Importance Of Theory
Your article on Bell Labs (The Scientist, Sept. 5, page 1) brought to mind these words of Pasteur “Without theory, practice is but routine born of habit. Theory alone can bring forth and develop the spirit of invention ... Progress with routine is possible, but desperately slow.” (The Life of Pasteur, by R. Vallery-Radot, pages 76 and 146).
Except for AT&T with its Bell Labs, and two or three others, American businesses have never understood Pasteur’s words. This is not surprising because large segments of the academic world do not understand them. This can be seen by reading the discussions of “theory” and the presentations of particular theories in textbooks of the natural and social sciences.
In the present age of world competition, the nations that understand and apply Pasteur’s words will win, other things being equal. The Bell Labs are a national treasure. Every large oompany must have its own “Bell Labs” if we are to continue and to increase our world leadership.
RALPH W. LEWIS
Professor Emeritus, Department
of Natural Science
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Mich. 48824