Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Address "Science: Handmaiden of Freedom," New York City.

May 14, 1959

Dr. Bronk, Mr. Sloan, fellow innocents in the field of science, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great privilege to be present at this meeting with so many Americans actively interested in basic science. Equally it is for me a unique experience. I have no professional competence in searching out nature's secrets and out of my own knowledge I can make no professional suggestions, on the substance of science, to which you could possibly accord the slightest validity.

Nevertheless, I hope that in a fairly long life, punctuated here and there by promotions of various types, that I have not reached the state of exalted position and complete uselessness that was achieved by one of the hunting dogs I heard about, trained by a northern woodsman.

Their master, who had long enjoyed a warm acquaintanceship with a university community, had the habit of naming his dogs for faculty members that he admired. But when a few wives became a little indignant over the practice, he decided to name his dogs for various academic ranks instructor, assistant, and professor, and so on.

One hunting season, a man from Chicago hired for two dollars and a half a day a dog he liked very much. And the following year, asking for the same dog, was told the price would be five dollars a day. When he protested the steep inflation and insisted that it was the same dog, the owner agreed but said that the dog had been promoted to assistant professor and was now worth the added money.

Well, next hunting season, the price jumped to seven dollars and a half because the dog had then achieved the rank of associate professor. And the year after, it was raised to ten dollars, the reason being that the well-trained canine had reached the noble status of full professor.

The following year, when the hunter returned to rent the same dog, he was turned down. "Why not?" demanded the hunter insistently. "Well, I'll tell you," said the old woodsman, "I can't let you have him at any price. This spring we gave him another promotion and made him the president of the college. Now all he does is sit around and howl and bark, and he ain't worth shooting."

Now, even though my scientific education is limited, I think there may be some usefulness in considering together certain aspects of the relation of government to science and the conditions under which the work of scientists and scholars will best flourish.

In our lifetime, greater advances have probably taken place in science and technology than in all prior history, and these advances have profoundly affected, and will continue to affect, our manner of living. These advances and changes have also had a profound effect on Government and on national policy. In my public service I have found myself increasingly involved in dealing with problems and policies affected by the growth and impact of science and technology. Out of this experience in dealing with these matters and my close and cordial relationships with increasing numbers of scientists and engineers arise such observations as I shall make tonight.

First, I must congratulate the Sloan Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for sponsoring this conference on basic research. The Nation cannot help but feel a profound satisfaction in seeing so many leading representatives of education, industry, and Government participating in a symposium concerned with such a vital effort.

And I derive special satisfaction from the fact that this conference is sponsored by private interests. Too often we have tended to look unduly to the Federal Government for initiative and support in a multitude of activities, among them scientific research. We must recognize the possibility that the Federal Government, with its vast resources and its increasing dependence upon science, could largely preempt the field or blunt private initiative and individual opportunity. This we must never permit.

Too much dependence upon the Federal Government may be easy, but too long practiced it can become a dangerous habit.

Yet, Government's role in research and its responsibility for advancing science must be large and there must be a persistent partnership between Government effort and private effort. Our science and technology are the cornerstone of American security, American welfare, and our program for a just peace. For the Government to neglect this would be folly. But the strength, growth, and vitality of our science and engineering, as in every other productive enterprise, hinge primarily upon the efforts of private individuals.

Private institutions, foundations, colleges and universities, professional societies and industry, as well as all levels of Government, have a vital role to play in promoting individual leadership and in striving for excellence and the achievements of a high level of creative activity. Thus is created increased opportunity to pioneer, to initiate, and to explore untrodden areas.

Now, through the growth of scientific knowledge we in America have profited immeasurably.

We have done so because we are free.

Freedom is the central concept of our society, and this freedom of each to try, to fail, and to try again is the mainspring of our progress.

Freedom is both cause and effect; by sustaining it we preserve the essential condition of learning, while the benefits that flow from knowledge work to keep us free.

As we have long known, freedom must be earned and protected every day by every one of us. Freedom bestows on us the priceless gift of opportunity-if we neglect our opportunities we shah certainly lose our freedom.

Our immediate task--America's first responsibility--is to see that freedom is not lost through, ignorance, complacency, or lack of vigilance. And this applies to our domestic problems and to those abroad. It is important that in our daily lives at home we so conduct ourselves in politics, in business, in education that liberty is not impaired. Equally we must be alert to our duty of assuring that neither we, or other free nations, succumb to an ideological system dedicated to aggressive force and governed by fear.

That we succeed in this task--that we successfully preserve freedom amidst an uneasy climate of disquiet and tension--depends more than ever upon the readiness of each of us to advance American science and engineering.

It is in this strong conviction that I particularly stress the freedom of the scholar and the researcher.

From the very outset of our Republic, the Government of the United States has sought to encourage science and learning. Our early statesmen, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams, all sought to find ways by which the new Republic could sponsor learning and promote the progress of science and the useful arts.

The founders of the American political system clearly believed that the secrets of nature must be better known so that they might be used to advance the welfare of all our people.

But while, under the stimulus of practical need, the application of science to problems of production and growth became accepted practice in our young, vigorous, and rapidly growing society, the uninformed often referred in slurring terms to what we called the "impractical scholar." Fortunately, we have come far from that point. We have done much in overcoming this misunderstanding. We have learned that the apparently visionary researcher is likely to produce unexpectedly practical results. Witness the work of such scientists as Faraday, Pasteur, Gibbs, Einstein, Fermi, and Von Neumann.

Basic science, of course, is the essential underpinning of applied research and development. It represents the frontier where exploration and discovery begin. Moreover, achievements in basic research, adding as they do to man's fundamental understanding, have a quality of universality that goes beyond any limited or local application or limitation of time. Eventually, those discoveries benefit all mankind.

Today, the American record in basic research is becoming no less brilliant than in applied science. The past 50 years have seen a remarkable growth of graduate schools of science and other types of research institutions. Since World War II scientists working in the United States have won more than half of all the Nobel Prizes awarded in the physical sciences. If we can continue to cultivate our strength and achievement in this field of basic research, we shall greatly enhance our capacity to defend ourselves, and simultaneously advance our economic and cultural strength.

Vigilance and effort are required.

I am told that fewer than 30,000 scientists and engineers, or less than two hundredths of one percent of our population, are now engaged in basic research. Only about four percent of our scientists and engineers are engaged in basic research. Educators and scientists warn us that we need to step up this effort, if we are to move forward on the broadest scientific front.

And I think, my friends, this has to be a studied effort. Although we have long known that necessity is the mother of invention, we cannot depend upon accident to bring about these advances that we need.

All of us know the old story of finding that cooked meat was much better than raw meat, when the ancient Chinese had his barn burned down and a bunch of pigs were in it. Well, he found out about crackling, that it was very good.

Another accident, and for this story I am indebted to a friend of mine here who is far too shy and modest to want me to identify him. And it was about a hearing aid, Mr. Sloan. This man needed a hearing aid, and he went to the store and he found that the cheapest one was two hundred dollars and when they ran up to eight hundred, he decided this was clear outside his pocketbook range, so he decided to make one himself. Which he did. And he worked it with pretty good effect.

Well, finally, a man said to him, "Now tell me, Bill, does this thing really work?"

He says, "Of course not, but it makes everybody talk louder."

We cannot afford to look for our advances in this kind of result, even if the result was, in this case, only psychological.

In seeking out and educating the necessary talent we need to insure, as we have done in the past, that the search for fundamental knowledge can best be undertaken in areas and in ways determined primarily by the scientific community itself. We reject a philosophy that emphasizes more dependence upon a centralized approach and direction. Regimented research would be, for us, catastrophe.

The progress and growth of America depends upon many qualities of our people. Clearly these include curiosity, imagination, educational preparedness, and tireless stamina. Without these we could not be a people of true creative genius. We must search out the talented individual and cultivate in all American life a heightened appreciation of the importance of excellence and high standards; not only in specialized fields, but in individual dimensions of diversity as well.

It is very much worth noting, I believe, Tocqueville's comment of 125 years ago in some notes just published for the first time, that what makes the American such an intelligent citizen is that he does a little of everything. This he thought was an important reason for superiority of the American in the ordinary business of life and the government of society.

But while today we require a high degree of specialization, it remains vitally important for the specialist in every field to understand that his first responsibility to himself and to his country is to be a good citizen.

Above all, the specialist must comprehend how his own work fits in effectively in promoting the national welfare.

Twenty years ago, Federal support of science was about 100 million dollars annually. Today, this annual investment, by the Federal Government, in applied and basic research, together with pilot development, has grown to over five billion dollars. A large fraction of these Federal funds is spent in laboratories owned and operated by private groups. Much of this expenditure is to meet the current and practical needs of the Federal Government. The size of these Federal expenditures and the policies and practices of the Federal Government inevitably have a substantial effect on the Nation's private scientific institutions. But again we remind ourselves that the whole program would be self-defeating if it were allowed to limit the freedom of its own research.

During recent months we have made many moves to strengthen the management of your Government's scientific activities. These include a number of advisory committees and several new legally authorized agencies. All of them are designed to point up and enhance and coordinate scientific research.

And now, let me cite one example which illustrates an appropriate way for the Federal Government to further our basic scientific research effort. Incidentally, when I quote the cost, George Humphrey will hurt.

Recently the General Advisory Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission and my Science Advisory Committee, under the chairmanship of Dr. Killian, appointed a special panel of scientists to undertake a comprehensive review of the Federal Government's participation in the high-energy accelerator physics field.

On the basis of this report, I am recommending to the Congress that the Federal Government finance the construction as a national facility of a large new electron linear accelerator. Physicists consider the project, which has been sponsored by Stanford University, to be of vital importance. Moreover, they believe it promises to make valuable contributions to our understanding in a field in which the United States already is strong, and in which we must maintain our progress. Because of the cost, such a project must become a Federal responsibility. This proposed national facility, which will be by far the largest of its kind ever built-a machine two miles long--has the endorsement of the interested Government agencies--including the Treasury. Construction of the accelerator will take six years, at an over-all cost of approximately $100,000,000.

By such means the Government labors to advance our scientific knowledge and to further the free use of science for healing, for enriching life, and freeing the spirit.

In emphasizing these objectives and needs, I am deeply aware that they are inseparable from the broader goal of enriching the quality of our society and enhancing the excellence of our intellectual life.

We cannot improve science and engineering education without strengthening education of all kinds. America must educate all the varied talents of our citizens to the limit of their abilities.

Here what we seek is talent of the first rank.

We do not ask of a man his race--his color--his religion.

In the field of intellectual exploration, true freedom can and must be practiced.

The dignity of man is enhanced by the dignity and freedom of learning. How well the learning is accomplished depends upon the competence and devotion of those to whom the training is entrusted: the teachers and educators at all levels, everywhere, throughout our land.

So let us cultivate more respect for learning, for intellectual achievement, for appreciation of the arts and humanities. Let us assign true education a top place among our national goals. This means that we must be willing to match our increasing investments in material resources with increasing investments in men.

For my part I have long urged and supported the idea that there should be established a hall of fame for the Arts and Sciences. Membership would be an honor to which every American boy and gift could aspire.

Talent and quality are vital to our national strength--they are the ingredients needed to carry us onward and upward to higher peaks of achievement in science as well as in the non-material world of the mind and the spirit.

Science, great as it is, remains always the servant and the handmaiden of freedom. And a free science will ever be one of the most effective tools through which man will eventually bring to realization his age-old aspiration for an abundant life, with peace and justice for all.

Thank you very much indeed.

Note: The President' spoke at a symposium on basic research sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which was held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. His opening words referred to Detlev W. Bronk, President of the National Academy of Sciences, and Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Inc.

The report of the President's Science Advisory Committee and the General Advisory Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission was made public by the White House on May 17.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address "Science: Handmaiden of Freedom," New York City. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/234858

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