Richard Nixon photo

Remarks on Presenting the National Medal of Science.

February 16, 1970

Ladies and gentlemen:

I am very happy to welcome you all to the White House this morning for a very special occasion, one that comes only once a year.

On this occasion, we are making the awards of the National Science Medal, and six awards will be made to six very distinguished scientists in the United States.

In making these awards, I note that they began in the year 1959. And that allows me to refer perhaps to some of the historical background for the creation of the award in the first place.

You will all remember that at the time Sputnik was put up by the Soviet Union, that there was naturally a very strong reaction in the United States. To a certain extent, it was an overreaction, some would say. The overreaction, perhaps, led to some very beneficial things: the first man landing on the moon, more emphasis on the training of scientists in the United States but also to some inaccurate appraisals, inaccurate in terms of downgrading the quality of American education-of course, it can always be improved-but downgrading it to the extent that we tended to think that American scientists and particularly our education in the field of science was far behind the rest of the world.

That was not true then. It is not true now. We continue to move forward, and as we move forward, and as we recognize today these six distinguished scientists, we are also reminded of the fact that the scientific discipline and the scientific tradition in the United States is a very proud one.

We don't say this in any jingoistic sense, but one of the reasons that the United States is the first nation in the world in our progress is that we are the first nation in the world in science. And we hope to remain that way--hope to remain that way for the good not only of the people of the United States but for the people of the world.

Now just recently--and I am sure all of our friends who are receiving these awards today will appreciate this comment--we have had the announcement of an historic message to the Congress in the field of the environment. And a great debate is now raging in this country, a very constructive debate, as to whether there is really a conflict between progress and the quality of life.

We look at all the good things that we have around us, things that would not be here without the progress that was made possible because of the scientific genius represented by these six who represent far more throughout this Nation, throughout its history. And yet, when we think of that progress, and where we are, and how far we have come, we also realize that with that progress has come many, many problems--the problems of the pollution of our air and our water and of our land. And, consequently, we wonder what we can do about it.

And here, again, as was the case with Sputnik, there is a tendency to overreact, to react not simply to clean up the air and the water and to make the land more livable, but to react in terms of suggesting that progress, which is the result of this scientific genius, is in itself bad and that if only we could return to a time when man could live in his natural state.

Of course, history then tells us that that Rousseau romanticism was just that. It was a pleasant myth, but it was a myth.

Man in his natural state is not a particularly admirable creature. It does not mean that man as he develops becomes completely admirable, but it perhaps can truly be said, as H. G. Wells said it, that history is really "a race between education and catastrophe." The right kind of education--that is really what it is all about.

Then finally I would just add this point: Dr. DuBridge's office furnished me some statistics about the number of college graduates we will have this year and the number who will receive bachelor of science degrees. There will be over 900,000 who will receive degrees from colleges and universities in the United States and approximately 80,000, less than one-tenth of them, will receive science degrees.

Now, I would also point out that political science is not included. And that is altogether proper. Political science is a misnomer. There is no science to politics. It cannot even be called an art. It can be called much worse, and is by some. [Laughter]

But I would say this as I stand in the presence of these men who have in their various disciplines contributed so much to the progress of America and mankind: We in the area of politics have an enormous responsibility to see that the wonders of science are turned to the benefit of mankind.

This is the central problem of our time, whether it is in the environment, whether it is in the problem of defending our security, or in any other area.

And I only hope that those of us--and there are many of us here from the Senate, from the House, from the Congress-that those of us in the field of politics will be able in our way to contribute as much to working out this delicate balance between scientific progress and a better life for man, will be able to contribute as much in that area as have these men in the field of science contributed to the progress of this Nation and to the world.

And now Dr. DuBridge will read the citations and I will present the medals.

[At this point, Dr. Lee A. DuBridge, Science Adviser to the President, introduced five of the six recipients and Mrs. William Feller who accepted the Medal awarded posthumously to her husband. The citations were read by Dr. DuBridge as follows:

ROBERT J. HUEBNER--For contributions to the modern understanding of the biology of viruses and their role in the induction of diverse diseases.

ERNST MAYR--For notable contributions to systematics, biogeography, and the study of birds, and especially for great work on the evolution of animal populations.

JACK S. KILBY--For original conceptions and valuable contributions in the production and application of integrated circuits.

WILLIAM FELLER For original and definitive contributions to pure and applied mathematics, for making probability available to users, and for pioneering work in establishing Mathematical Reviews.

HERBERT C. BROWN--For discovery and exploration of the hydroboration reaction and for developing it into a major and powerful tool in chemical synthesis.

WOLFANG K. H. PANOFSKY--For classic experiments probing the elementary particles of matter and for contributions to advancing the means of experimentation in this challenging field.

After the presentation of the Medals by the President, he resumed speaking, as follows:]

Thank you very much, Dr. DuBridge. And I would add only one point that I think was quite obvious in the presentation of the awards; and that is that science truly is not limited to any nation, or any race. It covers the whole world. How much America owes to those who came to this land from so many other lands.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:38 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.
The National Medal of Science was established by act of Congress (73 Stat. 431) "to provide recognition for individuals who make outstanding contributions in the physical, biological, mathematical, and engineering sciences." Awards are based on recommendations of the President's Committee on the National Medal of Science.

Richard Nixon, Remarks on Presenting the National Medal of Science. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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