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International Socialism, Autumn 1963


M. Millett

Ministry Boffin?


From International Socialism, No.14, Autumn 1963, pp.32-33.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Science and politics
Lord Hailsham
Faber. 13s 6d.

It would be difficult for the Minister for Science in a technological country to write an unimportant book on the interaction between science and politics, but Lord Hailsham makes a valiant attempt. According to Hailsham, science is wonderful, impressive, expensive and hierarchical: ‘At the spearhead of the scientific movement is the army of researchers, few in numbers ... upon whose effort all depends.’ But in fact progress has depended upon a very mixed bag of people indeed. Much of the impetus in the branches which so impress Lord Hailsham, radio, aircraft and so on come from people like Marconi, Cody, Baird and Edison, people whom one would hesitate to call quacks, but there is still an uneasy feeling that some of them would be just as happy selling astrological formulae in sealed envelopes. And then there are the complete amateurs, like Jansky, the originator of radio-astronomy (Jodrell Bank came later, when a blind man, a University Senate or a Government Department could see that it worked).

The truth of the matter is that the winds of innovation, ingenuity, inventiveness and intuition blow where they list. Reality is far removed from Lord Hailsham’s hierarchy of the neat and clean and well-advised. In any case, it is very likely that a high level of scientific ability is much more common than is apparent; it is perilously easy in our society for the child from the ‘wrong’ sort of home (that is, the majority) with remarkable conceptual powers to become the (very competent) manager of a milk depot. In the long run it may prove that really good craftsmen are in shorter supply than really good theoreticians.

Lord Hailsham seems quite unaware, or keeps the secret well to himself, that many of the difficulties that worry him spring very simply from the organisation of society. As an example:

‘Unhappily, there is still an extraordinary difference between the scientific education of boys ... and girls ... the shortage of women (science) teachers is perhaps the biggest limiting factor ... and may be self-perpetuating.’

Has he never heard of co-educational schools?

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