Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Library: The NSF (1)

Should the Government Support Science?
By Waldemar Kaempffert
Public Affairs Committee 1946
Pamphlet No. 119

This pamphlet came to me courtesy of a bookshelf in the lobby with surplus libraries of dead or retired professors. It was published to support the soon-to-be National Science Foundation (NSF) in the Truman era. Please excuse the gender stereotyping and various phobias.

BONUS FACT: Did you know: The National Academies of Science were founded under...Lincoln!

WAR presents the scientist with a supreme opportunity. Resistance to innovation weakens. Years are telescoped into months, months into weeks. In a long global war*, civil and military technology move ahead at a pace that cannot be matched in twenty years of peace. Electronic devices control factory processes with a new precision. Television is brought to a new pitch of perfection. Radar makes it possible not only to detect far-off bombers but to fight naval battles in the blackest night; also to reflect signals from the moon, to prevent collisions at sea, and to make flying safer.... DDT powder strips typhus of its old terror and controls insect pests with ease. Fabrics are devised which are wrinkle-proof, mothproof, mildew-proof, and moisture-proof. Atomic energy, suddenly released by two bombs, blasts away two Japanese cities and promises to compete industrially with coal and oil.

[There were] thousands of scientists and engineers whom we card-catalogued and then assigned to specific research tasks were propelled by the momentum of the past. DDT, penicillin, plasma derivatives, synthetic rubber, radar, even atomic energy—all were known at least in principle before the war. What will happen if we are plunged into another war two or three decades hence—a war waged with atomic bombs hurled at us… There will be no time to organize our scientific and industrial resources, no time to raise, equip, and drill a huge army. And what of peace? Peace, as well as war, imposes scientific and technological obligations. To meet these, research is as necessary as it is in time of total war.
*Ah, like the one we're having now. Possibly the military is thinking up dreadful things, but they have yet to benefit me.

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