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scary Mr. Vannevar Bush

So, someone I'm editing made a reference to Vannevar Bush, who is Mr. Something or Other with regard to the Internet. A search reveals an archived review in salon.com of a bio of him. The bio is called Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century, by G. Pascal Zachary. (Gee, Pascal, you've written a biography!)

So, Vannevar (?? where does that name come from?) Bush is currently famous for predicting the personal computer and hypertext, but in fact he also did things like cofound Raytheon and oversee the development of the atomic bomb.

He was the one who got military research contracts farmed out to universities, etc. The reviewer says, "Working behind the scenes as an administrator doling out federal money during World War II, Bush transformed scientific research in the U.S. forever -- bringing the government, military and elite academic researchers into a closer embrace than ever before."


Well, back to work.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 27th, 2006 07:28 am (UTC)
Before World War II, there was very little in the way of a permanent government-run scientific research establishment in America. That's why, when you read all those Before the Golden Age science-fiction stories, the Rocket to the Moon or the Tunnel To Another Dimension or the Whatever the Story Is About is being built by a brilliant scientist, a forward-thinking millionaire industrialist, or suchlike, with no connection to the Feds. This was actually realistic in pre-1940's America, and indeed most of the West.

This was a more romantic state of affairs, to be true, and more in line with our tradition of individual liberty. And since World War II the government has often wasted scads of tax dollars on some truly dubious projects, or started up good projects and then abandoned them in highly wasteful ways (classic case of this is the Apollo Project, which wasted equipment actually paid for and built which could have been used for other space-program purposes).

The problem was that this did sometimes lead to us having to play catch-up, _really_ fast. And in the world of the Cold War that could have proven very fatal. So on the balance, I think it's a good thing that Vannevar Bush's work led to the foundation of the alphabet-soup science agencies.
Nov. 27th, 2006 08:49 am (UTC)
What's interesting is that the person I was editing, who mentioned him in passing, wants an open market in academic research because he thinks that the current system skews toward institutions--i.e., money is going to go to your MITs and your Cal Techs and not to Mr. John Doe, private researcher. (At least, that's one thing the guy is arguing.) And yet clearly, back in the pre-Vannevar Bush days, it wasn't any old body who was working on this sort of research. It had to be someone with lots and lots of money--either their own (which means they weren't just Mr. John Doe) or someone else's, which means they were as beholden to *some* large institution or business as researchers are now.

In general, I think the government ought to help support work in the common interest, and scientific research is in the common interest, so I don't think I have a problem with that aspect of it. Everything has its problems, though, the current funding system included--though my familiarity with it extends to just about what you see in this entry!
Nov. 27th, 2006 08:13 am (UTC)
makes me feel all warm inside...one of the cofounders of Raytheon owned the house our Institute bought--you know the one right across the street from the prestigious university...
Nov. 27th, 2006 08:50 am (UTC)
You mean the house occupied by the Confucian scholar?? Too funny!
Feb. 10th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC)
thanks for citing my book
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )



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