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Brass Tacks The Cambridge Project

By David I. Bruck

(The Cambridge Project is a new Defense Department-sponsored program which will provide a computer-based laboratory to behavioral scientists at MIT and Harvard with the purpose of promoting basic research in social science methodologies. Several social scientists from Harvard and MIT have already begun work under the sponsorship of the program, which is expected to provide some 7.6 million over a five-year period. Harvard has not yet decided whether or not it will become affiliated with the project. This article is a description and discussion of the Project's history and purposes.)

TOUNDERSTAND the Cambridge Project. we have to go back a few years, to the Pentagon's first disastrous brush with the new social science. In 1964 a program under the quaint name of Camelot was launched by the Special Operations Research Office of the U.S. Army. Camelot's purpose. according to an official description was

to devise procedures for assessing the potential for internal war within national societies; to identify with increased degrees of confidence, these actions which a government might take to relieve conditions which are assessed as giving rise to a potential for internal war; and to assess the feasibility of prescribing the characteristies of a system for obtaining and using the essential information needed for doing the above to things.

Translated back into English, Camelot was intchded to enlist social science data-gathering and model-building techniques in the service of America's global efforts to prevent social revolutions ("internal war"). The project was to concentrate on the Latin American countries, where left-wing insurgencies were getting to be a pretty scrious problem in the early 1960's, and a major field office was to be established in the region to co-ordinate data-gathering operations. The initial Camelot project was to be a three-to-four year undertaking with a total cost of about five million dollars, and in the early stages there was optimistic banter in some Washington circles about the possibility that the project would eventually mushroom into a $50 million extravganza extending into the distant future.

These bold designs aborted in the spring of 1965, when the project came under strong attack from left-wing and university groups in Chile. The project was soon widely characterized, not without a certain accuracy, as an espionage program designed to serve American imperialist policies in Latin America. The Dominican intervention of May 1965 cemented this feeling within Chile, and eventually the American Ambassador to Chile was moved to protest strongly to the State Department about what he felt to be the project's adverse effects on the U.S. position in the country. It was becoming apparent that if SORO itself was to be saved form the wrath of Defense Department officials who had doubted the value of social science research from the outset, then Camelot would have to be sacrificed, and in mid-1965, Secretary MacNamara announced the cancellation of the program. The episode concluded with a memorandum from President Johnson which gave the State Department the power to veto Government funding of any further social science research in foreign countries.

The years that followed have been increasingly lean ones for the scattering of bureaus within the Pentagon which concern themselves with social science research. The notion that the behavioral sciences could be of much use to the U.S. military has always been regarded with considerable skepticism by most ranking officials at the Pentagon, and after the Camelot disaster the job of selling the behavioral sciences was that much more difficult. This meant that such outfits as the Behavioral Science Program of the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) were increasingly hard put to justify their continued existence. What the Behavioral Science Program needed was a new largescale project that would produce usable and interesting results to impress authorities higher up in the Pentagon, and that wouldn't blow up in everyone's face as Camelot had. And so the Cambridge Project began to be born.

THE SECOND thread to our story begins at M.I.T. in the late fifties, where the revolution in computer technology was just getting underway. The great breakthrough that was being made at this time was in the development of computer programming techniques that allowed several different people to work on different tasks on a single computer simultaneously. The development of such "time-sharing" systems enormously improved the efficiency and usefulness of computers, and in 1963 ARPA agreed to fund a project which was intended to develop the full potentialities of the new time- sharing technology. This program (Project MAC) developed over several years a time-sharing system for the IBM 7094 computer, and by 1967 had brought this system to the point where the machine could be used simultaneously by 30 persons. This appeared to be the highest degree of development possible with the IBM 7094, and so the computer people got themselves a new grant and a new more advanced computer, and went off to see what they could do with that one. Thus M.I.T. was left with a rented IBM 7094 computer which would quickly become a liability to the Institute unless a new grant could be secured.

At this point, late in 1968 M.I.T.'s behavioral sciences mandarins under Professor Ithiel Pool began discussing the possibility that the Behavioral Science Program at ARPA could be interested in funding a vast new social science project to center around the then-idle IBM 7094 computer.

Pool's idea which was also pushed at M.I.T. by Professor J C. R. Licklider, was clearly just what the behavioral science people at ARPA needed to re-establish themselves with the Pentagon bureaucracy. It was not to be an information gathering project as Camelot had been, but would center instead on developing new ways of using and interpreting behavioral science data. Thus it entailed none of the diplomatic risks that had proved fatal to project Camelot (and almost fatal to the little social science bureaucracy within the Pentagon as well). At the same time the behavioral science officials at ARPA also believed that the M.I.T. project might convince the higher levels of the Pentagon research bureaucracy that the behavioral sciences could begin to approach the reliability and "hardness" of the natural sciences. Perhaps computers would work where foreign data-gathering had failed. In any case, there wasn't any harm in trying.

By last spring, Pool and Licklider were working closely with the behavioral sciences branch of ARPA in drawing up a proposal that the ARPA people would be able to sell on behalf of both M.I.T. and themselves. They had a tough job ahead of them: the project that they were working out would have to impress people in the Defense Department who didn't expect to be impressed by anything that the behavioral scientists and their ARPA friends could come up with. Specifically that meant John Foster, the Defense Department's top research official. Foster's scientific work has been concerned with thermonuclear bombs (he did his graduate work under Edward Teller), and while Cambridge's behavioral scientists seem to like Foster personally (he is something of a Strangelovian cowboy, with a fondness for zooming around at the controls of his own jet plane), it is very clear that Foster puts his faith in hardware, and has little appreciation of the new social science technology.

So the proposal that Pool, Licklider and their friends at ARPA were working on last spring was to be an attempt to convince the men who manage the Pentagon's research policies that 1) the behavioral science scould be developed to the status of a "hard" science, and 2' that such development would in turn concretely aid the Defense Department in achieving its goals at home and around the world.

THERE was something else. An M.I.T. project might have been all right from the viewpoint of the Behavioral Sciences Program, but the Program was really looking for something with a little more novelty than could be offered by yet another M.I.T.- ARPA contract. M.I.T. is the Defense Department's house whore, so although the content of the Pool-Licklider project might have been novel enough, the institutional arrangement could hardly be considered a breakthrough. But if Harvard could be persuaded to join the venture, the project would appear somewhat more new and exciting.

There were three reasons why Harvard was felt to be important to the success of the project. The first was simply the prestige of the Harvard name. A second reason was that Harvard's participation would enable ARPA to simplify and centralize its support of social science research in the Cambridge community.

The third reason is a bit more complicated. In the early sixties, the Pentagon's Defense Science Board invetigated the state of social science research and concluded. among other things, that one development which would help the social scientists along the road to developing a "real" science would be to organize themselvesinto research institutes along the lines of the natural science institutes which are found on many university campuses. Such development, it was felt, would increase interaction between social scientists and thus further the creation of an integrated discipline of "hard" social science. Shortly after this report was released, Licklider joined the ARPA staff and for a year and a half tried from Washington to encourage behavioral scientists to start forming such institutes. He didn't get much of a reaction: the top men in the social sciences still preferred their comfortable positions within University Departments, surrounded by coteries of graduate students and still able to associate with other scientists on an informal basis.

Nevertheless, the notion that the formation of social science institutes within the universities would represent a step toward the solidification of the behavioral sciences as a "hard" discipline appears to survive at the Pentagon, and so the Licklider/Pool/ARPA group had an additional reason for wanting to extend their project to cover all of Cambridge-although this didn't in itself amount to establishing a new center, it would bring large numbers of Cambridge social scientists together for the first time, and thus would be that much more pleasing to the natural scientists back in the Pentagon.

What all of this adds up to is that ARPA and the M.I.T. professors have some powerful reasons for wanting Harvard to participate in the project. An invitation was extended to Harvard during the spring, and in the course of discussions at that time several of Harvard's behavioral scientists expressed a very strong interest in the project. Harvard was unable to make any definite commitments, however; the various faculties and the Corporation have the final say on the possibility of a formal affiliation, and this was to delay a decision until the fall. The M.I.T. offer came, moreover, only a few weeks after Harvard's April strike, and there was obviously a good case to be made for the idea that if Harvard was now to become involved in new links with the Defense establishment, it had best move slowly and quietly.

Proceeding in the knowledge that Harvard social scientists were very interested in the project, and that some kind of relationship to Harvard could probably be worked out, M. I. T. and ARPA put together a second and final draft of the M. I. T. proposal, and in June the Cambridge Project received its initial one- year grant of $1,510,000. Several Harvard professors began receiving support for work during the summer, although all these arrangements were on an individual basis, since Harvard has not yet decided to affiliate with the Project. The Project began holding regular meetings here during the summer, and Professor Mosteller of Harvard's Statistics Department was elected Chairman of the Project's Advisory Board. The weighting of the Project toward Harvard is interpreted by some informed observers here as a further indication of the urgency with which Harvard's participation in the program is regarded by M. I. T. and ARPA. R. G. Leahy, Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for Resources and Planning, said yesterday that he thought a decision by Harvard not to participate formally in the program would be a serious but not critical blow to the Cambridge Project. A Harvard teacher who has been watching the Project since the spring described ARPA's attitude toward Harvard's decision a little differently this week. "The ARPA people," he said,"are absolutely frantic that Harvard get involved in this."

THE FINAL DRAFT of the M. I. T. proposal begins as follows:

ARPA may properly wish to inquire as to the relevance of what we propose to its program.

The proposed research program is a university based effort and therefore oriented to advance a major field of science. While it is a basic research effort, it is likely to lead to many applications. The potential applications of the advances made- if the project succeeds- may perhaps be better understood by those in public life who will apply the knowledge than by the scientists themselves. Yet it is clear to us that public policy will be aided by advances in the understanding of human interactions and in the prediction of the performance of social systems.

Pool goes on to list examples of current applications of the behavioral sciences in which there are opportunities for research. These include:

the improving of education and training, resolving conflict, and improving of organizational management. These are topics of universal concern. Our urban problems will be better handled if we can teach better, reduce conflicts, and organize our efforts better. Our economy will run better if we can train our manpower better, solve industrial disputes, and improve the efficiency of large organizations. We can reduce the chances of war if we can learn more about foreign peoples, relax tensions, understand the nature of conflict, and build better international organizations. Our national defense stands in need of the same kind of knowledge; for in it too one needs to train people, resolve issues, run large organizations.

The proposal then lists a number of behavioral science topics which are of interest to the Department of Defense, and links several of these with specific methodological tools, which will be developed through the Cambridge Project. The emphasis of this section and of the entire proposal, which runs on for some 82 pages, is on the concrete value to the Department of Defense of "basic research" in social science computer methodology: the document tries to leave no doubt that the project will aid the Defense Department in carrying out what in Pentagonese is vividly referred to as its "mission."

Since the plan does not specify the work that will be carried out under the grant, the M.I.T. proposal offers some specific examples of the type of ongoing work that would be bolstered by approval of the project. These include

Ithiel Pool's ComCom simulation project, which deals with the spread of messages among masses of people during political crises;

William Griffith's research project of Communism, Revisionism and Revolution, whose files contain large amounts of documentary materials on world communism and radical movements;

Pool and Griffith's work with Viet Cong documentary materials, particularly detailed interviews with Viet Cong; and

Cross- national comparisons of the performances of national governments, an area "that bears fairly directly on the problem of stability and disorder."

The M.I.T. proposal also provides a list of the kinds of data collections with which the Cambridge Project will work. These include international armaments expenditures and trends, world- wide election data, the Human Relations Area Files on "cultural patterns of all the tribes and peoples of the world," archives on comparative communism, communications data from various countries (emphasizing Pool's ComCom data on mass communications in the Soviet Union, China, and two or three underdeveloped countries), Chinese provincial statistics, characteristics of Latin American countries since 1810, data on development of underdeveloped countries, data on youth movements, mass unrest and political change, international propaganda output, and peasant behavior and attitudes.

The Cambridge Project, of course, is a "basic" rather than "applied" research project, and Harvard and M. I. T. organizations connected with the project have been laying great emphasis on the fact that it is to be devoted to the development of basic theory rather than to applied problem solving for the Department of Defense. But the language of the actual M. I. T. proposal itself, as distinct from the explanations and clarifications which have been produced for consumption within the Cambridge community, makes it rather obvious that the distinction between basic and applied research in the behavioral sciences is not a terribly meaningful one. The project is sponsored by an operating agency of the U.S. government, on the understanding that the research to be undertaken will eventually serve that agency's operations. It is not true, as one leaflet distributed at Harvard last week charged, that the immediate effect of the Cambridge Project will be to connect Pentagon crisis managers with data banks in Cambridge full of information about revolutionary movements in the rest of the world. But there is every reason to expect that the ultimate result of much of the work that the Cambridge Project will support will indeed be the creation and modernization of Defense Department informational facilities and techniques.

NOONE connected with the Cambridge Project denies that the Department of Defense is likely to benefit from the program. There is some private skepticism about Pool's optimistic predictions in the proposal to ARPA and Foster- which was, after all, an effort to sell social science to a Defense Department that is looking for utility, and utility rather narrowly defined. But unless the whole field of technological behavioral science is a complete fraud with no connection to reality whatsoever (which seems unlikely), then the Defense Department is going to get something back on its investment in the Cambridge Project. At this point, therefore, it seems worthwhile to examine with some care the ideology- for it is an ideology- by which American social scientists justify this sort of project.

At the core of the social scientist's ideology is an equation of rationality and morality. Men act badly to one another, the argument runs, when they are ignorant; the more knowledge that men have about each other, the more moral their conduct will become. "The day of literature, philosophy, etc., is not over," Professor Pool remarked not long ago. "They have their value. But there are a great many things that we have learned to understand better through psychology, sociology, systems analysis, political science. Such knowledge is important to the mandarins of the future for it is by such knowledge that men of power are humanized and civilized. They need a way of perceiving the consequences of what they do if their actions are not to be brutal, stupid, bureaucratic, but rather intelligent and humane. The only hope for humane government in the future is through the extensive use of the social sciences by government (Emphasis added)." Not only are the social sciences our only hope at home, but they hold out the added virtue of constituting a painless substitute for revolution abroad. "The social sciences provide a new and better way of linking the intelligentsia (in underdeveloped countries) to their masses. The link will be made somehow with or without us. If it is made by ideological political movements, it will be made by revolutions and it will be made in turmoil and struggle by people killing each other. There is a better way now of making this link and that is through social science research."

Few of the Cambridge Project's present members would care to put the case for government-related social science research in such wierdly millenarian terms as Dr. Pool's. But the notion that the morality of almost any government's actions is likely to be greater as its knowledge about the world increases- regardless of the social basis of the government and the social or economic interests which it represents- seems to be something like an ideological common denominator among the social scientists who are now gathering around the Cambridge Project. "The world," said Harvard Government professor Karl Dcutsch this week "is more endangered by the ignorance of the American, Soviet and Chinese governments than by any knowledge they could ever have." Deutsch feels that hard social science research into the political systems of both the U.S. and the rest of the nations of the world will show Americans that the politics of other nations are not so mallcable and manipulableas Americans have long believed and that this will make us more inclined to respect the rights and traditions of other countries. "If you can get fundamental work done which you think will benefit mankind," Deutsch says, "and which will not help people make stupid wars, then you should go ahead. We have a common commitment that the truth will not be immoral, but that it will serve morality."

Deutsch has plans to use the facilities made available through the Cambridge Project to develop a theoretical model of national assimilation and social mobilization. Projects of this type- the possible applications of which are simply impossible to predict- are not likely to receive support from anywhere if they don't get it from the Defense Department. Everyone would prefer that the money were available from the National Science Foundation, but it just isn't. And this calls for a final disgression.

A point that Cambridge Project backers have repeatedly emphasized is that the Project will accept no classified research, and all developments will be available to anyone who wants to use them. "The methods developed with the support of the Cambridge Project, and data prepared with its support." reads a memorandum circulated at Harvard last week. "shall he available to competent invetigators everywhere.... None of the work undertaken or partially supported by the Project," it continues, "will be subject to military or proprietary secrecy. The Project will not accept as a condition of a grant or contract the requirement that the sponsor have special privileges in access to data, to programs or to computers that the Board controls."

The implication of this policy is supposed to be that although the Defense Department is sponsoring the research, the research remains apolitical or non- partisan because everyone will have equal access to it. But there is serious doubt as to whether this "equal access" is any more than a meaningless formula. Havward Alker, a professor of political science at M. I. T. who participated in the initial drafting of the Cambridge Project proposal, noted this week that although the Project is directed towards "methodological" research rather than towards applied research specific to the Defense Department, the fact remains that only organizations which have a background in computerized social science research will ever be in a position to apply those methodologies. Licklider was reported to have told dissident graduate students last spring that he would make Cambridge Project facilities available to them to use for programs which they felt to be useful- such as some kind of work for the Black Panther Party. "But how much money," responded Alkerthis week, "do the Black Panthers have to pay for computer application? Or, for that matter, how much do the Third World countries have? How can they afford it?"

Even once the (rather hypothetical) claims of radical insurgent movements have been ruled out of the realm of "equal access," however, Alker sees little hope that the results of the Cambridge Project can be widely distributed and applied in non-Defense areas. The reason for this is that the Defense Department, in spite of its tendency to be suspicious of social science research, has nonetheless come to control the behavioral sciences field. Well over half the government-supported behavioral science research in the U.S. today is under Defense Department sponsorship. This trend. by concentrating experience in social science research within the Defense Department, serves to insure that the Defense Department will continue to be the only organization able to use the new applications which its social science programs develop. Alker sees ARPA's move into basic methodological research via the Cambridge Project as the most monopolistic development of all in this regard. In computer technology and the behavioral sciences, the technology contains imperatives of its own, and these are already making obsolete the traditional safeguards of academic openness to which the Cambridge Project so carefully adheres.

THE PROBLEM, in any event, is ultimately not where research money come from but how the research will eventually be used. The fact that the Defense Department is willing to fund a project is only an indicator that the project is likely to have Defense applications, whether immediate or remote. The money does not in itself transform the project, and it would be unfortunate if the mounting arguments over the Cambridge Project became sidetracked into questions of "tainted money" and guilt by association.

On the other hand, the question of how the research will be used is one that needs to be pursued honestly and with a grounding in reality. The argument is made that since the Cambridge Project is funding "basic" research, there is no sure way of determining how whatever applications may eventually arise from a given research project will be put into use-and that therefore science should be allowed to run its course. But while it is true that the outcome of theoretical or advanced research is impossible to forecast with great accuracy, that does not mean that we can only assume that it is all for the best. Our experience in this country at this time suggests the opposite. The American government does not have the welfare of the people of the world as its guiding principle. On the contrary, we have seen how all over the Third World America is normally to be found on the side of "stability" and reaction, on the side of the ruling clites as against the underlying population. It may be that this is the result of ignorance rather than of knowledge on the part of the men who guide American foreign policy, but this does not seem likely. We are accustomed to explaining the actions of other nations in terms of the rationally considered interests of the men who rule them, and it is appropriate that we apply the same criterion to our own country. To do so is to discover that rationality is not the same as morality, that particular national policies can in fact become increasingly immoral and oppressive as they become increasingly immoral and oppressive as they become increasingly founded on hard knowledge. The slogans of the hawkers of the new social science just don't make it as a substitute for the hard moral choices that people in this country and this University should be facing.

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