thumbnail of The Chicago lectures; Derek J. de Solla Price, part 1
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
National Educational radio in cooperation with the University of Chicago presents a short series of lectures designed to initiate a new discussion on the nature of man his place in the universe and his biological intellectual and social potentialities. This lecture the third in the series is entitled The science of science. Our speaker is Derek J Desoto price Avalon professor of the history of science at Yale University. Here now is Professor the solar price. If there be some special heaven reserved for historians or even perhaps some delicious Lee appropriate hell I suppose it would be a place of broken idols. It would be a place where material evidence would be readily available to prove beyond all doubt that every popular story
was false. Paul Revere didn't write at midnight Washington had no cherry tree and animal no elephants fiddled and the stories you are liable to read in the Bible would all be necessarily false. Now whatever be the use of historical scholarship and much has been written about this topic there would be little of it in spite of the need to have teachers of the year. If it were not for the special motivation that drives historians much of the motivation it seems to me is the desire to dig deeper and find out why things happen the way they did and in the course of this digging they always hope for a buried treasure. The nature of that treasure is the new revealed truth showing the deep reason for things happening as they did. It is vastly different from the popular and naive notion that is so well known from these popular stories of illustration the tall good
school days. Perhaps the greatest revelation to me in my professional odyssey from physicist to a historian was the discovery that in the two subjects felt very much the same from the inside. The desire of the physicist to achieve some great new understanding of the universe matches that of the historian to comprehend the workings of L society and the last Fall idle breaking is quite quite similar. Most striking a hole in the history of science seems to be a particularly high incidence of fright gyle idols of popular stories illustrating a conventional wisdom about this wisdom is soon found to be but a thin coat of overlaying an accretion of naive superstition not true.
You see as a physicist I knew full well it instinctively about such things as the objectivity of the relation between experiment and theory. The role of mathematics in physical theory the relation between people and applied technology and from my teachers and peers I quickly learnt the social mechanism of how one tried to get there first with the most. As an historian of sun it soon became evident to me that in most of these things I had only a partial knowledge and in many cases I picked up the wrong end of the stick and just over it some examples. Copernicus as it turns out did not have a more accurate and economical planetary theory than his predecessors one which although partially true should have been and in fact was quite acceptable at the time to any good scientists.
Galileo almost certainly did not make an experiment from the Tower of Pisa as a non-mathematical and rather a mediæval mechanician and popular expose of physical principles he didn't need to lead the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century is said to depend on new experimental instruments it becomes quite clear that the main role of instruments was not the making of better observations. And not until long after this period did some big difficulty. Not fudging their experimental readings. Broken idols abound in the regions when one looks at the biographies of individual scientists and their priority dispute to discover not follow from the traditional objectivity and impersonality the genesis of new ideas is by way of highly subjective elements and the acceptance or rejection of these ideas is more often than not surrounded
by issues of personality of the individual and of his peers. Still more idols break a touch when one looks at the history of technology and sees it so different in its methodology and structure from that of the history of service from the whole of it more than from any of the Additionally revealing case histories. It seems clear that technology can not be anything so simple as the application of new scientific knowledge to the mastery of Nature of Nature and the good of nations. Now one cannot live long with thoughts such as leaves without coming to the inevitable conclusion that our knowledge about mountainside may be just as much beset by naivety mis understanding truth as is our knowledge about past size. Indeed in recent years there's been a remarkable reinforcement of such suspicions but spilling over and cross-fertilisation of new findings from science the ology and
psychology into the history of sub them from the vital new growth of radical ideas such as those of Kuhn and gassy in the historiography of us. These new contributions begin to give us an in a theory that takes things that previously merely empirical generalizations of historians about what happened in the past. And it raises them to a new level where we can see that unless radical changes occur these things must necessarily happen in that way in the present and in the future as well as in the past. What is particularly intriguing about this knowledge as against that of economics social history or indeed much of the rest of intellectual history is that the sun seems in many ways to be universal in space and time. Supranational supra society so that its behavior
seems to be determined by the nature of science itself much more than the properties of the society in which it is a must all the desire and aspirations of the men who are its agent or its patrons. It's not of course entirely so but the property appears so strongly that the history of science attained a universal countenance and a mechanistic determination of determinism can be quite upsetting and profoundly disturbing to the normal historian who has become acclimated to such things as the fate of a whole civilization being dependent on the length of Cleopatra's nose. All the private aspirations of a Napoleon. Now from this mix of Connacht plasm and acquaintance with this new and rapidly growing branch of scholarship I must approach most folks with a mixture of doubt and hope about its analysis on the one hand I have grave doubts about the accuracy of our
present knowledge of the way in which science behaves develops and interacts with the sun. Even the most able practitioners of such must surely be misled by many of the myths and idols on the other hand I believe that one can effectively buy a few hot knowledge in this area. Such knowledge might have a rather attractive and provoking universal validity to all of this I must now accuse the paradox that the new knowledge about side seems to be growing in the midst of a strong resistance from both within and without. But in a world in nuns much more consumption than it gives the play their existence from outside say is tradition. It's always been thought of the special mystique of the scientist that he and he a love can really know about. Only an esteemed and successful creative scientist
can speak for his peers criticize the state of council governments and universities about the policies of laboratories and blood its scientists and outside must be presumed ignorant not merely of the technical facts but also of that special knowledge of the life of fun that can only be won on its battlefields. Now creative artists however have their competent critics who may never have painted practicing musicians may have music critics who can't play an instrument but wield nonetheless a pen contributes much to the progress of their creative industry. Similarly we have whole regions of Teachers of English at schools and universities communicating the appreciation and criticism of the literature because it's part of our culture not primarily because you need such teaching to produce novelists and poets and this is well and science until
recently we had only science teaching that was directed at the attainment of a competence inside rather than an appreciation of it. Better still as an example for comparison if the no accepted scholarship of economics in which one analyzes all it has to do with the production and distribution of goods and assets and one doesn't demand of a professor of economics that he be first a good and successful businessman and you don't even claim that a good grounding in economics will make you a better businessman. But one does claim the subject of study is a most important aspect of society and therefore one that's a fit and proper subject for scholarly curiosity. Moreover it's also a useful trade that might be quite important in deciding the fiscal policy of a nation and preventing economic evils that used to attend society in the bad old days
when we had only the advice of good businessmen. And so there's been no analogue of this subject to full has a deeper mystique than business ever had. You see every man has some sort of economic life but without professional qualification inside out but is automatically deposit from knowledge of it except through the diluting process of popularization and of course the impact of technology is on daily lives. There is a traditional resistance by scientists to any discussion upside but would be critics from outside even amongst those in such fields as the history of suns and its sociology. Such criticism is being pursued. There's another sort of resist with the true scholarly syndrome. Most of my colleagues have as their purpose this thing's likely establishment an understanding of ancient scientific texts. They're working out of what it
actually was found today. Oh achieved all of the circumstances in which quantum mechanics had its genesis and the way in which the Royal Society was founded by a certain class of men in certain circumstances. We've been found too busy with basic facts and understanding to proceed to any further presumption. But this gave us some justification to settle selves up as critics and commentators and analysts of mouth and so on in spite of this internal and external resistance perhaps even because of it. This been growing steadily for some decades. The sort of criticism and analysis that I've characterized as an analogue of the economics but haven't yet described. Sums up scholarship is quite a change. Hellenistic and many even wrote interesting and analytical things about size and Francis Bacon may best be considered perhaps as a pilot in a
sense villages of size rather than as a son just himself. The first big push of the recent development however came in the late 1920s and 1930s the early birds I can diagnose as its genesis. As an amateur historian of the history of science it came about largely through the efforts of predominantly left wing scientists rounds to a new level of political consciousness through the post revolutionary development of the Soviet Union. It was a country where communism and socialism plus electrification and all the other. Aspects of NSA and science based educational system and a technology based economy. It began to be evident that science was not just a part of culture and technology not just a matter of inventiveness and industrialization. Science and Technology. It graduated from a sort of shock a frosting on
the cake from a condiment of civilization to some vital part of the cake itself or a vitamin in the diet of the sun. Now in this context arose the famous planning in the silence the debate and the equally famous freedom inside opposition to several of the vital issues began to be fresh. I find it particularly interesting that a lot of the discussions were plainly pocky political shop not divided by left and right. The most notable ineffective protectionists on both sides the left and bacon on the right. For example the very quick to dig into the little professional history of silence unless a theology in psychology and economics of it then existed to provide ammunition for their big guns. It was also at the same time the first proposed mosque is in a little article in a published
show just as it was raging most intensely the battle was quieted by the great A full says of World War 2 which was then beginning to erupt. There is no need to underline the dramatic way in which the falses of some technology erupted into public consciousness through the part in the book The Boehm missiles and re dub of the oval writing full says of military mind. Suddenly the comic strip character of Superman changed from an all-American football player into an equally all-American nuclear physicist. By the end of the book a scientist didn't have to have political motivation to be conscious of the social relations of such as up in the time as the physicist had come to know. Original said. By the end of the ball this country had a huge supply of active scientific men but somehow had to be returned to mobile lest the villian occupation
in a land that now set a high value on such competence but had few facilities outside the limited employment capabilities of the universities the hiring. Thus it came about in the post-war years look really nearly all the arguments of planning and freedom not withstanding governmental action have to be taken to make funds available for Science in the universities now. And there was an interest from the government and from the body of scientists should be promoted for the good of society and the nation maintained by the shock of Sputnik. The tide ran high and soon Washington and Moscow began to fill with administrator doesn't X but charged with the task of building and maintaining this burgeoning it inside some technology. Now two important things have happened in the nearly 20 years for which this process is run in the first place. Curiously Agreed again by both east and west.
Such has become a direct productive Folse in society. It had already graduated UC from a condiment to a vitamin and now it's become the very meat and potatoes of al diamond and in the second place the twenty years have brought about a new expert about how science and technology in practice to be administered and not wished for the purposes of society. Many of the processes of decision making have still to be played by ear. Many involve no deeper knowledge than in the administration of anything else but in the course of half a generation this seems to have begun all over the world. Some generation and consolidation of the conventional wisdom about the ways in which science policy can operate and ways it cannot. Some of the wisdom is built on trial and error. Other parts of empirical generalization is based upon
pieces of research which have been undertaken often on an in-house basis by government departments or industrial organizations to find out how best they can do what they want. The slowly that has been coming into being a Copus of expert knowledge about the organization and behavior which is such that it now has to be Holloway by a person coming into the business. It can no longer in many areas be absolved through the skin by a gentle process of Moses. And this is beginning to make it particularly tough for the eminent scientist who is newly kicked upstairs to a post of high responsibility in administration and decision making. Attending this accumulation of a body of expert knowledge about the administration of sun with all its growing sophistication and consolidation into a full time occupation from a strongman begun during the last few years the most exciting new
develop the first few steps of being taken in bringing this body of knowledge into direct relation with interested fields of scholarship of study and science and scientists. From the viewpoint of the historian sociologist psychologist and economist I feel we have a very rich area of cross-fertilisation between the fields of scholarship. Between them separately and between each of them and the relevant areas of the expose organizational knowledge that we have and still need for practical purposes Gradually each part of the complex is coming out of the isolation of its original make tricks in a conventional academic discipline. All administrative expertise and they're beginning to visibly feed on each so as to give birth to a new single discipline. It's this infant embryonic discipline that has already been christened.
The silence of silence though even those of us that have heard it for a few years and measured its repetitious n'est the holy name of Galileo get a lay still Cavil and hope it won't be quite as funny as it sounds of it. We also feel it may be quite a long time before it becomes a single discipline problem several spend an ad hoc investigations of which it is now constituted. Perhaps it should be admitted only several sciences of perhaps several Humanitas to the present state of the science of science consists of a strong term of knowledge that is being explored in two directions from the top and the bottom from the top we have the administrators inexpert from science policy ever exploring new areas and digging deep to base their findings on a suitable foundation from the bottom. We have those who are starting from the historical analyses
and assess the logical and psychological characteristics of scientists and gradually building a picture of the way in which science and scientists work in various circumstances. Somewhere in between there are the economists and the gatherers of statistical data who reach out to theoretical bases below and stock in trade for the administrator about. Now such analyses as we have indicate uniformly that the need for the science of sunlight to becoming great as several old problems magnify a new crises explode upon us the increasing importance of science and society and matched only by the rate at which its cost grow and the extent to which it is dominating the lives of more people and better people in more and more countries. It seems to me therefore that we have an urgent need to focus the development of this new discipline to notice its component parts and bring them to bear on present me so much them to the
Genesis and the motivation of this new an embryonic silence in which the tools of the scientist let it be turned upon science itself both to satisfy all in a curiosity about it and to provide a social technology by which science can be manipulated by society to satisfy its aims. It's in the spirit of this intense curiosity that I shall now attempt to tough that has never had the two been expressly formulated to help one to provoke my growing band of colleagues in the area. I'd like to try and provide a program of research a tree eved in progress and yet to be attempted that would draw together most of what we know about and make it available as a foundation full of decision making at the beginning I must make the cap yet that any such program must obviously be biased by my own interests and limited by my ignorance of some of the results already
available. I can only hope little bills will come forward with corrected the procreation might lead more people into this important and clearly underdeveloped area. Now as elsewhere with inside the initial problems are inevitably those of methodology and concepts for the methodology. Again as in many of the silences it seems to me inevitable that we should truth as a matrix for the subject. A quantitative rather than a quantitative approach. This is dictated by the fact that we have a already available corpus of new medical information about money publications institutions which pass directly on many of the interesting and important cutting tissues that many of the needs in administration the quantitative decisions for example in allocating resources to several competing claims rather than in
yes no situations bluffly it's well known that one can often proceed from a point to take of treatment or a model to a qualitative one but only with very great difficulty in the opposite direction. Thus we must begin with a new medical analysis and draw from that a set of models and theories not only with the qualitative portions of three in particular a statistical analysis of some must provide a matrix and we must then find pigs on which to hang the findings of historians sociologists and other investigators. Now if the methodology is quantitative the conceptual models and definitions must be chosen with that end in mind. The situation is such that oftenest choice of concept or definition will it tell many of those and set the pattern of the matrix. Simply because of compatibility. Each misfit with each other there is then considerable importance to be attached to the quantitative starting point.
Again with little free choice. The starting point must be a d limitation of the universe to be considered and we must find a quantifying definition for thought as distinct from non-science although the journey of a thousand leagues begins with but a single step this step is always the most difficult in the first step here is no exception. In spite of the fact that multitudes of all evidence from this bacon must have begun their deliberations with a definition of size. To say that silence consists of an aggregate of chemistry physics biology etc.. The quest for we must then separately define the subject and also decide whether mathematics sociology political sun Egyptology and of the field are to be counted in all out. Similarly all the substantive properties of silence that are analyzed in the philosophy of science and of
little avail. For although in principle some of the ideas of logical networks of propositions of cetera might be made public. I know of no reasonable success in achieving numerical results on a big scale. To begin with then I shall take as an operational definition of something that can act as a page for a good deal of the work of sociologists and historians and something about which a good store of quantitative information is already available. Now all historians must take as their point of departure the prime documents in the case for History of Science This means they scientific papers in learned journals and the books in which science is published. Sociology of science the matter of publication has also been a central theme focus iterations of the institutions by which private intellectual property is created and maintained and sometimes called about in Prelude to dispute
a great deal of work has been done in digging deeper than the formal publications in finding out for example the informal communication processes preceding it and in determining the relation between what actually went on and what is reported in the publication. Nevertheless the scientific publication represents in a sense an end product of silence and a fixed point in the discussion. To the scientist himself it represents some mysteriously powerful eternal open archive of quotes in capitals literature into which he is reading his findings only in very rare and special cases does one have to consider pure scientific work in which there is no product of literature on pathological cases exist such as the electrical work of Henry Cavendish. He researched diligently but didn't
The Chicago lectures
Derek J. de Solla Price, part 1
Producing Organization
University of Chicago
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-hm52kt4d).
This program presents the first part of a speech by Derek J. de Solla Price of Yale University: "The Science of Science."
This series presents lectures given at University of Chicago, focusing on the nature of human beings, their place in the universe, and their potentialities. The lectures were also published in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, beginning in September 1965.
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Price, Derek J. de Solla (Derek John de Solla), 1922-1983
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 65-40-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:44
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “The Chicago lectures; Derek J. de Solla Price, part 1,” 1965-09-28, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 11, 2021,
MLA: “The Chicago lectures; Derek J. de Solla Price, part 1.” 1965-09-28. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 11, 2021. <>.
APA: The Chicago lectures; Derek J. de Solla Price, part 1. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from