as well as the governmental and industrial communities to talk well that makes plain just these things. But still I think that there is a fairly considerable gap of understanding that's yet to be bridged. There are certain things that you would like to see come about that would help the big city again. Well there's two things one I already mentioned is that the scientific community has been accustomed in the past and like the medical community to talk to itself has thought of itself as dealing in a very special very highly intellectualized set of disciplines and so it's directed most of its discourse internally and. It simply has to learn to pass from the sophisticated arguments
he was with other experts to the simple reasons the simple explanations I mention both of what you want to do and why you want to do it. But the general public requires On the other side though I think an even bigger thing is this fact that most scientists I know are frequently good musicians some of them are fair amateur artists. Large numbers of them read and read a lot of literature and history and so that they are reasonably acquainted I'd say with the nonscientific world I think on the other hand that our educational system pays too little attention to science for the a non-scientist the general public. We have a world in which very much of what's happening to people not only physically but in terms of their. Their philosophical them or their intellectual outlook is colored by. The changing picture of science
after all space you know has changed our. View of what the solar system. Is. What our galaxy is how long a man's been around or how man got to be here what might happen to him. These all have a great importance and yet. Most of our population is. And if our college population is scientifically illiterate in a cultural sense and I think that to bridge this gap and then we're simply going to have to learn to get science and the right kind of way into our schools and colleges. Do you think that the public is influential and exerting pressure over the scientist and decision making important research positions within our society. There isn't any question about it. It's a slow process but we're a democratic country we really are a democratic country and the people of this country the individual serves you and I as individuals are citizens not scientists citizens eventually do determine what are and what is good.
Will we want to. Yes indeed. So I was just going to run the people through. There are increasing opportunities for a science society dialogue and the necessity for extensive interaction is now of the extreme importance. The scientist today has not only his age old responsibility to guide his work according to his promise but also to decide how science is a social asset can be furthered and how a nation and the human community can best benefit from its roots. To many we have reached the end of an age of innocent faith in science. Science has become a public concern and on the integrity of science depend the welfare and safety of mankind. Science and Society. You've been listening to the first program in the series the circumstance of science exploring the forces of contemporary science and technology and their possible effects on
society. You're invited to be with us for our next discussion dealing with the implications of science in public policy making including suggestions and criticisms of the federal government's program of support to universities for scientific and technical research. A transcript of this program is available without charge from WKRN Michigan State University East Lansing. This series is prepared under a grant from the Lewis W. and Maude Hill Family Foundation of St. Paul Minnesota produced by Steve shave for Michigan State University Radio. This is NE are the national educational radio network.
The circumstance of science
Episode Number
Episode 1 of 13
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Michigan State University
WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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The Circumstance of Science. Documentary series. No information available.
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Producing Organization: Michigan State University
Producing Organization: WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-23-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:29:54
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