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Science, Applied Science, and Scientific Research

The two models for scientific research

At the close of World War II there were two models for successful scientific research. The most widely publicized was the Manhattan Project which gave us the fission bomb, artificial radioisotopes in commercial quantities, and large scale radioactive material handling technology. Less widely known but of even greater value to civilization was the OSRD (Office of Scientific Research & Development) which was responsible for literally hundreds of practical inventions ranging from millimeter radar and that branch of mathematics we now call Operations Research (OR), to anti-malarial drugs and blood transfusion technology.

The list of OSRD achievements is almost endless, but this kind of research and development effort was never continued because the rapidly growing bureaucracy of higher education and government adopted the single minded Manhattan Project approach as more “efficient.” The unstructured methods of OSRD, driven by field-necessity like the ad hoc methods of the OSS soon became inconsistent with the burgeoning bureaucracy in both Science and espionage.

Big “Science” in America has failed the People

The catastrophic failure of American Science to build a broad multi-disciplinary intellectual base spawning innovation and encouraging inductive leaps and the well-touted “intelligence” failures of the CIA and KGB are but two sides of the same coin.

Much of the efforts of the educational establishment to develop “generalists” has been nothing more than an excuse to allow people to learn very little about many areas of academic concern and not enough about anything to make a significant contribution to improving the human condition. The free market system has demonstrated that those “management scientists” who taught that managers need only “know how to manage” perpetrated a cruel hoax upon American business and industry.

Books on management make a great deal about the rediscovery of innovation as the source of industrial progress and the basis for real profit in business and commerce. The recent spate of books by management consultants lauding “hands on” management and concern at the top for products and customers is long overdue. Many areas of science are in danger of similarly missing the basic reason for the existence of academic “disciplines” and “departments.”

Where is the community of Scholars?

Yet when you ask university professors, deans, college presidents, and senior faculty members, “What ever happened to the ‘community of scholars’ that was the ideal of a university?” the answer is, “We don’t know what happened to it or even whether during our lifetimes it ever existed.” The effort to develop a conceptual model of the Earth as a General System may very well force the reestablishment of a scholarly community if not necessarily a community of scholars. If the effort accomplishes nothing other than to encourage discourse among scholars of different backgrounds there should be a significant improvement in higher education.

Do something!

When in trouble or in doubt; run in circles scream and shout? No!
We must replicate the successful methods of the OSRD and bring them to bear on the production and distribution of food, clothing and shelter throughout the world. Since it appears that nothing is going to come from the academic community in time to accomplish anything useful, and as our time runs out, I propose that we establish an Energy Systems Science Institute or National Academy of Energy outside the traditional institutional structures of our Colleges and Universities.

The Institute or Academy should function largely as did the central administration of OSRD during World War II. Its work should be driven entirely from the field and by the demands of those concerned with Energy as the basis for Western Civilization and American Culture at the working level whether farmers, industrial corporations, commercial business, or consumers.

The central Institute or Academy management team would consider each problem presented and identify the areas of academic, scientific and industrial concern and interest the experts in these areas who might be able to contribute to solution of the problem. The principle function of the Institute or Academy would be to enlist the support of these experts in solving the problem and to define the nature of the solution required to meet the goals of the entity which brought the problem to the Institute or Academy.

What might have been

Had OSRD continued its efforts after World War II and become the principal problem solver for industry in America, the revenues derived could easily have promoted research at the graduate and undergraduate level at every University throughout the United States without the need for taxpayer subsidiaries through government handouts under the control of its associated bureaucracy. OSRD was the leanest institution in the history of science and it produced some of the most extraordinary results in the history of human endeavor. There is no reason why this glory cannot be recaptured.

Entire industries were born during and after World War II as a result of the OSRD efforts and older, established industries became more efficient and profitable as a result of OSRD contributions. Nevertheless, nothing as fundamental to world peace and international stability as the energy civilization requires has received the benefits of such concentrated attention by the academic, scientific, engineering, and intellectual community in America.

And why not…?

Why can’t the leaders of industry, academia, government, and public interest groups in America make a relatively limited effort to kick off a modest endeavor with great potential return not just for the institutions and constituencies they each represent, but for the world at large? Once there was an attempt at “Project Eagle,” but it was strangled at birth.

Regrettably, there is no individual we can immediately recognize as the charismatic successor to Vanevar Bush, nevertheless, some effort must be made to launch this program quickly. There are only a few narrow windows in history through which great projects can be launched and civilization advance. It appears we may be doomed to the fate of other civilizations whose bread baskets turned to deserts and whose greatness turned to ashes.

At the risk of misquoting the Bard, I must remind you that “the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves;” and “there is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at its flood leads on.” The dire consequences for all if we miss this tide should be obvious to those who witness the plight of not just the Third World, but the malnourished, poorly clothed, ill-housed poor people in American today and the struggle of the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to emerge from the feudalism of twentieth century totalitarianism. Let us at least make an effort to do it right one more time.

Victor John Yannacone, jr. – May 5, 2002