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To the Editors:
David Bruck's critique of the Cambridge Project is obviously far above the spirit of Luddism of those who have been posting images of IBM cards reading "saturation bombing only 31% effective. try a little gas" in a crude effort to ?mobilize a docile public opinion for the Friday rally. Still, it needs rebuttal, most seriously regarding the professional ideologies of social scientists.
The modern educated man's notion of science is determined mainly by two observations: of the tendency of many physical science discoveries to be used solely for harm, and of the tendency for the institutions in control of the economic system to control also the products of physical science, as the latter require great investments of time and capital for their production. Yet as the cost of any scientific object goes down, the Establishment monopoly on its use disappears. The government controls all domestic use of tanks, but we all have telephones. Now it is a fortunate property of social science that its discoveries are knowledge, not implements, and it is generally accepted in the profession of it that this knowledge is to be distributed without restriction to all who can make use of it. (Mr. Bruck acknowledges that the Cambridge Project proscribes secrecy.) Applications to come from the "basic methodological" researches into the uses of large data banks (the major part of which research will comprise efficient technologies of information retrieval, to furnish the equivalent of an entire archive at every attached time-sharing terminal) will have no intrinsic connection with policies of repression at home or abroad; social repression, after all, proceeds through dossier, not crosstabulations. You cannot argue against a tank, but you can counter propaganda with exposure, or counterpropaganda, or even counterargument, all at the cost only of the media involved in the response. One might as well close the Library of Congress because the Pentagon has a library card.
I am a social scientist I believe passionately in what Deutsch said, that we have "a common commitment that the truth will not be immoral." It may be that the truth is nonmoral, that the same techniques usable by Madison Avenue to sell highway deaths may be used by the Panthers to sell political awareness. But one has to have a little faith in the radical studentry of this country, whose drive to sniff out inconvenient facts from a mass of inertial archives is legendary and often very embarrassing to authority. The Cambridge Project is not at all restricted in its use to organizations with stratospheric methodological sophistication: first, because, as I have indicated, much of the 'methodology' is hidden in the inner workings of the computer programs: second, because there just isn't any such thing as stratospheric methodology in the social sciences. We are all still alchemists. To assume that all the ideological gold we somehow smelt will be monopollized by those nasty old men in Washington is a form of intellectual decadence not at all justified by historical evidence. (Consider the history of Marxism, and then think of what Marx could have done if he had data on trade unions.)
In the physical sciences, perhaps, knowledge is power. In the social sciences, assertion is influence; and as long as information is relatively free, in the economic sense and the political, there will always be countervailing influence.
I counsel Mr. Bruck to have a little faith. The economic determinists have been trying to drive history for a century now without having made the lot of man any lighter. Perhaps we ought to give another sort of ideologue a chance. These ideologues call themselves social scientists. They seem so far bumbling but, on the whole, responsible. Maybe they can be of some help.
I thank Mr. Brookstein for his counsel, but I don't share his faith. He is of course correct in saying that the discoveries of social science are knowledge, not implements. But certain implements are required in order to bring knowledge to bear on the real world, and these implements are not so widely distributed as telephones or even as the technology to be developed in the Cambridge project. It is possible, even if unlikely, that the Panthers or the "radical studentry" could learn just as much as the U.S. government from, for example, MIT Professor Ithiel de Sola Pool's ComCom project, which is concerned with the dissemination of propaganda in communist and underdeveloped countries. But the Panthers and the radical students do not control facilities for beaming highly sophisticated propaganda at hundreds of millions of people, and the U.S. government does. The list of implements which the Panthers and the students do not have- and which the U.S. government does- is in fact quite a long one: a few further examples might include a lavishly-funded worldwide intelligence network, a capacity to distribute huge sums of money and arms abroad, an annual military budget of $60 billion, and the most well- equipped and powerful armed forces ever assembled in the history of mankind. If the Cambridge Project succeeds in producing usable knowledge, it's not too hard to see by whom this knowledge is most likely to be applied.
On the other hand it may be that the behavioral sciences are indeed as futile as aichemy, and that no knowledge of any use to anyone will ever come out of the Cambridge Project. I doubt, however, that this is a view with which Mr. Brookstien or the particpants in the Cambridge Project would care to justify their work.
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