Chuck Spinney: Overcoming the Descent into a Neo Dark Age

Cultural Intelligence
Chuck Spinney
Chuck Spinney

The below  pdf, from the Cal Tech archives, is Richard Feynman’s commencement address to the graduating class of 1974.  His title, framed with his characteristic wit, is “Cargo Cult Science: Some remarks of science, pseudoscience, and leaning how not to fool yourself.”

Feynman’s subject is nature of integrity in the practice of science and the search for truth (and, I would add, in life).  His remarks are especially germane when the practice science involves the quest for money and the misshaping of public policy (a subject President Eisenhower also addressed explicitly in his farewell address almost 14 years earlier

Eisenhower Extract:

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system – ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

Read full speech by Eisenhower.