The notion of what is “politically correct” to do at American universities is historically a new problem. Through most of the history of the American republic, the federal government directly funded neither education nor science. Indeed the Constitutional Convention of 1787 considered and rejected proposals that would have given the federal government powers to fund academies or sciences directly or by incentives. Instead, the Congress was only given the limited power to promote science and the useful arts by protecting actual inventors through grants of what we today call â€œpatentsâ€. Education, except for specific federal purposes such as training of military officers, was a state responsibility, or a purely private one. Federal science funding was most typically done by the use of commercial contracts or special purpose applied agencies, such as the Geographic Survey or the Census. For example, commercial aviation developed in the 1920’s and 1930’s in part by responding to the stimulus of Federal air mail transportation contracts. The government provided a market, and commercial technology did the necessary invention and development for its own purposes in reply.
This means of indirect government stimulation was ended by the famous incubator of social innovation we presently call World War II. By the end of that conflict, the United States federal government was deeply involved with direct command and control of the economy, including especially of science and technology. For scientists who otherwise may have had no easy sponsors, and for academic administrators who otherwise had to deal with state legislatures, this new role of Federal government did not appear to be a bad thing. Thus many scientists and engineers both in and out of government who worked together in the war effort found it natural to continue that cooperation. As early as October, 1945 hearings began in Congress on the idea of creating a “National Science Foundation”. The entity proposed was (and became) not a true foundation with separate endowment, but rather a government agency, distributing Federal funds to academic institutions based on advice of scientific advisory panels.
In 1950 this idea became law, but not without opposition. Previously it was believed that the under the constitution the Federal Congress had no role regarding state or privately funded academic institutions. Thus, the most extensive hearings on the newly proposed â€œfoundationâ€ in 1945 were on the issue of “Authorizing a Study of the Possibilities of Mobilizing the Resources of the United States” by the Senate Committee on Military Affairs. While the federal government had no constitutional role in funding science, presumably it did have a proper role in wartime manpower management. This notion provided suitable basis to hold a hearing. Because the explicit constitutional role of Congress in regard to science was to promote science and the useful arts by means of grants of limited term exclusive rights, much of the testimony in these hearings was discussion related to patents and invention, not to manpower. Thus immediately following the War in October and November of 1945 a parade of academics, government bureaucrats and industrial managers from laboratories which had benefitted from government sponsorship in the war testified in the â€œManpowerâ€ hearings that continued funding was vital to the national interest.
A few serious scientists, such as the respected atomic physicist I. I. Rabi, objected to some of the details of how to implement a single national science funding source. But even these critics missed the most fundamental criticism. When the states and many separate private colleges, independent industries funded their own institutions and research, and stated funded their own institutions independently of central control, there was a great diversity in views and a broad wealth of possible innovation. Observers of both Nazi and Soviet science in the first half of the century certainly had good reason to believe that central control of funding was a threat to independence of mind. Imposition of a single national science funding source created the threat of imposing a single national ideology of what would be “correct” to think about.
But not only did proponents of the new “foundation” not predict the dangers, some actually advocated the Soviet system as their model. In the first day of hearings the second scheduled speaker was Irving Langmuir, Associate Director of the Laboratory of the General Electric Company. While praising the American economic system, he also noted the “obvious necessity for Government control of some features of our capitalist system”. How to improve things? “I was particularly impressed by the tremendous emphasis placed upon incentives in Russia today.” He mentioned chauffeur driven cars for the top scientists, and secret election of scientists to the academy. “They have a remarkable system of incentives”.
Given the fears of the day — unemployment and the horrors and wonders of science including radar and The Bomb — a bill creating a national science bureaucracy passed in 1947. But the then President Harry Truman was not impressed. He vetoed the Act with the following explanations: “The proposed National Science Foundation would be divorced from control by the people to an extent that implies a complete lack of faith in democratic processes” and “…the bill would violate basic principles which make for responsible government.”
The academics and their allies in Congress immediately renewed the campaign. One critic, Frank B. Jewett, the President of the National Academy of Sciences, thought that “… the [new] bill is substantially the old bill modified merely to meet the President’s principal [technical] objections.” Jewett’s complaints included “…I do not think that a convincing case has been made out for so radical and dangerous a divergence from the established proven method … as the creation of a tax-supported politically controlled Foundation would be.”
Probably, opponents of the revised Act were not opposed to the federal role in science, so much as to accommodating President Truman by changes in the Act which imposed “responsible government” as Truman saw it. The power of presidential appointment at the top of the agency was strengthened, meeting Truman’s constitutional objections. This may be the “political control” which worried Jewett. But the academic committee “peer” system, literally a system of academic soviets or worker’s committees, was left in place, and still holds the effective power of purse within the agency. Thus caution on the side of liberty did not prevail. The National Science Foundation Act of 1950 was passed and signed to law; similarly structured â€œInstitutesâ€ were soon also established in health and biological sciences. And, especially in the less established fields which certainly include the social and “policy sciences,” the critics have proven to be correct. Single national ideologies for entire fields of study, and equally importantly, the institutional means to enforce these ideologies, were created when the National Science Foundation was created.
Consider the institutional devices created or reinforced by the National Science Foundation, its review practices and its personnel policies. Although not required by law, as a matter of practice essentially all Foundation science project awards are to academic institutions. These institutions receive money for expenses of “overhead” on the project, computed as an additional payment equal to a percentage of the direct costs of that project. Awards are made by a decision process managed by a program director. A program director is a temporary government employee, usually a tenured academic on temporary leave from their home institution for the period of their directorship. The program director is advised by a panel of “peers”, who are normally employed by academic institutions. The directors and reviewers are placed with the advice of private membership associations of academics. The opinion of a particular reviewer is then “secret,” but primarily from the person whose proposal is being reviewed. The program director and therefore for practical purposes the management of the non-government private associations, and also, the academic institutions who employ the reviewers, do know who made which recommendations. Appeals of decisions are reviewed by essentially the same people who made the initial decisions.
The potential for abuse in this kind of system is obvious. It is no surprise that nearly all awards are made to academic institutions, and that high rates of “overhead” payments to such institutions are common. Inbred ideologies of “correct thinking” quickly evolved … the system is in fact hardly more than a federally funded secret society. Such closed systems invite thought control through dispersion of Great Mysteries, and indeed, are well suited to control of a church, or the operation of a one-party state. A self-replacing elite manages the maintenance of a private code of secret knowledge through semi-secret committees which control lives and careers of individuals. The recent experience of funding â€œglobal warmingâ€ and â€œclimate changeâ€ â€œresearchâ€ is a good example of what has resulted from such controls.
But this is also no accident. Creation of a uniform ideology for the social and policy sciences was a goal of many of those who sought creation of a single national science fund. One clue about this comes simply by examining discourse involving the resulting ideology, called “the philosophy of science,” was put. The phrase “the philosophy of science” is nearly always stated in academic discourse using the definite article “the,” and almost never using the indefinite article “a.” Inappropriate use of the definite article in all contexts conveys a belief that â€œtheâ€ approved philosophy was the only possible One Known Truth. It is hard to believe serious scientists acted on the seemingly ludicrous purpose of finding the One Known Truth of science, merely because the structure of the ideology or of the language in use seemingly requires it. But meetings for that purpose are well documented. For example, in the second volume of his autobiography I Am a Mathematician, Norbert Weiner, the mathematical prodigy and theorist of control systems, mentions meeting with other scientists including for example the anthropologist Margaret Mead in the late 1940’s. The contents of these meetings, which occurred among those two and others, was reviewed in a book with the unusually descriptive title Constructing A Social Science For Postwar America, The Cybernetics Group, 1946 – 1953, by Steve Joshua Heims, MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1993.
Except for the political uses to which the results were put, these meetings and the attempt to create a single ideology for all of science simply continued a popular European pre-war philosophical trend, often called “positivism”. This philosophy asserts that all science has a common core of ideas shared among all fields. The object of positivist philosophy was to discover this core. Taken as a philosophy, this topic merits serious review, and is in many ways true. It is by no means however the only possible truth discoverable about science. Nor is it the case that once some common core of ideas might be found among certain scientific fields that no further thought is necessary other than applying the thus discovered One Known Truth. Indeed, that form of enquiry is the opposite of science.
The people who initially took control of the United States’ new national science institutions where positivists. They believed they knew to a moral — not merely scientific — certainty that they held a Unique Truth. And whatever they actually believed, it was certainly a political convenience to be able to control an organization through the use of secret committees — the soviet model literally applied! Thus the first “politically correct” government sponsored ideology was imposed on all of science, but especially on the social, economic and policy sciences.
The practical effect of creation of the national science institutes in the early 1950’s was therefore to place social and policy “sciences” under the control of a political alliance of people with the will and means to suppress ideas. Thus American social science today consists almost entirely of a weird (and politically left-oriented) collage, of whatever happened to be on the minds of early advisors to the science institutes. For some fields or sub-fields, if those early ideas happened to have been productive, then progress may have since been made by building on them. For other fields, if the original ideas happened to have been useless or wrong, then no progress can have been made because any deviations have been systematically eliminated. The ideology also systematically excludes developments that are plainly recognizable as scientific in the sense of being both testable and tested. Thus entire subject matters of demonstrably correct, predictive and tested social science are unpublishable in the United States. Because the American ideology views these areas as inherently impossible, the fact of their existence does not form proof of their possibility.
Thus, the political idea that academic institutions are proper devices for creating and enforcing narrow ideologies became widely accepted, and the means for enforcement widely established. The necessary foundations for what today is called “political correctness” were laid in the name of science. Diversity of political thought in academic institutions was largely eliminated. This is witnessed in part by the fact that members of a single political party, the Democratic Party, today occupy most positions at most academic institutions. It is an interesting historical speculation whether this result is an accident. Given the vehemence of President Truman’s political objections to the form of a National Science Foundation in 1947, already cited, why would he then sign essentially the same Act in 1950? One explanation is that by 1950 Truman knew two political facts: the activism supporting the Foundation had not gone away, and that Truman’s term was constitutionally limited with no guarantee that a Democrat would follow him to office; in fact, a Republican, Eisenhower, did so in 1952. Since Truman already clearly understood the anti-democratic (small “d”) nature of the institution proposed, perhaps he reasoned it was better to have the Foundation controlled by the Democratic Party, then to risk allowing a Republican successor the same opportunity should the Act be passed again after he left office.
Whether or not the intent, today more than eighty percent of all academic positions are held by Democrats, while only about ten percent each are held by Republicans or independents; in some institutions, no Republicans have been added to the faculty for several decades. This would seem to fulfill the criticism of the NSF cited above. Though the rigidly controlled ideology the scientific critics feared was a scientific one, derived from the actions of the peer review system, that that system also happened to imply political control by a single political party and has become a serious harm to democracy.
The present study is not the only one to conclude that something systematic is removing American intellectual diversity, and to note the consequences on ideological rigidity. There is also this devastating assessment of American policy science with national security implications by a Adda Bozeman, an analyst of American international military and political intelligence:
This challenge … has not been met by the academic and political elites of the United States. This failure in the perception of reality has been aggravated by a widespread acquiescence in essentially irrational trends — the inclinations, namely, to dissociate values from facts, to treat values as if they were general norms, and to assume that privately or locally preferred values are also globally valid norms. … Further, they suggest that the United States has begun to resemble Don Quixote … it is fighting windmills and losing its bearings in the real world.
One should carefully note that this was written in 1992. Events since then have proven those words prophetic.
The problem we address is the process of collective thinking, which is anti democratic to its core and was so recognized by President Truman in 1947. The best remedy is removal of enforced centralized American policies for academic research, and other national controls of education in all forms. As a matter of constitutional policy fixing the academic problem means instituting policies which are based on the proper powers of the Federal government for the purposes for which intended, and removing Federal exercise of powers it does not possess. The Federal power of the patent is specific, and is intended to protect actual authors and inventors by grants to the creators of exclusive use for limited times. The system established by existing Federal granting authorities is the opposite, certainly in practical effect: it allocates rights from actual authors or inventors and grants them preemptively and exclusively to politically favored institutions. This is an exercise of a power to allocate economic rights, which the federal government does not possess.
The existence of an ideologically controlled one-party type apparatus within the Federal science and educational establishment is the classically predicted effect when a government dispenses funds, controls individual careers, and thereby controls ideas. The limits on the power of the American Federal government to repress ideas can only be restored by a return to the constitutional framework of limited federal powers. This framework has no federal role in control of academic institutions nor education.
Yours in Liberty,