Science and National Welfare


    IN his address on receiving the Priestley Medal of the American Chemical Society on September 13, under the title "Science and the National Welfare"(Chem. and Eng. News, 22, 1642; 1944), Dr. J. B. Conant suggested that one of the many ills of the world seems to lie in the fact that certain aspects of accumulative knowledge, roughly what we call science, are often substituted for philosophy, while certain aspects of philosophy (a large part of the social sciences) are considered as science. If the United States is to live up to its responsibilities in the post-war years, it must foster all learning—accumulative knowledge, philosophy and poetry, including literature and the fine arts. So far as is humanly possible, all the potential talent in these manifold activities must be recognized at an early age and given adequate educational opportunity. Dealing more specifically with the physical sciences, Dr. Conant stressed the dependence, here as elsewhere, of the rate of advance on the number of really first-class men engaged, and he urged the institution of a national scholarship programme for young men who gave promise of becoming leaders in science and technology. For the most effective scientific advance in the applied fields, he believes there must be keen and strong rivalry between a number of strong and independent groups, but since we must look to the universities for the fundamental advances to be applied later and for the trained men required, industrial concerns and research institutes should beware of making too heavy demands on the universities for either time or their most promising men. Again, the mobile striking power of scientific talent required to exploit new advances resides ideally in the universities, but for the last twenty-five years the American universities had suffered from two great evils: their system of making life appointments, which so often fails to distinguish between men of real ability and men of medium competence; and the tendency to overburden the former with undergraduate teaching. Dr. Conant looks to the professional societies to play a leading part in forming the public opinion required to correct both these faults. With regard to funds, Dr. Conant believes it is more important for the universities to be able to find really first-rate investigators worthy of support than to find funds to support investigations.

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