84 N. Calver and M. Parker Popper for the scientiﬁc community to embrace in the face of particular concerns over the functionalityofpureresearchandtheunityofbasicandappliedscience.
86 N. Calver and M. Parker and his style was variously confrontational and conspiratorial. His blunt and witty use of English—to which we shall return—earned him some enemies among civil servants and ministers.17 Importantly, in the context of this paper, Rothschild characterized himself as a ‘rationalist’,18 frequently referring to his conclusions as ‘common sense’ or ‘self-evident’ (a favoured term).19 While there is no evidence of Rothschild’s consciously taking any particular philosophical stance, his assumptions appear implicitly to be of the positivist bent that Medawar was so concerned to counter. Where Rothschild was comfortable with arbitrary distinctions between pure and applied science,20 Medawar (as we discuss below) believed passionately in the unity of science and the common creativity of scientists whether addressing ‘pure’ or ‘applied’ problems.
The Rothschild controversy 87 FrederickDaintonFRS(oneofthesignatoriesofMedawar’scitationinsupportofPopper’s Fellowship) and the Council for Science Policy (CSP), with a similar remit to his own.26 Ominously, though, Rothschild understood it to have advanced a set of categories of research—tactical, strategic and basic, whose connections the CSP regarded as particularly close, complex and subtle (reﬂecting the unity of science)—with which he profoundly disagreed.27 Dashing hopes that he would acquiesce to Dainton’s recommendation in favour of the status quo—‘scientists being the best to judge what scientists do’, as Rothschild characterized it—he was unrepentant in asserting that ‘users of the end-product are the best people to control and ﬁnance applied research.’28 Medawar, although not present at this meeting, would have quickly been made aware of itsimportbyHodgkin.Medawar‘dislikedRothschild’sideasintensely’,judgingthemtobe constitutedofnothingmorethan‘pejorativeinnuendo’withthesoleintentionofconvincing everybody that ‘we were, after all, a nation of shopkeepers’.29 The relationship between Medawar and Rothschild cooled; the days of warm sociability in the Caribbean gave way to the frostiness of the debate between Whitehall and the Society over the direction of scientiﬁc research.30 In this context, the reference that Medawar offered in support of Popper’s candidacy is revealing on several levels. Previously, in his promotion of the hypothetico-deductive method, Medawar had turned to history to demonstrate its currency long before Popper did. He repeatedly acknowledged the debt that Popper’s method owed to signiﬁcant earlier thinkers, particularly William Whewell. Although this may merely have been an act of proper convention, it would also have served to highlight the intellectual strength behind Popper’s ideas.31 Perhaps not surprisingly, given how anxious Medawar was for his friend’s candidacy to succeed,henowattributedthismethodologyexclusivelytoPopper.Moreover,Medawarwas keentopresentPopperianphilosophyasenlighteningandinspiringfortheworkingscientist as opposed to the prosaic monotony demanded by inductivism:32 KarlPopper.Theworld’sleadingmethodologistofscience.Inhisearlyworkhecorrected thephilosophicalopinionsoftheViennaCircleinawaythatisnowuniversallyagreedto bejust.In1934inhismajorworkLogikderForschungheformulatedwhathascometo be called the hypothetico-deductive scheme of scientiﬁc methodology that has now virtuallysupplantedthe inductivism ofJohnStuart Mill.33 ROTHSCHILD’S ‘CAT FOR ALL PIGEONS’34 Medawar’s conviction thatPopper’s Fellowshipwouldadd‘enormous lustreto theSociety’ was heartfelt,35 but it was also, we will argue, timely, in the context of the political debate that would unfold on the publication of the government’s Green Paper A framework for government research and development in November 1971.36 This was, in reality, the vehicle for the report by Rothschild on The organisation and management of government R&D.
88 N. Calver and M. Parker thatappliedR.&D.,thatisR.&D.withapracticalapplicationasitsobjective,mustbe done on a customer–contractor basis. The customer says what he wants; the contractor doesit (ifhecan); and thecustomerpays.37 This conclusion led to a recommendation to transfer applied research funding from the Research Councils to government department ‘customers’. As Jon Agar has characterized it, market forces would henceforth shape government-funded science policy.38 Thatthisconclusionwasshockingtothesciencecommunityisdemonstratedbytheﬂood ofletterstothedailypapersandscientiﬁcjournals,butPhilipGummettrecordsnonetheless theapparentinabilityonthepartofscientiststoorganizetheiroppositiontothisGreenPaper effectively.Thiswascompounded,inhisview,byaclearlyrootedlackofunanimitywithin the scientiﬁc community (some of whom, at least, backed Rothschild) and a lack of a coherent political organization. Scientists were split by discipline, by place of work and by professional association or union. There was, most seriously, no one body through which the views of scientists could have been channelled into the public arena. Although governments have frequently turned to the Society for the ‘scientists’ view’, it was doubtful, Gummett concluded, how far the opinions of ‘that august but self-selected body’ could be taken as representative of scientists as a whole. The Society, being composed of ‘paradigmatic leaders’ chosen for their eminence in their ﬁelds, rather than ‘institutional leaders’, was ill-equipped to deal with the ‘organisational and political imperatives’ with which science must contend.39 Overall, however, such a characterization fails to recognize that the Society was both a conduit for the wider scientiﬁc community and able to effect an informed representation over and above those administered through more recognized channels and conventions.40 In this context, Medawar’s developing view of Popper’s approach offered the beleaguered Society, and indeed the wider scientiﬁc community, a counter-argument to Rothschild’s harsh division of pure and applied research, providing a conceptual justiﬁcation for the unity of science and the independence of research.
The Rothschild controversy 89 policies and to fund projects from their own budgets. Thus the principles of existing scientiﬁc responsibility and of judgement on scientiﬁc merit by the Research Councils would be preserved, as would the system whereby those who made decisions on scientiﬁc programmes and awards would be known and respected by working scientists. The committee therefore concluded that Dainton’s proposals should provide the basis for future representations.44 Rothschild, nonetheless, had raised fundamental questions in a letter to Hodgkin. Was it right for those associated with the Research Councils to be formulating the Society’s response to his inquiry? In other words, was there not a clear case of vested interests at play? Rather disingenuously, perhaps, he went on: During the course of your meeting you said ‘we represent the scientists’ point of view, both pure and applied’. You will probably agree that somebody must represent, or take into consideration, the point of view of another group which, for want of a better name, I will call the public or some body representing the public. In our discussion, I attempted without success, to try and represent both points of view. But it does not seem rewarding simply to assert that the Civil Service cannot cope with R&D. I attempted to explain without, I think, much success that I believed Government R&D, excluding pure, basic or fundamental research, should be commissioned, paid for and monitoredby the user, customerorclient.45 Thecommitteeseemtohaveinterpretedthisasasignalnottoenterintofurtherdialogue; inthislight,thecommitteewasforcedtoconsiderawholesalerevisionofitsapproachtothe political debate. It nowadvocated that the Societyshould ‘disassociate itself from the view thatscientistswerethebestpeopletodecidewhatscientistsshoulddo’.Thereforetherewas littleadvantagetobegainedbyappealingtothepast (thatis,theHaldanePrinciple46)inthe Society’s argument. Instead, in direct opposition to what the Society saw as Rothschild’s dismissal of the ‘unity of science’, the Society should offer examples of how only pure research could generate far-reaching—and ultimately lucrative—advances, with penicillin and X-rays being just two instances.47 HEAT BUT NOT LIGHT In his Anniversary Address on 30 November 1971, just days after the publication of the Green Paper, Hodgkin referred to unnamed sources who sought to persuade him that this special occasion would be the perfect platform from which to launch the Society’s response. However, a greater number considered that, if a President were seen to be adopting too strong a position, it would risk the loss of public sympathy. The majority judged it simply to be an improper occasion to canvass wider support but wholly proper to initiate a responsible democratic debate. Correspondingly, a thoroughly measured Hodgkin sought widercounsel. Radically, by the standards of Society custom, he declared: We will do our best to obtain a representative selection of views. May I take the opportunity of encouraging Fellows to read the Green Paper (A framework for government research and development) and to send me their comments as soon as possible. Having said this much, it would be a mistake to give myown initial reactions to the new proposals and I shall say no more on the present occasion. The timing of events thus leaves me free to follow my own inclination which is to talk about some.
92 N. Calver and M. Parker view of British research organization’ and that the ‘report and recommendations present a threat to the well-being of British science which must be resisted’.67 Rothschild responded to the more particular themes within the letters to The Times with great verve and mordant wit—together with a political ﬁnesse that could only further undermine the long-awaited response from the Society. For instance, opponents worried that all future basic and strategic research undertaken by the councils would be curtailed by ofﬁcious government departments. The reality would be, Rothschild pointed out, that if it was deemed necessary, such speculative work could be commissioned within applied research and development. Although his report did not take into account the future commercial or applied value of discoveries made during basic research, he in fact deeply respected and appreciated the value of such discoveries, but not that they should be relied on to the exclusion of other methods of achieving practical objectives.68 Rothschildalsoseizedontheopportunitytopourpoliticalandideologicalscornonthose who were, as he saw it, obsessed with any encroachment on their practices. He saw this response as woeful, particularly as an answer to why pure research should be done and at whose behest. And, crucially, as we have seen above, Rothschild’s views chimed with the current political climate. So he and many others would excuse the public if they also took ‘much of the pontiﬁcation to which we are subjected with a grain of salt’.69 Scientists would, rather as a matter of course, not wish for their autonomy to be eroded. But this, he rather impishly pointed out, was all that mattered to the scientiﬁc community, and this could be read in their arguments, which were at best ‘varied in their relevance and justiﬁcation’ and not helpful to rational dialogue. Instead he declared that science as a whole was not an activity to be undertaken in isolation; that it must be part of ‘society’s integrated effort to make the world a better place’. Scientists, naturally, would make some contribution towards the identiﬁcation and fulﬁlment of customers’ needs for research but he declared that it was not for them exclusively to determine what those needs were. Thus it was for ‘democratic society itself and its elected representatives’ to give scientists their ‘marching orders’.70 New Scientist, articulating the thoughts of a beleaguered scientiﬁc community, concluded that there would not be sufﬁcient public sympathy at any meaningful level unless the scientiﬁc community were to favour light over heat in any future arguments.71 A PHILOSOPHY OF UNITY AND AUTONOMY It was Medawar who possessed the necessaryacumen, status and wit to tackle Rothschild’s acclaimed comments head-on; he was a worthy challenger to a dextrous and colourful adversary. Here it should be remembered that Rothschild spent much of his time in the commercial world, with Medawar questioning to what extent he appreciated the value of scientiﬁc research for its own sake as opposed to its effect on the balance sheet. For Rothschild, the customer–contractor relationship must have seemed self-evident,72 but for Medawar, who would very probably have gained some insight into Rothschild’s conceptual thinking, such as it was, during the period of their friendship, this was the weakness in his position. Therefore, no doubt for the beneﬁt of his blue-sky-thinking colleagues, he attacked Rothschild’s attitude to pure research by quoting Oscar Wilde’s deﬁnition of a cynic: ‘the man who knows the price of everything and the value of.
The Rothschild controversy 95 Consequently, the problem of determining the cost-effectiveness of research, as Medawar represented it, was a red herring. The notion of predicting future ideas or future theories simply could not be done. It was therefore not possible to predict the future pathway of any research. This was in complete contradiction to Rothschild’s customer–contractor approach to science, although it could also be seen as side-stepping Rothschild’s legitimate concern for science to be applied to the real-world concerns of customers and users of its results. The arguments, as so often, were in parallel and passing each other by without engagement.