Global warming, Eisenhower, and the danger of institutionalized science

I_Like_Ike_button,_1952Eisenhower and Washington gave the two most-quoted “Farewell Addresses” by presidents. Most of these quotes, at least in my lifetime, have been offered up by isolationists, pacifists, and the like-minded. Washington’s has been creatively interpreted by subsequent generations who ignore its context and meaning within its time. Eisenhower‘s has been cherry-picked to great effect. (Notice how often references to the military industrial complex fail to include the line “We recognize the imperative need for this development.”)

One important section of the Eisenhower address today seems—in light of recent revelations concerning the Great Global Warming Scare—unusually prescient. Here it is (emphasis mine):

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

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

Does this not seem to be what has occurred? Whatever fascistic dynamic may (or may not) have taken hold of us through the growth of what Eisenhower himself viewed as the necessary evil of the military industrial complex, our core governing institutions—our universities, our think tanks, our regulatory agencies, our journalism, huge swaths of our national legislature, the U.N. (with its hydra head of related and subsidiary agencies)—all of them have coalesced around what increasingly appears to be a hoax. And in exactly the way Eisenhower described both military industry and science. I am as amazed by Eisenhower’s vision as I am appalled by what we have allowed to occur.

How did this breakdown happen and how do we keep it from happening again?


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