Verbatim excerpts from the media on the conduct of science.
"I think it's probably true that we've been living off the investments we made in technology years ago," says Sally Ride, the young astronaut who became highly visible in the agency's [NASA's] management after serving as a member of the Rogers Commission. "We've recognized this in the last year, and realized the need for NASA to start investing again in basic R&D…."
Other observers wonder whether Star Wars will replace space exploration as the government's principal means for funneling tax dollars into technology. "The role of government is to build technological infrastructures, which should be flexible at the leading edge,' says Jerome Simonoff, a Citicorp vice president who specializes in aerospace investment. He hypothesizes that no one, except maybe the President, believes SDI will actually work. But he says it represents the only consensus on how to underwrite expensive high-tech science.
To Market We Will Go
… perhaps the most disconcerting thing of all is the kind of expectations Government seems to have of research into the subjects they are prepared to allow to be sciences Here the demand is for instant utility, the preferred research being of an essentially short-term nature The picture politicians have seems to be somewhat naïve; a scientist is supposed to 'discover' things, techniques or substances; he is perhaps even supposed to 'invent' things And these things will be immediately marketable. Hence the present importance attached to links between science departments of universities and industry; hence also the insistence that the private sector should undertake, itself more and more of the funding of university research.
Search and Destroy
Disputes over accuracy are supposed to be settled by argument and rebuttal in scholarly journals Evidently, certain scientists … feel that this type of open debate may harm their professional reputations, and they have gone to lawyers instead.
Our experience suggests that the scientific community is not yet willing to evaluate and remedy its shortcomings. Scientific research is expensive, and the public pays for most of it, particularly in the health sciences, where a defective article can have particularly destructive consequences. Scientists have an obligation to make sure that published research is actually what it claims to be. Scientists should find out how common professional misconduct really is Then they should do something about it.
A Peek Behind the Veil
The Congress finds it difficult to make independent judgments about highly technical programs. We are usually mystified by the jargon and over-awed by the promise of success. We have to rely on the judgment of scientists whom we respect to give their appraisal.
I know of no other recent program that evoked such a massive outpouring of concern from the nation's scientists and engineers at all levels as did SDI….
Thanks to the scientific community that tore the veil of hype from this program, I hope we will now return to a broad based ABM research program that will contribute to national defense. I suspect this is neither the first, nor last time, scientists will feel compelled to speak out. Washington must periodically be reminded that political rhetoric, even if employed by the most skillful of communicators, has no do-minion over the laws of physics.
The Science of Assessment
Environmental impact assessments are undertaken to assist the people who make and implement decisions about development. Science, specifically ecology, constitutes the underpinning for EIAs and it must play a significant role in their design and execution. But EIAs are not made to advance science, even though the knowledge obtained in the course of assessments may have that effect. Similarly, while audits are undertaken to assist in evaluating processes and decisions in which science has played a role, the information that is yielded by audits can be used to improve their scientific and technical components.
In practical and immediate terms, the most important result of an EIA, unless it leads to the cancellation of the project, is the design and implementation of measures to mitigate adverse environmental effects of projects. This is why … the opportunities for elegant environmental experiments that might be expected to result from development projects are often masked, if not completely obliterated, by mitigating actions. One can almost hear the project manager say, "We're not here to do science; we're trying to do the most cost-effective job of managing the environment."
AIDS: The News From Moscow...
Medical co-operation and advice on preventing AIDS are still taking a back seat to political paranoia.
The disease has already appeared in the Soviet Union, but the Russians continue to claim—usually with reference to "Western researchers"—that the whole thing is a Pentagon plot.
Moscow Radio now says Aids was probably cooked up at the "secret gene-engineering laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland."
… And Atlanta
The AIDS laboratory of the Centers for Disease Control, set up with high hopes three years ago and staffed with leading scientists, has been crippled by ego clashes, professional jealousies and perhaps worse. For months it has been dogged by allegations of hampered research, political meddling and even sabotaged experiments.
"AIDS [research] has attracted a certain type of personality," says one senior scientist who left the lab. "There's power to be had. They [the CDC] control a lot of money. There are a lot of egos involved, and they are clashing."
Not Another Pretty Face
Scientists, particularly researchers, enjoy a fairly poor public image in Britain: uncaring, white-coated introverts, underpaid and dangerously objective. As purveyors of nuclear winter, genetic engineering, and experiments on animals and even human fetuses, they are certainly not the people you would most trust with your children. It is little wonder, then, that the recent pressures on university research go virtually unnoticed or unchallenged by the public at large.
Britain has reached a stage where the values of scientific achievements in a civilized society must not only exist but be
so that one issue is finally made clear. Only by providing sufficient funding and motivation for future research and training will the country be able to save its "new dawn" from being just another postindustrial sunset.
Proof of the Pudding
In science, the experimental method is paramount. It evolved primarily as a way of counteracting the natural human tendency to believe something because one wants it to be true. If scientists allow themselves the luxury of believing a theory because it is pretty, or conforms to their political prejudices, then they cease to do effective science. If an engineer wants to make sure that his bridge will not fall down he does not worry about the aesthetics of the design, or the colour: he checks that the design conforms to acceptable tolerances and he makes sure that the bridge is built to specification. In the same way, a mathematician dare not believe a plausible theorem just because he would like it to be true, and he cannot place great faith in even extensive numerical evidence because there are good reasons to assume that may be misleading. Proof, and proof alone, is the safe-guard.
Down and Dirty
Although we need more engineering researchers, the rest of our engineers, the vast majority, need to be trained less like researchers than they are today and more like old-fashioned, practicing, dirt-under-the-fingernails engineers.
Our engineers often treat every-thing as a research problem—a problem of creating the elegant, inventive solution without adequate consideration of cost, manufaction—ability, and quality. We tend to exercise our ingenuity at building new features into products, while the Japanese exercise their skill on those features that are really needed—features with customer value—and on keeping strictly to stringent targets for cost and quality.
We cannot tell what form the accommodation of poetry to science may take as we proceed to "milk the cow of the world"—what verses may emerge from the grand unification of physical theory, which some scientists believe they will discover any day now; from the godlike power that the manipulation of genetic material seems to confer; or from cosmological models that, in sober mathematical terms, suggest the universe erupted into existence by quantum fluctuations of the vacuum. But, if poetry fails to rise to the challenge of modem science, it will not be through any legitimate claim that the subjects are unworthy—that they are no more than Poe's "dull realities." Reflecting on the future of poetry and science, one is reminded of the relationship between Wordsworth and Hamilton, an association based less on mutual interest in beauty and truth than on a desire for wholeness, for a life in which the schism that marks our age is healed. To be fully human, their friendship seems to suggest, is to be equally at home with a lyric and an equation.
It bothers me that President Reagan had to be urged not to veto the $20 billion reauthorization of the Clean Water Act of 1972…. There is overwhelming public support for placing water pollution controls above economic concerns, and despite recommendations by scientists, engineers, plant personnel, and government officials, reauthorization was vetoed Nov. 6, 1986.
The President is often quoted as saying "Well, I can't answer that; I'm not a scientist." Well, I'm not the President, but I would certainly listen to the people who made me one.
May I express my great admiration for the tremendous faith of Prof. Sir Fred Hoyle. He believes that life on Earth originated from various odds and ends arriving from passing comets. That, Sir, requires an immense faith, considerably more than I need to believe in a creative act of a great God possessed of infinite power and wisdom.
By definition, to believe in fantasy calls for considerably more faith than to believe in fact, and faith of a different order, sometimes called a "blind faith."
The Crystal Ball of Science
But by 1986 it was already clear that the fast track was the marriage of molecular biology to cellular and developmental biology. Biochemistry had already become indistinguishable from molecular biology. And by 2006, biology had not only reached out to embrace much of clinical medicine, but was well on its way to understanding the mechanisms for the genetic encoding of instinctive behavior. It was even able to use the new computers to predict the structures and energetics of complex molecules from calculations based on first principles. The tools of the biological engineer were also on every biologist's desk. The human genome had finally been mapped in a mammoth supercomputer project in the 1990s, and was now available for $9.99 on a CD-ROM disk that could be plugged into your 40 MIP [millions of instructions per second] personal computer.
What Did the President Know?
If the public is against science, or has no taste for it, the government of the day will not have much enthusiasm for it either, depending as they do for their existence on public opinion and being, most of them, non-scientists anyway. Even when they try to help, their background can lead them to disaster. When President Richard Nixon was presenting the National Medal for Science, in 1971, referring to the citations accompanying the medals, he said: "I have read them, and I want you to know that I don't understand them. But I also want you to know that because I do not understand them, I realize how enormously important their contributions are to this nation. That to me is the nature of science to the unsophisticated people."
We have a long way to go!