About science; About science and government
This is about science produced by the California Institute of Technology and originally broadcast by station KPCC in Pasadena California. The programs are made available to the station by national educational radio. This program is about science and government with host Dr. Albert hips and his guest Dr. David Elliot. Here now is Dr. hims nowadays. Most of the research carried out by scientists around the country is supported not by private institutions as it used to be and what some people may call the good old days but rather by the government in fact something like 90 percent of the money spent on research in the country today comes from the federal government. Of course this depends on how you keep your books and what kind of statistics you use but still it's a vast majority of the amount of money that used for scientific work comes from the federal government and therefore fundamentally from taxes. This
has not always been so and to discuss how things got this way how they stand today and where they're likely to go from here we have with this professor David Elliot of Caltech who in his varied studies of the behavior of people and their governments over the years has done little bit of work on the subject. Dr. Elliot studied at St. Andrews in Scotland and in fact is a native of Scotland also at Oxford in England but took his Ph.D. at Harvard during the War of the Second World War from 1940 to 1947. He was in India and the British Army and came to America after that and has been at Caltech since 1950. David how did it all start that the government began supporting science in America and for that matter I guess in any place also I suppose in Britain and France and other countries a government supporting science these days too how does ot get its beginning. Well Al it seems to me that science has become of a important part of
life. We talk now about science and government. And this is perhaps to dramatize the issue. So much seems a little bit peculiar that we ought to be that we are putting science and government together a little bit like putting together the Arsenic and Old Lace something that isn't it seems a little surprising that they don't see my government announcing like proper partners in cancer you know and I think this is because of the traditional attitude we've had here we think of the scientist in some sort of ivory tower or as individual individual interests like the philosopher and the Philosopher's Stone or something like this somebody who has essentially unworldly and not connected with reality at all knows this brings to mind of the philosopher the philosopher's stone that in the Renaissance Actually
most of the scientific research was supported by government such as it was in those days the princes and Nobles support of the scientists are certain. Well in the law in a sense I suppose the princes own the government and patrons wealthy patrons and there were private patrons in a séance supported the Lord Mahon among whom the scientist counted themselves. But in America at least in the previous century in the eighteen hundreds in the early part of the nineteen hundreds. We had the feeling and I suppose it was a correct reading that science stood apart as you say from the government and some ivory tower concept indeed. Yes individuals Yes but you know how it really didn't either. If it seems to me that in point of fact for a very long time science has. That is our development of knowledge and our capabilities in regard to the natural universe. I have in fact been political matters for quite a long time. One can think of the enormous changes on the one
hand the scientific ideas I've had on human life and are from government the revolutionary ideas that Copernicus and Galileo and Newton had and later that Einstein had and these ideas are reflected in human life. Look at the trouble that Galileo had with the establishment of his day. Now he wasn't exactly supported by the government. Now I look at look at the. He sort of implied that Isaac Newton had an 18th century thought and not only scientific thought but political thought. Everybody felt that somehow human life could be fitted into this highly rational and almost mechanical pattern which he had developed in the same way as Einstein and he after Einstein everybody was talking about relativity relativity and models of relativity and you know what have you often in many cases a miss a misinterpretation of the meaning of the word at least in the terms he used you know.
But and also there's a second level obviously which science has been important and sort of in direct ways through technology obviously for a long time technology was really developing separately and not out of basic research at all but out of the ordinary workman or craftsman in the shop developing you take rice and so on and you can think of how to railroad let's say and I would not be facetious too facetious perhaps you know railroading was an important political problem for a while in the 991. Yes it was indeed for these two levels it's always been there it's been there but nevertheless a person an individual scientist like Einstein for example even though he was a CT. Patent clerk in the Swiss government. They certainly were not supporting his scientific research he did the sort of on the outside he simply made his living as a patent clerk his work on relativity was
done as an extra. I think that this unhappy thought that the government by not giving too much work to a great many people was highly productive and many unusual that I quite saw but in this country for example at us and although we might not consider him a scientist in the purest sense he was as one person we might call a technologist or an inventor or an engineer perhaps but nevertheless he was responsible for a tremendous number of discoveries. But he was self-supporting you know all of this. Steinmetz was supported by a large company for his work. These traditions of the early part of this century in this country were that the technologists and scientists were supported either by themselves or by private interests not directly financially by the government in spite of the fact that if you bring out. There was an important social consequence of everything they did. How did it begin then that the government deliberately you know quite directly
got in and began feeding money into the sciences. Well I think the answer in point of view if one looks back is fairly clear that somewhere during the war years of the government for very obvious national security reasons became involved in this. Now I think they became involved for a number of fairly general reasons. For one thing science was becoming by a legacy the 1930s and the 1940s and as it became highly complicated and highly mathematical It became a matter for the expert and not for the ordinary layman. It was something extremely difficult. After all one one can I think make a reasonable effort in a not too extended period of time to understand what Isaac Newton was talking about.
But when you come to the theory of relativity this becomes extremely difficult and it becomes a matter for the expert. Yes and even in the early days of the war when it was not so much relatively but simply the behavior of aircraft and radar and different kinds of fuses and so on that the behavior of a torpedo when you drop it off the side of a ship and aim it or another ship. These are really complicated and I think the scientist is not alone here either one has a power in economics to our understanding of economics became more and more sophisticated it became a matter for the expert. It was the obvious truths were not simply not truths anymore and one needed experts in economics and I think you see the same thing is true in this. This pains to perhaps bring out the place of the scientist in the war period the same began to hold to a military strategy. We've always needed experts on military strategy but usually this meant you know you
wanted somebody who would run a ship or a cavalry man that could ride a horse general. But by the nine thousand forty SLI began to find that the strategy itself became mathematical you began to develop things like operations analysis for examining the way in which convoys would be most effectively protective and so on. So that military strategy too is no longer her or simply the province of somebody who can get it up in an afternoon. I saw that the governmental too important to be government generals Gen.. That's right the governmental leader cannot really be an expert on all these things so one has here this is the first problem I think one has the problem of the expert in science as we've developed experts in economics who don't have to advise government and so on that is one point. This is this Could those started in the war the war is over or at least that war is over. The second world war where this all began and yet the government's support of science did not end
with the end of the war. Is there an obvious time justification that you see for continuing the government support of this when the strategy of how you get a convoy from the US to Great Britain is no longer the problem and the economics So how do you support the war machine is not the problem what is a peacetime justification for it. Well my my. My point here would be that science is simply balking much larger in human life in all phases of human life science and its technological handmaid and government is concerned with all sorts of and conditions of men in all sorts of conditions and many of these conditions now are scientific and technological. They hold. The question of change development and modernization which we've seen developing with increasing rep unity is very highly scientific and technological. That is something you know if the government is going to deal with life at all it must deal with science and
technology science and technology is simply not something apart from government. This is why it's somewhat forced you see to keep on talking about science here on the one hand government on the other hand science is an integral part of the sort of material stuff that government has to deal with the social behaviors so this all sounds very havior So the ideas which people have about themselves are based on what scientists are telling us about the universe the technology which is developed more and more out of basic research and science is changing our lives day by day. You know 30 years ago we were just beginning to fly the Atlantic and I was shooting around in the orbits satellites orbiting around the earth. But this brings up brings up another point player. If if if this is true that science and technology have a ubiquitous effect on society is it does it follow that the taxpayer who's supporting the government when the government supports science therefore the taxpayer who's really paying for
the science which government support supports is this taxpayer getting any benefit in return for the research. Well let's put it this way that it seems seems to me that in an age of sort of technological change and development the government is inevitably comes down partly I think because of national rivalries here. And as one sees this sort of changing developing society today for example based mainly on scientific change in development you say well the government must be concerned with science because this is one of the key dynamic forces within society is not based on at least they're closely linked very closely linked. Right now one looks back for example at another period a very rapid and exciting change the period of the Renaissance and the Reformation. At this point when. When people's
ideas about religion were changing very rapidly. These had a clear impact on international relations for example and on the position of the king in his particular character in by tours these kings had to be pretty sharp theologians at that point. In order to keep abreast in order to maintain grasp what was happening what was changing what people were feeling in their particular country in order to deal in fact with power. And today it seems to me the same sort of thing is happening in science and technology as a large part of what power areas and this is what governments are concerned with. If the pain regarding me has to be aware of the government must be aware of it. Government must be concerned whether or not this is not you know this is not to suggest you know the government must put all its resources into science and technology but it certainly must be aware of what's going on I think. You know already Cape keeper he was out of the hearing range time time and fulfill its responsibility as a government of the people were either other than physical scientists get supported by
you by the government. You mentioned economics a while ago but this is certainly an important aspect of scholarship and I think currently one would say it's an aspect of science that is Welling's in the social sciences get government support. By and large this has been I think slow to develop it. It's been fairly obvious that one should support science because this produces something concrete at least like chemistry at least that was the argument do you see that you supported basic science and basic science produced technology and out of technology became power and on you Wayne. There's been some questioning of the US though I think recently. There's a tendency to say well the basic result ought to be useful. We ought to be sure that we're not following just simple curiosity after all it's very expensive to go to the moon as this is a useful project. This began some years ago I believe whether it's reputed although I'm not sure that it's at all
true. But what does this do to the Charlie Wilson when he was secretary of defense and when he was making a remark about supporting basic research. So he saw no no purpose in it at all or any anything whose only purpose was to find out why grass is green therefore he didn't feel very much like supporting him. But I actually do see it seems to me that it's out of these curious investigations that important things in fact happen. You can't in fact predict or chart a course whereby you will find Let us say he cured a cancer. When one looks at the history of cancer and I think you know more about this than I I do owl but you find that all sorts of people playing around with hormones and things of that sort. Not thinking for a moment of cancer but interested in hormones begin to get some clues about how they may and I can some PCs be would be useful. What do you think the social sciences are in a new way the same way as this that
also their basic research and human behavior either as individuals or as groups will have a benefit in some sense to society and not to justify government support. Well what is enough to justify government support as much as say the government's support of medical research. The National Institutes of Health which certainly has made considerable contributions to the polio vaccine to vaccines against. I believe against measles or other things which you have derived in large measure from my money which the government has put into to that kind of medical research. You feel that the social sciences economics group behavior sociology that these can also help the state of our society.
Well I think if one is talking about the state of one's society one is talking about social science. I should think the the awful thing is I think that we know that as we develop our technical capabilities we in general terms don't really know what we're doing with them. For example I suppose one of the most easily understood and dramatic cases is the sort of thing that happened with the introduction of modest methods of medical hygiene in places like India which have a B.S. You don't miss a good thing when you save life. We go further than that we may be able to control malaria. And what happens the population explodes in this dramatic fashion and whether you want to feed all these people essentially that we've replaced instead of people dying from malaria or dying of starvation. Well one tends to be in social affairs so often to solve one problem and create what may be an even
bigger problem. And wanted to be useful I think to understand a little bit more clearly as we do some of these things as we introduce change to use which of a often technical changes into the condition of people's lives. If we were able to understand a little bit of what in fact we are doing to these people as human beings what is going to happen to them. And looking back on the example I gave about medical help and so on we can see now looking back what we might have done then as we were. Improving medical hygiene we might have saying well we ought to improve also the food supply and so on. Now at the present time take something like the satellite to which we had all but being around the Rs which are going to make an enormous difference to communication throughout the world. How is that going to affect people. I dont know and we don't know and the social studies refine the site have no answer to
the sorts of questions and its probably time that we made considerable effort to try and understand the law principles which are involved in this changing dynamic society in which we live. Otherwise we are likely to find ourselves in. Really in some intolerable boxes. Well is this the type of U.S. we have to somehow as you change people's conditions you have to we have somehow to change our values is this a type of social research that the government is now supporting. Well I think the government has been rather slower to support this type of research than it has been to support scientific and technological research and the hard science in recent years have I ever heard of the there has been a movement in this direction for example of the current
international education I thought which follows on the National Defense Education Act where there was some support for a certain clearly defined area such as language studies which again are clear you can measure only time knows a language doesn't provide facilities and you know what to do. From that has developed this concept of the international education I think which would assist universities and colleges in developing programs which would lead people in the United States to understand better what was going on in the world in a very broad same's. Now they sank has not as yet been funded so there really are no funds available for the spirit is there but there is and you know he possible approach you know where the story seems to me like this is relating to Naomi and which funds private or public and likely I think to become more available and they have been in the past have
wasn't one of the problems that the CIA got into recently because of its involvement with research in the social sciences and some universities that some that via the foundations through which CIA money flowed there were certain research projects in the social sciences that got supported this way. This sort of went all the way to do it what a fact. Yeah well I don't know the guy thing. This is one of these all unfortunate things about government I should suppose that those things which you can't quite drum up enough support for at a particular time in the legislature may be perfectly proper things to do but you can't somehow get a bill passed and and have money allocated specifically for that and then to be taken I would have some sort of secret service funds which in the case of Bismarck were called he called to say he had what was called a reptile fund cracked tile on it. Well these as I recall were
the funds which were when the Germany was unified in need to go over the North German states and and confiscated some of the property of some of the German kings he just talked to the side and used it for things that he would like to do when he didn't have to bother the right dog or anything like that you see. And and very often these are things I not suggesting Bismark always did great and noble things but very often the government may want to do things which are perfectly justifiable but they can't quite drum up popular support for them at that time. And so they say well you know the secret service funds nobody inquires into that so let's do it that way which is very unfortunate and has been I think in many ways disastrous for international affairs because now everybody abroad who had before suspected that all American scholars were paid by the CIE. Now they have been out in the in fact no nothing to see so that makes
an investigation very difficult when on the other hand as you pointed out the alternate is to try to get some congressional committee or some perfectly public agency of the government to agree that a particular research project is worthwhile. And it seems to me that the only way to do this is essentially to pervert the freedom of scientific investigation that in order to make a particular line of investigation worthwhile to a sponsoring agency you have to do their bidding in some sense that this type of support means that eventually the government controls the direction of scientific research is no longer free to investigate it's no longer prompted by curiosity by the nature of the problem but instead it's prompted by the particular special interests of whichever committee your group is going to sponsor it. Isn't this a real danger and what Open Government is this knowledge that this is the
excuse me this is this is always something of a problem. I think it's the sort of attitude which is resisted very strongly by academic communities throughout the country that he's being tied down to specific answers to specific questions. The heat is in the social sciences obviously that this is where the difficulty arises arises because in the natural sciences I presume it doesn't make a very much difference either to the great Republican or the great Democratic Party. Whether there is or is not a normal gun minus particle. But it makes an awful lot of difference what let us say social science studies me say for example by extremely Parson All of problems like birth control for example. These are simply hot political potatoes. Quite true which which people are on the whole likely to think about in terms off their own particular emotions
and in terms of their traditional values and the trouble is that their traditional values may in fact not really fit the realities of the modern world. But it's awfully hard to say that under government sponsorship it isn't doing it. With any luck I think the the the foundations and indeed private sources will be able to support this type of extremely necessary research. And to the extent that government will in fact not be dominating the situation here there isn't that sort of an insidious domination that the individual investigator the individual scientist will somehow find it possible to convince himself that that line of research which the governor will support is really what he wanted to do in the first place. Yes this is true in this case I'm sure. Quite often happens not only when one is concerned with government but with with any patron who may have a particular precise interest in how his money is going and
whether it's pain and so on and I'm sure this is this is quite likely to happen. You have in mind what you're you've heard a limerick about there was a young lady from Kent who said that she knew what it meant when men took her to die unfetter cocktails and wine she knew what it meant. But she went yeah this is this is exactly what I think you know that it's not necessarily the prostitute oneself in this in this field I think. I well let's hope so and he's also Also one has to bear in mind that the Social Science is the God knows they can be expensive enough as the also think in terms of computer time and so on. They're really not as expansive as the some of the natural sciences quite easily I mean you're all just automatically. Seriously my poetry and I think there's another possibility in here and that is that the scientists who have been supported by the government to strike up an alliance with the government with the agencies that support them and there's not only a
problem to the extent the extent to which the government controls scientific research but the extent to which the favorite scientists begin to control the government. Well I suppose that you're meaning here only to the extent that there are a limited number of recognized experts in various fields and they tend to be advising the agencies which are giving out money to them in fact and also directly or inside lay and also controlling government policy or not controlling it but because of the reliance on expertise which began in the second world war it is possible for the establishment scientist perhaps to begin to dominate government policy. This would not be my impression at all. It seems you don't you think this is a real blow no it's seems to me that the that the scientists who in government every now and again one or other of them will play an important part. Presidential adviser like
Dr. Weil. I think probably had considerable significance in regard for example to the test ban. But if you recall that the State Department I believe has not had a scientific advisor for some years now and been unable to get one. Now it's true David I. It seems then that the government support of science has become an inevitability simply because of the nature of government and the nature of science in today's society. And so we can look forward to continuation of more of it and thank you very much for talking with us this evening. This was about science with host Dr. Albert Hibbs and his guest Dr. David Elliot join us again for our next program when another topic of interest to scientist and layman will be discussed about science is produced by the California Institute of Technology and is originally broadcast by station KPCC in Pasadena California. The programs are made available to this station by
- About science
- About science and government
- Producing Organization
- California Institute of Technology
- KPCC-FM (Radio station : Pasadena, Calif.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program focuses on the support that governments give to scientific research. The guest for this program is David Elliott.
- Series Description
- Interview series on variety of science-related subjects, produced by the California Institute of Technology. Features three Cal Tech faculty members: Dr. Peter Lissaman, Dr. Albert R. Hibbs, and Dr. Robert Meghreblian.
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- Media type
Guest: Elliott, David C.
Host: Hibbs, Albert R.
Producing Organization: California Institute of Technology
Producing Organization: KPCC-FM (Radio station : Pasadena, Calif.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-40-45 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “About science; About science and government.” 1967-07-13. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-f18sgc6n>.
- APA: About science; About science and government. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-f18sgc6n