The V chip-waste of governments time and money

AS WE MAY THINK
by VANNEVAR BUSH

THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, JULY 1945

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This article was originally published in the July 1945 issue of The
Atlantic Monthly. It is reproduced here with their permission.

The electronic version was prepared by Denys Duchier, April 1994.
Please E-mail comments and corrections to [email protected]

[email protected]-----

As Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Dr.
Vannevar Bush has coordinated the activities of some six thousand
leading American scientists in the application of science to warfare.
In this significant article he holds up an incentive for scientists
when the fighting has ceased. He urges that men of science should
then turn to the massive task of making more accessible our
bewildering store of knowledge. For many years inventions have
extended man\'s physical powers rather than the powers of his mind.
Trip hammers that multiply the fists, microscopes that sharpen the
eye, and engines of destruction and detection are new results, but the
end results, of modern science. Now, says Dr. Bush, instalments are
at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and
command over the inherited knowledge of the ages. The perfection of
these pacific instalments should be the first objective of our
scientists as they emerge from their war work. Like Emerson\'s famous
address of 1837 on \'\'The American Scholar,\'\' this paper by Dr. Bush
calls for a new relationship between drinking man and the sum of our
knowledge. - The Editor

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This has not been a scientist\'s war; it has been a war in which all
have had a part. The scientists, burying their old professional
competition in the demand of a common cause, have shared greatly and
learned much. It has been exhilarating to work in effective
partnership. Now, for many, this appears to be approaching an end.
What are the scientists to do next?

For the biologists, and particularly for the medical scientists, there
can be little indecision, for their war work has hardly required them
to leave the old paths. Many indeed have been able to carry on their
war research in their familiar peacetime laboratories. Their
objectives remain much the same.

It is the physicists who have been thrown most violently off stride,
who have left academic pursuits for the making of strange destructive
gadgets, who have had to devise new methods for their unanticipated
assignments. They have done their part on the devises that made it
possible to turn back the enemy. They have worked in combined effort
with the physicists of our allies. They have felt within themselves
the stir of achievement. They have been part of a great team. Now,
as peace approaches, one asks where they will find objectives worthy
of their best.

1

Of what lasting benefit has been man\'s use of science and of the new
instalments which his research brought into existence? First, they
have increased his control of his material environment. They have
improved his food, his clothing, his shelter; they have increased his
security and released him partly from the bondage of bare existence.
They have given him increased knowledge of his own biological
processes so that he has had a progressive freedom from disease and an
increased span of life. They are illuminating the interactions of his
physiological and psychological functions, giving the promise of an
improved mental health.

Science has provided the swiftest communication between individuals;
it has provided a record of ideas and has enabled man to manipulate
and to make extracts from that record so that knowledge evolves and
endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an
individual.

There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased
evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization
extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and
conclusions of thousands of other workers - conclusions which he
cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Yet
specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the
effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.

Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results
of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for
their purpose. If the aggregate time spent in writing scholarly works
and in reading them could be evaluated, the ratio between these
amounts of time might well be startling. Those who conscientiously
attempt to keep abreast of current thought, even in restricted fields,
by close and continuous reading might well shy away from an
examination calculated to show how much of the previous month\'s
efforts could be produced on call. Mendel\'s concept of the laws of
genetics was lost to the world for a generation because