(Gould, Stephen Jay) Bush, Vannevar

Science: The Endless Frontier

  • First edition, first impression of this rare and important plan for US federal investment in science and technology following the Second World War. From the library of evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, with his posthumous bookplate on the inside of the upper wrapper. Gould (1941-2002), a Harvard zoologist and palaeontologist, developed the theory of punctuated equilibria, which states that evolution occurs in rapid bursts of speciation separated by long periods of stasis. This radical, and still controversial, concept upended the received wisdom that evolution is the slow, constant accumulation of genetic changes. Gould was also a staunch defender of evolutionary theory against political creationism and publicly contested the field of sociobiology, which he believed provided a pseudoscientific basis for discrimination. But he was best known to the general public as the beloved author of popular science books and essays, 300 of which were published in his long-running column in Natural History Magazine.

    At the outbreak of the Second World War Vannevar Bush (1890-1974) was the vice president of MIT and dean of its School of Engineering, as well as a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He realised that technology would determine the final outcome of the conflict, and, together with other administrators, urged President Roosevelt to establish a national organisation for science and engineering. The Office of Scientific Research and Development was established in 1942 with Bush as director, a role that has been often been described as the first Presidential science advisor. It was this organisation, and in particular Bush's exceptional leadership and political intuition, that made US wartime science so successful. The OSRD's most important innovation was administrative. "Instead of building large government laboratories, contracts were made with universities and industrial laboratories for research appropriate to their capabilities" (Wiesner, Jerome B. National Academy of Sciences Biography of Vannevar Bush, 1979, p. 97). Today Bush is often remembered for overseeing the Manhattan Project, but the OSRD also led advances in radar, ballistics, computing, and the large-scale production of penicillin.

    "Long before the war was over, Bush began to devote thought to how the momentum of research could be sustained, with new peacetime goals. In a letter, President Roosevelt asked him to make recommendations on government policies for combating disease, supporting research, developing scientific talent, and diffusing scientific information. Bush, on the basis of studies made by four committees which he organized, responded with a report titled Science: The Endless Frontier, which provided a blueprint for far-reaching federal policies" (Wiesner, p. 99). Among the issues Bush addressed in this publication were the roles of government, industry, and higher education in scientific progress; how to preserve the freedom of scientific inquiry from government intrusion; the relationship between basic research and economic and military security; how to fund research programs; improving the quality of education and removing barriers to entry, particularly for returning G.I.s; and recruiting and retaining scientific personnel.

    Science: The Endless Frontier became the blueprint for scientific progress in America during the second half of the twentieth century, and many of its recommendations were incorporated into official policy. Most significant was the establishment of the National Science Foundation, the first federal agency tasked with investing in scientific research, not with a particular goal in mind but to seed fundamental discoveries and innovations. The massive growth in university science departments and graduate programs during the 1950s and 60s was a direct result of Bush' recommendation to fund research at these institutions, and contributed to US leadership in physics, medical technology, and computing. First editions of this key work are uncommon.

  • ...A Report to the President. Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1945.

    Octavo. Original blue wrappers printed in black. Small number “600” in ink on the upper wrapper, pencilled letters to the title. Spine rolled, small indentation at the centre of the spine and the edges of the wrappers, likely from a rubber band, upper corner of wrappers and contents creased, some rubbing and light marks. Very good condition.

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