In Search of Techne

Ch 2.1: Background

(The January 1967 Irish Times 'Science in Ireland' series)

(c) Roy Johnston 1999

(comments to

This series of five articles was published on January 9-13 1967; the stimulus was the existence of a lobbying process among the science community relating to the projected setting up of the National Science Council, under the influence of the Lynch-Miller OECD report 'Science and Irish Economic Development'. I had to make some cuts to fit in the space allowed, and where relevant I have restored these, indicating them by [brackets]. In my adaptation however I have, in the interest of period authenticity, left untouched my use of 'he, him and his' when referring to researchers, for which sin I must eat humble pie before the contemproary feminist lobby.

I found among the associated papers a manuscript letter which I had written to Conor O'Toole in the IIRS, seeking confirmation of various matters of detail. He returned it to me with the answers in the margin, for which I must thank him; I wrote the articles when on vacation in Spideal Co Galway in July 1966, without access to references. RJ April 2001.


The purpose of this series of articles is to indicate some ways in which science, technology and economic development interact. It begins with a tentative outline of how science has influenced the course of history and how science in Ireland has been of a provincial rather than a national character, though on occasions it achieved world stature.

It continues with an examination of some of the growing points of post-war science and technology, suggesting that the policy decisions which allocate resources to the various growth areas are dominated by factors which need critical examination, especially by a small nation with limited resources.

A further article examines the role of pure research and its interactions with applied research and economic development, in particular dealing with the potential role of pure research as a training ground for people who would afterwards become highly productive assets to the economy.

The last two articles examine the contemporary Irish scientific scene, searching for any hint of a 'science policy' emerging from the existing structure, and making recommendations how a viable small-nation science policy might be evolved.

1. Science in History

It is only in the last five years or so that this country has become officially aware of the existence of science as an economic asset. [Prior to the Second Programme(1) and the talk of integration into Europe science in Ireland was an unpopular optional extra in some secondarry schools, and an obscure pursuit of unsociable individuals in the inner recesses of universities.]

Thanks to many decades of neglect, there is even yet a very limited understanding in government circles, or among the general public, of what science is and exactly how it can benefit the growth of the economy. It is necessary to examine the roots of this attitude in the historical background of the Irish nation.

European scientific thought in the 17th and 18th centuries was related to the needs of the time. One need was that of mariners for an accurate method of determining longitude at sea. This problem in applied physics occupied the attentions of the best minds of Europe for over a century, as a result of which the marine chronometer was invented, and it became possible to open trade routes to the Indies with reasonable reliability.

The plundering of India of her wealth and the African slave trade, rendered possible by maritime technology, laid the basis for the industrial development of England, making capital readily available. At the same time, the science which had made all this possible developed in full all the lines of thought suggested by the solution of these practical problems: pure and applied science were closely interlocked.

Advances in the technology of ironworking in the 17th century had enabled tonnage quantities to be cast. This however had denuded the forests of Europe, as wood-charcoal was then the reducing agent, the technique of smelting with coal not yet having been discovered. Cromwell's conquest of Ireland [as well as buying off his own 'radical left' with free land] was motivated by the need for this basic strategic raw material.

Thus Ireland's initiation into the effects of Western European technology and science was at the receiving end of Cromwell's cast-iron cannon.

Gaelic culture, while being strongly linked with the Continent by means of family ties with the emigré aristocracy, was not in a position to absorb European technology: the emigrés were officers and gentlemen and would have considered the work of the military engineers beneath them.

[Aogan O Rathaille in his 'lament for the woods' would have had little appreciation of the forces at work; without a native technology at a level equivalent to that of the foreigner, Gaelic culture in its classical form was doomed.....

...This lack of contact between Gaelic culture and European science, made worse by the fact that Ireland saw the darker side of the latter only, I conjecture to be at the root of the anti-scientific element which undoubtedly exists among people nurtured in the national tradition. I remember PS O'Hegarty, speaking to a paper at the Dublin University Experimental Science Association, giving as his opinion that ' soon as any tool developed beyond the level of being a hand tool, it became a menace...'. This perhaps typifies the attitude to technology of the generation responsible for post-Treaty government in Ireland.

It is recorded that Merriman was a teacher of mathematics in Limerick when he died. It would be interesting to know if he knew of the existence of Laplace, or if bills of quantity and mensuration was the limit of his ability. I suspect the latter.]

It is to the Republicans of the 1790's that we must turn to find the first positive indication of a link between science, economic growth and radical politics..... In the buoyant economic atmosphere of the 1780s and '90s the Useful Arts were seen as a positive asset to manufacturers.and improving landlords, who had founded the Dublin Society for their encouragement. Chemistry was then undergoing a revolutionary transformation from magic and alchemy to true science. [Priestley, Lavoisier and Scheele come to mind as the European figures, and Kirwan and Higgins would have been in touch with this...]

The technology of textiles was beginning to attract scientific attention. Wolfe Tone [in the early 90s records dining in radical clubs and toasting the French Revolution with Kirwan and Whitley Stokes, among others, the latter being a Trinity mathematician. He also] records discussing manufacturing processes with Sinclair in Belfast. Clearly the atmosphere was right for major technological and economic developments had the 1798 Rising been successful.

In the event however all the threads were cut. Irish science became essentially provincial, and without technological links. Despite this, it threw up world figures: Hamilton and Boole are firmly part of the European mainstream, [the former more for his generalised dynamics and optics than for his invention of the first algebra of non-commutative quantities (quaternions), the latter for his formalisation of logic in terms of an algebra of binary variables.] However this work is about as related to Ireland as the poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson or the music of Sir Hamilton Harty. This is not to condemn or belittle the people concerned, but simply to state that the production of world figures by a province does not constitute the making of a nation.

One attempt to integrate Irish science into an Irish economic background stands out: Sir Robert Kane's Industrial Resources of Ireland, published in or about 1848, foreshadowed the survey work that an independent Government in that period would have carried out.

Throughout the 19th Century there is an appreciable thread linking radical thought with advanced technology. In Craig's Ralahine(2) the first McCormack reaper-binder to be imported from America was welcomed as a boon, while elsewhere it was cursed as a displacer of labour. Robert Johnston, one of the few Presbyterian Fenians, in later life put up money to put Dunlop on the road. Holland originally conceived his submarine as an emigré Fenian secret weapon, only later interesting the US Government in it.

However there never evolved in Ireland an independent national scientific tradition integrated with a national economic life....

During this period the gulf between the pure science of the universities and the applied science of industry and war started in the UK to widen and the centre of applied science science shifted to Germany. [The Royal Society became a 'dead hand'; it was necessary for radicals to found the British Association for the Advancement of Science in order to enliven thought to the extent necessary for science to survive. The classical controversies of the 19th century were fought out on the ground of the latter body (Darwin vs Wilberforce on evolution etc).

Despite the efforts of the BA however British technology remained craft-based and science remained the affair of the gentleman-amateur. This tradition remained right up to the second world war, despite the traumatic experience of the first....

Towards the end of the 19th Century, realising that applied science was becoming a German and American affair, the British Government founded a number of colleges of advanced technology, in order to produce 'non-gentleman professionals'. [The best known is Imerial College; the old College of Science in Merrion St dates from this period.] The graduates of these colleges were available barely in time to get the British chemical industry on its feet in the first world war. The output of the College of Science helped supply this need, rather than to help establish an Irish national scientific tradition related to national needs....

One of the first acts of the post-treaty government was to take over the College of Science buildings as offices. There were few men of any scientific vision among those who attempted to govern within the impossible framework imposed by Lloyd George...

The vision which culminated in the Shannon hydro-electric scheme originated among engineers and had to be pushed hard to get support at government level. The theme of conflict between technology and Gaelic Ireland, referred to above as rooted in the 17th and 18th Centuries, re-appears in the post-treaty Government attitudes.... [I cut a long section in which I contrasted the 'two cultures' problem in Britain as seen by CP Snow with its Irish analogue, proposing that the latter was in fact less entrenched, adducing the then current series of articles in Irish in the Engineers Journal which were aimed at expanding the vocabulary of technology.] The 1920s, '30s and '40s showed a continuation of the provincialism of the previous decades. There was a net retreat, represented by the closure of the College of Science and Dunsink Observatory. Assets were neglected for lack of resources..... Nobel Prize winning work was done by Walton in Cambridge, but when he returned to a university post in Dublin the resources were not available for continuing the work at the rate necessary to keep up with the mainstream, [with the result that the next logical experimental step, using a Van der Graaf machine as a high voltage source rather than a voltage multiplying transformer-rectifier system, which should have been operational by about 1936 to have had any meaning in world science, dragged on until the early fifties, when the whole scale of things had been changed by the atom-bomb work during the war, and the technique had become obsolete.]

The 1940s provided a golden opportunity to develop science, thanks to the influx of distinguished refugees from Nazism such as Heitler, Schroedinger, Janossy. Britain and the United States benefited from this diaspora. The response of the Dublin Government was characteristic: it provided them with an enclave, insulated from such other scientific life as was going on. This response was possibly generous enough in the circumstances. It was conditioned by the fact that the one person in the Government with any first-hand knowledge of science, de Valera, was limited in his experience to undergraduate mathematics, and never attained a full-fledged appreciation of the functioning of the scientific mainstream. He had imbibed enough to have respect without understanding.

The form of the response was conditioned also by the existence of two colleges in Dublin bedevilled by sectarian rivalry; Partition in microcosm. A government with vision would have leaped at the opportunity of centralising UCD and TCD Physics Depts under Schroedinger into a single Institute of Physics, responsible for undergraduate teaching and post-graduate research for students of both colleges. Sectarian interests however were too strong.

The same sectarian interests succeeded in holding up the foundation of the Agricultural Institute from 1948, when Marshall Aid money was made available for it, until 1954. Initially this involved such laughable compromises as occurred in the Veterinary College, where duplicate staffs in the early stages taught separate classes from TCD and UCD in the same building.

Happily the Agricultural Institute is now on its feet and represents the first significant large-scale breakthrough for applied science in this country. In its 22 centres throughout the land it is making available the results of scientific research to the Irish farming community on an unprecedented scale. It is however becoming evident that the full economic benefits will not be reaped until certain social obstacles are removed, with the result that there is a tendency for some research workers, especially in centres devoted to 'marginal land' problems, to involve themselves in local community development work, so as to encourage the co-operative exploitation of the results of research in areas where the individual farmers lack the resources for innovation. This trend is in the best traditions of Irish social and scientific radicalism and is a welcome re-emergence of the thread connecting them already referred to.

2. Science and Technology since the War

In the first article some reasons were given to explain the slow growth of appreciation of the need for science in Ireland. Now that comprehension of this need is dawning, it is important that we as a nation examine what is going on in science in the outside world.

Professor 0 Kofoed-Hansen, a nuclear physicist from Copenhagen, has suggested that it is the duty of scientists in small nations to speak out and say, like Hans Andersen's small child in the fairy story, 'the Emperor has no clothes'....

It is therefore necessary to look critically at British science and technology. I suggest that [the Emperor is indeed scantily clad:] British science at the moment lacks a sense of purpose, is divided and ineffective. The snobbism and mutual incomprehension that in Britain has made the scientific mind a closed book to the classically trained politicians and administrators is to be found equally perniciously dividing two sub-cultures of the science camp itself.

This parallel, like all parallels, should not be pressed too far. The 'snob' camp in CP Snow's 'Two Cultures', the classically trained elite, can with difficulty be got to comprehend some of the more elementary scientific questions, while most scientists are capable... of coping with the whole gamut of human culture, with the mysteries of administration thrown in, when given the chance. This is not to assert an elite status for scientist but merely to question the intrinsic value of a classical education as a training for responsibility.

On the other hand the 'snob' camp within science, the 'purists', are when the occasion demands capable of developing applied science extremely rapidly. This was shown in the second world war, when a handful of purists, trained in the Cambridge gentleman-amateur tradition, leavened with a handful of anti-fascist refugees, were able to develop microwave-technology to make radar a workable system, to invent the science of Operational Research in order to develop military tactics suitable to the new weapons, and to develop nuclear fission technology to the extent of producing the atom-bomb. In all this they had the advantage of unlimited funds and full-scale back-up from the applied scientists, engineers and craftsmen.

Applied Science or engineering as it was in the UK or in the US would not on its own have known of the possibilities, nor would it have been able to exploit them.

This demonstrated that if national effort towards a desirable goal is necessary, it is possible to build up an interaction between pure science, applied science and engineering from which all benefit, including even pure science. The latter after the war flourished as never before, thanks to the advances in microwave, vacuum, electronic and nuclear technology which had occurred as a result of the integrated national effort. These technologies, individually or in combination, made possible the giant particle accelerators, radio telescopes, computers, electron microscopes that have made it possible to push the frontiers of knowledge forward: [the relatively new science of molecular biology and the 'unravelling of the genetic code', the discovery of 'quasars', the bringing of order into the elementary particle jungle with the 'global symmetry' principle....]

However in the post-war UK little sense of national goal kas been discernable... The wartime integration of science has been lost, the pure and 'applied' camps are as far apart as ever they were, engineering appears to live in a world of its own divorced from either.

Instead, applied-scientific and technological growth has been allowed to take place under the influence of the giants that are already well developed: the oil, chemical and automobile industries. Few steps have been taken to direct applied science into undeveloped areas of industry. In fact the main decisions on allocation of resources have resulted from an amalgam of military-strategic wants with the wants of the established major firms (ICI, Shell-BP, BMC). Those working in pure science could hardly be expected to find much stimulus from an applied-science structure that had become so corrupted by the search for a quick return on investment that it avoided the difficult problems like the plague.

An imaginative British Government, concerned with the needs of the common people rather than alleged foreign committments, would have looked for ways of making use of its major unrealised asset, the aircraft industry. If instead of attempting to compete with the Americans and produce numerous costly military prototypes guaranteed rapidly obsolete, they had concentrated development towards the low-cost medium-short haul, the 'air-bus' concept, of which possibly the Shorts Belfast is a prototype, they would have been commercially in the lead in this field. The surplus capacity of the industry could then have turned its technology at national expense towards the solution of the intractable problems which bedevil the backward industries, and which no commercial applied science or development lab will touch. Viewed from the angle of an Irish Government on the scale of a 32 county Irish economy, this technological strategy represents a viable future for the potential of Shorts.

Three backward areas of British industry and, a fortiori, of Irish industry, which need a concentration of the best research brains, are:

1) Food: it is not possible to preserve or pack most foods in such a way as to be convenient for mass marketing without an advertising campaign directed at brainwashing the consumer into accepting a product inferior to that obtainable by consumption at the point of production.

2) Transport: although the automobile industry counts as technologically advanced, transport itself is in decline. This is a systems engineering problem.... The automobile on its own is not a complete solution; universal ownership results in a universal traffic jam. Is it cheaper to devise some sort of integrated transport system or to destroy and rebuild our cities in the interests of one type of device? Professor Galbraith and Lewis Mumford (of 'Affluent Society' and 'Culture of Cities' fame, respectively) have each on different occasions put this forward as the central problem of 20th century civilisation.

3) Building: good applied scientific research would pay off in this industry not only by lowering production costs and in the technical improvement of the product, but also as regards the increasingly crucial aspects of aesthetics and urban environment control.

The design and development of cities (this really follows from the transport problem also) that fulfill the following four conditions is a national challenge of the same magnitude as a war or a national emergency:

(a) bringing sufficient people together to support a strong and diversified economic and cultural life;

(b) being aesthetically pleasing and preserving historical character;

(c) enabling everybody to be well housed without a long journey to work, to shops or to a community centre;

(d) enabling transport to be provided without delays, jams or accidents endangering life.

Instead of acting along the lines indicated above, or similar lines, successive UK governments have allowed pure science to turn in on itself and applied science to concentrate in the already-rich industries; this is the scientific equivalent of the laissez-faire economics which has halved Ireland's population in 120 years.....

Those first-class brains who are really interested in scientific research therefore gravitate towards pure research in the universities. There, frustrated by lack of funds and administrative difficulties, in significant numbers they take the decision to emigrate to the US. [This so-called 'brain drain' is a problem receiving increasing attention...]

The history of development of pure and applied science in Britain since the war is a catalogue of lost opportunities and wasted efforts, lit by the inevitable patches of brilliance. However the basic weakness of British science and technology - the dichotomy between pure and applied science, the gentleman amateur and the craftsman engineer - has prevented the exploitation of British inventions and discoveries; usually the development work is done in the US and the British have to buy back their own invention in order to use it in industry.

This concludes a brief sketch of the national scientific establishment of which Irish science is a provincial echo. Not only are we provincial, but we are provincial to a national UK structure which itself has serious faults.

3. Research and Productivity

It is not enough to be critical of an existing structure, namely Irish science and technology as a provincial shadow of a UK structure that is itself basically unsound. It is necessary to propose an improved alternative....

Firstly it is necessary to describe how pure science works, in world-class laboratories. Typically there is a Professor... who presides over a group of research workers of ages ranging from raw post-graduate to established lecturers. The load of teaching is light, ranging from zero to a lecture or a practical a day, so that all are free to devote considerable time to their research.

......Within the group are set up a number of experimental teams, each of which is engaged on a particular experiment. There is also a theoretical group, [which interacts with whichever of the experimental groups is at the stage where it requires theoretical work done.]

The composition of the team is fluid: typically there might be three members, an experienced experimenter, well versed in the general world situation, knowing how to talk to the theoreticians and generally acting as team leader, also an experienced experimenter wihh a technical mind who is able to devise the necessary improvements in the apparatus for the next step, and a raw post-graduate finding his feet.

Within the team each step is discussed exhaustively; ['lone wolf' work suffers from the lack of this continuous internal criticism; it is only exceptional people who are able to work on their own without making errors or leaving important facts out of consideration. In a world-class laboratory some 'lone wolf' work usually takes place, as there is the test of the weekly seminar to be overcome:] this imposes enough discipline on the individual worker to keep him on the rails. For every so often he must stand up at the weekly seminar and make a convincing argument that what he is doing is worth while, [and parry or absorb the critical thrusts of his colleagues, who are ready to pick to pieces his arguments and pounce on any false elements..]

In fact [the weekly seminar is a necessary condition for a world-class laboratory;] if there is enough going on to supply someone to speak every week continuously, then the research laboratory is viable and stands a chance of becoming world-class. Speakers from other laboratoruies also contribute...

[I then enumerated a typology of seminars: team reports, reports from visits abroad, visiting GOM or VIP etc...]

Every researcher, if he has occasion to go anywhere else, is expected to defend himself before a critical audience there.

There is no harder schools than this for separating the wheat from the chaff. Anybody who can stand up to this, producing work that is accepted in the world literature, [believed in an referred to,] possesses a tough integrity of mind [and purpose, a single-mindedness in the search for truth] and an ability to detect the phoney that is unique to this type of training. Its power was demonstrated in the 1940s when the people trained in the Cavendish Laboratory produced a revolution in technology under stress of war...

A research laboratory with say 15 or 20 active researchers together with its outside contacts should be in a position to support a weekly seminar.

How can this exacting method of training be made to contribute in peacetime to the general national scientific and economic effort?

The answer is implicit in the experience of the war years: science should be made to possess an integrated structure; there should be complete mobility of personnel and ideas between pure research, applied research, process development and adaptation and management of enterprises...

The writer has experience of Britain, the Continent and the United States and has come to the conclusion that the ill-health of science in Britain is at least in part due to this lack of mobility, whicl has contributed to the re-establishment of the 'gentleman-amateur' atmosphere of pure science and the 'craftsman-engineer' atmosphere of applied science and industrial research....

In practical terms, the career profile of a graduate scientist or technologist should start in a research-team which is engaged in work of a character fundamental relative to his specialist training, in Ireland or abroad. If his research line is an expanding one, he makes his career in basic research and ends up in charge of a laboratory or institute. If on the other hand his research-line declines or is completed after a year or two, he moves into applied science.

Once in 'applied' science, whether in industry or a research institute, his grounding in fundamental thinking starts to come to fruition. Problems crop up soluble by technical tricks devised by 'pure science' experimenters.... he keeps in contact... he feeds back news of advances in instrument design etc to his old colleagues, or to whatever world of basic research he happens to be most easily in touch with. He feeds applied science problems that are too deep to be solved quickly to his university colleagues to stimulate their work.

In his applied research institute he becomes a specialist in a particular process. He might take the step of developing it to an economic scale, managing a prototype, ultimately ending up in the management of the industry concerned. Alternatively he might become a specialist in a particular type of device useful for many applications: this might ultimately pull him back into the pure esearch world...

The essence of this career profile is that it involves complete freedom of movement and complete lack of snobbery or patronage as between pure research, applied research, development and economic production.....

It is necessary to add something on the role of the technician in scientific research and development work. At present science in Britain and Ireland is fighting a losing battle against a severe shortage of adequately trained and dedicated technicians. This shortage is due to bottlenecks in the educational system and to administrative non-recognition of the need for good technicians with adequate salary and status.

At one end of the scale, in prototype development work, the failure of broadly-trained engineering technicians to emerge has resulted in the domination of the situation by craft unionism.

At the other end of the scale, in pure science, there exists a breed of devoted, industrious, highly skilled and intelligent men, who have grown up with the laboratory they work in, are on easy social terms with the research workers, give highly valued contributions to the success of the laboratory, and yet are regarded by the distant administrators who decide about salary and status as being little more than mechanics. The motivation in most cases is pure love of making things work, coupled with a personal devotion to the professor and to the permanent laboratory staff.

This type of craftsman-technician needs to be produced in greater numbers, to be given the chance to evolve to the level of technician-scientist or technologist, with training to university degree level, and needs to be given a recognised standing in the scientific world.

The technician supply also needs to be augmented by technician-scientists who have their basic degree but are more at home in getting things to work than in planning experiments, as well as by people who did not quite make the grade to get accepted into a research group but who nonetheless would make good practical people.... Most scientists have to be their own technicians at present. In fact any science graduate who goes and works initially in a laboratory where there is no 'weekly seminar' atmosphere as outlined above to act as the central dynamo of ideas, will end up finding himself working de facto as a technician, and his career opportunity will have been lost.

I have said little about productivity as such; this however is in fact what is meant by the 'applied science' / 'development and adaptation' / 'management' complex. Vague appeals by economic administrators to 'increase productivity' are in themselves quite useless. Technologists doing development and adaptation and managements, aware of technological change, are the main factors in this productivity. The worker on the plant however is by no means to be ignored.

Often there is a fund of practical experience there that can contribute significantly when combined with the technologists understanding of the process, [for example to the devising of a quality control system...]. Anyone working a process by rule of thumb quickly gets the 'feel' of the significant variables, and how to allow for environmental changes. Such 'feels' can often be quantified and measured by suitable instrumentation. Process workers will always co-operate if they feel that they are being listened to....

There is a tendency for technologists concerned with productivity improvements to see the Union as the enemy. Nothing could make things worse than to start with this assumption. All they want is to be consulted when changes are proposed affecting the interests of their members. Usually agreements can be reached from which both sides benefit to an extent which makes the technological innovation well worth while.

To sum up -- the integrated science concept, with complete mobility of individuals between pure research, applied research, development and adaptation, production and management, has been outlined and posed as an alternative to the system of introverted enclaves which constitutes UK science at present, Irish science being a provincial copy.

The Organisation of Science in Ireland

The following sketch of the organisational structure of Irish wcience and technology is not exhaustive.... [I went on to defer to the coming White Paper on Scientific and Technological Manpower, and the Report of the Commission ion Higher Education...]. The Report on Science and Economic Development published last November gives the necessary additional detail.

The pinnacle of the Irish scientific structure is the Royal Irish Academy. It is old-established, has an honorary elective Fellowship, publishes Proceedings, spans the sciences and the arts and maintains a library in its Dawson Street premises which receives periodicals from other national scientific bodies. Its closest analogue in the UK is the Royal Society. It possesses a shadow 32 County existence. Its scientific membership consists, with few exceptions, of pure scientists working in the Universities.

The Royal Irish Academy fulfills no clearly discernable function in advising the Government or influencing the allocation of research resources. Historically it might be paralleled by the Royal Society in the mid 19th century... [Its abdication of leadership at that time made necessary the formation of the British Association... The Royal Society has.... resumed its leading position in the UK and is at present pursuing a healthy though inadequate policy of expanding its membership towards applied science...]

[It is reputed that the Academy Dinner is the one annual occasion when certain 'opposite numbers' in the two Dublin colleges meet. This may be apocryphal, but in its exaggeration it contains an element of bitter truth.]

The university science departments are with few exceptions sub-viable units as far as research in the world class is concerned; even the best are marginally viable in that they depend excessively on outside sources for ideas and funds. The dependence on the luck of the draw, in the major US science-aiding foundations, of those units energetic enough to go looking for funds is a serious obstacle to long-term planning of manpower and research projects.

The solution is not to pump money into sub-viable units until they become viable: that would be excessively wasteful of resources. Any mediocre laboratory can spend money if given it. A different solution is proposed below [based on making viable units first by putting enough cross-fertilising brains together and in contact with problems, and then start spending money when they come up with ideas...]

University science departments tend to be staffed by people from the same college, who might have been away for a short period, gaining some world-class experience in a single exotic research field. When they return they continue their experimentation along similar lines without the necessary resources; when they find themselves slipping into arrears they give up and concentrate on devising demonstrations for the students. There are a small number who have established international reputations for themselves. Others emigrate for good, having had the taste of world-class research and liked it.

Ths Institute of Advanced Studies was founded in an attempt to provide an environment suitable for research in pure science and Celtic studies. It is administered by a Council of representatives of the Universities. [Each School has a Board, composed of members of the universities of appropriate disciplines.] All schools run seminars, occasionally, with which they maintain a tenuous contact with the university departments. All schools have consistent records of world-class work. This has only been possible as a result of the strength of the international contacts, derived from the international standing of the senior professors. There is a major unrealised asset here. Celtic Studies is unique, and is a world centre in its own right, due to the fact that none of the other surviving Celtic peoples have any research centre at all.

[Partly due to the geographical location of the buildings, theoretical and experimental physics have rarely reinforced each other. The experimental physics groups in the School of Cosmic Physics behave as if they were out-stations of whatever more viable laboratory abroad they happen to be collaborating with; an exception to this for a period was the Meteorological-Geophysical section under the late professor Pollak, another of the wartime influx previously referred to. The latter group established a creditable list of international contacts and fpor a period was a small-scale 'world centre' to which people would come from abroad.

During the writer's time in DIAS efforts were made to establish a viable-size research unit in high-energy particle physics in collaboration with UCD Physics Department. This failed, although in its time it produced internationally recognised work. The reason for the failure was the existence of two centres; this made it geographically impossible to run the basic 'weekly seminar' in which a joint strategy could have been worked out. Also the UCD administration interpreted the regulations in such a way as not to recognise work done in DIAS as counting towards higher degrees. This finally killed the collaboration [which ended up degenerating into rivalry]. With the best will in the world among the junior staff it was not possible to overcome the adverse environmental factors. [This high-energy particle physics work never had the potential of being more than an out-station (though a viable one) of some world-class laboratory abroad.]

[Contact with the Universities is slight. Attempts to establish student-oriented research seminars took place in the writer's time; they were always supported by students of both universities, showing that there is unsatisfied demand for interactions of this type.]

[Due to the physical separation of the buildings the contact between the scientists and Celtic Studies is restricted, in effect, to the annual party. It might be thought that the use of scientific methods for studying Celtic materials would benefit by proximity to people familiar with the devising of electronic instruments, statistics, the use of computers etc. The fragmentation is such that no cross-fertilisation has occurred.]

The applied-scientific research bodies include the Institute of Industrial Research and Standards, the Agricultural Institute, the Medical Research Council, the Institute of Physical Planning and the Economic Research Institute.

The Institute for Industrial Research and Standards was funded in 1946 with 5 graduate staff. Its predecessors were the Industrial Research Council (1935) and the Emergency Scientific Research Bureau (1941). It has now expanded up to 42 graduates and 60 technicians. It is still oriented towards standards and testing rather than research; it does not appear to have reached the research viability point, despite recent expansion. It is in fact acting as a control-lab for those Irish industries which are, or think they are, too poor to afford one. [The time-lag between the analysis of samples and the production process sets severe limitations on the utility of this approach. There are signs however of a policy emerging of encouraging firms to have thier own control labs and to use the central resources as back-up for coping with exceptional problems.]

Even were significant applied scientific work to be done at IIRS, there is no provision for a graduate to do a PhD using his applied research as thesis material, nor are there any significant practical links with university research, such as to give rise to cross-fertilisation, as described in the third article. Professors sit on the Board; this method of paying lip-service to collaboration, while keeping the people who might benefit from collaboration in separate boxes below, appears again and again in the Irish scientific organisational structure.

The Agricultural Research Institute is the major recent investment into science in Ireland. It combines the functions of providing technical service to the industry with the carrying out of significant research at PhD level; it has established enough links with the universities for its work to be recognised as thesis material in some cases. It has problems: the role and function of the isolated research station; how to develop its graduate staff and how to train and keep technicians in remote rural areas, etc. It has difficulties in reconciling the interests of the experienced field worker with those of the research scientists; research management problems exist on a scale new to this country. It is likely that these problems will be overcome.

As in industry, the main obstacle to the application of the results of agricultural research is the small size of the productive units. It is natural that scientists in the Institute should become interested in sociological problems and enthusiasts for co-operation in agriculture. This has happened in a number of cases.

The Medical Research Institute, being physically closer to the universities, has strong links with them and has no problem in getting its work recognised for higher degrees. By all accounts it appears to have established an international reputation and to fulfil the 'world class laboratory' tests suggested in the previous article. Typically, it exists on a shoestring and in a back yard.

The melancholy story of An Foras Forbartha has been outlined by Michael Viney some months ago; no more need be said here.

The Government in founding the Economic Research Institute has repeated the classic recipe for failure, of which the Institute for Advanced Sturies is the prototype. Because there are two irreconcilable universities, take a Professor from each and put them on the board of a body isolated from either: three sub-viable units instead of one viable one.

The State Companies are relatively large employers of scientific and technological manpower, as are the larger privately owned firms, whether native or foreign-owned.

There is available in the Report some information as to the deployment of this manpower, as between applied scientific research, development and adaptation, quality control, operational research.... The State Companies are in the lead as regards development and adaptation; there is little evidence of any original research in either state or private companies; foreign-owned companies are shown to have as little resources devoted to science as they can get away with, namely such quality control as must necessarily be done on the spot.

The Report attempts to assess how far it was necessary to expand scientific manpower in order to bring industrial science up to the point of creative viability and suggests means whereby groups of smaller firms share a research and development laboratory, just as at present a number of exporting firms share jointly-owned handling facilities at Liverpool.

There undoubtedly is a policy among the larger foreign owned firms to centre their research and development work abroad, recruiting Irish technologists and scientists for work abroad rather than in Ireland. This may or may not be conscious; it could be simply the working of the ordinary laws of laissez-faire economics. The Government however has a lever against this: it can make the allocation of a grant conditional on the investment of enough know-how into the laboratory connected with the Irish subsidiary to enable a viable creative unit to be established, employing Irish graduates.

Mr Armand Frank, of Standard Pressed Steel, in Shannon, has pointed out, in an article in the Engineers Journal (November, 1964), the dangers inherent in the type of foreign investment now being attracted. I know of no evidence that his warning has been heeded.

Scientists and technologists are to some extent organised professionally, there are about 16 specialist Associations, Institutes, Societies which cover most branches of science and technology. Not all have Institute status with membership open to fully-qualified people only. Of the 13 which do have fully professional status, eleven have decided to band together into a representative Council for Science and Technology in Ireland (CSTI). Branches of science which have as yet no professional organisation include Geology, Geography and Mathematics, the latter having to the writer's knowledge not even a club which might become the embryo of a national professional organisation. Nor is there an economists organisation, the interests of the latter as regards publications etc. are catered for by the Statistical and Social Enquiry Society, which though old-established has not evolved a fully professional membership requirement.

[The CSTI has allowed in its provisional Constitution for the inclusion by co=option of representatives from unorganised disciplines, on the recommendation of such organisations as may exist, pending full professionalisation.]

One of the objectives of the CSTI is to help in the formulation of a national science policy, with particular reference to the needs of the rapidly expanding applied science sector. It has spent its first year of existence, at a slow rate, being dependent on voluntary labour, examining the technician question referred to in the previous article and has succeeded in drafting some proposals for technician training which suggest the existence of common ground between the disciplines(3) .

No other forum is discernable in which anything remotely resembling a national science policy is taking shape. The White Paper referred to has proposed the setting up of a National Science Council to fulfil this function. If this takes place it will be necessary for working scientists to watch very closely the composition: is it to be a State-endowed formalisation of the existing dead-hand structure, with the rivalry between the Dublin colleges dominating it, or is it to be an imaginative attempt to bring about an integrated science structure aong the lines of whatis needed?

[The historical parallel has been drawn between the CSTI as being to the RIA what the BA was to the RS in the mid 19th century. There is a grain of truth in this; the CSTI however has yet to prove itself capable of becoming a powerful enough lobby. Whether it will do so or not on its present resources is questionable.(4) ]

The initiative for the formation of the CSTI came originally from the Regional Councils for Science. These are local inter-disciplinary bodies which have sprung up in the last few years uniting the scientists and engineers who would otherwise be in isolation in provincial towns. They exist in Cork, Waterford, Carlow, Limerick and Galway. They are federated in a National Association of Scientific Councils(5).

This concludes the fourth of the present series on Science in Ireland. In the final article tomorrow a first draft of a national science policy will be submitted, in the light of the foregoing.

5. Towards a Science Policy

The first articles in this series have examined the reasons for the relative neglect of science in Ireland until recent years, pointing out the dangers inherent in this legacy. The second examined, briefly, contemporary science abroad. The third attempted to whow how research, development and productivity were inter-related. The fourth examined the present organisational structure of science in Ireland. The present article, to complete this series, makes a tentative first draft of a national science programme. These are the writer's own personal proposals. It seems reasonable that the stages in the formulation of science policy by scientists should be accompanied by public discussion, so I have no hesitation in proposing the following for consideration.

The basic principles of this draft programme are:

1) Complete mobility of scientists from pure research through applied, development and management and back;

2) Grouping of all research and development work into viable-sized units that are capable of development to world class, with the maximum of links with centres of science and technology abroad, as well as internal linkages to the Irish economic scene.

The making of viable research units in the provincial universities might be approached by building up schools of specialist research directed towards the achieving of a fundamental understanding of the phenomena associated with an applied-scientific research institute that would have particular regional economic importance.

For example, an oceanographic institute in Galway, itself application-oriented (eg the fishing industry, the geology of the continental shelf with a view to understanding the process of oil-formation) could support, by interaction, thriving fundamental work on the physics, chemistry, biology, geology etc of the phenomena connected closely, or even remotely, with the sea.

A research unit in Galway would achieve viability by being explicitly interdisciplinary: that is, the weekly seminars would allow the disciplines associated in the joint effort to cross-fertilise. This in fact is the only way in which a small university can hope to achieve world-class research level.

Consideration would have to be given to the need to build up student and staff to the viability level. This could be done by initiating a conscious policy of curtailing growth in Dublin and directing all growth into the provincial universities. In Dublin there are already enough students and staff in all disciplines to provide a basis for viable research units, if all higher ducation establishments are taken into account....

In Dublin the problem is basically one of overcoming the legacy of religious sectarianism that we have inherited from history. The ultimate and only way of doing this is to amalgamate into one University all the Dublin Colleges: Trinity, Earlsfort Terrace, Belfield, Bolton Street, Kevin Street, Surgeons; the pattern would be like University College, London. There would need to be re-grouping in the buildings of related disciplines, in order to overcome the geographical barriers...

The strategy of the re-grouping would be to build up viable research groups in all disciplines capable of developing world-class research and interacting with the appropriate applied-scientific research institutes. This would involve in some cases bringing in an outside world-figure whom both professors would recognise and accept as the Senior Professor.

The choice of research problems would be subject to influence from the applied research institutes, which would feed the university departments with mperfectly understood phenomena, from which research topics would emerge and would then develop lives of their own as basic projects....

The function of the Colleges of Technology would be to train technicians to diploma level and technologists to degree level. They would be immensely strengthened if they became associated with mechanical and electrical research centres which concentrated all Dublin talent in these fields into strong groups, the main research strategy of which would be to adapt and develop such devices, processes or machines as become available abroad into systems suitable for production on the scale of Irish industry. 'Modern process control in the small enterprise' should be the goal.

Agricultural engineering might profitably be concentrated in Cork, in view of the concentration of the necessary potential which already exists there.

A single Dublin medical school, close to the Medical Research Council labs, suitably expanded, could occupy the whole of the present TCD Science area. This then suggests that the other science faculties might move up to Earlsfort Terrace and the College of Science Buildings. The placing of science departments out in Belfield is unfortunate as it accentuates the present divisions; the natural role of Belfield is as halls of residence. The various arts faculties could be acconnodated in the remainder of the TCD buildings and expansion could be taken care of by taking over the classical Georgian squares by degrees, as business moves out to the canal, giving eventually a continuous university area from Pearse Street to Harcourt Road, and saving what remains of aesthetically attractive central Dublin from centre-city blight....

Advanced Studies would be integrated into the unified structure, making important contributions to the graduate schools of physics and mathematics. Celtic Studies would retain its unique character, broadening its scope by association with graduate schools of literature, linguistics, music, history (political and economic) which would all be sited centrally.

The applied research institutes would carry on their own research, in contact with the appropriate university faculties, in such a way as the 'applied' people would be able to get their work recognised for higher degrees. This is essential to the 'mobility and cross-fertilisation' concept on which the whole structure is based.

Industrial laboratories would tend to be staffed by people who had been through the research mill, and contact would be kept up by means of industry-oriented conferences etc.

Smaller firms would tend to form research associations for the particular problems of each industry. These would need to be government aided. Tax concessions could be made for profits ploughed into research and development. Tax relief for foreign firms would need to be made conditional on their establishing a fair proportion of their research and development in Ireland.

These proposals may seem Utopian to those steeped in the narrow thinking of the 1940s and '50s; to people of my own generation and younger they seem long overdue and obvious. Those with extranational experience will confirm that unless we do something along these lines we will be the laughing-stock of Europe.

If we are accepted into the Common Market of the 1970s, it will be a battle to survive against the economic giants of Europe, and we will have to have an integrated technology. If on the other hand we decide to try and take control of our economic resources as much as we can, and build up a diversified trade with all camps (Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Britain, the USSR, the US, Africa), driving bargains as best we can in all directions, it will equally be a battle to build a diversified and resourceful economy. Either way we cannot survive as a nation without a unified, world-class science and technology.

It is sometimes said that it is smart of us to let other people do the research and development and then buy the finished products. This is short sighted; it is true that we cannot hope in any sense for technological self-sufficiency, any more than self-sufficiency in trade. The point is however that in all fields of human knowledge we must have enough keen minds at work here to be aware what is going on in the world, and to enable us to choose intelligently in the worlds markets.

Immediately realisable demands are:

1) complete transferability of pension rights for science and technology graduates, whether in the university or in industry, in order to aid mobility.

2) Tax concessions to foreign firms to be made conditional on their investing a due proportion of their R&D effort in Ireland.

3) Strengthen links between Institutes and Universities by arranging to recognise applied scientific work done in the Institutes for higher degrees.

4) Where there are in Dublin two schools and an Institute (Physics, Mathematics. Economics) initiate joint research projects as a first step in drawing them together.

5) No further increase in student numbers in Dublin; all future expansion of university facilities to be in the provinces, expanding first to Gilway and then Cork to the level of full viability, then examining the possibilities in Limerick, Sligo, Waterford.

6) State support for industry-oriented research associations jointly owned by the State and nationally-owned firms.

[In conclusion, it is worth noting that the idea of a 32 county republic is a national aim although its final form and the nature of the road to it is vague in most peoples minds. This idea, if it is to have any reality, involves the overcoming in the minds of the Ulster Protestants certain obstacles, the principal one being that Home Rule is Rome Rule, a secondary one being that they feel ecoonomically better off as they are. It was possible for Mr PS Doughty of the NI Geological Survey to write to the Irish Times on May 30 in answer to Raymond Keary's article on 'Geology a Neglected Science' (May 26) and say in effect: 'look what you have lost by leaving us!' My letter on June 7 commenting on this aroused the interest of the then Editor Fergus Pyle who commissioned this series.

Mr Doughty is right, until proved wrong by action taken in Dublin against the anti-scientific element associated with the Dan O'Connell - Hibernian element in the national tradition, analysed in the first article of this series. A reform of higher education directed at overcoming this tradition and at the same time raising the research standards to the European level would gain the respect of the Northerners; some might even begin to look critically at the UK economy of which they are a small, marginal and expendable element, and wonder if perhaps they have not backed the wrong horse! ]

Notes and References

1. The 'First Programme of Economic Expansion' and its sequel the 'Second Programme' were key features of the 1960s export-led economic turnaround, usually associated with the name of Whitaker and Lemass.

2. The reference is the the 1840s Owenite commune on the Vandaleur estate at Ralahine, Co Clare; Craig, the manager brought in from Scotland, subsequently published his memoirs, nad Connolly devoted a chapter to the commune in his Labour in Irish History. It constitutes the classic model for the transformation of an estate into a productive large-scale democratic enterprise, constituting an alternative to land division.

3. This work on formulating the technician requirements contributed significantly to the planning of the Regional Technical Colleges, which was co-ordinated by Noel Mulcahy, then in the Seanad and leading a technical education planning unit on behalf of the Lemass Government.

4. As soon as the National Science Council was set up, the CSTI evaporated, its objectives having been at least partially achieved. It never achieved a coherent unified lobbying platform shared between the Engineers and the various science disciplines, despite the best efforts of the present writer, who was Secretary, and Derry Kelleher, who represented in the Irish Branch of the Institute of Chemical Engineers. The writer's standing also was a fragile one; he was in the group as a nominee of the Irish Branch of the Institute of Physics, which he had helped to set up, though no longer working in physics as such, and also of the Operations Research Society of Ireland. He had attempted to draft what might have become a unified submission on the structure of the proposed National Science Council, and get it accepted by all CSTI affiliated groups, but in the end they all made their separate submissions, which were ignored. The NSC was simply set up as a set of ministerial appointees.

5. The Regional Science Councils were in their time quite a vigorous lobby for science outside Dublin; they were however looked down on by the Dublin specialist elite, and the attempt to develop an integrated science lobby, as constituted by the CSTI, never really crystallised out, despite the efforts of the handful of associated visionaries. HMS 'Dusty' Miller, who with Patrick Lynch had written the OECD Report, was instrumental in calling the meeting from which the CSTI was set up. He felt that the implementation of the Report required some organised pressure from below, and he was right.

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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 1999