Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

The “Acid Rain” Scare and the Science-Industrial Complex | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on December 17, 2021

Moreover, science as much as possible was to be a meritocracy in which education, ability, insight, and perseverance determined the success of a scientist. Today, success depends more upon one’s ability to promote progressive narratives, and entry into the research fields themselves are now increasingly determined by one’s sex, ethnicity, and other characteristics that have nothing to do with one’s ability to conduct scientific inquiry.

William L. Anderson

People who can recall or who are aware of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell speech to the nation in January 1961 usually remember it for his use of the phrase “military-industrial complex.” Eisenhower wrote:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

It is not an understatement to say that Eisenhower’s warning not only was unheeded but also was prophetic, and the endless military involvement of US armed forces around the world for the past half century is proof that the president was right. However, the speech contained another warning about the role of science and scientists in our society that also went unheeded:

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite. (emphasis mine)

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