Introduction by the Editor
HISTORIANS looking back at us a century from now will marvel at the speed with which scientists transformed the life of Western man. According to Dr. Caryl P. Haskins, president of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, the industrial laboratory did not appear in America in its modern form until 1908, and not until 1928 did its pattern of research become common. But from that moment forward the scientist has come to be preeminent in our armament and agriculture, preeminent in our industry, our medicine, and our universities. In this sudden ascendancy scientists, not always the most articulate of men, have often been out of touch with the rest of us. So absorbed have they been in their projects, so technical is the language in which they work, that a gap has inevitably developed between the laboratory and the world which it has at once enriched and imperiled. It is the purpose of this Supplement to try to bridge that gap.
In 1857, when the Atlantic was founded, it was still possible for a scientist to read all of the articles published in his field. But today, as Dr. I. Bernard Cohen conjectures, some thirty thousand scientific articles are published every week. The Atlantic editors clearly needed a blueprint which would help them to ask the right questions and to find the right spokesmen, and by disclosing this blueprint to our readers, we hope to make them as interested as we have been in this inquiry.
We felt that the Supplement should begin with the most fundamental questions: Is man still free? Can he in fact choose his course? Or is he a captive to physical laws so exact and compelling that he has no choice? Arthur H. Compton, Nobel Prize winner and physicist, believes that our horizon of freedom is wider today than it was at the time of Newton. Then, since this is the Atomic Age, in what ways can the atom be beneficially employed? Here we selected for our guide a British nuclear physicist, Dr. Otto R. Frisch of the Cavendish Laboratory.
Having plotted our position by these two stars, we paused to size up the ship’s company and the passengers. What can scientists tell us about people as they respond to the pressures of our era? What is race? What is its importance in the eyes of an anthropologist like Carleton S. Coon? We used to think of ourselves as an aging nation, but since the end of the Second World War we know this is no longer true. That the enormous acceleration of our birth rate can keep our economy booming is one of the first findings of Frank Notestein of Princeton. Again, what about the new opportunities that women have claimed for themselves in science as more and more they move into our work force?
The harnessing of the atom and the conquest of the air are the two great discoveries of our time. Not until the Atlantic was fifty years old did man succeed in spending a few seconds in the air in powered flight. Today the technology of flight has lifted our horizon from the seas and the mountains to the moon and the planets, and tomorrow we reach out to new universes as unknown to us as the Americas were to the Europeans five hundred years ago. When the engineer struggles with Einstein’s ideas of time and space, technology becomes almost metaphysical.
It has always been the function of the Atlantic to ask questions, and the more probing the better. These articles by the most articulate scientists we could find, these papers by industrialists such as Edward P. Curtis of Eastman Kodak and David A. Shepard of Standard Oil of New Jersey, these predictions by Raymond Stevens of Arthur D. Little, Inc., are all endeavors to show where scientific research will lead. Our concern is not with the century that is past, but with the one that is beckoning.
We wish to thank Dr. Caryl P. Haskins and Dr. Vannevar Bush for their friendly counsel, and Hartley E. Howe for his invaluable assistance in editing this Supplement.