conclusion of Political Institutionalization of Science in the United States

[this is the second of two posts, conveying the 1983 article in the leading Soviet scholarly journal concerned with issues of scientific research and policy — of course there are other journals, but they tend to be swamps of Party rhetoric; that the topics in Voprosy Istorii Estestvoznaniia i Tekhniki are historical screens out excess posturing — by A.M. Kulkin, in English translation (the only you might say hand-translated version in the world, here)]

The guarded watchfulness between the White House and the scientific elite, which characterized relations during the administrations of D. Eisenhower and J. Kennedy, developed into tension during the administration of L. Johnson. By the end of the ’60s the growth in federal appropriations for research and development had slowed to a halt. The Presidential assistant for science and technology had surrendered his power while the scientific community began to subject the President to bitter criticism.

How can these rapid changes in the relationship between the political leadership and the scientific community during the Presidency of L. Johnson be explained?

The impact of the yawning socio-economic contradictions within the U.S. generated a recognition of the social necessity for the reorientation of science policy. If during the 50s and early 60s the resources of government were directed toward securing the progress of science itself, at the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s priority of place shifted to a completely new position — would it not be both useful and beneficial to apply scientific knowledge to the fostering of progress toward the goals of socio-economic development? The circumstances of the day generated a multitude of proposals, not only regarding the course of future development of a unified science policy but also regarding the necessity for changing its orientation. The Presidential science advisor repeatedly made reference to the fact that government institutions devoted to science and technology had to consider social, economic, and political factors [17, p. 13]. During the course of these deliberations the Nobel Prize Laureate D. Gabor, one of the founders of holography, contributed his opinion. Protesting against the “reductio ab absurdam” of technological progress, at the same time he insisted upon the necessity of keeping the creative attitude which allows such a reorientation toward the solution of social problems. In the first instance he considered it necessary to make this goal evident to political leaders and heads of corporations [10, p. 44].

In all probability the political leaders and heads of corporations had already drawn their own definite conclusions. If during the preceding period the problem of applied research within a given segment of an industry or a corporation had been considered solely that of the adaptation or creation of news techniques or technology, the attitude of the present had ceased to be unquestionably positive toward the development of any technological advance whatsoever.

It had first appeared to us

wrote in this connection one of the directors of the National Bureau of Standards

that the answer had to consist in the development of new technology, but we now know that the problem is much more intimately connected to the market and the mechanisms of distribution than to the terms of trade. We have a much larger quantity of technology than we need [22,p. 89].

It is one thing, however, to acknowledge the social needs which demand a reorientation of science policy toward the solution of social problems and quite another to apply it appropriately to those needs. L. Johnson made such an effort in assembling his “Great Society” program, but it didn’t lead to much of anything.

The Johnson administration was characterized by two distinctive features: the proclamation of programs to create a “Great Society”, including the “War on Poverty” program, on the one hand, with the prosecution of the war in Vietnam, on the other. These two “wars” had an effect on all of American society, including, naturally, science policy. The two of them, especially the latter, prompted a reduction in government disbursements for research and development and generated a collision between the White House and the scientific community which led to major changes in the content of science policy.

The conflict between the Presidential power and the scientific community developed in stages. A small number of leading scientific centers monopolized scientific research in the country. Twenty leading universities received half the federal subsidies devoted to the financing of scientific research within higher educational institutions. Although aware of this, Johnson made use of the request from peripheral scientific centers for a “uniform geographic distribution” of federal subsidies for science to promote the political interests of the Executive Office. At the end of 1965 he signed the corresponding directive.

Under the supervision of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the White House, the federal departments distributed government support for science. The National Science Foundation (NSF) administered a program aimed at the creation of leading research centers of science at secondary universities. In the course of six years — R. Nixon ended the program in 1971 [8, p. iii] — 230 million dollars were devoted to the program. In 1967 the Department of Defense initiated a program which subsidized scientific research into military applications at universities without previous defense contracts. It was authorized by a Presidential directive to equalize the geographical distribution of allocations for scientific research. Consequent to this program during the three years of its existence, 119 awards were presented, totaling $88 million, to 78 scientific institutions in 42 states [11, pp. 154-155].

The disagreement between the President and the scientific community was sharpened by the fact that Johnson, when he assumed power, asserted the control of the executive branch over the hitherto independent federal biomedical scientific-research establishment. An uncertainty in its financial stability had arisen which, in the words of one science advisor, “looked ominous.” OMB official doubted the necessity of federal subsidies for the training of certain specialists, in particular biomedical researchers. A commission was created to solve this accumulation of problems, and it arrived a t a group of recommendations, “but the political machine had no leader willing to listen to the commission’s conclusions” [11, p. 162; and 5, pp. 64-66].

President R. Nixon, L. Johnson’s successor, continued the negative policy with respect to the President’s science advisory apparatus: he eliminated a number of positions of science advisors within the federal departments and replaced scientists with comparable responsibilities in the departments with appointees loyal to the President. In January 1973 R. Nixon abolished the science advisory apparatus of the White House, including the PSAC, the OST, and the position of assistant to the President for science and technology.

In the revised system of administration, questions related to science and technology policy were decided in the Domestic Council if they dealt with internal scientific and technological policies, and in the National Security Council if they concerned foreign policies. The preparation of scientific and technological information was assigned to the NSF, and its director assumed the function of the assistant to the President for science. The determination of science policy became a prerogative of senior White House and OMB officials, while the day-to-day direction of scientific research programs fell to the federal departments.

The reforms by the administration of R. Nixon led to an abrupt change in the complicated traditional postwar relationship between the scientific community and the power of the federal government. The friction between the scientific community and the office of the President, as well as the constant reorganizations of the scientific advisory apparatus of the President, both reflected the effort by the Chief Executive to take control of the scientific research of the country. A crisis developed in the many-sided relationship among scientists, government, and the wider society.

[Perhaps intruding his erudition overly, translator brings to reader’s attention the posthumous 1969 major essay, entitled “Ideas, Intellectuals, and Structures of Dissent,”, published as the centerpiece by his surviving colleague at the University of Pennsylvania Sociology Department, Philip Rieff, ed., On Intellectuals (Garden City: Doubleday, 1969); on pp. 60-61 there J. P. Nettl wrote “For one thing I do not . . . accept the alleged total difference between the Christian universe of the Middle Ages and the secular universe of post-Renaissance modernity — at least as far as intellectuals are concerned.” Your translator regards this as a significant rejection, and will quote verbatim the immediately following sentence: “If anything, ‘bourgeois society with its new principles of order and legitimation’ is proving a transitional phase, albeit long drawn out; however different in quality, technological modernity begins to resemble the Christian Middle Ages in terms of the twin demands of uniformity and universality [he quotes Joseph Schumpeter’s 1942 work for the next 21 lines, and assaults by name the ‘self-limitation’ of his colleagues discussing science]“.

A disturbance of the relative equilibrium within the scientific community, induced by the abolition of the President’s scientific advisory apparatus in its original form, was generated by two factors. In the first place, the increase of anti-scientific sentiment throughout the country had made the majority of scientists recognize that society’s previous trust in science had eroded and that scientists could consequently no longer take the understanding and sympathy of the public for granted. Even more important, the scientists had lost their trust in their own representative in the White House. The work of the science advisory apparatus was classified; only the scientific elite has access to it, an access which government bureaucrats could withhold and thereby in practice ignore any scientists’ recommendation which did not suit them. The science leadership of the White House suffered a profound crisis which coincided with the general social crisis created by the U.S. defeat in the Vietnam War.

The progressive segment of the scientific community participated actively in mobilizing popular opinion for the protection of science. Articles in learned journals and addresses to Congressional committees which were broadcast on radio and television were all directed at influencing national policy in general and the science policy of the government in particular. One example that could be cited is the article by the Nobel Prize Laureate A. Szent-Gyorgyi, in which he wrote, in protest against reduction of appropriations for science, that the crisis in science is simply a part of a general crisis. The decisive factor in the evident crisis, in his opinion, was the circumstance that in the U.S.

the army, which has always had the tendency toward unrestricted growth and increase in power, has begun as a result to care more for its own internal needs than for the security interests of the country and it now consumes half the U.S. national product while generating at its own volition military conflicts to justify these military expenditures.

He further emphasized that the army transforms all of the accomplishments of science into means of destruction [2, pp. 56-57].

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The organizational measures which virtually eliminated the personal science advisory apparatus of the President reflect accurately the decisive new tendencies of politics with respect to science during these years. The social mechanism of “science policy”, the restructuring of government bureaus for the direction of science, the planning and financing of research and development: — all these were adapted and arranged in accordance with the laws of the development of capitalism. By using the Presidential power, monopoly capital established new forms of organizing and financing scientific research and sought organizationally both to assert its control over scientific and engineering workers and to convert all research organizations, society ties, and institutions int o integral parts of the state-monopolistic system.

A new stage in the evolution of the organizational structure of science had begun: science had now to be integrated completely not only into the social-economic, but also into the political, system of the U.S. President G. Ford put in place the beginning of a new system of administration of science and technology when he decided to revive the science advisory office in the White House, at the same time providing it with legislative sanction. A bill to create a White House science advisory apparatus was introduced in Congress, and in 1976 Congress adopted a law concerning national policy for science and technology, its priorities, and the organization of government agencies entrusted with its direction. This law also provided for the establishment of the Office for Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) among the executive agencies of the President, the Federal Co-ordinating Council on Science and Technology, the Inter-house Advisory Commission on Science and Technology, and the President’s Committee on Science and Technology.

NSF Director G. Stiver, who performed de facto the responsibilities of President’s advisor for science policy, declined to play an active role as advocate for the scientific community. Beginning with his tenure, incidentally, the Presidential science advisors made strenuous efforts toward strict impartiality in order not to give cause for accusation of lack of objectivity. G. Stiver realized that the President’s science advisor would never have any control of the federal budget, so he therefore preferred to act in concert with the OMB bureaucrats rather than through their chief. G. Stiver’s successor to the post of Presidential science assistant, the distinguished geophysicist F. Press, also adopted this approach.

F. Press tried to restore the influence of the staff of the special assistant to the President for science, weakened by the organizational arrangement of R. Nixon, and to enhance the authority of the science advisor. For this it was necessary both to demonstrate the advantages of the advisory activity of the science advisor and to integrate this activity satisfactorily into the political mechanism of the White House. It was also essential to adapt to the working style of the President’s staff, and in particular to establish contacts in the National Security Council, the OMB, and the other agencies. Reviewing the results of his activities in the White House during the administration of J. Carter (1977-1980), he stated with pride, “The close interaction between OSTP and OMB was one of my greatest accomplishments during my time in Washington” [16, p. 142]. This accomplishment was a payment towards his true service to the government, to the representatives of monopoly capital.

One of the most important problems for the special assistant to the President for science policy has been the problem of the “stabilization of basic research,” a problem created as a result of abandonment of the administrative principle enunciated very early on by F. Hasler and V. Bush: whenever measures are taken for financial revision, they should be phased in over the course of several years. To be sure the government has continually violated this principle and in all likelihood will continue to violate it. The practice of annual examinations of budget appropriations produces a “destabilizing effect,” introduces anxiety and concern, and disrupts the creative atmosphere of the laboratories. It would therefore be appropriate to fix the budgets of scientific institutions for several years in advance. Such a financial procedure would facilitate the training of qualified scientific cadres and promote the conduct of highly effective e scientific research. The OSTP proposal for budget appropriations to be made for a number of years in advance was not adopted in general. One considered only increases in appropriations for certain specific scientific problems: biomedical research, high-energy physics, microelectronics, computer technology, as well as research into the adaptation of new sources of energy, the existing program for a “space shuttle”, weather sensory satellites, and the research and development of militarily applicable technology.

The arrangement proposed for the science policy advisor practically repudiated, however, the so-called “Mansfield amendment,” which prohibited funding basic research from the budgets of certain executive departments, in particular from the Department of Defense. A recommendation for increasing appropriation for scientific research in those departments, with emphasis on basic research, was, for militarist reasons, adopted by the [Carter] government; this decision by the government se aside those most recent restrictions on scientific research of a military nature.

The federal government of the United States, obviously finances research and development; it is simply required in the technological development of particular industries, especially in cases where the R & D is expensive or involves great commercial risk or appears to be urgently needed (the scientific problems concerning the development of novel sources of energy, for an example). The types of government participation in this research and development vary quite widely, from direct subsidies to the establishment of government laboratories. Private corporations will more readily finance just that R & D which will most likely and most rapidly repay the investment. Corporate executives need government direction of a general-economic “climate” and the encouragement of innovation more than they need direct financial support of R & D within their firms. Sensitive to the fact that both the volume of R & D and the degree of innovation in U.S. industry have decreased in recent decades, the OSTP advised the President to examine the problem.

In May of 1977 a special co-ordinating committee on industrial innovation was created, under the leadership of the department of commerce assistant for science and technology J. Baruch. After 18 months the committee presented its recommendations, on the basis of which the President enacted a series of measures designed to encourage and stimulate innovation in industry [4, p. 23].

The social nature of the science policy conducted by F. Press under the aegis of J. Carter was reflected in the accumulated state-monopolistic forms of the organization of scientific research. More than anything else the Carter administration sought to concentrate its scientific capabilities and the financial resources of the national budget onto strictly defined areas of research (new weapon systems and atomic and space programs of military applicability). All the government measures aimed at stimulating industrial research led both to the recovery by monopoly capitalists of enormous profits from putting the results of research and development, obtained by government employees and methods, into production, and to the employment in monopolists’ laboratories of research engineering cadres who had been educated at public expense.

A characteristic feature of the evolution of the U.S. state apparatus in the past few decades has been the strengthening of the executive power.  The centralization of state power into the hands of the White house was accompanied by a reduction to the minimum of the spheres of competence and authority of the federal departments.  Under these circumstances, when President R. Reagan took power he hastened neither to nominate his science advisor nor to strengthen his rôle.  J. Carter nominated his science advisor F. Press after a mere two months; Reagan took six months.

The most likely reason for the delay in the nomination of a successor to F. Press lay in the desire of the new administration to avoid the difficulty of a science advisor involved in the composition of the budget for fiscal year 1982.  Reagan clearly did not want his science advisor to give him “uninvited and unrealistic ” advice on such questions as new weapons systems or arms control policy [20, p. 279].  Reagan apparently considered it advantageous to select his science advisor after the budget had been submitted to Congress, so that they might be relieved from receiving memoranda up to the time when preparations began for the planning of the budget for fiscal year 1983.

[comment by trans: it is to be noted that this article was published in 1983.]

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In May of 1981 the White House finally announced the name of its candidate to the position of science advisor to the President; it was George A. Keyworth, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  The President’s science advisor is traditionally considered a lobbyist for the scientific community, but Keyworth, according to press reports, intended to be solely an advisor, not a lobbyist [7,18,21].  In Keyworth’s opinion, the role of lobbyist defending the interests of science ought most of all to belong to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Any claim of key worth to an intermediary role between the President and the scientific community, particularly in the Reagan Administration, could hardly withstand consideration. W.D. Cary, a representative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science who had conducted its liaison with government institutions for 26 years, expressed himself in the following manner:

If the science advisor chooses, in order that his opinion be taken into consideration, he may act as the happy soldier, marching under the command of the President. But not as the commander of a company![18, p. 45]

I. Rabi, chairman of the President’s science advisory committee from 1953 to 1957 and a member of the committee until 1968, expressed a similar view: the science advisor “must try to become a participant in the way of thinking of the President” and to subordinate his own preferences — political or social — to his responsibilities [18, p. 45].

Any pretentious by Keyworth, however, to the usual share of independence were apparently not so much a position as a pose.  Even before he had officially assumed the office of science advisor (the President’s no,mine to this position had now to be confirmed by the Senate), Keyworth was widely reported in news media for devotion to Reagan, who selected his advisor solely for his extensive experience with atomic and laser-beam weapons [14, p. 3].

One can conclude from the statements of Reagan and his science advisor that the science policy of the U.S. at the present time has three basic objectives: the first is to try to revive the economy, now experiencing a crisis, and most of all to halt the slow-down in the growth of productivity of labor.  It is order to accomplish precisely this aim that the Reagan administration intends to speed up applied scientific research.  Already the National Science Foundation has begun to be adapted to this end; the newly-appointed NSF director, J. Slaughter, has stated that the NSF will pay greater attention to applied research and development.

The second is to eliminate the inferiority of U.S. science in a number of important specializations.  The third is to accelerate by means of intensive scientific research the race for the newest types of weapons.

In June 1981, at a colloquium on research and development conducted annually by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Keyworth first publicly revealed his views on the development of science and technology in the U.S.  First of all, he emphasized his complete agreement with Reagan’s intention “to restore the national economy,” even if it became necessary to reduce the federal R & D budget in order to accomplish this.  Key worth maintained that the economic difficulties, the high rate of inflation, and even the “unnecessary and expensive” federal regulation of scientific research, all had a profound effect on the scale and direction of federal R & D.

Key worth acknowledged that the U.S. lagged behind in the development of several important areas of science.  He considered the Soviet Union to be ahead of the U.S. in the area of plasma physics and Europe in that of high-energy physics [7]. The preservation of its scientific and technological leadership has been and continues to remain an end in itself for the U.S.  But — and this was noted at the time by more perceptive scholars of the U.S. scientific potential — to attempt to maintain predominance in all areas of scientific and technological progress in competition with the developed economies of the USSTR, the countries of Western Europe, and Japan is nothing other than a “presumptuous ambition” [3].

The only area in which the United States, in Keyworth’s estimation, had to maintain its predominance was that of national security.  “I believe,” he said, “that the military power of our country must be unsurpassed . . .  I also believe that science and technology play a crucial role in securing us this power, and I will work to safeguard our predominance in this area” [6, p. 4].  Laser beam weapons, he specifically asserted, “may become the only reliable anti-missile defense.”  The Department of Defense was therefore obliged to evaluate its program of development of a laser beam weapon with emphasis on basic research rather than on deployment of a system of such weapons [15, p. 519].

Federal government appropriations have already been reduced for several scientific projects.  Thus, after having increased government subsidies for atomic energy, the Reagan administration cut the resources for the study of the use of solar energy in the 1981 fiscal year.  Decreases in funds for other studies (NASA and urban transport, for example) are also expected [3], but the sharpest cutback has been in federal appropriations for social research [9].

The science advisor to the President plans to examine the work of the national laboratories, government scientific centers which number more than 30 in the U.S.  These laboratories are funded by the government and carry out the research programs assigned to them, but they are administered by universities, private corporations, or nonprofit organizations.  Key worth considers the best US universities in no way inferior to the national laboratories in scientific competence, and sometimes superior to them.  He therefore proposes to examine closely the role of all of the national laboratories within the national system of scientific research, and in appropriate cases to transfer their assets to the universities or to industry [21, p. 103].

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Thus the scientific and technological policy of President Reagan has been clearly delineated in its basic features.  Its primary aim is directed at the consolidation of the position of American multinational corporations by means of the transfer on their behalf of basic research activity along with the simultaneous allocation of tax and credit privileges and the use of government resources to facilitate applied research on labor productivity.  This provides the basis for strengthening the domestic and foreign economic positions of American monopolistic corporations.    The hidden agenda of all of these measures is the technological rearmament of American industry and the achievement of a military predominance on a world scale.

[translator appends a couple of observations.  The final sentence is an accurate assessment of the science policy of the U.S. government since 1980.  The article edifies the Anglophone reader by providing both the Russian point of view and a specific and thorough documentation supporting it.  On the other hand, the account Kulkin just completed — an account that seemed to me continually to take longer, the longer I worked on it — describes a process of negotiation and accommodation of what the political-science scholars frequently term the “stakeholders” of the development of a national policy of science and technology.  Compare that, if you will, Dear Reader, with [the English translation is that of the 1976 paperback, by the distinguished US scholar of Russian government, Strobe Talbot, which translation I adopt word-for-word] the account of Nikita Khrushchev of how the Soviet Union on his watch did not receive an as it were Politburo Science Advisor.

I would like to recount here

he says on pages 63-65:

my association with various scientists whose efforts made it possible for us to catch up with the Americans and defend our country.  Our leading nuclear physicist was Comrade [Igor Vasilevich] Kurchatov [1903-1960].  He was the driving force behind our harnessing of nuclear energy.  Thanks to him and atomic scientists like him, we were able to fulfill one of our fondest dreams, which was to have nuclear-powered engines for our submarine fleet.  I don’t even need to speak about Kurchatov’s merits as a scientist because he was recognized the world over.

.   .   .   .

I believed taking Kurchatov to England with us would serve three purposes that would override the dangers: first, he would elevate the prestige of our delegation; second, he would allow us to establish useful contacts with the Western scientific community; and third, taking him with us would be a welcome demonstration of our trust toward our own intelligentsia.  Such was our faith in Kurchatov that [in 1956 we let him go around by himself in England, calling on physicists and visiting laboratories.

Kurchatov was extremely broad-minded and practical.  Most specialists — and I don’t say this to reproach them — are interested only in their own research projects or in their own branch of science.  Kurchatov, on the other hand, understood that government funds must be expended according to a system of priorities.  We wanted to advance our cultural, technological, and economic level, but first and foremost we had to think about the defense and security of the country.  Kurchatov saw that clearly.

I think other scientists knew how much I like and trusted Kurchatov.  Therefore they tended to regard him as their spokesman.

One day at the end of a meeting, he came up to me and said, “I have an idea which I’d like you to consider.  I think it would be most useful if you appointed me as scientific advisor to you in your capacity as Chairman of the Council of Ministers.”

I liked the idea.  We needed a man who enjoyed our absolute trust.  He should serve as a conduit for information and advice from the scientific world to the government.  I told Comrade Kurchatov that in principle I appreciated his offering his services, but that the proposal would have to be considered in the leadership.  I told him that the next time we saw each other I’d let him know what was decided.

But we weren’t destined to to meet again.  Soon after that conversation I learned that [in February 1960] Comrade Kurchatov . . . had died.

We thus can see Kulkin describing a process of accommodation of “stake-holders” and Khrushchev (to the extent that this is indeed Khrushchev but, to be frank, what S. Talbot endorses I am not about to question) operating completely ad hoc, on the basis of personalities alone.

From the evidence in these two accounts, the U.S. system appears more functional.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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