10 JULY 1964, Page 11

Mr. Crossman's Catfish Scientists


SOME months before the 1960 Democratic national convention, Senator John F. Ken- nedy was in Detroit barnstorming for delegates. As he and some of his advisers chatted in his hotel room, the phone rang. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. took the call. It was a college in Indiana holding a mock national convention, whose dele- gates had just `nominated' Mr. Kennedy for President and wanted an 'acceptance speech.' He would speak on the long-distance phone and his words would be amplified for the college students at the 'convention.'

Mr. Kennedy agreed, but what to say? Pro- fessor Schlesinger, one-time adviser to Adlai Stevenson, began musing aloud. He recalled Indiana's history, its political course. Perhaps the Ku Klux Klan theme would be good, or Perhaps some other theme. Friends of mine in the room who heard the Schlesinger monologue have told me it was a fascinating impromptu lecture on Indiana by one of our country's dis- tinguished historians. Mr. Kennedy listened with a half-smile, and as he took the phone in his hand, said in his flat Boston voice: 'Now! know, Arthur, why Stevenson lost.'

Mr. Kennedy greeted the caller at the other end, told him he was ready, and spoke his piece.

The story came to mind as I read Richard Crossman's article in the July Encounter on the role of scientists in Whitehall and how much greater that rOle would surely be in a Labour Government. I am not at all certain what moral to draw from it, except that it illustrates the difficulties of social and other scientists when they dabble in the art of the possible. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

To an American, Mr. Crossman's suggestion that scientists ought to have leading roles in government is hardly startling. Washington is loaded with scientists, natural and social, and the voice of the sociologist is heard in the land. This didn't start with President Kennedy; it goes back at least to the Truman administration.

The influx of scientists into government, how- ever, was not solely the result of a Presidential decision. Government departments during the Second World War had begun to realise the value of the social sciences and not merely economics. The „social science approach to analysis of the Soviet Union, which we now call Sovietology (the Chinese version is called 'Dragonology'), began in the OSS then. Later, the US Navy Department subsidised a team of Columbia University ethnologists to study the Soviet Union and the Russian people. I am not sure what was learned, but at least someone up there on the Poop deck liked the social sciences.

In Cabinet departments, there are now a number of junior Ministers who can claim mem- bership in the intelligentsia, and not &Innis causa, but as physicists, mathematicians, chem- ists and one even as a demographer. There are special assistants to Cabinet members from the sciences and a special science adviser to the President himself. The Pentagon, of course, is full of scientists, civilian and military. Organi- sations like the Rand Corporation sand the Hudson Institute, which are direct arms of gov- ernment or private bodies working on govern- ment contracts, have brought together under one roof specialists in most of the sciences. The large American foundations have underwritten re- search in innumerable fields which has had its impact on government thinking and policy.

Mr. Crossman would argue that, as distinct from the American experience, he would want his scientists to have a large influence and access to top-ranking government leaders. Yet there remains the complication of the lower echelon officials: no bureaucrat in history has ever paid any attention to an 'outsider' unless the `out- skier' had genuine political power. Mr. Cross- man argues the need for 'the constant reinvigora- tion of our professional administrators in White- hall from outside.' The nineteenth-century New England fishermen, when they sailed the Banks, always dropped a catfish in the hold with the catch. The catfish kept the other fish frisky.

Mr. Crossman sees a more important function for his scientists—peacetime planning requires `the systematic use of scientific methods, both in the investigation which precedes selection of the aims and in the plans worked out in order to achieve them.' In what might be called a self- serving, unprovable statement, certainly more rhetorical than scientific, Mr. Crossman says that `history now requires of each industrialised nation a continuous and purposive adaptation to its environment. And this means that our British Establishment must become "science- based.— And 'science-based' means peacetime

planning. QED. •

The 'humanist' civil servant, by Mr. Cross- man's standard, has become a retrograde force in modern government, because the new tech- nology, the rapidity of change and innovation, precludes conventional bureaucratic procedures. Yet by now we must be fully aware that scien- tists, natural or social, suffer from their own deformation professionnelle, whether it means in- volvement in Soviet espionage, resistance to the findings of younger scientists or getting involved in unnecessary messes with Senators and Con- gressmen. Few natural scientists have any con- cept of what power is. There are scientists, of course, who have become so involved with ob- taining government appropriations that they have learned what makes the wheels go round. But then they become less useful as scientists. Science and technology are advancing so rapidlu

today that a forty-year-old physicist, say, who has been working for ten years in aircraft or missile research, is in serious danger of unem- ployment if his company suffers a government contract cutback. This has already happened in California. Too much has developed in his field which he doesn't know about, but which the new crop of twenty-eight,year-old PhDs do.

The scientist on loan to government has a far more serious problem than the permanent civil servant or administrator or even temporary Minister. If he tries to be more than the aphis in the ant colony, more than just a computer programmer, he becomes an intruder who can cause havoc in a department without producing the desired social results. Such difficulties may even affect an entire country. Perhaps some Americans are a little ovsrshy about scientists in government because they can remember how they were sold the Great Engineer—Herbert Hoover—in 1928. Solid state physics does not lead inevitably to a socialist credo.

My feeling, shared by others who have studied the relationship of science to government at a Columbia University seminar over the past two years, is that a scientist's most meaningful con- tribution to society will come when he seeks public office. I should think that a nuclear physicist like Dr. I. I. Rabi, a Nobel Prize winner, • or Professor Eli Ginzberg, our leading manpower expert, or Dr. Emanuel Piore, the IBM vice- president in charge of research, would be more useful as Congressmen than as advisers to sus- picious civil servants. As far as I can see, none of our politicians, no more than does Mr. Crossman, are encouraging the scientists to run for public office. Yet isn't that the real issue?