William Benton, Norman Cousins, Donald J. Hughes

Science and Survival in the U.S. and Russia

VTR Date: November 3, 1957


Sunday, November 3, 1957

MODERATOR: Richard D, Heffner
GUESTS: Senator William Benton, Norman Cousins, Doctor Donald J. Hughes

Announcer: The Open Mind, free to examine, to question, to disagree. Our subject today, Science and Survival in the United States and Russia. This program is being presented in cooperation with the National Broadcasting Company’s special “Know Your Schools Public Service Project.” Your host on The Open Mind is Richard D. Heffner, Author and Historian.

Mr. Heffner: Good afternoon. I think that for most of you who have not read your late morning papers or heard this news item on the radio or on television you will of course be as interested as we are today to know that as the New York Times says this morning, the Soviet Union has fired a new satellite; this one carrying a dog; that the half ton sphere is reported 900 miles up in the air. I think that this news item tied together with a story that was written of course before the news item was known; a story that also appears in the Times by John W. Finney, is important as an introduction to our program today. Mr. Finney in a dispatch from Washington says that the long orbital shadow of the Sputnik has been able to do in a few weeks what scientists and educators have been unable to do in years. For the first time top government officials are beginning to pay more than casual heed to the repeated warnings of scientists and educators that this country’s technological future and military supremacy depend on the education of new scientists and engineers, and scientific exploration leading to new weapons.
I think that today’s headline and this dispatch from Washington summarized what is to be the subject of today’s program. We want to consider the relationship between education, science, and survival. Vis a vis the position of Russia and the United States. My guests to help me discus this topic today are first Senator William Benton. Senator Benton is the Publisher of the Encydopedia Brittanica and formerly United States Senator from the state of Connecticut.
My second guest is Doctor Donald J. Hughes, Senior Scientist at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, Author of the new book on nuclear energy.
And my third guest, Norman Cousins, is the Editor of the Saturday Review, which by the way predicted over a year ago the size and weight of the Russian satellite. I think that it might be a good idea to say, gentlemen, to begin our program by taking this news item which may not be a source of shock to you gentlemen who are up on scientific developments, but it is for the rest of us, and let me ask you, Senator Benton, how you relate this news item to our subject today, which is Science and Security, or Science and Survival.

Senator Benton: The easiest relation I think is the prediction that this is going to be enormously newsworthy. When I was a young man there used to be a gag in the newspaper business that any editor would put on the front page news about a star, or news about a dog. We have in the new satellite six times as large as Sputnik, the first satellite; we have both a star and a dog in combination. And the New York Times report that the dog has successfully completed the first 106-minute tour of the earth in a satellite flying twice as high as its original Sputnik. Now I think that these two satellites– I do not know what the second one is going to be called, Sputnik II perhaps, Muttnik, Pupnik — at any rate, I think these two satellites symbolize the problem that our country faces in the tie-up between education, science, and survival. These three facets are intimately tied together. If we do not have the proper educational system we are not going to get the trained scientists. If we do not have the trained scientists we are not going to master the techniques that are involved in our defense program.
Doctor Walter Barkey, the famous physicist on the faculty of the University of Chicago — and perhaps Doctor Hughes will comment on this — says that, the launching mechanisms that launched Sputnik I, only one-sixth the size of Sputnik II, are sufficiently powerful to lob a Sputnik into the Chicago area within a radius of one hundred miles. Our people understand this and as they look up and listen to the beep, beep, beep, they know it signals danger, and danger to the United States and the free world from our totalitarian Communist rival.

Mr. Heffner: Let me ask the other gentlemen — I think maybe before we talk to our scientist, Mr. Cousins, I would like to ask you what you think the impact of the Sputnik and today’s new satellite, last night’s new satellite should be upon American science and upon American education?

Mr. Cousins: Well Mr. Heffner, in the best of our possible worlds, I suppose, that the human race could be elated by the development a few weeks ago of Sputnik I and by the development yesterday of Sputnik II, because from the best of all possible worlds it would mean that man has finally unshackled himself from earth gravity. And that the magnificent age of the adventure of space, into space has begun.
Unfortunately we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. And as Senator Benton has said, the principle significance of what has happened is that the same launching plat­ form that can send a Sputnik I or Sputnik II, with or without a dog in it, into the upper atmosphere can also send a package across the ocean containing a hydrogen bomb in eighteen minutes.
It seems to me the big question before the United States is not how quickly can we prepare a rocket of our own, that we must do, the big question for us is how quickly can we prepare a plan for peace that will make sure the Sputniks will not be used for that purpose.

Mr. Heffner: Well, what’s the relationship would you say between this and our educational structure? What are we going to do, in terms of educating, either for science or for the peace plant.

Mr. Cousins: Well, I believe that Senator Benton was the first American to come back from Moscow with news of the fact that the Russians were far ahead of the Americans in the preparation of scientists. And also he pointed out that the position of the scientists, and the teachers, the professors in the Soviet Union — the position of men of learning — was far more substantial, than it is for a professor in the United States.
And he asked the American people to believe — I remember hearing him talk about this three years ago — he asked the American people to become –

Mr. Benton: If Doctor Hughes were a Russian we’d treat him like a corporation president.

Mr. Cousin: –well, in any event the challenge for us of course is multiple. You can’t say that the answer is in making bigger and better rockets, the answer, it seems to me, is to recognize that we have a multiple challenge.
A challenge in education, a challenge in politics, a challenge in our outlook, a challenge in our whole concept of what the world is about. It seems to me, that we still have a chance to turn this discovery into a magnificent development for the human race if we can just control it, and make suretlb.at this will not be used for military purposes.
Mr. Heffner: But it seems to me, that you two gentlemen, in terms of what I have read of Doctor Hughes’ writings that you two gentlemen are a little more concerned, with the positions of the scientists, or at least on the position of research in this country than he is.
Doctor, I wonder how you would evaluate our real position in terms of the Soviet scientific developments of recent weeks?

Dr. Hughes: Well, I think that it is very easy to exaggerate the importance of a specific development such as the launching of the Russian satellite.
The things that are needed, say in a war, constitute very very many other accomplishments rather than such a single item as say the intercontinental ballistic missile. In trying to decide what we must do, say to meet the Soviet challenge, I think we’ve got to disregard, or put in its perspective, the impact on the world — that is the propaganda effect, of such a thing as Sputnik.
It’s necessary in this connection to try to evaluate try to realize the difference between basic research, and applied research. Actually, such a thing as the launching of Sputnik is almost a construction project. That is, such a thing as this launching does depend on basic research, but the basic research was done many, many years ago. I mean, you can almost say the basic research for Sputnik was done by Newton when he discovered the law of gravity.

Senator Benton: But don’t you think, Doctor Hughes, we greatly tended to underestimate the progress of the. Russians in science?

Dr. Hughes: I would say yes and no. Really you are right. That is whenever say the Russians got the atomic bomb, when the Russians got the H bomb, many–

Senator Benton: Years we thought they would in each case.

Dr. Hughes: It would depend on who you mean by “we” I would say for most people–

Senator Benton: I exclude you.

Dr. Hughes: — the Russians did get these things much before they were expected. That was I think because we were complacent and we felt that the Russians could not keep up with us either in basic research or in these applied projects.
I think it proves that a country such as the Soviet Union — even though its basic research — say the number of books that are published–

Senator Benton: Mr. Chairman, I think our audience should know a little bit more about what basic research is in contrast to applied research. Of course the scientist and scholars in our audience understand this, but very few people among our general audience are aware of the fact that of the 5.2 billion dollars we are spending in research in this country, as pointed out by Chester Barnard in a brilliant article in the leadoff of the current Scientific American, only $350 million is going into basic research; this bodes ill for the future.
I think Doctor Hughes might help explain that to our audience.

Dr. Hughes: I think in a practical way the difference between basic research and applied research or development work, is that if we were to fight a war in the next few years, basic research would not be of much importance. Basic research is the kind of research for which we see no application at the present time. But it seems to follow inevitably that basic research always produces a practical result maybe ten, twenty, thirty years later.

Senator Benton: Well the atomic bomb–

Dr. Hughes: The atomic bomb was exploded — the first atomic bomb was exploded in 1945, it was based on basic research that was done for the last forty years.

Mr. Cousins: And yet Doctor Hughes at the time of our explosion, when leading scientists who worked on our Manhattan District Project attempted to warn the government, and warn the people, that what we could do: other countries could do within a very short time the country would not listen; indeed, I remember hearing the military head of the Manhattan District Project say that Russia could not make an atomic bomb in fifteen or twenty years, if indeed then; it couldn’t even make a Model T Ford. And then the Russians exploded their bomb — atomic bomb ahead of schedule. They exploded a hydrogen bomb before we did. And now they have made the specific announcement that they have an intercontinental ballistic missile, and once again you hear the smug comments from Washington, nothing to it, don’t worry about it, there is no concern. Well I think the American people should be concerned. I think we should be concerned first of all about the fact we have had a superiority complex in the past twelve years. And this superiority complex can be as dangerous for us as superiority complexes have been for other peoples in the past. I believe the American holiday is over. The time has come, it seems to me, to face squarely up to the present situation.

Mr. Heffner: Well, let me ask you gentlemen this question. I appreciate your raising the question of the definition of basic research, Senator Benton, and I think it loads me to the question of — I’d like to ask Dr. Hughes why there is this seeming contradiction between those people who say that we are behind in basic research, that we have not been putting efficient emphasis upon it, as Sen. Benton has said, and your own statement curlier us quoted in the Now York Times as saying that the Soviet is lagging in basic research. How are we more deeply involved in long-range scientific studios or are they?

Dr. Hughes: I think the difficulty here has to do with where we are now and where we will be ten or twenty years from now.

Senator Benton: And where the Russians arc now and where they will be ten or t1venty years from now.

Dr. Hughes: Even as to where we are now there is disagreement. My own feeling is based on having visited Russia, seen their laboratories, talked to their people, is that they haven’t yet caught up to us in basic research. Now launching a satellite is applied research. They haven’t caught up to us in basic research.

Senator Benton: As against twenty years they have closed the gap on us in basic research. This is the trend you’ve got to emphasize.

Dr. Hughes: At the present time I would say that if we average over all fields of basic research we are definitely ahead of the Soviets. Nevertheless it is true they are training more people so if we try to predict what will be true ten years from now or twenty years from now the picture may well be much different. That’s the tough problem.

Mr. Heffner: May I ask this question, do you think our present superiority in basic research — we’re a. little bit ahead of the Russians — is due to the vast number of foreign scientists who came to this country in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, or is this something indigenously American?

Dr. Hughes: I would say that’s a question that practically can’t be answered because science is so international. That is, the results of basic research are transmitted so freely from country to country that it’s almost impossible to say that the development in n particular country goes back some years ago to scientists in that country or other countries. It’s true we had many scientists from Europe driven out of Europe by totalitarian governments.

Senator Benton: More importantly perhaps, Mr. Heffner, bearing on Norman Cousin’s point, I understand — and Dr. Hughes may confirm this — that practically all the basic research underlying the atom bomb was made outside this country and by Europeans in this country.

Dr. Hughes: That’s true.

Senator Benton: Well I think that bears directly on the point earlier made by Mr. Cousins. I’d like to take a look for a minute at what’s going on in Russian education because I think this has an important bearing on the long range trend and it bears directly on the quotation with which you led into this broadcast. By 1960 the Russians expect to have compulsory for every boy and girl education until age 17, and compulsory for every Russian boy and girl will be five years of physics, five years of chemistry, mathematics through trigonometry, a year of astronomy and year or two of psychology or biology. This is more training for each boy and girl I might say in Russia than any American boy and girl can get anywhere even if he’s a potential Ferni or Einstein. This is greater training for the Russian boys and girls at age 18 than is required by MIT or the University of Chicago for admission to its graduate schools, Now if you start rolling through millions of boys and girls in Russian with that kind of scientific training, five times the requirements for admission to MIT, out of these millions you’re going to have hundreds of thousands that show great talent that will roll on into the universities.

Mr. Heffner: What do you suggest for us then?
Senator Benton: Well I suggest that one of the first things we can do of course is to improve our training at the scientific level starting with our secondary schools.

Mr. Heffner: You mean require or improve?

Senator Benton: Well 53% of our high schools today don’t have physics teachers; you can’t get even one year of physics. You want me to be concrete?

Mr. Heffner: Please.

Senator Benton: I would start and pay physics teachers more; I would exempt them from the draft. I would see that a major in physics, cum laude at Yale, is allowed to teach in a Hartford high school, where he isn’t today because of unhappy restrictions; and most certainly I would begin to make more science compulsory in the high schools.
But secondly, I would take the great leakage of talented boys and girls out of our own educational system and offer scholarships and a program by which the gifted and talented ones can go on to colleges and to the university as they do in Russia.

Mr. Heffner: Mr. Cousins, I wonder how you react to this?

Mr. Cousins: Well I believe that all teachers not merely physics teachers, I believe all teachers must get more. I believe our education must be upgraded in every respect and not merely in science.

Senator Benton: I agree with that of course.

Mr. Cousins: You see the problem, to repeat, is not merely the problem of putting out a super-intercontinental ballistic missile; you can just accomplish so much destruction before you have pulverization. The fact of the matter is that what you’re trying to do is not destroy a world but make a better one.
Therefore I believe if we are concerned about the state of the nation we must begin with the fact that our education must prepare our young people for helping pull the world together. I don’t think that we have yet in our education succeeded in educating for the whole man. We educate for half a world. We educate for western civilization.

Senator Benton: But we only educate about half our gifted young people.

Mr. Cousins: Precisely, but assuring that we do educate more, then the question comes what do we teach? Well I think the time has come to make it possible for our people to live in a whole world. I’ve often said, and we’ve discussed this before Senator Benton, that I’m a half-educated man in the sense that my education prepared me for living only in western civilization. It taught me very little about the majority of the world’s people and I believe that if we are to come forward with the great ideas we have to persuade the majority and we are not going to persuade the majority unless we understand something about the majority, their customs, their cultures, their languages.

Senator Benton: Mr. Cousins is arguing for liberal education.

Mr. Cousins: Precisely.

Senator Benton: And I agree with him and indeed most of our business lenders today have found that as training for business a liberal education is superior to a scientific education or any other kind of education.

Mr. Heffner: Just one second. I would like to ask this question. You say Mr. Cousins is talking about a liberal education and you agree. But when you were describing with what I thought was considerable enthusiasm the compulsory nature of the science training in the Soviet Union I wondered to myself whether I shouldn’t refer back to something that Donn Dunning of the Columbia School of Engineering said. He said the right spirit alone is not enough — in talking about beating the Russians at their own game, if we are going to call it that — the sacrificing of human values or the liberal way of thinking and possibly the lowering of the standard of living may ultimately be the only way to combat Soviet progress. And I think when we set aside the—

Senator Benton: I differ with that statement.

Mr. Heffner: But isn’t this implied in your enthusiasm for the compulsory nature of Soviet education?

Senator Benton: The American people have always been ready to make sacrifices for the education of their children and have often been sold a phony bill of goods. They have not been given a good educational package.

Mr. Heffner: But in very practical terms you’ve talked and Mr. Cousins has talked about extending the potentials for education in our system of extending the salaries of our teachers, et cetera. What about the fact though that even where science is offered young people in this country—

Senator Benton: All three of us will agree that science is a part, an essential part of liberal education.

Mr. Heffner: But, Senator Benton, let me ask this question, what about the fact that even where science is offered very generously in this country we find that there isn’t a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, certainly not yours, on the part of the students for taking these courses. What do we do about that, make them take them? Do we adopt the same sort of compulsory attitude? Is this in the cards? Maybe it is. If it is why avoid saying so?

Senator Benton: I don’t think it is in the cards. If it is I’d like Dr. Hughes’ views on that. I don’t think we are going to have to force our young people into channels as do the Russians if we provide the right incentive for then.

Dr. Hughes: Let me say something. The way in which students are channeled into certain fields in the Soviet Union is not actually by force.

Senator Benton: They call it persuasion.

Dr. Hughes: But they make the salaries better, they’re kept out of military service. I’ve talked to many of the Russian scientists and have asked then how is it that you’re in a certain field.


Senator Benton: They gave the aeronautical engineers a lot more than the historians. That’s one way they do it you see.

Dr. Hughes: Incidentally at the present time, this bears on the general question of can you do all or everything — there’s of sort of conservation of energy comes in here. We cannot do everything the Russians do. We can’t outdo then in everything.

Mr. Heffner: Particularly when they have a slightly different system of thinking and government than we do.

Dr. Hughes: That’s right.

Senator Benton: We can get better teachers though.

Dr. Hughes: Carl Durham said whatever the Russians next atomic move, an airplane, icebreaker, combined weapons power plant, or a bevy of small weapons; we can’t afford to get behind. You see this is the philosophy you beat then in everything.

Mr. Cousins: There is I believe one respect in which we have to get ahead of the Russians and I come back to the point with which I began, namely the big challenge to the United States is not so much to invent a superior Sputnik but to invent a superior approach to the peace and make sure that the intercontinental ballistic missiles will not be used and to make sure that the hydrogen bombs will not be dropped because there is no defense. We are now preparing for the first war in our history we know we are going to lose. Russia will lose, every country will lose. Therefore if we want to win we have to prevent the war. We have to prevent it with justice. We have to create a better design for freedom. This it seems to me is the real challenge, not to think that we are going to find all our answers in something with superior destruction but to attempt to recognize now that the invention of peace and the creation of pence is the greatest challenge before the world.

Senator Benton: Mr. Cousins is shifting the subject. I agree with what he says but this is off the subject we are meeting on here today. I think that both parties agree you have got to lead from strength in dealing with the Russians. You cannot work these things out purely with philosophy. You are not going to work out purely with good will. We have got to build, match their military establishment, build our own defense program, and this means keeping up with Sputnik.

Mr. Cousins: Senator Benton here I think we go to the mat because when you talk of strength it seems to me you have to talk not only in terms of military strength but moral strength.

Senator Benton: Well I agree on that too.

Mr. Cousins: What do we stand for? What are our ideas? How do we approach the majority of the world’s peoples? It seems to me our security and well-being depends on our ability to attract and keep the support of the over-whelming majority of the world’s people. If we don’t do that no amount of military strength will do us any good.

Senator Benton: Dr. Hughes earlier mentioned the effect of Sputnik and that’s one of the biggest aspects of it we have not discussed. I could agree with you and still claim you are off the track of the subject we started to discuss.

Dr. Hughes: I would like to agree with Mr. Cousins. I don’t think it is off the track because as I said before it’s impossible for us to do everything. That is if we want to send up a cow instead of a dog in a satellite that will take a certain amount of effort. If we want to train more scientists than the Russians do that will take a lot of effort. Then if the Russians on their hand want to outdo us we’ll be in the arms race, in the situation where we were twelve years ago when you declared we were obsolete.

Mr. Heffner: I’d like to ask Senator Benton whether he really thinks we can match the Soviet Union, and go a step ahead of it, and at the same time by changing our educational structure or strengthening it, at the same time maintain these values that seem to have produced a nation in which we do not have so many science offerings and which we do have children who are not particularly concerned with science. Can you really have both things here?
Senator Benton: Mr. Heffner, I have faith in the country’s ability to have both things, I believe most of these steps we are discussing in the field of education are steps we ought to be taking whether Russia exists or not. A great part of the American dream is the improvement of our educational system and offering equal opportunities to every bod and girl regardless of the economic status of their family. The problem of American leadership is to learn how to meet these challenges and all of them presented to us by the Soviet Union.
We have the resources; we have the national income. I admit sometimes I think we are n little deficient in political leadership.

Mr. Cousins: Senator Benton, I’d like to revert to the previous subject. I don’t think I am off the track if I say so. The subject of today’s discussion it seems to me has to do with the significance of Russian advances in science so far as the United States is concerned. We are concerned with the impact, the effect on our security of the Russian advances in science, and that is why I think —

Senator Benton: I only spoke of the track on this program; you are very much on the big track. I agree on that wholly and that would give us a unanimous vote.

Dr. Hughes: But the point of the program is survival and the means to survival I am sure you would feel is not beating the Russians in training numbers of scientists sending up earth satellites.

Senator Benton: That would be a part of survival.

Dr. Hughes: In the short run.

Mr. Cousins: We can’t look to any one place for the answer. It is not going to be enough to put thousands upon thousands of physics teachers in the schools. It is not going to be enough to pay higher salaries to teachers. That must be done; it is not going to be enough to make bigger and better inter­continental ballistic missiles. The big challenge is to try to make the world whole, how to make sure the missiles will not be used for destructive purposes.
And to that end I think the big problem is how to develop a real American leadership in the world. We want to be sure, for example, that there will be a pooling of science for the good of the human race. I believe that the —

Mr. Heffner: I’m afraid that —

Senator Benton: It’s a fine note on which to end.

Mr. Heffner: Thank you so much, Senator Benton, Dr. Hughes, Mr.Cousins.
We won‘t be back next week on The Open Mind. You’ll be seeing “Ask Congress” then, here in New York. We will be back in two weeks with another session of The Open Mind. See you then.