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This is a teletype machine. Unlike the other sounds with which we have begun previous programs in the series on the century of science this is one that has not been directly associated with the development in science the unique to the 20th century. This rather is the sound of a discovery becoming known for this is the means by which the media of communication received word of these developments in science and then transmit it to the public. The heir ultimately to all scientific achievement. This simple sound of the teletype machine than is also the sound of scientific achievement in a century of science. WGBH in Boston presents a century of science produced under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is an exploration of developments in the 20th century sciences and of the implications they present for the American today.
Your host tor a former editor of Popular Science now director of radio television programming at MIT to explain why it is appropriate to call this century a century of science Mr. Watson Davis is here. Lester Davis has been the director of Science Service an agency which supplies newspapers about the country for a third of this century. He has been reporting science news even longer as written many books and magazine articles about what is happening in all the different fields of science and was the originator of the National Science fairs and been very active in a rising young people's interest in science. Mr. DAVIS I'd like to ask first what you think are the biggest stories as a reporter you've covered during this century. Well they're all big stories and it's a Tory actually we're in a magnificent Golden Age of Science. I've heard something about this
golden age apparently and that sort of thing in the past books I don't think the past has any comparison with what's happened in the lifetime of many people now living because we've had such exciting and important and revolutionary revolutionary in the proper sense of the word Mr. tare happenings like the atom bomb the development of soft drugs and out of biopics the matter of getting the automobile which is changed our mode of life. That's all happened within this century. Airplane you know you can go pretty early any place now or you need money you don't need time because the airplane does that for you and you've got to remember that that's all happened since right since 1930. I wonder if there has been anything in the past that would compare with what has happened and when you think of the rights were there first flight three and we know of.
Intercontinental missiles and artificial satellites of the earth way up even beyond the atmosphere. Well I don't think so although I think the wheel was a great invention but it probably took literally centuries to be utilized because we don't know. I think that there are so many things that have happened in this century that the whole question of materials for instance plastics there are at least 25 or 30 major plastics and have been permeate our life nihil and they cry and die now are just a few of them. The artificial rubbers that have saved our transportation during the war from the robber probably wasn't to much rubber used before 19:00 compared to what it was in the so I know very little actually Goodyear you see had developed a Balkanization of rubber back to you in the middle of the 19th century. Hall developed the aluminum extract the aluminum successfully by the electrolytic process just about a century
ago. So all these new. Processes things that we think are very ordinary or have happened are not necessarily within the 20th century but within a hundred years. Can you think of that would be a comparable development in say the 19th century for basic things found in the 20th century that are comparable to the work of Pastore. Well the whole development of television and the development of electron tubes and how transistors they work home great industry of electrical communication were like trying to involves radio television radio. And lots of other things that don't appear to the casual listener these things have all happened to lead a forest to develop the three elements to a contemporary. Many of us have known
people like Edison and Swaret Can you see who did the TV too but is still working hard. And it's all just within our own lifetimes. Well Mr. Davis I think people may wonder why some of these things we've been talking about that happened sooner than they led them until this century. Well history and human development is a series of accretions as it were. That is for instance. Most of the work goes on chemistry the discovery of the chemical elements was predicated upon conviction which Mendel layer showed in the table that there were blank spaces so that the cameras hustled around and found them the same way with Darva and liar who showed that evolution existed in nature. The man was a part of it that was the necessary predecessor to the kind of things that are
happening right now. Same way with this matter of flight many many years before the right before even Langley. People work who are convinced that it was possible to fly mechanically and then but many attempts. They work very hard at it and they built up this whole situation and we build upon those things. Radioactivity was discovered absolutely necessary back around the Curies. Rutherford all the rest of them were necessary before you got to the fish to be Raney to great extent it seems to me we've really just been exploiting pretty basic work that was done really before this century. Well that's true but of course we had to it was like we're keeping up on them. Yes indeed because here are these great accelerators that we're building now and we know that.
Out of them will come new knowledge about the structure of matter maybe we'll get a new source of energy out of these so-called strange particles within the atomic nucleus. When you speak of these different things don't you sometimes feel that they get a little lopsided in one direction or the other. Is there some area that you feel falls behind while the others rush ahead. Well certainly the big area and on which we have not spent the amount of time and energy that we should is this matter of human behavior. Here we have the hydrogen bomb hanging over us intercontinental ballistic missiles and jet bombers that are carrying presumably live bombs over us. And yet what is it that's going to perhaps keep us from loosening these destructive facilities that we've built up. It's understanding human nature. War has happened much too frequently in the recent decades. And how can we prevent it now. We're not
spending one iota of research money upon that. Compared with what we spend on radar warning on missiles. We blithely and properly appropriate a billion dollars or so for additional oil for defense. Have we done that for this sort of matter of trying to understand what the human brain is what makes people get up happily in the morning what makes them fight what makes husbands and wives unhappy. While we have done a great deal of work in that field and we probably know more than we are applying these things are really very ill supported from research standpoint. Isn't that possibly partly because people view these things as an art state craft in politics and that sort of thing are thought of as an Ork rather than a science. We think of science as being something that's pretty quantitative that
deals with things we can measure. Do you really feel a science going to help with that sort of thing. Well I think science bring new Z in a new dimension which is obviously very much needed particularly right now in politics in the conduct of human affairs in politics a politician takes a star and he doesn't dare deviate from that stand without a great deal of pressure release his prestige if he deviates from that spat now. A scientist however if he finds something which is different from what his theories hypothesis was it's his business and he is right. And it's expected of him that he changes his conclusions and that's the only way you can get progress. There been many many cases where so I had a schooling with preconceived notions they make the experiments they don't turn out the way they expect and they change and you have a very large development as a result.
Well no you live in Washington where you are surrounded by political leaders as well. So which of them leads a happier life. I think the scientists I know only very happy like it was of course some of them don't but to perhaps a little bit of irritation is a pretty good incentive to progress sometimes. I also think that these congressmen love their own lives in many cases but I think it's not a question of happiness in life after all. Just Tory it's a question of what gets the most effective results. Some of the most unhappy people in the world have had. Done very real work I think it's a matter of what is going to give us the best civilization and I think it's obviously got to be a combination I think if we can get the congressman the politician minister to recognize some of the criteria and utilize them some of the criteria of the scientist and the engineer
and that's sort of the good on the other hand the scientists the engineers has got to know that he's got to learn from the politician that the person who understands behavior which in many cases practical standpoint is the politician the man who's elected to office he's got to understand how that sort of thing happens because scientist actually is in many cases has got to sell some of this product that he creates to the public. He doesn't do it somebody else got to do a story and science so often unattractive to young people. You've been involved in a lot of this and we hear that many young men do not want to study science because they. Feel that scientists are sort of kept locked up but classification and security and restrictions and the rioters eggheads long hairs and that sort of thing.
I think we're coming into an era in the schools particularly where being a scientist is almost the equivalent of being a good football player. Actually that is the Egghead is has being an egghead this is almost like getting your athletic letter today. If you win in a science fair Mr. Torrey you're really a school hero in many cases now that's not true throughout the country but it's becoming so we figure that there are probably three hundred thousand boys and girls that are doing projects. They keep doing experiments with the device of showing them in a fayer in the high school and later in a local or regional fair. Finally in the National Science Fair that device is a very profitable and. Exciting thing to the youngsters themselves and it's going to give us the scientists and the engineers and the technologists of the future. We haven't said very much about the life sciences. We do call this a century of science because of what's happening there too.
Well the change that has happened in connection with medicine I think is most striking for instance I can remember when batting first announced insulin back in 1922 I think it was well that was perhaps the first applied hormone to the cure of control over disease. The NIE Mia has been pretty well conquered. Then of course this complex of sulfa drugs and I had a biopic one of the most thrilling happenings in biological science in medicine as virtually made some of these infectious diseases almost criminal to allow a person to die of these things. I think that will go on we've got great unconquered areas such as cancer so called the generating of diseases arterial sclerosis the hardening of the arteries. Heart. Many other things we still haven't made too much of a dent in the mental illnesses.
What would you predict will be the most lively one in the next century. Well I think perhaps cancer and cancer is a very complex disease or probably I would guess 25 or 30 different kinds of cancer and you probably find that there are very very different. Well now whether we get that at that through control of the metabolism of the mode of growth or whether we get an immunization or whether we get a chemical therapeutic agent I don't know but some of those are going to be pretty well controlled I'm sure. I hope someday that they are able to fix it so that people can be immunized against the common cold. I think common cold is probably one of our greatest doesn't kill too many people but certainly puts them out for a while. Certainly there will be a lot of work on the other hand I think some of these things. Seems rather slowly I think a good many people feel for instance of the coming use for
nonmilitary purposes much more slowly than was expected. We do expect some acceleration of that or not but I think that perhaps by the time we get to a very large scale the utilization of the fission of uranium or plutonium we may have fusion power. But of course it's true that economic factors govern this it's just a fact that in this country it's cheaper to generate power from coal than it is from your radium. That's not true in England it's going to be cheaper to run their atomic power plants there and they are they've got an accelerated program. Of course a great feel for power in the future in my opinion will be what I like to call synthetic photo synthesis that is if we can beat the green leaf at it's own game if we can find duplicate it or find a new way to actually capture the energy of the sunshine and.
Store it up and then utilize it. What do you see happening on the computers. There's great interest and attempts to make machines think. I think you know we're in a new era of artificial intelligence machines. These things are extremely important of course they are controlling many of the weapons and that's been their largest development so far. But these computers digital computers are doing a lot of the bookkeeping the major bookkeeping of the world. And they'll go on in my opinion doing a lot more or they translate languages their file and retrieve information they may even read and write routine letters. They might teach students at the rate at which a student can progress individual areas. And what this is most attractive it seems to me you might be able to have these things cook and serve meals and clean houses drive on a movie and drive airplanes is really a danger of people being made obsolete by those you know because I think it will
still be possible for other people to control those machines they can smash them if they wish. Or they can build them if they wish. Actually it seems to me too there's a point in that. They have to do a lot more thinking to make them ashamed because you never will do for them. Well that's true that's also true with this mechanical civilization we're in we're going to use a lot more servicemen than the labor that these automatic machines to replace it will be more intelligent labor to pay it more pay the workers more engineers cost more than ditch diggers. And I think that's one of the ways that we upgrade our human civilization. Nowadays we hear a great deal about space travel and we've had a recent première for the space age and so I'm predicting that we will get to the moon and that sort of thing. What good is this going to do and what are we going to get there. Well everything that we can learn about the universe and the area in which we
live is useful. I think the first step will certainly be some sort of information gathering in Iraq to find out what the moon is made out of it's not made of green cheese we know that it isn't much of a step back surely take that if we get a good mode of propulsion of rockets which we haven't. When we get that we can go on out and maybe explore Venus and Mars. Nobody really expects to find any man on Mars or anything like that but we would like to know if there is a low order of life on Mars and that's certainly with the future. I'm not too enthusiastic about people actually living space. It's going to take a long time to achieve that. You may put a few man on space planet but I'm not a candidate just Tory for that job. Well let me ask you a tough one if services are fired with objectivity as I believe it is too. And I'm always puzzled by
the situation in Russia rather have none of this and yet they seem to develop some pretty good service. How do you explain that while they have been left alone in certain fields not on the field of biology. They have been pretty well distorted. Some of the work on hybrid corn for instance they're thinking about I think Oh I think those were but I think they're still in the saddle there but in the field of particle accelerators and atomic energy you know. But Nixon that sort of thing. They've been left alone Stalin or Lenin never really made a birth announcement on that and they didn't have a person with rather strange ideas like a certain call When those feel we're doing just as good a job educationally as I think. Do you see any danger that out of this big push for more scientists and engineers that we have underway now will someday have too many of them. Oh I don't think so of no not if we run our economics properly.
The only reason why we don't have too many of them is that we get into a decline of the of our economic structure because there's certainly great demand for. More new processes new years and also new scientific from also at what point do you think a young man say in high school ought to make up his mind as to what area or specialty of science he really ought to go into. So far is making up his mind is what he's going into probably somewhere in the undergraduate college but I think these youngsters that we have now growing up that all of us are so interested in how to get started in science in the nursery school Mr. I think that's not to we're really you know started way down oh yes it actually starts in many cases and of course people that are fortunate enough to have friends that are in science or engineers are they're very fortunate or if they got a good science teacher and
certainly science is getting pushed back in the educational system properly to the 0 0 second third fourth or sixth grade. But all they got to do experiments got to get their hands dirty and their minds disturbed. No teacher. With all due deference to radio and television can replace the actual experience of a boy or girl redoing some of the great experiments of the past trying all things our own as in a sense doing creative scientific research at that level. Kind of wonder sometimes whether this is a merger of so many flying saucer stories and things like that. Do you feel that we're more gullible than we were before are we as a people really wearing a kind of scientific attitude toward Is that all we're much less gullible and we were in the past ages.
For instance at the turn of the century there were thousands of people who stood up on hillsides waiting for the world and I don't think that will happen or could happen at the present time maybe a few but not very many. I think we're gullible Yes because who know with the atomic bomb. And with all these other things that have happened particularly when they have been many of them been kept secret and sprung on the public. Yes we can't bring ourselves to believe that this flash of light in the heavens is something strange or even from another planet. But it doesn't take long to disillusion those people that are misled and I think most of them go straight and pretty pretty I think so either that or they have to be taking care of Mr. Darwin doesn't change people's attitude appreciably or is it religious to Tool. I think the main usefulness of science from a philosophical or religious standpoint is looking back that it insists upon truth in
many other cases. Many of the religions of the world. There is a devotion certainly did truth but not the kind of scientific truth. There is no stained book in science. The book that is taught in the colleges is changed to when new things happen for instance. Last year the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the overthrow of the law of the conservation of parody when I'm not going to try to explain what that is is very very hard. Pretty tough to do but here was a principle that was very very standard. Everybody believed it. Now this group consisted of Americans in China and he's gathered. Show that it wasn't true that in the same way. Yeah I understand came along and showed that the old rules of the universe prior to his relativity concepts were not strictly true. Now it's perfectly true Mr. Torrey that
no one changed the method of designing an automobile or a machine because of FEINSTEIN But some of our ideas on what the world consists of and what the universe consists of certainly have been changed and it has an inevitable effect upon our viewing nature. Viewing life the way we act. I think that's particularly true also in astronomy about a quarter of a century ago even it was there was some question as to how big the universe was now we know the universe is much much larger than it was we don't know how it began or where it's going or who started it. We certainly have a very vast conception of the fact the universe consists of many many many millions and billions of atoms like the Milky Way that you see spread across the sky. Clear night and that can do
nothing if it doesn't. Rather pull us down a few pegs and realize that after all individuals evenly Cowichan to each of us and happy individuals are relatively small potatoes in this world. This reminds me of the trial that happened within this century about evolution in the Scopes trial. Oh yes Could we really call this a century of science when that sort of thing could happen within the same century. Well I had the pleasure of reporting that diary and it was a very exciting experience it was. I think it was a useful thing because at that time that trial of Dayton and Tennessee had the largest gallery of newspaper men that had ever assembled at any one place up to that time. That was a step toward the recognition of truth. I remember Mr Torrey that the man who wrote the
Tennessee anti-evolution law was extremely interested when he discovered that there was more than one kind of Bible he believed that the King James Version of the Bible was the only one. Well now somebody took him a Catholic Bible to show that. And when that happened he decided to sit back and watch this trial because he learned something. And same way with the hillbillies there around about strong stalwart people I came into town on the first day was were all rifles over their shoulders and they said by golly we're not going to stand for these northerners coming in and fixing it so that people are. Talking against the Bible when they heard their oath. And some of the others and talked with them and sat around and discussed the matter with them they decided well maybe there are two sides to this. And I think that's the essence of getting across the idea of what
science is what the rules of nature are what are the things that actually control the universe if we can find out that there are two sides and find out which is right. Thank you very much Mr. Davis for giving us this general introduction to science in the 20th century. You have been listening to Watson Davis director of Science Service in Washington D.C. on science in the 20th century. This is been a part of a century of science a recorded exploration of developments in science and their import for the 20th century American. This series is prepared by WGBH Af-Am in Boston. While the Lowell Institute cooperative broadcasting Council your host Volta Torre a former editor of Popular Science now director of radio television programming for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Director for the series. Lee a member of SEAL producer Jack the Summerfield
Bill Cavanaugh speaking century of science has produced under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center and distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the end E.B. Radio Network.
Century of Science
Why the century of science?
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WGBH Educational Foundation
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Watson Davis, science editor, director of Science Service, Washington, D.C.
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Discussions of aspects of science affecting modern America. This series is hosted by Volta Torrey, the director of radio and television programming at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as the former editor of Popular Science.
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Director: Ambrosino, Lillian
Guest: Davis, Watson, 1896-1967
Host: Torrey, Volta, 1905-
Producer: Summerfield, Jack D.
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-9-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:22
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Chicago: “Century of Science; Why the century of science?,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 1, 2024,
MLA: “Century of Science; Why the century of science?.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 1, 2024. <>.
APA: Century of Science; Why the century of science?. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from