[Delivered before the Society at a meeting of the Wellington Branch, May 19, 1959.]
It is a signal honour to be elected President of the Royal Society of New Zealand but it is also a sobering experience, for the office, by tradition, involves duties and responsibilities which cannot be taken lightly. One of the obligations of a President is to attempt to raise the status of the Society which has honoured him; one of his responsibilities is to look beyond the confines of his own specialty and to think of science as a whole; and it is his bounden duty, if he would speak for scientists, to be well-informed and to weigh his words with care.
In thinking of these things it occurred to me that the status of science in the Dominion was a topic involving problems which, as well as being significant for individual scientists, was one of national importance, and, therefore, one which the Royal Society, the senior scientific organisation in the Dominion, was competent to investigate.
It is my object to pose some of the problems and to suggest a method by which they might be investigated. This programme, of necessity, involves consideration of the role of the Royal Society of New Zealand; a theme which, in fact, is the kernel of my address.
Thesis in Brief
Broadly, the thesis I am about to elaborate is that just because, as D. K. Price puts it, science “has been the most explosive force in modern society”, and because science and technology impinge more and more on all aspects of our civilization, it is vitally important that the leaders in all fields in our democratic society should understand the broad implications of scientific discovery and be familiar with its methodology. It is essential that decisions on questions involving science, which may effect so many so fundamentally, should be reached only after seeking and weighing the best, unbiassed advice available. I suggest that there is an urgent need in the Dominion for a body competent to provide critical, constructive and independent views on scientific problems in New Zealand and on Government policy where it involves scientific and technological knowledge. I believe that the Royal Society should be this body that it should function as the voice of science and scientists in New Zealand; and I base this belief on three grounds—one, that the Fellowship of the Society includes the leading scientists of the Dominion as judged by their peers; two, that the Society has the necessary international recognition and affiliations; and, three, that it is the only scientific organisation in New Zealand of sufficient stature and by tradition is independent (except for a grant for its publications) of Government control. On historical grounds, and by virtue of services rendered, the Royal Society is the obvious first choice for this role; no other institution or agency has a better right so to act.
The Royal Society is broadly based, embracing a wide range of disciplines, and membership in it is open to all scientists. The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, although its functions are very important, and its range of activities very wide, is a Government agency set up for a specific purpose, and is unable, for this very reason, to play the independent, critical role which is the prime function of the proposed organisation.
There are those in high places in the scientific life of the Dominion who hold that the Royal Society of New Zealand as at present constituted cannot properly speak for the scientists of New Zealand as a whole. They argue that membership of the Royal Society is not based on scientific qualifications; that the physical sciences are inadequately represented therein and among its Fellows; that the same is true of such applied sciences as medicine, engineering and agricultural science; that the procedure by which the branches elect representatives to the Council of the parent body does not necessarily ensure that the Council is the best unit to speak for science; and that the Fellowship is too narrowly based and excludes many young, active and brilliant scientists. Without necessarily accepting these arguments (some of which are invalid), I judge that a case can be made for a close scrutiny of the organisation of the Royal Society itself. In my view reform is overdue and is essential if the Royal Society is to qualify for the role here envisaged for it; that role is to act, if required, as a source of reliable, unbiassed and independent information on matters of scientific import in the Dominion, and to voice when it is judged necessary, fearless criticism of national policies which fail to give due weight to scientific factors when they are relevant.
I see no alternative to the Royal Society for this task. It is true that a body could be expressly established for these purposes; it would, in my opinion, of necessity, include most of the active Fellows of the Royal Society—those scientists whose merit has already been recognised and acclaimed by their fellow scientists—together with others considered by the founders of the new organisation to be worthy of inclusion by virtue of the quality of their work for science. This alternative seems to me to have little merit; it is unnecessary, wasteful of effort in money and personnel, and unlikely to inspire that loyalty and service which the Royal Society, throughout its long history, has always obtained in full measure from many of its members.
It appears to me much wiser to suggest some measure of re-organisation within the Royal Society and thus to achieve the desired end through an existing body which has served local scientists well for nearly a century. But I would add this: time is running out. My personal opinion is that if the Royal Society does not soon reform, it will lose its position of leadership among scientists in the Dominion, and its right to speak for them as a whole will pass to some other organisation. This would be a tragedy which, I trust, we will do all in our power to avoid.
Science and Scientist
I have used the terms science and scientist without definition. But scientists speak many tongues and the problem of inter-communication among scientists who cultivate different disciples is very real. I would like to quote at some length from Caryl P. Haskin's “Report of the President”, Carnegie Institution of Washington (Year Book, 1956–1957, pp. 4–5):
“Diversity of approach is the life-blood of the scientific effort. Science enlists men of the most unlike temperaments and talents. It unites workers whose gifts are primarily descriptive with workers whose understanding and approaches comprehend symbolism and techniques of the most abstruse and involved character. Bonded in a common effort are men whose talents are primarily synthetic with men so keenly analytical that synthesis may have little meaning for them. United are investigators of deeply theoretical bent with investigators of primarily mechanical skills.
“It is not only the observers that differ widely in their characteristics, under the common rubric of scientists. The subject matter diverges even more. Scientific disciplines vary enormously among themselves in their degree of sophistication and in their intricacy…
“These profound diversities among investigators and within the structure of science are characteristic and immeasurably precious. But they also harbor all the dangers of fragmentation and pose the most serious challenges to communication within the very core of the scientific effort. The compartmenting of subject matter is a constant threat to the unity of science, and many factors promote it.”
There is, however, a link which unites all scientists whatever their subject and regardless of the diversity of their approach to their problems: this is the scientific method.
I am going to attempt to give an outline of the scientific method: no one, I hold, can claim to be educated who fails to understand the most fruitful tool yet added to man's intellectual equipment; he who does so deliberately “cuts himself off from the most remarkable development in the history of human affairs”. I quote from K. R. Popper, whose views on methodology I follow.**
The greatest scientists had “a passion for inquiry”. For example, it has been said of Newton that he was “notoriously susceptible to the challenge of a problem”; and of Pasteur that “the torment of the unknown became a dominating component of his life”. Scientific discovery then starts with a problem. Problems, of course, do not arise in isolation, they are normally derivative, being inherent in the current state of knowledge of the discipline concerned—that is, they result from, or arise out of, earlier work and out of known theories. Problems crowd in on the worker who is steeped in his subject, who is thoroughly familiar with its literature, and with its techniques. There are many factors in the scientist's choice of a problem, but it is essential that it should arouse the enthusiasm of the investigator to a white heat; that it should possess an urgency in its own right; in short, that it should fire the imagination. It is the imaginative interpretation of a problem which leads to discovery.
The first step towards the solution of a scientific problem is not the collection of data, not the recording of observations, but an intuitive, creative act, identical in all respects with the creative act of the artist. It involves cerebration and imagination; it is the formulation of an idea, theory, hypothesis, law, principle or generalisation—these are synonymous terms in this context. In its crudest form it involves no more than the making of a guess or an assumption, but with genius it becomes one of the great adventures of the human mind; exciting, satisfying and fruitful.
The formulation of an hypothesis (the term I prefer) is a personal, subjective, intuitive act: it may lead to discoveries: it may end in failure. Faraday wrote “The world little knows how many of the thoughts and theories which have passed through the mind of a scientific investigator have been crushed in silence and secrecy by his own severe criticism and adverse examinations; that in the most successful instances not a tenth of the suggestions, the hopes, the wishes, and the preliminary conclusions have been retained”.
For a scientist the hypothesis is merely the beginning, a means to an end. “Hypotheses,” said Pasteur, “come into our laboratories in armfuls; they fill our registers with projected experiments, they stimulate us to research, and that is all.”
The great theorizers in science have been those with active minds. For example, it has been said of Einstein that “His thoughts flowed like a constant stream”. Similarly, it was said of Charles Darwin that he “speculated endlessly—it was like strong drink to him”. “He found it,” he himself wrote, “delightful to have many points fermenting in one's brain.”
[Footnote] * Popper 's Logik der Forschung (1934) has recently (1959) been translated by the author as The Logic of Scientific Discovery published by Hutchinson of London. I am happy to acknowledge my indebtedness to Dr. Popper, whose discussions on methodology while he was at Canterbury University College were lucid and illuminating.
The solution of a problem usually follows arduous and long-continued thought, but it is often presented to the mind with surprising vividness and completeness. This process of illumination is, of course, not restricted to scientists. I will give one example. In a lecture delivered in the University of Glasgow in 1933, Einstein discussed the travails which preceded the genesis of the General Theory of Relativity. He stressed “…. the years of searching in the dark for a truth that one feels, but cannot express, the intense desire and the alternations of confidence and misgiving, until one breaks through to clarity and understanding…”
In the second step of the scientific method the imaginative generalisation, the flash of vision, the tentative assumption, is subjected to the austerity of reason. The logical technique of deduction which is as old as Aristotle, is applied to the hypothesis and by this process its potentialities are laid bare. This is a process of thought by which specific consequences may be derived or inferred from a general proposition. The significance of deduction lies in the fact that it makes possible predictions which can be tested. Deduction is the method by which we pass from the theoretical to the empirical; from the general proposition to a particular fact of experience. With prediction, imagination is brought back to earth; and its mental constructions are given shapes which may be tested in the ruthless realm of observational or experimental fact.
Scientific hypotheses play little role in the progress of science until they become common property; until, that is, they are communicated or published, and so made available to scientists in general. Publication makes free criticism possible; theories and their predictions may therefore be tested by anyone with the necessary understanding and technical skill. The testing process is shared by all active workers in the particular field to which the hypothesis relates. It becomes a community affair, involving the co-operation of many scientists. Individual idiosyncrasies and prejudices which scientists, being human, possess as commonly as their fellows, are ironed out and eliminated by the public criticisms of other scientists at scientific meetings or in scientific publications. The role of these social institutions in a free society is to facilitate scientific objectivity.
It is often stated that the object of testing is to verify or confirm an hypothesis. I prefer to follow Popper, who holds that all we can do is to test hypotheses severely and to eliminate the false ones. The hall-mark of a scientist then is his willingness to accept the elimination of a generalisation after the falsification of predictions from it. Listen to Darwin's autobiography, “…. I have steadily endeavoured to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject), as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it.”
To sum up this section: the method of science is a hypothetic-deductive method involving in turn causal explanation (i. e, hypothesis), prediction and testing. Science is a discipline which is at once theoretical and empirical. It attempts to solve problems with the aid of hypotheses which explain or predict events. The events it explains or predicts are observable facts and observation is the basis for the acceptance or rejection of hypotheses. The testing of hypothesis is therefore grounded in experience.
Man has speculated from the beginning and his speculations, which are embodied in his literature, in his mythology and in his ethical codes, have moulded his ideals and motivated his actions. Scientific method has added something new in man's intellectual development. What is new and significant is that mere boldness of ideas is no longer enough, they must be subjected to rigorous testing. Michael Polanyi wrote, “Science fosters a maximum of originality while also imposing an exceptional degree of critical rigour” and he noted that its revolutionary character results from this “unity between personal creative passion and willingness to submit to tradition and discipline.” Popper called this procedure
a method of trial and error, and added that the method works “if enough and sufficiently varied hypotheses are forthcoming, and provided that the attempts to falsify are sufficiently thorough.”
If you have followed me thus far you will understand that science consists of a series of hypotheses which have not yet been falsified, but which are still vulnerable. It is, therefore, constantly in a state of flux and growth, constantly giving up the false and constantly moving forward as new generalisations replace the old. This is most confusing and bewildering to those whose minds are conservative or reactionary; it is anathema to those whose temper is traditional and dogmatic.
You will understand further that a science is a discipline the problems of which are amenable to attack by the scientific method; and that a scientist is one who tries to describe and explain experience by use of the scientific method.
The Role of Science and Technology
The remarkable growth of scientific ideas is the most distinctive feature of the last half-century. During it the tempo of scientific discovery has increased with great rapidity, and technological advances based upon new hypotheses have been spectacular and revolutionary.
The present is a time in which the whole climate of intellectual opinion is powerfully affected by scientific research and technological change based on it. Science and its application affect more and more aspects of our civilization.
It is certain that scientific knowledge has already made it possible for man to devastate the earth, or, alternatively, if he so wills, to increase its potential for civilized and humane living to a degree hitherto undreamt of.
It has been claimed that the continued well-being of any society depends ultimately, and to an ever increasing degree, upon science and its application to the complex problems of modern life. Whether or not this be granted, it is abundantly clear that the beneficial results of scientific discoveries are far-reaching. H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh, speaking recently on “Scientific Co-operation within the British Commonwealth” (Nature, February 14, 1959, pp. 425–429), put it thus: “I do not really believe that anyone can seriously doubt that science devoted to fundamental research and the application of natural knowledge to civil and peaceful ends is capable of bestowing the most wonderful benefits upon mankind.” The lot of the common man can be improved to an immeasurable degree. Science will augment his food supply, provide him with clothing, and affect for the better the home he lives in and its amenities; it will give him a higher expectation of physical and mental health, and an increased expectation of life; it will give him increasing freedom from the drudgery of manual toil; remove or reduce his fears of old age and illness; and provide those conditions and freedoms in which his innate potentialities can develop in security. These objectives are not in the distant future; they have been partially achieved, and, if facilities for scientific work are adequate, the process will undoubtedly be accelerated. This is the bright side of the picture as the scientist sees it.
Unfortunately there is an obverse: science and technology have so increased man's capacity for destruction that the very fate of civilization hangs in the balance. The potential destructiveness of new types of weapons has appalled thinking people throughout the world and has engendered stark fear in millions of hearts. These weapons of mass destruction are in the hands of sections of mankind which live by conflicting ideologies, which fear one another and which strive for mastery or for survival.
With respect to the free world, of which we in New Zealand are a part, the reality then is that the democratically elected representatives of the people who for
the time being have the responsibility of Government depend on science and technology for two things: one, the knowledge of scientific theory and of the techniques by which it can be applied to all the problems which affect the well-being of the people and permit the more effective control of their material environment; and, two, the knowledge which will enable the Armed Forces to possess such weapons of defence as will deter a potential enemy, or, in the case of war, prevent our destruction.
In short, science and technology are the prime factors which permit our continued development and prosperity, and ensure our security.
More and more, then, any Government must concern itself, in policy making, with problems which involve scientific and technological theories and techniques. This is a world-wide trend, and we in New Zealand neglect it at our peril; in fact, our geographical isolation and our distance from the great centres of thought and of industrial activity, make it imperative that we take particular cognizance of a rapidly changing situation with a minimum of delay.
If the general thesis outlined above is sound, it follows that scientists have a right and a duty to concern themselves with the overall position of science in the Dominion, and, if necessary, to advise the Government, and inform the public, of steps which appear to them to be necessary and desirable to ensure that the fruits of scientific discovery and technological advances are applied to local problems with as little delay as possible, and on as broad a front as is necessary.
The Royal Society of New Zealand
We owe a great debt to our founders and to the eminent scientists who succeeded them and built so well. It is right that we pay tribute to Hector, to Hutton and to Hamilton; and we should not forget those whose researches published in our Transactions brought renown to our Society and gave it international status: I am thinking of men such as William Blaxland Benham, Leonard Cockayne, J. E. Holloway and W. N. Benson. We can say with Ecclesiasticus, “Let us now praise famous men and the fathers who begat us”.
But my concern here is rather with the future.
In 1955 Professor L. R. Richardson presented a report to the Council on the “Functions of the Royal Society of New Zealand”. (Trans. R.S.N.Z., 83 (4), 1956, pp. liv–lvii.) It is an excellent statement from which I propose to extract only those parts which serve my present purpose.
Since its foundation in 1867, the Royal Society of New Zealand has played a dual role: it has combined those functions and activities which in Great Britain are the concern of the Royal Society of London and of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In broad terms the first is responsible for the stimulation and publication of original research, the second for the public relations of science, and for the communication of scientific ideas to the public.
The major achievement of the Royal Society is that in its Transactions it has maintained an unbroken record of publication of scholarly and original scientific researches. “The Transactions of the Royal Society,” wrote Professor Richardson, “constitute a medium for the publication of research in all branches of science…. The Transactions are distributed to over 500 scientific societies and other learned institutions throughout the world, so that New Zealand researches are available to all scientists and the international status of our scientific effort is maintained.”
But this is only half the story: the distribution of the Transactions has enabled the Society to build up, by exchange, the most important scientific library in the Dominion. Professor Richardson wrote. “The library of the Society is entirely a research library. It is formed of the publications received from the scientific and learned bodies throughout the world sent in exchange for the Transactions and
Bulletins of the Royal Society. Some 2,000 new items are added each year. Nothing is purchased. The annual cost by purchase would greatly exceed the cost of publication of the Transactions and of the Bulletins. The library deals with all branches of science. It holds many complete runs of journals from all parts of the world not available elsewhere in this country. Any item in the library is available through library inter-loan to any research worker in New Zealand whether a member of the Society or not. The loans each year, averaging 650, are related to research work. The demand on the library is growing proportionally with the increase in the scientific community.” (1956, pp. lv–lvi.)
I have quoted at some length to illustrate a crucial point. In building up and maintaining this great scientific library the Royal Society of New Zealand has undertaken a task of national importance, has filled a national need and has provided a national asset without which scientific work in New Zealand would be very seriously handicapped. But, and here is my point, the task of financing the publication of the Transactions and of maintaining the library is crippling the Royal Society. In the financial year ended March 31, 1958, the figure for printing was £4,908 6s 4d, and that for binding library periodicals was £143.7s; a total more than £1,000 in excess of the annual Government grant to the Society.
The future of the Society's Library and its proper housing and maintenance are matters of grave concern. My own view is that the Government should finance, maintain, staff and house what is unquestionably a national asset, essential for the furtherance of scientific work in the Dominion. The Royal Society should be relieved of a task which it is increasingly difficult for it to carry out, and which is done only at the cost of neglecting other important activities.
Alternatively it could be argued that Government realisation of the supreme value of the Royal Society's contribution to the national library resources has never been adequately acknowledged. If the Society had not created this library the Government would have had to supply it, at very great cost, to satisfy the legitimate needs of the scientists working in Government Departments and in the Universities. The Government has been tardy and niggardly in its recognition of the work undertaken by the Society Its annual grant to the Society is a grossly inadequate payment for services rendered at a national and international level.
Professor Richardson included the following sentences in the summary of his report:
“The Royal Society of New Zealand is acknowledged nationally and internationally as the senior scientific organisation in the Dominion. …
“Through its affiliations, publications, and library, the Royal Society is the New Zealand liaison with international scientific organisations and with some 500 scientific bodies and national learned societies in at least 60 countries. …
“It represents science and the scientific viewpoint in national and regional domestic affairs in the Dominion. …”
I propose to use these quotations to illustrate my theme. The first point concerns the international obligations of the Royal Society. To an ever-increasing degree the Society is requested to co-operate with such bodies as the Royal Society of London, the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, the International Council of Scientific Unions in London, the Pacific Science Association, and similar institutions overseas. The Society is invited to be represented at international or regional conferences in various parts of the world.
The reasons for these international contacts are many and various, but all derive from the fact that science is not the preserve of any race or nation, that it transcends national boundaries; that it is unitary on a world scale. The relative geographical isolation of the Dominion and its distance from the great centres of research is a handicap to local workers, they, more than others, need the refreshing,
revitalizing contacts which these international gatherings make possible. Successive Governments in New Zealand have failed lamentably to make provision for adequate representation of New Zealand scientists at international or regional scientific meetings. A reversal of present parsimonious policy would pay handsome dividends.
The second point arises from Professor Richardson's first and third statements—viz., that the Royal Society is acknowledged nationally as the senior scientific organisation in the Dominion and that it represents the scientific viewpoint in national and regional domestic matters. These, I fear, are half truths and represent what should be rather than what is.
But Professor Richardson's report does give an adequate account of the functions of the Royal Society, and fairly indicates its notable achievements. If I do not reiterate them it is because time is short and I wish to point to weaknesses in the organisation—weaknesses which, if removed, would make for a stronger Royal Society and one more deserving of national acknowledgment. The two topics I wish to discuss are the constitution of the Council and the Fellowship.
The Council of the Royal Society
The Royal Society has been described as a federation of autonomous branches; this is at once its strength, and a source of weakness. The weakness lies in the constitution of its Council to which branches may, and sometimes do, elect representatives who are not trained scientists, or who, if scientists, are not necessarily the leaders in their particular fields. This is intended to be a statement of fact, and it is not to be construed as criticism of members of Council for whose activities on behalf of the Royal Society I have nothing but admiration and respect. The point is made in anticipation of the argument that the Council of the Royal Society is not constituted in such a manner as to enable it to speak for scientists as a whole. This argument is of sufficient weight to make it doubtful whether the Council has the standing among scientists generally, or with the Government, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Universities, to enable it, unchallenged, to play the role of an independent agent. If it is to play this role in the future, as I think it should, it must first give serious thought to its own constitution, and the Royal Society itself must give further consideration to its relationship to the growing number of specialist scientific organisations which have been formed independently of it, and which are not affiliated to it, nor represented on its Council.
My view on this matter is that only a Council of Fellows would command the confidence of scientists in general, and that this internal reform is an urgent need if the Royal Society is to function as a body competent to provide independent, critical and constructive views on scientific problems in the Dominion.
I hope that the Branches will give serious consideration to this matter. I believe that the reform I urge is a pre-requisite to the recognition of the Royal Society as the effective voice of New Zealand science and scientists.
If this reform were to be adopted it would, of course, be necessary to widen the scope of the Fellowship to provide for the election of persons who have rendered conspicuous service to the cause of science or are such that their election would be of signal benefit to the Society.
The Fellowship of the Royal Society of New Zealand is “an honour conferred for distinction in research and the advancement of knowledge”. The rules relating to Fellows are under review by a committee of the Council and I have no wish to anticipate the findings of this Committee.
I will refer only to more general aspects of the Fellowship, which now includes the leading scientists in the Dominion in all branches of science. Apart from being
represented on the Council, Fellows do not function as a group, and the Fellowship as such does not entail administrative duties either on the Council or in the Branches.
I have suggested above that I hold the view that the Council should consist of Fellows. I now suggest alternatively that the Fellows might collectively play the role of the independent non-Government agency which I have argued is an urgent need in the Dominion. The status of the Fellows is such that their views on scientific matters would command serious consideration by those whose duty it is to take cognisance of the findings of science and their bearing on Government policy and national prosperity. Their considered opinions on scientific topics would rightly be accorded the respectful attention of thinking people at large.
If this alternative were to be adopted the Fellows might provide the personnel of a body related to the Council of the Royal Society as the National Research Council is related to the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
I do not favour this alternative but it is one way of achieving the desired result, and might be acceptable as a compromise solution if the Branches were strongly opposed to a Council of Fellows.
In general I think that the Society might gain enormously in strength and status if the Fellows would agree to act as a group. Hereafter I will indicate the manner in which I hope that they will agree to co-operate in the investigation of some of the problems mooted in this address.
Science and Government
In Great Britain and in other parts of the Commonwealth, as well as in the United States of America, much thought has recently been devoted to securing an efficient relationship between the scientist and technologist, on one hand, and administration in the task of government on the other. The fundamental need is to secure understanding between those with knowledge and those with power. What is involved here is consideration of the adequacy of the structure of government, and especially at Cabinet level.
“What matters,” said a recent editorial in Nature (Feb. 9, 1957, pp. 275–6), “is that, collectively and individually, Ministers should be capable of understanding and assessing the value and significance of the scientific and technical factors in any problem on which they are called upon to formulate policy.”
In general, statesmen and those civil servants who are responsible for elaborating Government policy have little or no understanding of scientific factors and scientific advisors have a difficult task of interpretation and exposition. The importance of this task has grown with the fuller appreciation of the potential benefits of science but its difficulties are little appreciated. The object of interpretation and exposition is to ensure “that Parliament and public understand clearly what is being done and what is needed …”
“To close the gap [between scientist and administrator] and to remove the present lack of understanding, by ensuring that far more administrators have had a scientific education and that there is a much wider comprehension of the nature and limits of scientific effort, are fundamental contributions to the more effective use of scientific knowledge in public affairs and the wise use of our resources.”—(Editorial, Nature, No. 4567, May 11, 1957, p. 931).
Scientists in New Zealand share the misgivings of their colleagues in Great Britain and for the same reasons; there is need for a thorough scrutiny of the situation in the Dominion. Five major questions merit investigation. They are:
Are the methods by which the findings of science are integrated into public policy adequate?
Does the present structure of Government, especially at Cabinet level, permit the most effective use of scientific advice?
Is there need for the rationalisation of research by Government agencies?
What proportion of public funds should be allocated annually for science and technology?
Are the conditions of employment of scientists in Government service satisfactory?
Investigations of these topics will demand cool heads and the closest co-operation between Government personnel and scientists, and this at a high level.
With regard to the method by which the Government seeks and obtains advice on scientific matters, it may be argued that the Government has done its duty by creating a Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and that from this source alone it can secure all the advice it needs on scientific matters. There is some validity in this argument, but the Department is a Government Department and it cannot speak for scientists working outside its own organisation. Furthermore the functions of the Department, although very wide, are limited. As stated in the Departmental Handbook, the Department's activities “are confined to the provision of scientific research for the benefit of the primary and secondary industries, to the maintenance of the permanent state scientific services … and to research and surveys related to the utilisation of the country's natural resources.”
In point of fact the Government seeks, or is proffered, advice from other sources—from other Government Departments, from the Universities, and so on. Is there need for some body such as the Advisory Council on Scientific policy to co-ordinate and assess?
The second question raises a delicate issue, the handling of which will require tact and goodwill. The problem is this is there a danger that scientific advice (which in the very nature of things must be technical and couched in a jargon which scientists have devised for precision and accuracy) given by scientists might be imperfectly understood and its implications not appreciated by Cabinet (which, usually, will consist largely, or entirely, of persons without scientific background and training)?
The third question merits a full-scale investigation it is the need for the rationalisation of research by Government Departments. Apart from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, many Government Departments undertake scientific research, sometimes on a large scale. To a non-Government scientist or, indeed, to an intelligent layman, the situation appears to be illogical and wasteful The public might well have misgivings concerning this aspect of Government research. There would appear to be an urgent need for some co-ordinating machinery: for some body of independent experts which might scrutinize the total situation. The dangers of continued Departmental competition for funds, of possible overlap in research projects, and of non co-operation between semi-autonomous Departmental heads and personnel, are very real and should be eliminated.
The fourth problem relates to the best means of determining what proportion of public funds should properly be applied to science and technology. A first step towards clarifying this problem would be the collection of reliable data to form the basis of comparison with the situation in other parts of the Commonwealth, in the United States of America and other countries. This is a task which the Government statistician might be invited to undertake If, as we have reason to believe, the total in New Zealand is low in comparison with the sums available in other parts of the Commonwealth, to what proportion should it be raised?
The fifth question relates to the status of scientists in the employment of the Government Are the salary scale, the opportunities for advancement, the conditions of employment, the facilities for research (equipment, libraries, secretarial and technical assistance) and the superannuation allowances, adequate to attract
and hold highly trained personnel in a highly competitive market? Are we failing to attract the most talented young men, or losing key men of high calibre after appointment? Are the most highly qualified scientists given sufficient opportunity, by visits to overseas institutions, scientific conferences and congresses, etc., to keep up to date and be made aware of new discoveries in the wider and more active centres of scientific thought?
Here then are a whole series of questions arising from consideration of the relationship between the Government administrator and the scientist. It might be salutary to remind ourselves that “The scientist, no less than the administrator, needs an education which develops not simply a questioning and critical temper but also common sense and balance.”
Organisation of Scientific Research in New Zealand
A wise apportionment of the monies made available for scientific research in New Zealand must depend on a clear picture of the general structure and inter-relationships of the institutions at which research is carried out. In the Dominion the picture is not clear; the functions of the various bodies concerned are ill defined, with a result that the full potential of the research effort is not obtained.
The time has arrived, I think, when it would be profitable for a survey to be made of the overall situation in the research field in New Zealand; for a stocktaking to be carried out by a body of independent experts. There are a number of problems which I believe it would be wise to examine dispassionately in an attempt to evaluate achievement, to assess current needs and future requirements.
Research in New Zealand is carried out in various Government Departments, of which the main ones are the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Department of Agriculture; by various Incorporated Research Associations, by industry, by the Universities and the Agricultural Colleges, under the auspices of the Medical Research Council, by the Royal Society of New Zealand and its branches, and by the metropolitan museums. For present purposes I will confine my remarks chiefly to the two main bodies concerned—namely, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Universities. The other organisations are not dismissed as unimportant, far from it, but my time and space is limited.
Perhaps it is impossible for me to be unbiased about the present state of scientific work in the Universities; in any case, the matter is to some extent sub judice, the Government having announced that it proposed to set up a Committee to report on University education. This action comes tardily for a crisis already exists. In truth, the Universities have been starved. In my opinion a Committee of Inquiry will almost certainly find abundant cause to echo the opening paragraph of the Murray report: “We have the honour to present to you our report on the Australian universities. We had hoped to find that they were at present adequately staffed and equipped to discharge their heavy responsibility to the students and to the nation. This is, unfortunately, far from the case.” (Report of the Committee on Australian Universities, Commonwealth of Australia, 1957.) One can but hope that when the Committee's report reaches the Government there will be a statesman in power with the vision of the Right Honourable R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia.
A quotation from the Murray Report is relevant to my theme: “Research is of various kinds and is conducted under various kinds of organisation. But there is one kind of research which is in general best done in universities and the greater part of which in recent generations has in fact been done in universities. It is obvious that most of the basic secrets of nature have been unravelled by men who were moved simply by intellectual curiosity, who wanted to discover new knowledge
for its own sake. The application of the new knowledge usually comes later, often a good deal later; it is also usually achieved by other men, with different gifts and different interests” (1957, p. 9.)
Fundamental research is then traditionally the concern of the Universities The reason for this is that University students include the cream of each generation, and in view of their potential leadership, deserve that stimulating and inspired teaching which comes only from the man actively engaged in advancing his own subject. In the New Zealand Universities the staff capable of doing fundamental work are frustrated by the excessive teaching load, by conditions of under-staffing, the absence or inadequacy of technical assistance, the lack (in many cases) of modern equipment, the poor library facilities, and the paucity of clerical help.
A recent editorial in Nature stated “… the effectiveness of university research would be much enhanced by the comparatively small expenditure necessary to increase substantially the number of supporting staff [i.e., specialist technicians] in university laboratories “. The same number of Nature noted that the last report of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy (1958) “stresses the futility of encouraging scientists to enter university research and then to deny them the kind of technical assistance which they would enjoy in Government or industrial research establishments”. (Nature, Jan. 10, 1959, p. 68.) Both statements are directly relevant to the New Zealand situation.
A Royal Society Committee of non-University Fellows could, I believe, do an extremely useful job by investigating the conditions under which University scientists are working, and by reporting on the facilities which would be required to permit them to carry out their task at the standard normally expected in a properly equipped and adequately staffed University.
The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research is now in its 33rd year Since it was founded in 1926 on the recommendation of Sir Frank Heath it has expanded enormously. The reading of the successive annual reports of the Department gives clear evidence of the range and variety of its activities. The record is impressive, very impressive indeed. In a statement which prefaced Sir Frank Heath's “Report on the Organisation of Scientific and Industrial Research in the Dominion of New Zealand” the then Prime Minister, the Right Hon. J. G. Coates, wrote: “I am convinced … that, from the viewpoint of the State, the expenditure of the public funds in the supervision and encouragement of scientific research, particularly in its relation to primary industries, must prove an extremely profitable investment”.
This was a hope which has been abundantly realised and, on these grounds alone, I have no doubt that the Secretary of the Department could make a very strong case, and a realistic one, for treatment similar to that recently accorded to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in Great Britain. There, on December 19, 1958, it was announced in the House of Commons that expenditure on research by the Department will be nearly doubled in the next five years. I have no doubt either that most informed scientists in the Dominion would applaud such treatment, or that the country as a whole would benefit as a result.
Having said these things, and having, in advance of full inquiry, by implication made my own assessment of the achievement of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, I must add my conviction that an independent examination of its present status and role in the scientific life of the Dominion is a matter of some urgency.
As well as maintaining the permanent State scientific services and carrying out research directed towards the needs of the primary and secondary industries and the utilisation of the country's natural resources the Department, in some of its Branches, is engaging in fundamental research and, at least in those fields in which
I am competent to form a judgment, that research is of the highest quality. This means that the role of the Department overlaps that traditionally assigned to the Universities. The situation is complicated by the hard fact that the Department has greater financial resources at its disposal than does the University: it can therefore secure mechanical research aids and tools which do not exist in University scientific departments. It is true to say, I believe, that in some fields of fundamental research the Department has taken over the initiative and leadership which formerly was the prerogative of the Universities. It would be in the true interests of the Department and of the Universities if this situation were examined by a competent and independent group.
Of the many problems posed by the growth of the Department and its inter-relationships with other scientific bodies in the Dominion—e.g., the need to scrutinize the internal machinery of the Department; the effectiveness of its liaison with such bodies as the University Grants Committee, the Medical Research Council and so forth; the role and powers of the Advisory Council; I choose one only, namely, the need for closer co-operation between the Department and the Universities. I believe that only good could come of close physical juxtaposition of units of the Department on University sites. I would like to see the Department take a more positive attitude to the Universities; to station some of its officers in University departments where facilities are adequate; to co-operate with University staff in the solution of problems of national importance. In general the relationships between the Department and the scientists in the Universities are harmonious and mutually helpful. I feel that further co-operation is required and that to make it really effective should be the deliberate policy of the Department and of the University authorities.
Independent inquiry into the status of the Department and its role in the overall organisation of the scientific effort in the Dominion might point the way to more effective co-operation.
Outline of Further Problems
I have had time to deal with only two major groups of problems, namely science and government, and the organisation of research in New Zealand. But there are many other aspects of science and technology which merit study.
First, the broad topic of science and education, raised by Dr. Gilbert Archey at the November meeting of the Council last year, yields a crop of problems. The Department of Education is rightly concerned with the training and supply of teachers of science for the post-primary schools; the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and other Government Departments, are concerned about the supply of highly trained officers; the Universities are giving serious thought to the structure and content of courses in science from the Bachelor's stage onwards; the Universities are also concerned with various aspects of post-graduate teaching and research. The problem of courses in general science at the University level has not yet been solved: two needs are obvious—one, that which results from the compartmenting of science and which might be met by courses in the history and methodology of science; and two, that of bridging the gap between the sciences and the humanities.
Further problems in this general field include those posed by the gap between the scientist and the public—the difficulty of the communication of ideas between the scientist and the layman. This is a serious problem exacerbated by the virtual illiteracy of the press in scientific matters. Science and technology loom so large in contemporary life and so many people are interested in one or both, that the general omission of science from the training of journalists at all levels is a curious anachronism.
(In parenthesis I confess that my sympathy is often with the reporter: scientists too readily obscure their meaning by the too frequent use of polysyllabic jargon of purely esoteric significance.)
Other problems which it would be proper to investigate and report upon relate to science and industry, and to science and defence. Yet another field for critical examination would be that of New Zealand's obligations (from the scientific point of view) at the international level. H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh, in an address from which I have already quoted, wrote:
“The Second World War inspired the formation of the British Commonwealth Scientific Offices in London and Washington. In them work the Scientific Liaison Officers attached to the High Commissioners' or Ambassadors' staffs. They run themselves and a great many other things besides, and they are without any doubt the most lively force in Commonwealth scientific co-operation at this moment.” (Nature, February 14, 1959, p. 425.)
Is the Dominion's part in this co-operation within the Commonwealth adequate and if so, does the overall situation demand an expansion of the science into other parts of the Commonwealth and, because science knows no geographical boundaries, into other parts of the world as well?
A further problem in this field arises from the use made in New Zealand of information supplied to the Government and to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research Is the machinery by which it may be made available to New Zealand scientists, inside and outside Government Departments adequate?
Finally, I have not touched at all thus far on what, in my opinion, would be one of the major tasks for the suggested investigating body, be it the Fellows of the Royal Society or some other group. This would be an independent but authoritative assessment of the achievement, present position and future needs in each of the main disciplines of science and technology in the Dominion.
Request for Co-Operation
In this address I have indicated all too briefly the nature of some of the problems to be included in any assessment of the status of science in New Zealand I have not attempted to solve them but I suggest that the Royal Society might properly attempt to do so.
Such an attempt would be at once a stock-taking and a pointer to new advances to serve new needs. It might well stimulate scientific discovery and quicken the impact of technology on national development; it would provide the opportunity for an examination of the organisational situation and might be expected to indicate methods for the more effective integration of the findings of science in public policy.
While it seemed to me proper that as President I might take the initiative in this matter, it was quite obvious that one man could not solve the many problems involved. In any case the views of one person, whatever his office, may be biased, limited or simply lacking in wisdom or common sense So sensible am I of this danger that last November I sought authority from the Council to invite the living past-Presidents of the Society to co-operate with me, not only in formulating the problems but also in deciding how best they might be investigated.
I propose to submit copies of this address to the past-Presidents of the Royal Society and to invite them to co-operate with me, either as co-authors of a report to be submitted to Council in say, May, 1960, or if they prefer it, to act as sources of constructive criticism at various stages in its compilation If the past-Presidents agree to act I will then invite selected Fellows (or groups of Fellows working in
a common discipline and under a selected convener) to report on problems in the disciplines concerned, or on more general problems on which they have special knowledge.
The scheme, as I see it, has the advantage of enabling the Royal Society, through some of its senior members, to take a leading role in the discussion of matters of national importance. It has the additional merit, insofar as it envisages the collaboration of Fellows, of setting a precedent which if followed by other activities by Follows might revolutionize the significance of the Fellowship with great benefit to the Royal Society.
I count myself fortunate in being able to call on a group of past-Presidents (Dr. Gilbert Archey, 1941–42; Sir Ernest Marsden, 1947; Dr. R. A. Falla, 1948–50; Mr. F. R. Callaghan, 1950–52; Dr. David Miller, 1954–56; and Professor L. H. Briggs, 1957–58) which by virtue of wide experience in many disciplines in many types of scientific institutions, in New Zealand and overseas, is, collectively, uniquely equipped to deliberate fruitfully on the problems which will arise in an investigation of the status of science in New Zealand.
If the scheme has merit and is carried out speedily and with efficiency, the resulting document could be of importance to New Zealand scientists and might well increase the “mana” of the Royal Society.
Creativity and the Individual
I have argued for some measure of re-organisation within the Royal Society, for some group activity, and for co-operation among scientists in the Dominion. But I am fully aware that the best scientists are notoriously individualistic, and rightly so. The reason is not far to seek, and I will try to supply it.
I hold with deep conviction the view that the great composers, the great poets and writers, the luminous artists are one with the great theorists among the scientists; that the creative act, in whatever realm, is a unity Some of you will recall what O'Shaughnessy wrote of the music-makers:
“… we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.”
This applies equally to creative scientists.
The great advances in science follow from bold generalisations concerning problems which fire the imagination, and which cry out for an answer. The fruitful, germinal ideas stem from the individual, have their genesis in one mind, or in a few; and their birth requires a favourable environment in which tolerance, understanding and freedom are essential components. A new theory is necessarily revolutionary; its acceptance, even for testing, means a willingness to overthrow or discard a cherished point of view; a change in the status quo; or a break with tradition. For the scientist these are the concomitants of scientific progress and a necessary part of scientific method.
The history of science makes it clear that the birth of a great, new hypothesis is a rare event and that the environment favourable to the flowering of creativity in science, as in art, is equally rare.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Royal Society of New Zealand, as Mr. F. R. Callaghan pointed out in an earlier presidential address, is that it has been “responsible for keeping the torch of science lighted in New Zealand since 1867 ….” (Trans. R.S.N. Z., 80 (3–4), 1953, p. Ixxxii). In other words, the Royal Society of New Zealand, through its meetings, its publications and its branch activities, has done much in the Dominion to maintain an environment conducive to original investigation in science. It might well be proud of this achievement.
Now in a world situation of great complexity and in anxious times, when the freedoms we enjoy are sometimes questioned or refused, the Royal Society has an important role to play; a role more onerous, more demanding, than in the past but one of great potential for the well-being and prosperity of New Zealand.
As the Royal Society goes forward to its proper task its members might reflect on this fragment from the “Report of the President” of the Carnegie Institution of Washington:
“It is against the great and novel challenge, in fresh and unknown gardens of the intellect and spirit, that the mind of man has always found unrecognised powers, has always gleaned strength and courage and capacity to reach new worlds.” (Quoted from Nature, February 28, 1959, p. 563).