From the 1949 paper in Science “Research and Politics” (Science 109:219 – 227):
But now a man does not work on some subject or problem. He has a “project.” A plan has been laid out, even worked out in all detail, a staff has been brought together and each one has been assigned his duty. An organization has approved the plan and furnished the funds; in return it expects progress reports, visible and quick results, and no deviation from the plan agreed upon. Everybody is happy to have a “project,” and only Minerva covers her face and sends the owl away to catch mice.
I realize certainly that there are types of work which should be handled as organized “projects.” If you want to prepare 200 stereoisomers of some organic compound and test their action as insecticides, a project is in order. If you want to eradicate a certain mosquito in a certain place, go and organize it. But how a major discovery or idea can come from a project I am unable to understand. This, however, is not what I want to discuss. I want, rather, to point to the danger to the freedom of science which lurks behind this way of making science. The danger will come from the men who are attracted to such a type of scientific big business. The thinker, the blaster of new paths, the keen observer, the man of intuition whose thinking is ahead of his time, will not flock to the big Government-financed and -sponsored projects. Sooner or later leadership will fall to the university politician, the promoter, the men who make the headlines–headlines not in the history of discovery but in the press. Second-raters will attain the power that goes with the big funds, and then the moment of danger arrives. They will favor what they like and understand, suppress what is beyond their vision. Being not too intelligent, they will fall prey to the flatterer, and will always go along with the latest scientific fashion or even the doubtful schemes of fanatics or reactionaries, and certainly always with well- entrenched schools. They will easily find the ear of the politicians who run the funds, for both talk the same language. At this point the setting is ready for a Lysenko type. Though our political system will not give him a chance to act as savagely as is possible in Russia, he could do enormous damage to the progress of science and the freedom of research if not checked in time. This sounds very pessimistic, but human nature is the same everywhere, fanatical activists are available everywhere if not kept in check, and men who believe in “politics as usual” are not only more numerous than men of original ideas but are also more selfish and ruthless. Thus, I believe that the increasing financial support of research, especially by government and political agencies, tending to flow into the channels of organized research, is fraught with the danger of bossism in science, with the danger of subsidizing mediocrity, and in the end with a threat to the freedom of science and its teaching. This is not to say that I am opposed to government funds’ being set aside for fundamental research. This is a need of our time, a necessity. But precautions should be taken and a watchful eye should be kept to prevent such funds from working to the detriment of real science. It is the young generation, who will profit from the incoming funds, who should also be alerted against the danger that politicians, both those within and those outside the universities, will take over science. The young researcher must insist upon the right to think for himself, to plan for himself, to make his own mistakes, and to be happy over an unplanned, unforeseen discovery. Real progress in science has always been made and will always be made by the free mind, left to its own working under a system where science is free.
President Eisenhower in his Farewell Address warned against the same trends:
“Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”
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