John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks Before the National Academy of Sciences.

April 25, 1961

Dr. Bronk, Dr. Wiesner, ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express my appreciation for your generous invitation to be here. It has always been a source of interest to me that in the earliest days of the founding of our country there was among some of our Founding Fathers a most happy relationship, a most happy understanding of the ties which bind science and government together.

I am sure that even some of our English friends who may be here today would probably agree that the two most exceptional men of the 18th century, both in this country and I think probably in Western Europe, would have been Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson--both leading political figures of their time, both scientists, social as well as natural.

This Academy was rounded in the administration of another President who though not a scientist himself did understand the intimate ties which must exist between science and government. This Academy is I think now about a hundred years old. I don't suppose there has ever been a time, even during the days of World War II, when the relationship between science and government must be more intimate. Nearly every question which we approach--those of us who hold political office--has scientific overtones.

We are a free society in this country, therefore all of you are able to pursue your own private interests. But it is a fact that the members of this Academy have also recognized, probably as much if not more than any other group in our society, their obligations to society, to the public interest. And therefore, though all of you either teach or work in private industry--some of you in Government--all of you have been willing to give your time and your talent to the service of society as a whole. We are on the threshold of a good many new frontiers. The work which some of you have done on oceanography, the work which we hope we can carry through to fruition in the next months and years on desalinization, the work under Dr. Bronk which you have recently undertaken on an analysis of our natural resources, the work which we must try to undertake on the problems of our urban society, all these problems are political problems, are social problems, are scientific problems.

And therefore, as President of the United States, I would like to emphasize again the message which all of you have heard in other days: we need your help.

This country must move forward. Most of the areas where we move forward involve most sophisticated problems, which your experience and training can help us to solve. One of the problems, it seems to me, 6f a free society is the fact that all of the questions which we must decide now are extremely sophisticated questions. It's difficult enough for those who hold office, either in the administration or in the Congress, to attempt to make a determination between alternate courses of action--fiscal policy, monetary policy, agricultural policy, international policy, disarmament, arms control, all the rest, all of these involve questions to confound the experts. For those of us who are not expert and yet must be called upon to make decisions which involve the security of our country, which involve the expenditures of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, we must turn, in the last resort, to objective, disinterested scientists who bring a strong sense of public responsibility and public obligation. So this Academy is most important.

Speaking personally as President, I am called upon to make decisions, for example, in the field of space which involve many billions of dollars, where men are committed to one program or another. This Academy serves as a great natural resource, then, for those of us who are called upon to make these decisions, when we can turn to you and ask 1962 view, ask your advice. You are motivated by desire to see the public interest expanded. It is the same desire that we have.

And therefore, I think that in the long history of this Academy, stretching back over a hundred years, never during that time has there been a greater need for understanding and support by the Government, the scientific community, and by the public at large.

So I was anxious to come here today to express my appreciation to you, to ask your help in the days and months to come, because I think together we can build a stronger society here in this country.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at the annual meeting of the National Academy in the National Academy of Sciences Building. His opening words "Dr. Bronk, Dr. Wiesner" referred to Dr. Detlev W. Bronk, President of the National Academy of Sciences, and Dr. Jerome B. Wiesner, Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks Before the National Academy of Sciences. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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