Frederick Soddy.

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of the criminal is bad.

The newly awakened interest for science in this
country is entirely due, not to any sudden love of
truth, any desire to understand and walk familiarly
through the labyrinth of Nature, any weariness with
the old rule-of-thumb and hit-or-miss methods of our
ancestors. It is due simply to the realisation of the
fact that it is indispensable in war, and that without it
we shall go down as completely as the Dervishes did
at Omdurman and for precisely the same reason.

It was, I think, a German philosopher' who
remarked "Chemistry to one is a goddess, to
another an excellent cow," and to this one might
add, "to the third a handmaid of war."

So one can discuss the relation of science to the
State from this triple point of view. Science as the
representative of Mars has now been admitted to be


indispensable. As the cow to be milked for market-
able knowledge, it is beginning also to be realised
that in times of peace, or rather the peaceful war of
industrialism and commerce that is expected to
follow the signing of the terms of peace, science is
as important and indispensable as it is for open
hostilities. Plenty there will be to advocate its
claims under these heads.

But its third claim as the goddess, as indispens-
able for the enrichment of the life of the common
people and the elevation of ideals, is the one with
which I am to-day most nearly concerned ; in the
words of Huxley, " in the conviction which has
grown up with my growth and strengthened with my
strength, that there is no alleviation to the sufferings
of mankind except veracity of thought and action,
and the resolute facing of the world as it is when
the garment of make-believe with which pious
hands have hidden its uglier features has been
stripped off."

I know some of you are great readers, and I can
recommend to you, for this aspect of science, a book
by Professor R. A. Gregory called Discovery, or the
Spirit and Service of Science. Whilst as specially
concerned with chemistry and what it has accom-
plished for the material well-being and uplifting of
mankind, the recent Thomson lectures in Aberdeen
by Professor Findlay, now issued under the title
of Chemistry in the Service of Man, will probably be
a revelation to those to whom the term chemistry
has hitherto meant either an apothecary or an

I may quote one passage from the former :

" Blessing and honour and glory and power are
not the usual rewards of a life devoted to science.
All the benefits of modern civilisation are due to the
achievements of science or inventions based upon



them ; but neither the multitude nor its masters are
familiar with the names of the men whose work has
provided the comforts of the present day. If you
seek fame and riches, enter not upon a scientific
career ; for they are easier won in politics or
commerce or many other walks of life. If, however,
you will be content with the satisfaction which
faithful and unselfish work always brings, Nature
offers you a rich field in which you can exercise your

Rather than being- in league with militarism and
armament firms, science is, in fact, the only really
working socialism. Scientific men work too often
without reward for the love of their science, and
freely publish their discoveries for the good of the
whole community. Though the contributor of the
last mite of knowledge usually gets popular credit
for the whole discovery, the advance of science as
a whole is entirely bound up with this communism
of its inheritance. The spirit of secrecy, and of
individual ownership of knowledge, is absolutely
antagonistic to the spirit of science.

It is a commonplace to the scientific man that
the grandest discoveries that have been made and
those at once most productive and fruitful in
money-making applications, both to the legitimate
arts of peace and the illegitimate purposes of war,
have been made by men in the simple pursuit of
truth for its own sake and without thought of any
pecuniary reward, or even of practical applications.
You can trust the State, after the lesson it has had,
to see that the application of science to war and to
industry and manufacture receives more attention
and encouragement than it did in the past. But
pure scientific research and investigation, made with
the simple desire to extend the bounds of knowledge,
is the goose that lays these golden eggs, and there


will be plenty of covetous hands itching for its life
in the hope of immediate and instant gain.

What passes for science with most people is
the application of new knowledge to useful purposes.
The instinct of self-preservation and of pecuniary
gain are powerful guarantees that these will not
be neglected. But before you can apply knowledge
you must discover it, and this primal discovery has
been and must be almost entirely the work of the
comparatively few, working without thought or
expectation of gain for the love of truth and un-
hampered by any pecuniary or practical con-

We arrive at this paradox, the truth of which is
established by the whole history of science, that
though you may foster in a general way the dis-
covery of new knowledge, as distinct from the
application of these discoveries to utilitarian ends,
you cannot command the discovery of any new
knowledge in particular. The attitude of the man
of science is not that of the technologist or engineer.
He sets forth into an unknown land not to
discover anything definite, anything of use to
anyone, but to discover what there is in the
unknown to be discovered, however apparently
commonplace and unimportant it may seem. The
grander the discovery, the more trivial and utterly
useless it often appears at first sight. The com-
monest and most ordinary phenomena, to which
the eyes of humanity have become so accustomed
as to be hardly consciously aware of, frequently
furnish the greatest amount of new knowledge.

In a new country, before the rush of gold-seekers,
of lumbermen, or of farmers, must come the pioneer.
He cannot command gold or timber or arable land,
he finds simply what there is to be found. The
new countries of the world are rapidly filling, and


in a short time hardly one will remain to be explored
or exploited. But there is a realm of inexhaustible
extent, which actually grows larger with every step
taken forward in its exploration. It is the realm
of ignorance beyond the world of knowledge and
completely surrounding it. As the known world
expands, the boundaries between the known and
the unknown lengthen, jumping-off places for the
pioneer into the unknown become more and more
numerous, and the pace of progress increases and
ever must increase. This world of ignorance is
the El Dorado of the future, limitless and inex-
haustible so long as the spirit of divine curiosity
to know haunts the earth.

To be the first human being to make a discovery
of incalculable and, possibly, never-ending con-
sequence to humanity, is in itself no mean reward
for an investigator, without honour, glory and
power being added. The million others, who never
make discoveries, can never know the mental
exaltation and satisfaction, far above the worth of
rubies, that the discoverer in any walk of life ex-
periences. Nevertheless, if science is to be of
practical benefit to the million and the means of
raising the universal standard of life, it is a simple
business proposition to make sure that the scientific
investigator is provided with the means necessary
for the pursuit of his proper work. The harvest
is great but the workers are few, and, hitherto, they
have been recruited mainly from among those who
have possessed, in addition to the requisite enthusiasm
and knowledge, private means of support sufficing
for their everyday needs. For in pure scientific
research, as distinct from applied science, there is,
apart from its costliness altogether, not even the
means of earning a bare subsistence.


A parallel to the normal attitude of the world
towards science and its application, respectively,
may be found in its attitude towards the musical
performer and the musical composer. The musical
world will go wild with enthusiasm over the perfect
rendering of any of its favourite compositions, and
will shower upon the skilled artists wealth and
honour. But the man who created the music, an
infinitely rarer kind of genius, probably had difficulty
in obtaining a bare livelihood by his art, and would
have just as much difficulty, if he lived now, as he
would have had in past times.

Science in the capacity of the creator of know-
ledge is esteemed as little by the world as creative
work in art, literature or music. Not that it is not
appreciated in theory, but the appreciation so lags
behind the accomplishment that the creator has
ample time to die of starvation. Yet this is the
science from which fundamentally all the benefits
of modern civilisation are derived. This is the
science that has made it possible for us to-day to
afford to wage war on a thousand-fold more ex-
travagant scale than ever before in history. This
is the science that is to pay the bill if it can be paid
without a general depression in the standard of
living below the level of decency for the many, and
which alone, after the unparalleled waste of the past
two years, given fair play, can hope to keep the wolf
from the door. If one judged from history solely,
bad times must follow the present orgy as night
follows day. The only question is whether science,
which in the past century is estimated to have
increased the wealth of the world a thousand-fold,
will not also make each million of debt now incurred
bear no more heavily than each thousand did upon
our unsophisticated ancestors.


It is low ground to plead for fair play to science.
It is the ground of the hymn-

" O Lord, we know that all we give
Will be a thousand times repaid."

I suppose most of my hearers, like myself, have
outgrown many of their rooted convictions of two
years ago many times. Great changes have come
over all of us, and greater will come, perhaps, when
the full tide of our manhood, who have sacrificed all
they had and sunk their individual interests and
aspirations in the general social weal, returns. The
particular faith in me that has undergone eclipse
at the moment is a faith in democracy, and if an
aristocracy of intelligence were practical, I am afraid
I should vote for it.

The one problem that it seems to me has not
been solved by this democracy, if it is a democracy,
is that of finding each man his proper life-work and
then letting him do it ; and, until it is solved, the
complex organism that the modern State is, must
remain a heterogeneous collection of individuals rather
than a community. Perhaps it is that two of a trade
seldom agree, but I have never been wildly enthusi-
astic of German science. I admire it, of course, as
much as any, but what I mean is that I never have
believed that, compared with that of the rest of the
scientific world, it was at all pre-eminent. Germany is
not a democracy, and I have no love for her political
system. But it is indisputable that Germany uses
her people to infinitely better advantage than we do,
and that there is in the State a power of finding, for
the infinitely complex and varied needs of a modern
nation, the infinitely complex and varied individuals
necessary each for their particular job. Here we
delight in racing cart-horses and leaving Derby
winners to haul coal.


As regards the most important and fundamental
things of life such as, to mention only as illustra-
tions, the number of people that can be supported in
a given country in a given standard of comfort and
affluence, the amount of food the country can grow
or buy, whether it can outpour from its super-
abundance into the less fertile and more necessitous
countries of the earth, or whether it remains a
malaria-haunted or fever-stricken jungle, ruled by
the mosquito the 999,999 out of the million have
no direct say whatever. It little matters whether
they are an absolute monarchy like Russia, a
republic like France or the United States, or, to
come to this country, whether they are ruled by an
aristocracy of blood, an aristocracy of wealth, or the
loudest of cheap presses. These questions are settled
otherwise in the laboratory by men, sometimes, as
in the case of malaria and yellow fever, with the
special problem to be solved before them, more often
impelled by a divine curiosity and the desire to know
and understand Nature for her own sake and the
sake of truth, and without any care whether or not
all the -labour and thought they expend in the search
will or will not be repaid in increased good to the

Now, willing enough as I am to subscribe to the
doctrine that every one born into the world may
be a potential Faraday, a potential Newton, or a
potential Pasteur, I am absolutely certain that the
999,999 out of the million are in fact nothing of the
kind and never could be, even if they had the
laboratory resources of the whole world put at their
disposal, and Faraday, Newton and Pasteur reincar-
nated to serve as their professors.

What applies in science applies everywhere. The
creative element is not the only element, but it is
the pace-maker of progress and civilisation. For


one that leads a thousand can follow, and, when the
path followed is the path of natural knowledge, each
of these thousand can teach another thousand new
means of livelihood.

You cannot starve into non-productiveness a
poet, an artist, a parson, or any great thinker of the
old type, nearly as easily as you can starve a
scientific genius. Because they are more self-con-
tained. To them the brain is both the raw material
and the machine for finishing and producing it. But,
to the devotees of the newer philosophy, the raw
material is not in the brain but is to be sought
for in external nature ; and in handling this raw
material, mastery over materials by scientific methods
of experiment is, at least, of equal importance with
mastery over the processes of thought. In other
words, laboratories are required, and, though an
artist without a studio, or an evangelist without a
church, might conceivably find under the blue dome
of heaven a substitute, a scientific man without a
laboratory is in most branches a misnomer.

As science advances and most of the more acces-
sible fields of knowledge have been gleaned of their
harvest, the need for more and more powerful and
elaborate appliances and more and more costly
materials ever grows. Yet, if one-tenth of one per
cent, of all the added wealth that scientific men have,
without acknowledgment and without reward, earned
for the community were repaid, it would suffice them,
beyond their wildest dreams of avarice, for labora-
tories and maintenance.

Suppose, then, we have found capable scientific
men, not necessarily any outstanding genius like
Newton, not one in a million, but say we have picked
out the best of every thousand in the community,
the chances are that the thousand, which we have
picked out of a million, will contain any potential


Newton the age may have produced, and a number
of thoroughly useful understudies as well.

Many people suppose thereby that the work is
finished and all has been done that should be done.
They have forgotten, however, the primary purpose
it was all about. The problem which I stated that
this democracy has not solved is the finding- for each
man his proper life-work and then letting him do it.
We have assumed, in our discussion of the relations
between science and the State, that the men to
advance science and the buildings in which they are
to work have been found. It remains, therefore,
only to let the scientific men alone to do their work.
But this is precisely what is almost never done in
this country. The candidates go through a long
and severe course of training, selection and appren-
ticeship at apprentice's wages, fitting themselves for
their life-work. They must show some evidence of
the capacity of making original investigations and
discoveries before they are put in charge of one or
other of the laboratories of the country, and when
they get there they teach.

Now the teaching and training of students for
scientific professions and for scientific investigation
is almost as vital and important to the welfare of the
country as the making of scientific discoveries. But
it is a totally different business to that of scientific
investigation. Some try more or less successfully to
do both, but, in Scotland at least, it is the teaching
function of the university, rather than its equally
important function as the natural home of scientific
investigation, which has hitherto claimed an alto-
gether disproportionate share. I cannot recall a
single Research Professor in any university of the
United Kingdom. In America, Johns Hopkins
University, for example, entirely devotes itself to
research. Here everything else comes first. Re-



search is not treated as anyone's business in life, but
as a thing" to be pursued as a hobby in odd moments
between the various and manifold duties of a pro-
fessor and his staff, and in vacations.

But teaching research that is again a serious
business. It would be a thousand pities if some
potential genius, for lack of research scholarships
and fellowships, was lost to this country. Everyone
must have at least a chance of proving their capacity
for research. Most excellent. But what I want to
know is why trouble if, as soon as that capacity is
proved, the possessor is to be put in a position where
it will never again be possible for him to devote
himself to research as a business, but merely as a
recreation in the interval of teaching! Before the
war, at least, these research scholarships and
fellowships were a veritable cul-de-sac to the many,
through the general apathy and neglect of science
by which this country is distinguished. There
literally were not teaching posts, let alone research
posts, open for more than a very few of the successful.
Too many found themselves stranded without any
opening whatever, whereas if they had eschewed
research and devoted themselves to any ordinary
profession, a very much lower scale of capacity
would have ensured them an ample and expanding

Extravagant comparisons have been appearing
in the press lately betweep the Scottish and the
English educational systems, in favour of the former.
But if this is justifiable at all, it can only be with
regard to one side of the question the education of
the general masses of the population, and that,
admittedly, refers to a past generation rather than
to-day. In regard to this equally important question
of scientific research and investigation, Scotland is as
far behind England as England is behind the rest of


the world. In the newer universities of England, in
Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, London, and so on,
there is at least an honest attempt being made to
make them real homes of research. In Scotland,
the country to which Mr Carnegie, in 1901, gave a
million pounds for this very object, the money has
been largely diverted from that purpose, and routine
teaching is yearly absorbing a larger part of it.

To sum up, scientific research is capable of raising
the general standard of life, without limit, by the
solution it affords of the material and physical
problems that prevent progress. But for it to do
so, it must no longer be treated as a hobby or part-
time occupation of the leisure hours of busy teachers,
engaged in catering for the needs of the multitude in
education, but as a serious business distinct alto-
gether from teaching, perhaps the most serious and
momentous of all the manifold activities of the State.
For from it flows the knowledge of Nature, upon
which every advance that governs the material
prosperity of the nation depends, which the inventors,
technologists, engineers and medical men apply to
useful purposes, and which, through them, makes all
the difference between unemployment and prosperity,
disease and health, retrogression and progress, and
lastly, which, in time of war, is as necessary to the
defence of the realm as the courage of brave deeds
and the endurance of stout hearts. In its highest
and most fruitful forms scientific research needs that
same overpowering and divine passion for truth,
that horror of, and detestation for, even the shadow
of a lie, which is the common necessary antecedent
of all forms of creative work. But it needs labora-
tories and special homes for its successful prosecution,
freedom from interruption and distraction, and a life-
time's devotion all of these, always as it progresses,
more and more. It is, if only for these reasons, more


easy to stultify and prevent than any other form of
creative work. In itself, it may make little or no
general appeal to the aspirations and instincts of the
community, whose material interests nevertheless are
practically governed by it.

The problem of how this is to be achieved, as well
as the satisfaction of the educational needs of the
multitude, a totally different question, is the problem
which, in my opinion, this democracy has not solved,
and which it must solve if it is to justify its right to


THE future of science is a fit subject for the con-
sideration of the Aberdeen University Scientific
Society in these days when everything is being- cast
into the crucible of war to be consumed or refined.
I have added to the title, "and what bars the way,"
because I believe that active opposition has still to
be overcome before science takes its rightful place in
the Scottish universities. Indeed, one has only to
contrast the growth and power of science in the
outside world, not merely the world of things and
facts, but equally the world of ideas, with the position
it holds relatively to the so-called classical studies in
the ancient universities, with the possible exception
of Cambridge, or, again, to contrast these with the
new universities that have sprung up in England and
Wales, to realise that the older institutions have lost
whatever capacity they may once have had for
intellectual leadership, and toil painfully behind the
times, a clog rather than a stimulus to the coming
task of national reconstruction. The period of out-
spoken, honest opposition and hostility to science of
a couple of generations ago on the part of those
whose most ancient and cherished beliefs had been
rudely overthrown by the growth of our knowledge
of external nature, has given place to a far more

1 Presidential Address to the Aberdeen University Scientific
Society, 3rd November 1916.



insidious and deadly secret distrust and hostility to
science, on the part of those left still with power and
influence in the councils of the State. This second
phase, meaner in motive than the first, derives its
strength from a negative source, far stronger than
any downright antagonism, from sheer mental inertia
and the comforting belief of the masses that the
world is big enough and lazy enough to swallow up
science without really departing, by a hair's-breadth,
from any of its former habits of thought, or relin-
quishing any of its old, inefficient, empirical methods.
As one of the few clear decisions yet reached by the
war, this second and infinitely more dangerous phase
of hostility to science has, I believe, received its
death-blow. Whether its end be lingering or sudden
it is too soon to say.

The curricula of ancient universities accumulate
rather than evolve. The new cult of science is
sandwiched with a culture that came to maturity
thousands of years ago. Nothing is ever abolished
from the curriculum. If there were real freedom of
choice, the survival of the fittest would operate. But
the whole system of bursaries and regulations for
degrees is to bolster up and perpetuate a museum
of ancient learning, and the system of finance to
divert to its support the resources needed for living
subjects. What Sir Arthur Evans has characterised
as the dull incuria of the parents to intellectual
pursuits allows it. The result is that the ancient
universities become, not by any means the quiet

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Online LibraryFrederick SoddyScience and life: Aberdeen addresses → online text (page 5 of 18)