Social Responsibility Of Science

Information Brief Number 38  1957 

The North American scientists are neither noblemen nor freemen in their society. Unless they are able to achieve some outstanding recognition, they must remain second-class professionals. The role of the scientist lacks social prestige, for the majority merely become servants of businessmen and politicians.

It is high time that the general public gave more consideration to the question of how much influence scientists should have in the determination of social policy and action. In this connection the term “scientist” includes technologist and engineer. Scientists, as a group, have proved themselves to be the most trustworthy and humanitarian of any group in society, as well as the most competent. They rate a role in determining the affairs of society far above any yet accorded them — a role far more significant than that of mere advisers to non-scientific decision makers.

The big advances in social operations will come from people who are trained in the techniques of science and technology when these people are no longer influenced or hindered by politician, moralist or businessman. Scientists are responsible for the discovery and development of many things in the world which have a profound bearing, actual or potential, on social affairs.

Science and technology have provided the means, and politics and business have made the decisions which gravely threaten the future survival of the entire population. It is frightening when we realize with whom among our countrymen social decisions rest.

It is none too soon for the scientists of North America to be made responsible for the making of national policy and social decisions.

Step In Right Direction

A report issued by a committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, on the question: “How far shall scientist go in actively participating in the determination of social policy?” was published in SCIENCE magazine. In the opening paragraph we find: “The committee found that even a cursory examination of this question leads to a serious conclusion: that there is an impending crisis in the relationships between science and American society. This crisis is being generated by a basic disparity. At a time when decisive economic, political and social processes have become profoundly dependent on science, the discipline (science) has failed to attain its appropriate place in the management of public affairs.

The committee report deplores the fact that there is very little public interest in science and that it receives an unduly small amount of space in the press and on television, radio and screen. There is little inducement for young persons to enter science. Many of the scientifically trained people in America are being bid for by competing interests and thereby are being taken away from a self-interested pursuit in pure science.

The report shows the difference between the growth of the physical and that of the biological and social sciences. As a consequence, developments in chemistry and physics, including nuclear energy, are pushed forward without adequate attention being given to their biological and social implications. Progress in basic science is lagging far behind the practical applications of science; much of the latter must rely on basic research done 20 or 30 years ago. What we need now is much more creative research directed toward the discovery of new knowledge about nature.

It goes on to discuss the successes of science which are self-evident, as is readily noted in the fields of industry, health, communications, and warfare. In some instances the successes of science have gone awry and threaten serious trouble; for example, radiation dangers from nuclear explosions; inadequately tested food additives; hazardous fumes, smogs and dust disseminated by industrial plants, automotive vehicles and other combustion processes; the rapid depletion of our natural resources; and the potentiality of a totally destructive war. These dangers arise mainly from the fact that social decisions in these fields are “rarely in the hands of scientists.” The report concludes with a recommendation that scientists and scientific bodies should be more outspoken with their views. It notes that business, labor, and other social groups are not backward in making their views and recommendations known. Science, in comparison with these others, gets very little publicity, and what little it does get is not always positive. The report ends on a rather weak note, recommending only that social agencies and the public be made better acquainted with the work, the evaluations, and the recommendations of science — that they might be able to make better decisions.

The road ahead is long and rough. Against science are arrayed all the traditional forces of the Price System. They can be heard over the radio and television and read about in the press and on billboards. These purveyors of non-science speak out of both sides of their mouths with reference to science. One side praises science for producing something they can use in their business, while the other side denounces science as being materialistic.

Dangerous uses of scientific knowledge are being promoted by agencies outside of the field of science. Scientists are inclined to be opposed to war, to human repression, to neglect of social advances, and to unequal treatment of humanity. But none of these scourges are alien to the practices of politics, business and moralism.

The physical equipment of North America is already being operated by the technical people of the area, and they are doing their job very well considering the handicaps and deadweight imposed upon them by the overburden of business, politics and superstition. Think how much easier and simpler it would be for the technical people if this overburden was removed and they had full responsibility. A functional government of a technological society would not be like any of the many varieties of government that have flimflammed the citizenries of the world for so many centuries. Let there be a governance of function, not an authoritarian regulation imposed upon the people by the institutions of non-science.

Technocracy invites the technical men and women of North America to become forthright and aggressive in their insistence that a governance of function, administered by people of technical training and achievement, be instituted to replace the predatory gangsterism now imposed upon our society under the name of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” There is no question about the scientists of America being able to organize a governance of function.

What is needed now is a modest amount of favorable publicity for science. This job could be accomplished by the scientists and technologists of North America courageously acting together through the associations which they have already established. Timidity, hesitance and subservience are not becoming to scientists.

If the organizations of science and technology do not provide adequate vehicles for social expression, the scientists of North America are always welcome to join and make their collective views known through Technocracy Inc. Technocracy is nobody’s pawn or servant and it makes no compromise with the Price System. In Technocracy, one does not have to be nice to the status quo nor play footsie with the authoritarians.

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