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Volume 77, 1948-49
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Mission Of Goodwill


In July, 1946, the President of the Royal Society of New Zealand received a request from the Presidents of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., and the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, to designate one member of the Royal Society who would be invited to be the guest of the American bodies at their autumn meetings in 1946.

The broad purpose of the invitation was clearly stated in the opening paragraphs, which read:

“The National Academy of Sciences and the American Philo sophical Society send greetings to the Royal Society of New Zealand, and extend their best wishes for a new era of fruitful scientific achievement that will hasten the spiritual and material rehabilitation of the world.

“Recognising the need for world-wide unity in the furtherance of scientific research, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society should deem themselves fortunate if representatives of sister academies in other countries would join with the members of our two bodies in their autumn meetings of 1946…

“It will be a privilege for our members again to meet with their foreign colleagues, from whom they have been separated by the circumstances of war. It is our hope that these renewed associations and friendships will stimulate the wholesome progress of science that has in the past, and will in the future, depend upon the friendly relations of scientists and of societies of scientists.”

The Royal Society did me the honour of forwarding my name and, in due course, I received from Dr. D. W. Bronk, the Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Sciences, an invitation to attend the autumn meetings of the Academy and the Philosophical Society, together with a request that I take part in a post-sessional tour of certain university and scientific centres in the United States of America. This letter again underlined the general purpose of the invitation: he wrote, “We look forward with much pleasure to your visit. It is our hope that you will find it a profitable and pleasant occasion for the resumption of scientific friendships and for the discussion of problems relating to the international development of science.”

I accepted this opportunity with joy. At the same time, I realised that my acceptance involved certain duties and responsibilities. As an individual, I was relatively unimportant, and whatever advantages I might gain personally were, in a sense, incidental to a broader obligation, namely, to try to understand the reasons which prompted

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the sponsors of what Dr. F. B. Jewett, President of the National Academy, in a personal letter, called “our mission of goodwill.” The men who conceived and planned this visit of representatives of sister academies and learned societies were implementing part of a carefully conceived programme for the post-war development of basic scientific research on a world scale. Consequently, the invitation, while it gave to each guest splendid opportunities of quickening his intellectual life and of enriching his personal relationships, did much more. It gave to each the possibility of taking part in scientific co-operation on an international scale.

As I understand the situation, our American hosts were looking to the future. The foreign delegates were to be instruments in a movement of great potential value to the well-being of mankind. The contacts which the invitations were to make possible would act as a powerful flux, facilitating that international understanding and co-operation between scientific societies and individuals which has been so fruitful in the past, and on which the future of scientific endeavour depends.

It is not chance that the scheme to bring together guests from the leading scientific academies of the world followed the publication of the Bush “Report to the President,” July, 1945. This great document showed clearly that although the war had seen staggering advances in technology, there had been an alarming lag in the development of the basic research upon which technology builds, and without which it is crippled.

“During the war years we drew heavily on our scientific capital, making great advances in applied science—in radar, rockets, antiaircraft gunnery, in immediate therapeutics, in transportation. To do so, we had to give up fundamental research, and so we had to sacrifice the future to the present. We must now replenish the reservoirs of fundamental knowledge.”—Vannevar Bush, Endless Horizons (1946), p. 172.

Basic research cannot be planned; nor can it flourish under bureaucratic controls and in an atmosphere of secrecy. It demands for its growth, conditions of complete freedom. If one adds to this the inescapable conviction that mankind can be saved from the destructive possibilities of recent technological advances only by further basic research which will enable the constructive potentialities to bear fruit for the ultimate good of mankind, it follows that a first step towards world sanity lies in the re-establishment of free intercourse between scientists throughout the world. This is not a selfish wish; it is a pre-requisite to a civilisation conceived on an international scale.

I do not know whether there is a direct connection between the Bush Report and the scheme as conceived by the Presidents of the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences, but the two are obviously closely related and stem from the same need and the same clear vision.

I suspect that those who planned the visits of foreign scientists to the United States had another reason. They realised that in this post-war period of difficulty when statesmen are handicapped by the

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backward state of the social sciences, a potent factor for good lies in a wider application and deeper understanding of the attitude which a scientist brings to the solution of his problems. This attitude, I believe, derives from the proper use of the scientific method. The proper use of the scientific method requires freedom of speech, freedom to publish results, freedom from controls, and that freedom to interchange ideas and techniques which can come only through personal contacts and travel.

My impression of many informal talks and discussions is that the leading American scientists are convinced that the survival of our civilisation—which scientific research can enrich immensely if. mankind wills it so—depends upon free and untrammelled basic research on an international scale, with complete freedom for the interchange of ideas between scientists and societies of scientists.

This conviction was shared by many of the foreign delegates, and it was clearly expressed by one of them, Sir Henry Dale, in his Pilgrim Trust lecture on “The Freedom of Science.” He said: “I hold it to be our right and our duty to unite in telling the world insistently that if national policies fail to free science in peace from the secrecy which is accepted as a necessity of war, they will poison its very spirit… that science will languish, and that all the fair promise which it offers of a harvest of human prosperity, culture and happiness will be blighted and withered.”

The meetings at Philadelphia and Washington were, therefore, an earnest of American belief that the time was ripe for a renewal of international co-operation between scientists. Participation, as a guest, at these meetings was a challenge to join in the world movement; and an invitation to the delegates to carry back to their academies and to their countries the ideals and ideas which inspired the whole undertaking and made it such a vital experience.

American Philosophical Society.

The American Philosophical Society was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743, “for the promotion of useful knowledge among the British plantations in America.” It is the oldest learned society in America, and was modelled after the Royal Society of London, of which Franklin was a member. The society is housed in Independence Square, and has an enviable reputation for the part it has played in the promotion and publication of research and scholarly work in the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. The society has available about 100,000 dollars annually for grants-in-aid for research, and owns a library of about 100,000 volumes, which is especially rich in works on the history of science and culture.

The National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.

The Academy is the American equivalent of the Royal Society of London; that is, it consists of a relatively small number of scientists of established reputation. Election to the Academy is a signal honour and rarely takes place before the age of fifty years. It follows that many able and active scientists do not belong to the Academy, and, to this extent, it is not representative of American science as, a whole.

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“The Academy was originally set up by Congress more than eighty years ago, to be the official adviser to Government in matters of science, to provide machinery which would assure to Government at all times the best that American science and technology had to give, and to provide a completely unbiased and uninfluenced source of information whenever needed by Government. That was the basis on which the Academy was incorporated by Congress in 1863, and it served until the time of World War I substantially as it was intended, that is, wholly as an Academy.”1

As a result of the growth of science and technology, the Academy created a National Research Council, “not only to supplement and strengthen the Academy in its advice to Government, but… to assist American science and technology in all fields… to the full fruition of the nation's capacities.”2 The Council has a broader mandate than the academy, of which it is the principal operating agency, and its function is broadly, “to stimulate research in the mathematical, physical, and biological sciences to formulate comprehensive projects of research; and to promote active co-operation in research.”3

The Academy, with its unique foster-child, is superbly housed on the magnificent Constitution Avenue overlooking Potomac Park and the beautiful Lincoln Memorial.4

Scope of Representation.

The American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences sent invitations to twenty-nine foreign academies throughout the world, and some of these were represented by three guests. The list was headed by the R. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome—founded in 1603 and represented by Guido de Ruggiero, formerly Rector, University of Rome; and ended with the Academia Nacional de Ciencias Exactas, Buenos Aires—founded in 1937, and represented by Bernardo Alberto Houssay. The Royal Society of London sent Sir Henry Dale, past President, and Sir Alfred Egerton. The Academie des Sciences, Institut de France, sent the venerable Maurice Caullery and Gaston Julia; Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, Copenhagen, sent as delegates Niels Bohr and Niels Norlund; and so it went. All the sciences were represented, and the meetings were decidedly international in scope, in outlook, and in language.

Delegates Assemble in new York.

The first of the formal meetings arranged by the American Philosophical Society and the Academy took place in Philadelphia, but guests converged from many directions in New York, and a local

[Footnote] 1 Dr. Frank B. Jewett, President, National Academy of Sciences, Bull. Nat. Research Council, No. 114 (Sept., 1946), pp. 1–2.

[Footnote] 2 Ibid., p. 2.

[Footnote] 3 Ross G. Harrison, Chairman, National Research Council, ibid., p. 4.

[Footnote] 4 It is surely time that the Royal Society of New Zealand should be housed in a manner, and with resources, adequate to the rôle it should play in the scientific and cultural life of the Dominion.

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committee provided a pre-sessional programme which gave us our first taste of American hospitality and of American scientific and cultural organisations. Our opening function was a luncheon at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. This was the first of the delightful informal gatherings at which, while catering largely for our bodily needs, our hosts supplied rich intellectual fare and gave us eagerly accepted opportunities to make those friendships which mean so much to us all. Next came a luncheon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it was followed by our first visit, as a group, to an American university; we had dinner at the Faculty Club of Columbia University, meeting there the President and members of the Faculty. Next day we were entertained at the American Museum of Natural History. In each place there was the friendly welcome from colleagues, known or unknown, which was to be such a heartwarming feature throughout our visit to the United States. This series of stimulating personal contacts would alone be sufficient justification for our visit.

It is impossible to give details of impressions and reactions; one example must serve to illustrate. In the American Museum of Natural History, I had an experience almost overwhelming in its emotional intensity. I came face to face, in the flesh, so to speak, with Tyrannosaurus rex, with Triceratops, with “The Dinosaur Eggs,” and with similar things about which I had talked to students for twenty years.

Meeting in Philadelphia.

The autumn meeting of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia started with a reception of foreign delegates, which was followed by visits to the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Franklin Institute, and later to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Next day we had a symposium on “America's Role in the Growth of Science,” and a visit to the University of Pennsylvania; another reception and another dinner. The following day we spent at Princeton—it was a perfect day in a perfect setting. We took part in a Charter Day Convocation, part of the Princeton University bi-centennial celebrations, at which eminent students from all parts of the world were present to be recipients of honorary degrees. Three of our delegates were so honoured. Niels Bohr and Sir Henry Dale became Doctors of Science, and Dr. Y. R. Chao, Doctor of Letters. It was a brilliant gathering. In the afternoon of the same day we attended a reception at the famous Institute for Advanced Study, where the galaxy of talent assembled was breath-taking. We finished the day by a visit—including the inevitable dinner—to the Radio Corporation of America Laboratories near Princeton, where the staff demonstrated such gadgets as the electron microscope, the electronic counter, infra-red telescope, and so forth, which, may I confess it, merely bewildered an already intoxicated geologist.

The meeting of the National Academy of Sciences was also held in Philadelphia—there was an hotel strike in Washington. First came a symposium on “Present Trends and International Implications of Science.” Harlow Shapley dealt with Astronomy; Carl G. A.

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Rossby with Meteorology; and K. U. Sverdrup with Oceanography; That was one morning's fare!

In the afternoon, Niels Bohr spoke on Atomic Physics; J. B Macelwane on Geophysics; John von Neumann on High-speed Computing Machines; and C. K. Leith on Mineral Resources.

The second day saw us coping with “Problems of International Co-operation in Science,” when the main speakers were Alexander Wetmore, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; John A. Fleming, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington; and Jerome C. Hunsaker, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the evening Sir Henry Dale delivered the Pilgrim Trust lecture, “The Freedom of Science.” It was a magnificent address by a great scientist.

Somewhere in this crowded programme there was time for another dinner and a reception at which the delegates were formally presented to the President of the National Academy of Sciences. Each delegate replied, and each received a medal which I have pleasure in exhibiting here.

I have just touched on the highlights, and I have not time to give details. Fortunately, because one's capacity to absorb is limited and the fare was rich and concentrated, abstracts of most of the papers were supplied; I have presented a set of the abstracts to the Secretary.

To my mind, the most valuable part of these meetings was not the formal addresses, although these were of high standard and delivered by some of the leading scientists of America. Just as valuable was the opportunity of meeting and talking with so many distinguished workers from so many parts of the world.

Informal discussion, during meals, at receptions, in cars or buses, in hotel lobbies, in fact, everywhere, was unending, highly profitable and enjoyable.

The delegates moved on to Washington, where we were privately billetted. It was my good fortune to have as host Dr. T. Wayland Vaughan. We there were given a reception in the United States National Museum after taking part in the Centenary Celebration of the Smithsonian Institution, at which Matthew W. Stirling, chief of the Bureau of American Ethnology, gave a lecture on “La Venta Culture of Southern Mexico.” It was a brilliant function, fitting conclusion to a memorable if somewhat hectic week.

Post-Sessional Tour.

After the formal meetings, about half the delegates took part in an admirably organised conducted tour of scientific and cultural centres in the United States of America.

It started with a visit to Yale University. I was able to pay homage to the memory of Charles Schuchert and to see his famous collection of brachiopods and his unique library of brachiopod literature. We saw also Marsh's original exhibit of the evolution of the horse; and the great new mural of reptilian life in the Peabody Museum. We saw, with pardonable envy, the Sterling library, and, as elsewhere, we met the Faculty, to our gain. We went on to Boston,

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taking the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in our stride.

Next came Chicago, where the highlights included the University, a visit to International House and to the Chicago Museum of Natural History, where I was able to enjoy the originals of C. R. Knight's paintings of vertebrate life and Malvina Hoffman's exquisite sculptures of the races of man.

From Chicago, we travelled in comfort to San Francisco, via Salt Lake City. You may imagine the excitement with which the geologists of the party—five in number—glued their eyes to the windows. We visited Berkeley and Stanford University. It was a joyous repetition of previous visits to other centres, with stimulating contacts, animated discussions, receptions, dinners, and so forth.

There followed a fascinating tour of the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena; a visit to the University of California at Los Angeles; a magnificent drive through the orange country to Mount Palomar, site of the new 200 in. telescope, and thence to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at La Jolla. Last came a glorious day at the Grand Canyon—breath—taking, unbelievably grand, and supremely interesting—and so, via Chicago, to New York and the Waldorf Astoria. I could talk for weeks about our experiences. The tour was organised as only the Americans do such things—i.e., perfectly. It was magnificent.

It gave us splendid opportunities of gaining a comprehensive picture of the immense material and spiritual resources of some of the chief centres of American learning. It left one gasping at the magnitude and diversity of American achievement and keenly alive to the potential scope and value of future American contributions to scientific knowledge. The scale is so large and the institutions are so numerous; they deal with so many problems, and are so well equipped and housed, possess such superb facilities in the way of libraries and museums, and are so generously staffed and liberally financed, that one might easily assume that the future of scientific progress is assured, and that America is destined to be the leader in this as in many other fields. True, there is strength and virility, coupled with technological skill of a high order, and intense activity in many fields of scientific endeavour. Universities and research institutions of all types, with resources which filled me with envy and the thought that New Zealand had much to learn in this respect, are quite literally buzzing with plans for post-war research. Out of all this only good can come, and this, coupled with a keen desire by leading scientists that scientific discovery and the technological advances to which it leads should be used to increase the prosperity, health and happiness of all, augurs well for the future.

Material resources, modern equipment, adequate buildings, large staffs, library facilities, and liberal endowments are necessary for many research programmes, and on a scale which those charged with the responsibility of financing research institutions and the scientific departments of the university colleges in New Zealand have failed to realise. A nation which starves its scientists in the post-war era is heading for disastrous stagnation. That is a lesson learned in the

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bitter experience of World War II, and it is a lesson which statesmen do well to heed.

But there is something to add: material resources, however lavish, do not guarantee scientific progress, although for a time they foster technological advance. More important are the conditions under which scientists work, and, of paramount significance, the formulation from time to time of the great fruitful generalisations or hypotheses which permit a widespread advance on one or several fronts. There are subtle factors by which the scientist is frustrated; one is bureaucratic control involving secrecy. This I have already mentioned, quoting Sir Henry Dale, to underline the danger.

I also quoted Vannevar Bush as evidence that the great technological advances made during the war have used up scientific capital, and that it must be replenished by fundamental research.

This is another way of stating that post-war advances in science need the stimulus of new hypotheses. The history of science makes it clear that such hypotheses are rare; that they cannot be ordered or produced on demand; and that their birth is largely independent of material resources—being the product of the study rather than of the elaborately equipped laboratory. The latter comes into its own as a means by which the hypotheses may be more adequately tested.

I formed the conclusion, and it is shared by a few Americans with whom I discussed the problem, that American scientists have been so preoccupied with the application of scientific theories that they have failed to appreciate the primacy of the theory in scientific methodology. Many American scientists congratulate themselves on this practical attitude and are subconsciously, or openly, hostile to the theoretical approach. I think that this is a serious weakness. Better a Willard Gibbs than an Edison, but such have been few in the history of science in America.

The theoretical background of American science is still almost entirely European in origin. In the past, America has not produced as high a proportion of original thinkers as has the Old World.

I suspect that the production of genius is related to the length of cultural tradition. If this be so, the preoccupation of American scientists with applied science is a result of the comparative immaturity of American civilisation and the time of full flowering of her intellectual life is still to come.

This situation, with its attendant problems, is common to all young countries, not excepting our own.

I believe that it is part of my task to make suggestions as to the possible rôle that the Royal Society might play in fostering scientific co-operation on an international scale. In New Zealand we have suffered from our relatively isolated geographical position; in some measure we have been cut off from the main currents of scientific and cultural achievement. We have lacked the stimulation of frequent contacts with overseas institutions and with individual scientists. It is a significant fact that throughout our history our cultural inspiration has been drawn, in the main, from Great Britain

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and, to a lesser degree, from Europe. We have been, and are, an outpost of Western European civilisation in the South-west Pacific. Our theories, our traditions, and our way of life are British in origin. This has been inevitable, but in a world in which technological progress has annihilated space and time, this deliberate restriction of our supply of ideas and practices has its dangers.

We have nothing to lose and much to gain by broadening our outlook; by recognising that the Dominion is situated in the Pacific; that we should play a much greater part in co-ordinating the development of scientific research in the Pacific area.

In the United States of America there is widespread interest in the whole Pacific area. Various organisations are discussing and planning developments of wide scope and far-reaching significance. For example, in June, 1946, the National Research Council sponsored a Pacific Science Conference in Washington, D.C., at which important recommendations aimed at the systematic and methodical advancement of scientific studies in many fields were adopted. Some of these plans concern New Zealand, and involve co-operation with local Government departments and with local scientific institutions and scientists.

Other countries bordering the Pacific, or with interests in the Pacific, are equally active. For example, the French Government has established a research institute—“Institut Francais d'Oceanie” —at Noumea; and the Government of the Netherlands Indies plans a research station at Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea.

Unfortunately, New Zealand has not shown similar initiative, and we have failed to take the part which our interests and our geographical position would seem to demand. I feel that the Royal Society should take a much more active part in the development of scientific research in the Pacific area. To this end, I make some concrete suggestions. The first suggestion is that the Royal Society of New Zealand should set up a standing committee to be called the “Pacific Research Committee.”

The task of the Committee would be to (1) foster, direct and co-ordinate scientific research in the Pacific area by New Zealand institutions and individual scientists; (2) to prepare a survey of the state of our knowledge of the various fields of science with particular reference to the South-west Pacific; (3) to act as a clearing house on current researches and projects; (4) to function as a local liaison unit and an avenue of collaboration with international organisations co-operating in scientific research in the Pacific area; (5) to arrange for the establishment in New Zealand of facilities for visiting scientists engaged on research in the Pacific.

My second suggestion is that the Royal Society should establish formal contact with the newly founded research institute at Noumea. When in Washington, I met the Director, Dr. R. L. A. Catala, who informed me that he desires to make his institute international in scope, and that he would welcome and provide facilities for New Zealand scientists in Noumea. I suggest that the Royal Society might invite Dr. Catala to New Zealand so that he could establish contacts

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with local institutions and workers, thereby facilitating future co-operation.

The Pacific Science Conference stressed the desirability of organising the Seventh Pacific Science Congress as soon as possible “in order to further co-ordination of research already in progress or being planned and to perfect arrangement for co-operation among countries of the Pacific Basin.”

My third suggestion relates to this matter. In Washington and in Philadelphia I discussed this problem with several scientists who had taken part in the Pacific Science Conference. I was informed that as a result of disabilities due to the war, the Philippines, whose invitation to hold the next Congress in Manila had been accepted by the Pacific Science Association, would find it very difficult, if not impossible, to fulfil its promise. I was told, further, that Dr. H. E. Gregory, of Honolulu, rather than see the Congress lapse, was prepared to issue an invitation for a meeting there. I was reminded that New Zealand was almost unique among the major countries bordering the Pacific in that a Pacific Science Congress had not been held there. I gathered the impression that an invitation from New Zealand for the Seventh Congress in 1948 would be welcomed in the United States.

On my way home, I visited Honolulu and took the opportunity of discussing the whole problem unofficially with Sir Peter Buck. Professor Gregory was, unfortunately, not available. Sir Peter Buck gave enthusiastic support to my suggestion that an attempt should be made to hold the Congress in New Zealand. He has since written to me to tell me that Professor Gregory will support such a plan.

It would appear that if New Zealand were to take immediate action and issue an invitation to the responsible authority, that invitation would be accepted with enthusiasm. I would strongly urge the Royal Society to take the initiative in this matter. I suggest that it should invite the appropriate Government departments, the University of New Zealand, and the scientific organisations of the Dominion, to support it.

The Seventh Pacific Science Congress will be of major importance and significance in the planning of post-war scientific research in the Pacific area. To have it in this Dominion would be a great stimulus to scientific research in New Zealand. This is a challenge which we cannot refuse to accept.

My final recommendation is more general in nature. In view of the need for, and the advantage of, international co-operation in scientific research, it would be advisable for the Royal Society to act for scientists in the Dominion as a liaison centre. I suggest, therefore, that there is need for the appointment of a foreign secretary whose duty it would be to keep in touch with the foreign secretaries of overseas academies and with international scientific organisations.


I conclude this address by reaffirming my conviction that international co-operation between scientists is not only a duty and a necessity, but also a task with immense potentialities for good. I am

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sure that the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society have sown seeds which will grow and flourish abundantly. I would wish the Royal Society to play a worthy part in this great world movement.

There is a link which unites all scientists, whatever their field—this regardless of race, nationality, and language—a link, therefore, which in some measure fills the gaps torn in the world picture by artificial political boundaries and by conflicting ideologies. I refer to the methodology which we share and from which we derive our strength. The scientific method involves two things: first, hypotheses, and, secondly, a rigorous testing of the consequences of the hypotheses by observation or experiment—a testing aimed at falsification. It is this combination of bold speculation and the ruthless persecution of these same speculations by testing that is something quite new in human history. It is this union of boldness and caution which is responsible for the great liberating influence of science.

Scientific work involves valuable qualities of mind and character. These qualities are implicit in the use of the scientific method, and they represent the greatest contribution which scientists can make towards building a civilisation, “which aims at humaneness and reasonableness, at equality and freedom.”