Science and Politics in 20th Century Ireland

The RDS Boyle Medal an an Indicator of Esteem

Roy H W Johnston

Notes and References (contd)

33. cf Roy Johnston, J D Bernal FRS: Some Irish Influences; Notes & Records of the Royal Society, 47(1), pp 93-101 (1993); there are references in this to the Birr spin-off effects, which Bernal failed to pick up in his 'Science in History', despite first-hand local knowledge. This was condensed from a chapter in a book 'J D Bernal, a Life in Science and Politics'; ed Brenda Swann and Francis Aprahamian, (Verso 1999).

34. See 'The Years Flew By'; recollections and memoirs of Sydney Gifford Czira, who was one of the formidable group of women who along with Constance Markievicz, Helena Maloney and others, made their contribution to the national movement. Published by Gifford and Craven in 1974, it has already become a collector's piece, being in the 'rare printed books' section of the TCD Library.

35. The writer, who as a student in the 1940s had occasion to communicate with the ITGWU in the context of seeking a speaker for a student society meeting, remembers remarking on the quaint Bleriot-type aircraft in the headed paper logo, without however then appreciating its significance.

36. HH Dixon FRS (1969-1953) cf 'More People and Places' p54.

37. McClelland has, unfortunately, not yet made it into the Academy 'People and Places'; hopefully he will figure in the next volume. I understand from Nick Whyte that he was Ulster Presbyterian.

38. The Nolan brothers, JJ (1888-1952) and PJ (1894-1984) are treated on p68 of 'More People and Places'.

39. James Drumm (1896-1974), electrical engineer, UCD. The Drumm Train episode had political undertones, which need analysis. A preliminary historical treatment of this episode, which excited international interest at the time, in what was in fact a promising electro-chemical invention, has been published in 1995 by the ESB, in what is however a somewhat ephemeral format. The authors are Richard Cox of the ESB and Brian Hogan, now in retirement, who was a member of the Drumm development team.

40. The role of Dr TA McLaughlin in the development of the Shannon Scheme and the setting up of the Irish national electricity-grid needs analysis in depth. When the present writer was researching the Irish influences on Bernal (see 33 above) the only McLaughlin documentation he could find, courtesy of the ESB, was a reprint of a Radio Eireann broadcast, published in the Irish Times on 11/1/38. Bernal was a contemporary of Mclaughlin, and he visited the Shannon Scheme in 1928 during its construction. This lack of systematic academic attention to the historical record of key events of scientific and technological significance in Ireland is beginning to be remedied, but by research funding from Britain, via Queens University (see 41 below, the Yearsley reference, also 2.4 above, re Bowler).

41. In the 1950s 'science policy' did not exist, in the modern sense, in Ireland. A somewhat Machiavellian 'politics of science' existed, behind closed doors, in the committees of the Academy, the RDS, and the voluntary specialist organisations. The manoeuvring for access to the Marshall Plan funding (41.1) was not in the public arena. The writer, who at the time was working in the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies (41.2), was only dimly aware of it. Some preliminary analysis of the Irish science policy vacuum was been done by Desmond Greaves, at a popular level, writing in the Irish Democrat (see the October 1949 issue), and in the context of his interactions during the 40s with the student left in TCD, in which a handful from UCD, including Justin Keating, had participated. Keating, later on, in the late 1950s, observed from below the horse-trading that went on between TCD and UCD in relation to faculties of agriculture and veterinary science, and the present writer remembers discussing it with him. There were indications of roles for groups such as Knights of Columbanus and Freemasons. In the late 50s there was a paper by Frank Winder to Tuairim, at which science policy issues were discussed; it would have impacted on maybe 20 or 30 younger socially conscious intellectuals, many of whom subsequently emigrated.
41.1 The founding of the Agricultural Institute without university linkages, as a State agency, perhaps was the State's response to the divisions within the University-based scientific community, dominated as it was by the TCD/UCD dichotomy: the intellectual partition of Dublin, reflecting the political Partition of the country.
41.2 The same could perhaps be said in relation to this earlier foundation, for which de Valera was awarded his FRS in or about 1968, in recognition of his role in providing a safe haven for many distinguished European scientific refugees.
41.3 Steven Yearsley, then in Queens, has published a ground-breaking study of the period from 1950; see Science Technology and Human Values 20 (1995), published from Amsterdam. This work was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in Britain. It should be a signal to the Irish Government that it is necessary to take this domain in hand, and fund research into it on the home ground, as part of the process of bringing science policy into the public arena, and making politicians and decision-makers aware of its importance. This is a key proposal of the STIAC Report (1995); it remains on the current science policy agenda.

42. Nature is the leading international scientific journal; to have a paper accepted by Nature is the ambition of every scientist. The stimulus for the setting up of STIAC in 1994 was editorial comment by Nature in August 1993 under the header 'Irish Government Turns its Back on Science'.

43. Cormac O Ceallaigh was asked during the 1950s to advise the Government about acceptance of a research-scale nuclear reactor from the US Government. He advised against, on the grounds that the money needed to be spent to maintain it meaningfully, with a research group around it, would be more that the then total of all State research funding. I conjecture that this might have been the stimulus for the commissioning of the Lynch-Miller OECD Report which came out in 1964. This has not been treated by Yearsley (see 41.3 above), indicating the extent of the work remaining to be done.

44. The 1964 OECD Report, written by Patrick Lynch and HMS ('Dusty') Miller, was influential in persuading the then Government that they should begin to take science seriously; as a consequence the National Science Council was set up in 1969, under the chairmanship of Colm O h-Eocha (cf Note 15 above)

45. There is work to be done in comparing the Soviet approach to science with the Irish. Both had a 'central statist' approach to setting up research institutes, and in both cases it is possible to detect, by various channels, the influence of J D Bernal FRS (see note 33 above). The crisis in science in both cases can be attributed, not to 'Bernalism' as such, but to over-emphasis on the role of the central state, and failure to accept inputs from the scientists' own organisations. This is a further area needing to be developed by historical research.

46. Professor Pollak was a pioneering meteorologist who joined the DIAS from Austria, contributing to the Central European flavour of that body in its early days, along with Janossy, Heitler, Schroedinger and others.

47. The Wilson cloud chamber was a key instrument in the detection of high-energy charged particles; it was invented in the 1920s and remained useful up to the mid-50s. It was in use in the DIAS experimental physics programme, and its support technology was available for the development of the Nolan-Pollak instrument. The key technician was Gerry Daly; Pollak always deferred to his skill, and insisted on his name being also associated with it, though this does not appear in the RDS documentation.

48. The name of Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and the topic of Relativity will pull a large audience to a learned lecture in Dublin to this day, but few people outside the physics community have heard of Synge, and those who have would perhaps tend to relate him to his uncle JM Synge.

49. Erwin Schroedinger (1887-1961) was the 'jewel in the crown' of de Valera's DIAS. A recent biography by Walter Moore (Cambridge UP, 1989) illuminates Dublin intellectual life in the 40s and 50s with interesting anecdotal material.

50. Prince L-V P de Broglie (1892-1987) first published his wave-particle duality concept in the Annales de Physique in 1925. Synge would have been in TCD at the time. The TCD mathematical school was well integrated into the international network, as is shown by the fact that Synge received the paper in 1924; it must have been a privately circulated preprint.

51. A draft manuscript exists in the possession of Professor Luke Drury in DIAS but I gather that it was not regarded by O Ceallaigh as publishable, and I have been unable to get sight of it.

52. Mesons are unstable particles, of masses between the electron and the proton, which play a part in nuclear forces.

53. R L Praeger (1865-1953) had begun the process with his Irish Topographical Botany in 1901. See 'People and Places', p66.

54. Fitzgerald's letter of resignation from the RDS, written in 1899, refers to the fact that 'younger members want to publish in London... they would publish in the RDS if there were a reward of local recognition...'.

55. Il Nuovo Cimento is the Italian prestige national journal of physics; its international status in the high-energy physics niche was due to the work of Fermi, Amaldi, Rossi, Occialini and others.

Copyright (c) Roy Johnston. Web version re-edited June 1999; further editing for printed publication is not excluded.

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