A GOOD DEAL of confusion surrounds the precise issues behind today's research stoppage and panel discussions at M.I.T. some scientists, especially here at Harvard, have balked at the words "protest" and "strike." They prefer to look at today as a sort of religious holiday, a time for men whose particular brand of mythology happens to be science to pause and calmly review the overall relationship of science and society. The particular proposals raised by some M.I.T. scientists have also failed to excite Harvard's scientific community since most of them concern classified research on campus--an issue relevant to M.I.T. but not to Harvard, which has already banned such research.
However, one of the most extensive reforms proposed by the Science Action Coordinating Committee deserves more emphasis than it has so far received. The group has suggested that all federal research funds for pure science be disbursed through civilian agencies rather than through the armed services. The Defense Department would then control only those projects with a "direct relation to military necessity."
President Nixon's science adviser, Lee A. DuBridge, apparently favors just the opposite emphasis. At his press debut late last month, he noted that "many responsible engineers and scientists are collaborating effectively and earnestly and patriotically with the government in connection with defense problems," but he also urged scientists to work much more closely with the Defense Department in the future.
The issue of financing research contracts is not simply a question of whether tacit pressure exists to divert pure research to military applications, but whether military agencies are best qualified to direct the vast bulk of government research and thus the direction of science's long-range development. the government should realize that some research is necessary for any modern corporate entity to thrive, and that pure science is justifiable on its own merits and not as a mere prop for military development or international competition.
Scientists often pride themselves in being "reasonably cautious," reserving opinion until a large body of evidence is available. In the realm of science's social consequences, this caution can easily turn into apathy. If the only outcome of today's research stoppage is an increased willingness on the part of scientists to use the word "protest," the stoppage will still have been a success.