University of British Columbia, Congregation Address, May 30, 1963

Madam Chancellor, Mr, President etc.

It is a very pleasant duty to express to the University, on behalf of the recipients of honorary degrees, our great appreciation of the honour that has been conferred on us.

The University of British Columbia is renowned for its scholarship in the many branches of learning, and also for the achievements of its science departments. Its graduates are to be found everywhere, but mostly in the important positions. My distinguished colleague and I are deeply honoured by the distinction, and we are also both delighted because we can now look forward to the future with confidence.

I know the members of the Chemistry Department of the University of British Columbia fairly well, and I know quite a number in the Physics and Biology departments. Now that I am a graduate of UBC, I am very happy with the thought that I shall feel quite at home on this campus which is undoubtedly the one that is the most beautifully situated.

On this occasion I should like to express a few remarks concerning the expanding scientific activity and the problems it brings to the universities and to the Government.

We are living in an industrial revolution, in which discoveries made mostly in academic laboratories., have begun to dominate industry and public policy, The applications of scientific discovery are revolutionizing the life of all western societies.

Scientific research is the pursuit of knowledge, but is generally understood -- although perhaps unjustifiably to be that part of knowledge that can be reached only by experimental work. As experimental work grows more sophisticated in its methods, it becomes increasingly more expensive. This does not mean that no scientific research can be undertaken without the availability of almost inexhaustible funds, but there are many avenues of research that cannot be investigated without the availability of expensive facilities.

Even with problems that can be investigated with modest means, the lack of certain highly specialized equipment slows down the accumulation of results, and this can have serious consequences. The almost incredible multiplication of the number of scientific research men throughout the world increases the probability that two or three different groups might initiate work on the same problem., and the one who arrives first at the solution of the problem unwittingly renders useless the efforts of the others.

Everyone knows that the rhythm of life has increased., but so has the rhythm of scientific research, The fabulous growth of Chemical Abstracts in the last 20 years brings convincing evidence of this. According to this record, the volume of scientific work doubles every ten years. And one who cannot follow this rhythm cannot succeed in science.

It is therefore essential that scientific laboratories be adequately equipped, and in the universities this is possible only with outside financial support. This support has to be on such a scale that in all countries it has become necessary for governments to help finance science. It is probably not too unreasonable to adopt as an axiom that the Government is always slow. Although it has to face other needs besides those of the scientists, it is certain that the growth of its support for science has not kept up with the expanding needs.

The financial aid that the Government gives to science has been growing from year to year, and it is bound to continue to grow. In view of the continuing expansion of the universities, what has become extremely desirable and even necessary is that the rate of growth of the aid should also increase. Already in Canada the support of science coming from the Government is very much larger than from any other source, just as it is in most countries. This situation involves a danger, and it is that as the support continues to grow the Government might be tempted to guide science.

Stephen Leacock once said of James McGill that the best thing about him was that he was dead. Without any ingratitude, it is possible to hope that the Government will continue to increase its support of science, but that it will adopt some of the virtues of dead benefactors and never try to guide the research that it supports.

Support for science should be without strings. I believe strongly that it is individuals who should be supported because of their value as scientists, and not simply because of the particular field of work in which they happen to be working. And the better the scientist the more support he should get. To suggest that research work in certain fields should be financed more generously than research in another field would be exerting a pressure and would be coming very close to financial aid with strings. The support of academic research should be distinct from contract work which has, I believe, no place in a university, at least in peace time.

The government is involved in the support of science and this support has reached such dimensions that no responsible government could possibly think of withdrawing it. It follows therefore that the Government will become more and more heavily involved, because there is no doubt that Canada is far behind the leading countries in the per capita support of research.

The implications of science, its permeation into so many activities involve Governments into considerations which about 25 years ago were never even given a thought.

There was a time when international scientific unions were clubs to which distinguished scientists belonged who liked to meet on certain occasions. This, however, is no longer so, and international co-operation in science has become a very real and important activity. International scientific co-operation takes many different forms, but it is convenient to distinguish three main types:

The United Nations and its specialized agencies, the OECD and the NATO all promote discussions on scientific matters, The United Nations itself has, on occasion., convened special conferences for the discussion of scientific matters such as the conference on the application of science and technology to the development of less advanced countries. Some of the specialized agencies for the United Nations operate in fields which are definitely scientific as, for example, the International Atomic Energy Agency at Vienna. This Agency also maintains a small research laboratory and operates a considerable system of scholarships and fellowships. Similarly, UNESCO has, for many years, given grants in support of research, and has recently sponsored the setting up of the International Oceanographic Commission. And there are also the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization etc.

The regional organizations also all carry on scientific activities. NATO for instance established a Science Committee some years ago and has appointed an assistant Secretary-General for Scientific Affairs.

There have been various international collaborative projects, several of them organized under the auspices of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) of which Dr. Steacie had just become President shortly before his death. They have proved highly rewarding for the participating countries, and the scientific results have been substantial. Perhaps the best known of these was the International Geophysical Year. Another that may become well known., if for no other reason than for its attractive name, is the International Year of the Quiet Sun.

Possibly the best known of the centralized international scientific schemes is the European Organization for Nuclear Research., commonly referred to under its French abbreviation CERN. It is a very successful scheme. It has a firm principle that the major share in the use of centralized facilities it provides for research which is fundamental in character, should go to national teams working in their own universities. Undoubtedly., it is necessary that a large institution like CERN must also have an international staff which itself carries out a good research programme. It is important to remember, however, that proper use of very advanced apparatus provided internationally is not possible by member countries without a substantial measure of activity within the countries themselves, Thus the existence of CERN does not obviate in any way the need for a national effort in nuclear physics, and it may indeed stimulate its expansion. CERN supplies a means to national research teams of many countries to engage in very advanced fields of research by providing facilities that one member country alone would not be able to provide.

CERN, of course, is an international scheme and it operates very satisfactorily. The establishment of such schemes designed to operate nationally, i.e., inside the borders of one country, could be given more thought than it has so far. Hydraulics engineers in the universities have managed very well without expecting the authorities to divert a river so that it may pass through the campus, and they have not found it too inconvenient to go to the river. Some research facilities are so very expensive that they could be thought of in terms of a scheme such as CERN but a scheme operating nationally.

But to come back to the involvement of Governments because of the expanding world of science, it is obvious that both nationally and internationally, Governments cannot ignore science and need a broad policy concerning scientific matters since they have by force of circumstances become so heavily involved in them. And any advisory system is bound to require constant adjustment.

An awareness of science has become necessary even among legislators. The life of a legislator used to be a fairly easy one, and even if he left a few discreet loop-holes, he was not likely to get into much difficulty. The present day ubiquity of science has rendered his existence a less happy one, and he is sometimes quite amazed at the implications of what he has done quite innocently.

There is a recent and beautiful example of the predicament in which a legislator can find himself if he pays no attention to the scientific implications of his legislation.

Last year, in order to facilitate the dissemination of commercial television programmes., the United States Congress passed a bill requiring all television sets to operate on Channels 2 to 82 instead of the present 2 to 13. Among the additional channels, number 37, which covers the frequency range 608/614 megacycles, happens to coincide with the band favored by radioastronomers for the study of extra-galactic radio sources. Both the University of Illinois and the National Astronomical Observatory in West Virginia would find their observations either interfered with radically by commercial television programmes, or made impossible.

The conflict between the scientist and commercial television interests may prove fascinating to the observer but it must be harassing to the Federal Communications Commission with whom the final decision rests.

The problem is still more complex in that it has international implications because Channel 37 has already, to all intents and purposes, been set aside for radioastronomy in Europe. It is therefore the only band on which there is any likelihood of international agreement for use by radioastronomers. Furthermore the American radioastronomers see the allocation of Channel 37 to commercial television as an extremely serious and intolerable mistake, since it would give the radioastronomers abroad a chance of getting even further ahead than they are already.

Three courses of action are open to the Federal Communications Commission. They can assign Channel 37 to commercial TV throughout the United States, and put the radioastronomers out of business. They can allocate the channel to radioastronomy, which effectively means allocating three instead of four TV channels to about ten cities. Thirdly, they could compromise by denying the use of Channel 37 to commercial interests in particular regions, thus giving radioastronomers partial observation in those areas.

Yet at the same time as legislators -- because they are insufficiently informed -- place in jeopardy the very existence of radioastronomy in the United States, and when the problem of the allocation of Channel 37 is still unsolved, the National Academy of Sciences has established a panel to advise the Federal Government on the needs for new radioastronomical facilities in the United States during the next five to ten years., and to advise on the most effective allocation of Federal funds in this connection.

The continuing expansion of science, its newly acquired ubiquity, have created problems such as I have outlined. With the birth of organized international science, with the various bodies set up to administer financial aid to science, and with Governments being forced into many administrative and policy aspects of science, there is a bureaucracy of science that is necessarily developing. Bureaucracies are useful, but they can also be dangerous. A bureaucracy of science would someday normally be tempted to feel that it is all important. Hence, it should often be pointed out, the fact should repeatedly be underlined, that in science the only body that can ever be all important is still the large group of scientists who work in the laboratory. Without the laboratory scientist the whole organization built up around science would be completely useless.

As the influence and the effects of science spread, organization is necessary to facilitate scientific work. It is essential to remember, however, that science is the search for knowledge, and that no matter how useful Government administrative organizations or international or other organizations are, the only factor that really counts, the only factor without which all the rest is of no avail, is the pursuit of scientific research in the laboratory.