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October 04, 2007


Beau Heart

An MIT man, Vannevar Bush understood this issue very well. During WWI, Bush was frustrated that the Navy failed to develop an anti-submarine technology. Thus as a showdown with Hitler loomed, Bush was resolved that defense technologies were too vital to the survival of our democracy to be left entirely to our elective leaders and the professionals within the armed forces. These two sets of worthies did not know the edges of the endless frontier of science and technology. Accordingly, Bush, a Republican, went to Democratic president F. D. Roosevelt and proposed that the genius harbored within the minds of our nations civilian technologists be harnessed to tackle the terrible challenges of war. The result was an extraordinary bounty of inventions: computers, radars, medicines, synthetic rubber, and far more.

Later, Eisenhower became president of, horrors, an Ivy League college where much valuable civilian work went on, during WWII. Perhaps this helped prepare Ike for valuing the perspectives of highly educated scientists. With civilian scientific advisors like Killian and Kistiakowsky, and their many colleagues, Eisenhower was able to commission valuable technologies for gathering intelligence and deterring war, in a world with nuclear weapons.

Yet Ike was keenly balanced. He famously warned of the perils of a military-industrial alliance that had political and economic incentives to commission poorly conceived military systems.

Subsequent times have seen a decline in the concept of Administrations seeking advice about technological choices from leading scientists. The advice can sometimes potentially be inconvenient for political agendas. This ironically is the reason such advice could serve society as a whole. We seem the poorer for this change. Adamant renders service to note this issue.

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