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Karl Compton (right) and Vannevar Bush. Courtesy of MIT Historical Collection.

In May 1940, Bush had presented a memorandum outlining his thoughts about the organization of science for war through a National Defense Research Committee (NDRC). Bush’s memorandum argued, “There appears to be a distinct need for a body to correlate governmental and civil fundamental research in fields of military importance outside of aeronautics. . . It should supplement, and not replace, activities of the military services themselves, and it should exist primarily to aid these services and hence aid in national defense. In its organization it should closely parallel the form which has been successfully employed in the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.” A. Hunter Dupree, in Gerald Holton (ed.), The Great Insturation of 1940: The Organization of Scientific Research for War (New York: Norton), 450

The memo's reference to NACA provides an essential clue to Bush's thinking. That body was an advisory committee, comprised of both non-government and government specialists and largely independent of cabinet-level bureaus, that operated its own facilities and could enter into research contracts with private institutions.

On June 27, the president, by means of an executive order, created the NDRC, naming Bush as its chairman. It consisted of four non-government members (Bush; James B. Conant, President of Harvard; Karl Compton; and Frank Jewett, President of the National Academy of Sciences) and four statutory government members. A year later, on June 28, the president issued a second executive order expanding Bush's authority by naming him chairman of a newly created Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). The OSRD was comprised of the NDRC (with Conant as its chairman) and a Medical Research Council, with the scope of the OSRD expanded to encompass engineering development as well as scientific research, The first prominent coupling of research with development (R&D), which by now has become commonplace, seems to have been made at the time the OSRD was created. and its chairman given direct access to the president. Roosevelt's executive order establishing the new office stated that it “serve as a center for mobilization of the scientific personnel and resources of the Nation in order to assure maximum utilization of such personnel and resources in developing and applying the results of scientific research to defense purposes . . . [and] to coordinate, aid, where desirable, supplement the experimental and other scientific and medical research activities relating to national defense carried on by the Departments of War and Navy and other departments and agencies of the Federal Government.” Dupree, Science in the Federal Government, op. cit ., 371.

The creation of OSRD shifted the focus of federal science policy away from the social scientists’ emphasis on science for governance and that of the natural scientists on science for the public good to a third rationale for science policy: science for national defense.

Because of the government's obvious need for substantial scientific assistance for World War II, Bush was able to insist that science should be mobilized around existing institutions that would preserve a large measure of their autonomy. Rather than electing to become a scientific czar who would centralize and control all aspects of the wartime research effort, he assumed the roles of buffer and arbiter between science and the technical bureaus of government, particularly within the military. Because of his special relationship with Roosevelt, Bush was able to beat back attempts by Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to put the science effort in their departments.

Bush and his colleagues also convinced the president (if not all the old-line scientific bureaus) that science could best serve wartime emergency needs if scientists remained civilians and worked in their own university and industrial laboratories except in special cases, such as the Manhattan Project. Perhaps the best example was the Radiation Laboratory (or Rad Lab) at MIT, a classified facility where scientists throughout the country were recruited to conduct research and engineering development on radar systems.

Bush insisted on focusing attention on a relatively narrow range of problems where scientific research could make an appreciable impact during the limited duration of the war. He also insisted that he report directly to the president, thus insulating his system from the federal bureaucracy.

The pre-war institutional relations between the federal government and non-governmental scientific institutions were left intact by the way in which science was mobilized during World War II, and the experiences of the scientists and engineers involved in Bush's wartime system provided the basis for their perspectives on what science policy should be in the aftermath of that conflict. Guided in part by Bush himself, the U.S. scientific community put forth, and managed to have the president and the Congress accept, proposals that were far stronger than those of the ill-fated Compton Board. Ever since, the notion that science deserves direct access to the president, largely bypassing the federal bureaucracy, has remained central to the vision of science for the public good.

Questions & Answers

how can chip be made from sand
Eke Reply
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Missy Reply
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Lale Reply
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Maira Reply
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Maira Reply
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Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
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Jyoti Reply
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Crow Reply
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RAW Reply
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I think
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what is the stm
Brian Reply
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industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
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scanning tunneling microscope
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Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
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Bob Reply
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The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
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Smarajit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, A history of federal science policy from the new deal to the present. OpenStax CNX. Jun 26, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11210/1.2
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