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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 this station by national educational radio. This program is about humanity in an Age of Science meeting to discuss this subject. Dr. Peter listen and his guest Dr. Daniel cabalists professor of history. Here now is Dr. listen a certain Victorian librettist commenting in song on the Athenaeum Club in London remarked that it was a place of such unified and universal culture that one found even the knives and forks arranged in order mathematical. One of the waiters all discoursed with eloquence Socratic today it is difficult for us to think of mathematicians happily dining with Greek scholars. We think of these fields of learning is having totally distinct
ideals aspirations and attitudes and of the men of our arts as being quite different in character from the scientist. Have with us today Dr. Daniel campness a man with a deep background in both science and the humanities. Dr. Kessler studied at the universities of Princeton and Oxford and is a graduate physicist with a doctorate in history. He worked briefly in government service in Washington and is currently writing a book on the social and political history of science in America since the civil war far from the dreaming spires of the ancient universities. He now works among the gleaming towers of the California Institute of Technology where he is an assistant professor of history than in the past years there has been much discussion of the gap between humanity and science. In fact CPE snow the novelist has even written a book on the subject which he called
the two cultures and the scientific revolution. What really is the main thrust of this concept of two cultures. Well Peter Mr. Snow is an Englishman who frequently can be found around one of those London clubs you mention is a gentleman who was a scientist himself and a novelist a man who in his person bridges the two cultures that we are talking about. And. A few years ago actually just after Sputnik went up he published this book which created quite a star in the United States. Essentially it pointed out that there was that there existed a dangerous gap between the so-called humanist and the scientist a gap of knowledge and a gap of approach to the world. You say dangerous down. Why do you use that adjective. Mr Snow said essentially that science had become so critically
important in the world certainly in the United States in the form of nuclear weapons research and development that top government policy concerning science was a matter of major concern. And yet here we were in a democracy when probably the overwhelming majority of people knew very little about science and they were asked to make decisions about science policy. So I suppose it's a situation which has always been like that show me that the people making policy may not know the exact details of what they're planning about. And the man in the street himself knows very little about what is going on in Iraq. Surely things were always like this there was always these two cultures and this great gap. No actually that's not true Peter. 100 years ago in the United States conditions were quite different. Perhaps the most
obvious difference is the fact that science in the United States 100 years ago did not play a very important role in American life. This was after all just after the Civil War when most people were interested as they usually are in a higher standard of living and getting ahead and marrying the boss's daughter and so on. And they were doing it with great with a great deal of success at this time period just after the Civil War was a period of fantastic economic boom. And it hit a period of fantastic industrialization and technological advance. But in the middle of it all science played almost no role. But then you talk about technology and sons. As being quite different things. How do they really differ. They really differ I think in many respects I think perhaps the most important one is a question of intent. The scientist attempts to understand nature for the sake of understanding nature.
The technologist attempts to use nature in order to perform certain functions for example like transfer transporting people from one place to another. Developing better medical science remedies for illnesses and so now then maybe this isn't quite a fair question but you teach what is described as the California Institute of Technology. Do they practice technology that ruins science I doubt that they practice very much technology at all Peter. I think that Cal Tech. Actually from its inception in 1921 just after the First World War was devoted almost wholly to the pursuit of science of course technology was a concern at Cal Tech and still is but basically the foundation of technology that is science plays a major role of pursuit and effort at the California Institute of
Technology. And it does I think that most institutions of higher education today. Yes I suppose you're right. Let's go back to that fascinating period after the Civil War and try to talk a little about what sons one's like in those days. Well science was confined as a pursuit to a very very small group of people. There were very relative we few scientists at the time. For example if one ascertains a number of physicists they were probably only about 50 physicists in the United States in eight hundred sixty eight or 69. At the same time though the condition of science was changing in the United States. One reason for this was the simple advances in science that had taken place in the decades just before the Civil War and were now becoming popularly known among people of education and well-to-do economic stature in
America. One of these advances was of course Darwin's theory of evolution based on Darwin's publication of The Origin of Species in 1859. Another was the advance in physics. The idea of the conservation of energy and the mechanical theory of heat that is that he is nothing but a map of the effect of molecules in motion. These advances in science work. Popularized in the United States just after the Civil War through magazines such as the Popular Science Monthly which was not the technological because that it has become in the 20th century but which was a magazine that concerned the propagation of the actual theories of science and its implications. You say popularized them but was this a time when the ordinary educated man could understand what the scientist was talking about.
Actually Peter he wasn't prepared to do so because if he had because if he was an educated man he had undoubtedly gone through a university actually a college where very little science was taught science played a minor role in higher education just after the Civil War. The basic the basis of the curriculum was moral philosophy and theology. And yet people believe in general. We're very much in favor of scientists such they regarded it as a harmless and pure occupation for a gentleman who is not a friend yes indeed it was a gentleman who made a vogue of science just after the Civil War. They considered science something that was abstract in nature removed from material gain and they were they applauded science because it seemed to them more or less a pristine assertion of virtue over and against the materialistic
civilization that they saw in the United States of Ulysses S. Grant. Now that certainly a different picture from what we have today. Very few people would describe science as pure and of course it's another world that we're talking about that wonderful Gilded Age before the first war and various other calamities that have performed and that's launching thanks to science. Let's leave them and try to get into our rage and cry in a very poor comparison to describe it Mamie. Maybe as the chromium plated age I suppose the situation is vastly changed today. Yes of course it's a cliche of our time that science is now exceedingly important. I wonder I often ask myself the question why is it so important. One answer obviously is that is that is so intimately related to the defense of the United States and of the whole Western world. I don't I think that one of the reasons we support science to such an extent
nowadays is that it is so crucial for defense. Then we always think of that the connection of science with defense particularly in shall we say the 40s and the 50s of the century. Today one gets a feeling that the science is not so strongly Aryan to the military establishment is that in fact true. Well of course the products of science and IDE all together are defense oriented. I think that one of the reasons we support science so lavishly today is the fact that science has argued to it with a great deal of accuracy stands behind the higher standard of living the gadgetry that makes American life so magnificent nowadays. I suppose that anyone who stands behind the high standard of living stands to gain some of the emoluments associated with that. The scientists I see today are relatively highly respected by the
public and they usually seem to be relatively well financed both personally and for their research. Yes. I should say that the scientists today at least the profession of Sciences among the higher standing professions in the United States. I was amused to notice recently that cigarette ads have begun to show scientists mocking a cigarette taking a cigarette after completing an astronomical observation. He's not a scientist in a right to carry down or how do they distinguish him as one scientist they're always portrayed in white coats Peter. Surrounded by retorts and test tubes I guess that's the sort of scientist of the Frankenstein movies but I suppose that's the way the public still thinks of it. Coming to talk about that what does the public really know about science these days. Is it still a mysterious form of witchcraft to them. Well I think one thing the public knows about science is that it's costing the public a great deal of money but they don't seem to mind that do they.
No I don't think they do if you for example the public is now investing some five billion dollars a year in the space program which is slightly less than one third of the total research and development portion of the federal budget. These are enormous figures that you talk about and yet I had always felt that an odd proportion of scientists did their work simply by scratching on pieces of paper. Why do they need to all this amount of money. Well the price of equipment has gone up or let's say the price of research has gone up. For example a nuclear physicist if he's a theorist and concerned principally with the ideas of science can work with a pencil on paper. But if he is an experimentalist he must use what the scientists call an accelerator which is an enormous machine the largest ones are now over a mile in circumference and. It cost a great deal of money to build them. As you probably know in recent
months the Congress has been considering or at least the federal government has been considering the construction of the largest accelerator in the world and this will loan cost three hundred million dollars to build and an estimated 50 million dollars a year to operate. It's quite a political plum of course as to where the accelerator is located within the United States. What do these accelerators accelerate when they accelerate charged particles. That is the basics the basic building blocks of the atoms which make up matter the atom is essentially divided into a nucleus and outer electrons and within the nucleus there are the protons and the neutrons the protons having positive charge and the neutrons having no charge. And then of course of vast array of what are called elementary particles even below the proton and the neutron in the nucleus.
It's all very confusing to me Peter. And I think it's confusing to most people when one begins to talk about the charged particles which the accelerators accelerate. Yes but I think you made a rather good job of explaining it. And I suppose the rate that accelerated is by producing magnetic fields and as it were sucking these tiny little particles along these great cubes. Richard you've been describing which may be secular or may be miles long on some piece of land. Actually I don't think it is a magnetic field Peter. I think that the charged particles are accelerated by what the scientists call electric fields rather than that that IT field. It's something like actually an electric field exists between the two poles of a battery. The storage battery in your car and if you put a charged particle an electron at the negative pole I think it would accelerate towards the
positive pole at a very very high rate of speed. If you just make much larger batteries which is what the accelerators are and build them in a circular matter so that the charged particles can excel can excuse. Then you have a particle accelerator. Well that's an excellent explanation down much better than the explanations that I normally get from the physicists. It's a strange thing but one does seem to find that many scientists are not especially concerned with telling the man in the street about what they're doing is this just my observation or is it true. No Peter I think I seem to notice this myself and actually it's a long run effect. And the science professions in the United States just to go back for some perspective to the gilded age at that time the scientists were of course interested in perf and informing the public about science. But once the.
Criterion of professional success and science became achievement in research. It became much more sensible for the scientist to speak to his colleagues and to speak to the public. There is a built in professionalism in science that emphasizes research and the advancement of knowledge. Which of course is a valuable and in itself but at the same time knowledge advances at such a rapid rate today. And the scientist himself for his professional advancement depends upon his research that he is unwilling. Well perhaps unwilling is too strong a word but at least he ought most. He usually doesn't have the time to attempt to inform the public about the substance of science and the nature of his profession. I suppose because of that he can really only afford to devote his time if he is going to tell anyone about what he's doing. Telling people who are likely to follow in
his footsteps in other words he is prepared to share this knowledge. Providing that he is trying to teach a future scientist a physicist. Yes and he does a very good job of it. Unfortunately however it had to be the fact that the scientist is teaching almost all together. Other students or future students of science in the colleges. The fact that he is doing this has done a great deal to take science out of the arena of general education. One of the reasons that people back in the Gilded Age were so interested in science was that they wished to introduce science into the educational curriculum which they managed to do with great success. And it was their hope that the mark of the educated man would be a man who was versed not only in the traditional classics and theology and languages but a man who also was conversant with the essential nature of science.
But today if you insist that science student in order to study science must be so highly motivated to and to devote the time the energy the effort and the sweat for learning about science that no one is going to learn about science except people who are going to become professional scientists. Well now we make might make this remark as you pointed out there was a time when the public was greatly fascinated in science and greatly in favor of it being taught in schools and they were awarded as you point out has come with a vengeance and to the extent that it's so. This is not so complicated that it's really extremely hard for the public to know what's going on. But is it really important that the public should know what is going on in these highly specialized fields. I'm not convinced that it is. Of course Mr this is what Mr. Snow has been arguing and what he did argue in the two cultures book of the late 1950s namely that
decisions were being made that concerned science. The public didn't know about science and therefore the public couldn't make the proper decisions. But I wonder often whether the public must know about science itself in order to make decisions about public policy toward science. For example is it necessary for the public to be expert in criminology to make to take some kind of position on the public control of crime. I doubt it. That is a very interesting point and I think you might have had some feeling about these subjects from from your experiences with government positions and. Brief times that you spent in Washington I've often wondered whether it is better for a humanist to try to control a scientific project or for a scientist to try to get his hands muddied in trying to handle the day to day humanistic an administrative problems that seem to be
man's not. Do you have any views on this dichotomy. Well Peter if I may say I think a dichotomy is an unreal one. I don't think that it matters very much whether it's a humanist or a scientist it is actually making the administrative decisions or attempting to inform the public about issues of science. I think what does matter however is the perspective of the man who's doing it and the sense of the relationship between science and public policy that he has. For example we have had a great deal of success in this country. In the creation of science policy since 1930 knowing when the preparedness movement began or over atomic energy and essentially the people who have who have done a great deal since that time to develop science policy were scientists. It's not a
matter of whether a man is a scientist or a humanist that counts. Matter really is what is his perspective about life. What is his perspective about America and what does he believe to be the role of science in the United States. Well that's a really very balanced point of view. I think the growling thing to most humanists and I think you can probably see this standing with one foot in both camps is the fact that the scientists always Or let me say frequently believe that they can with perfect ease understand the various human problems wearers humanists don't have the same you priest to suggest that they can readily understand what's going on in science. I mean by this the fact that many famous scientists are prone to make public pronouncements about political legal humanistic matters upon which their views may be
have no move value than anyone else. Do you have any special thoughts about that. Well of course it is easy for the scientists to say that he understands the human condition or understand society because he is by definition a man living within a society. At the same time it is difficult for the so-called human ist to claim that he understand science because like as not it beats honesty doesn't it. But is that really the issue at hand when you come to the question of making public policy in a democracy with respect to science. I doubt it. I think that rather than the substance of science what people must under what people might understand to overcome this problem is really the way the scientific community operates what is the scientist interested in doing. For example the scientist often proclaims the basic
value and inherent value of advancing knowledge. Well of course the most thoughtful people would agree with him but. When you come to ask how much how much public money should be spent to advance knowledge when you only have a finite source of funds. Then you have to begin making decisions as to how much money should go to science how much the different kinds of science and how much let's say to the to welfare. Yes these are fascinating questions. There are the other questions of how should scientists actually use their own time. Should they be dealing in the basic problems of matter such things as nuclear physics. Or should they be thinking about how to design safer automobiles. How to handle some of the air pollution problems for which California is so famous of. That is the word to print. And there is a very serious
problem of how these questions are answered Is there any way any mechanism by which they are answered now. Well yes there are mechanisms by which they answered now. I suppose that the principle mechanism is the President's Science Advisory Committee. But at the same time the President's Science Advisory Committee is making decisions on the basis of information fed to it by scientists and on the basis of the national perspective given to it by its own by the nature of its own members and by the Office of the presidency itself. But I think that there is no question that the science advisory commission could be aided by a wider public debate of these issues. If there is to be a public debate I think that we must begin to go behind the traditional arguments for Science and ask. Not only is the advance of science good and end it up itself but also how does the advance of science fit into the national needs of the
United States. I think that's a very sound observation Dan. And I'd like to ask you one rather short question to Clarence which I think is another slightly unfair one you have in your experience talk young men who are going to be humanists and since you've been a count today you've taught young men who are going to be scientists. Do you find that there's anything different in those personalities at the real essence of the the character of the man. I think that at the top of the let's say the. IQ level or the talent level I don't think there is much of a difference. I think however you do find that often the scientist is shall we say a more introverted than a non-scientist the scientist is apt to be to have devoted his years before college to the pursuit of science and done it exceedingly
well. But of course at the same time he has had to slight other activities. I think though that the at least the science student I meet at Cal Tech is certainly a man usually of a wide breadth of interests and I think that the duty of Educ of the educate of the science educator or the institution for science education is to make sure that the breadth of interest is encouraged. And any single scientist and that the OP or he has an opportunity to develop the entire Bat as the classic classic expression of it goes. They work very hard on this at Cal Tech with a lot of courses in humanities don't they. Yes they do. The science student at Cal Tech must take a minimum of 20 to 23 percent of his courses. Sorry I mean in the Americas.
And do you think that that he really responds to these courses that he takes. Yes I think it does. I think however that the that there is a problem and that his workload is very high and he doesn't have much time. Well thank you Dan. That is a most fascinating picture of the two cultures. The real or imagined gap between them and the role in the modern United States of the humanist and scientist. This was about science with host Dr Peter listen and his guest Dr. Daniel catalyst Professor of History joins us again for our next program when another subject of interest will be featured 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 national educational radio.
About science
About a gilded age?
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California Institute of Technology
KPCC-FM (Radio station : Pasadena, Calif.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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This program focuses on humanity in an age of science. The guest for this program is Dr. Dan Kevles, California Institute of Technology.
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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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Guest: Kevles, Daniel J.
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: 66-40-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:54
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Chicago: “About science; About a gilded age?,” 1966-10-10, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 6, 2023,
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