Century of Endeavour

'In Search of Techne'

Ch 5.2 - Scientific and Technological Information.

(c) Roy Johnston 1999

(comments to rjtechne@iol.ie)


The following essays and comments cover a wider field than special-purpose high-technology networks, though these are touched upon. The bulk of the comment relates to publications, exhibitions, seminars, conferences, these being the traditional (and still primary) channels whereby scientific information is transmitted. There is also some concern with directories and indexing.

March 5 1970

I have had the opportunity of examining the Register of Scientific Research Personnel prepared by the Royal Irish Academy. This is the published part of a survey which also includes a card-index available to anyone seeking information as to who is working on what.

It is a useful document, as far as it goes. However I feel I must be critical of certain features, relating mainly to the indexing system......there is more to it than the alphabet.

If, for example, the related fields were grouped together and if the levels of specialisation were well-defined, one would get an impression of the interconnections and the growth-points, just by looking at the index. As it is, the levels are mixed, and related subjects are at the mercy of the distribution of their initial letters. Thus chemistry is in one group, while the various branches of medical and biological research are subdivided.....

Secondly, the data is of use only to give a snapshot of the 1968 position.....it is questionable whether any of the projects listed here will be of any validity after a year or two. More useful would be a short review by the department head outlining the general research strategy, which might be expected to remain valid for a few years.....

Thirdly, all the projects listed are individual; the existence of team-work has to be inferred from the occasional common key-word. The impression emerges that team-work is a rarity.....

Fourthly, it requires research to find how a particular project was indexed. For the count of projects to have any statistical meaning, or indeed to find the project, one must know the criteria whereby (for example) a blood flow-meter is classified as instrument technology or medical research.....

Notwithstanding the above defects the Register is an important and useful document which should be on every scientist's bookshelf. The experience gained from the first edition will no doubt make the second much better, provided it is understood that the classification of science and technology is itself a science.....

April 9 1970

How are Irish researchers to keep up with developments in science and technology abroad? Scanning the literature would seem the obvious answer, and it is certainly the one to get the most attention. But in fact is is the least important. We need to know more about the value and potential of visits abroad by Irish workers, whether for conferences or exhibitions, or for periods of work; of visits by foreign scientists here, and of the process of maintaining correspondence to keep contacts alive.

All these channels of communication are now the subject of an important project in the Agricultural Institute, involving Professor T J Allen of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the course of which the Institute's internal communications, information inputs and outputs etc, are being studied. The results of this promise to be of considerable interest....

Usually in basic scientific research, when a piece of work reaches the printed stage it is a dead archive; the decisions on experimental strategy based on the findings (if any) have been made long before, when the typescript pre-prints were circulating among the members of the 'invisible college', that powerful body of leading workers in the field with whom it is important to establish one's credibility.

The majority of printed papers in the scientific literature consist of academic excercises by university people whose measures of productivity (ie that which counts for promotion) are based on the weight of paper produced annually, or as cynically put by a colleague, 'the number of families maintained in Finland'. In applied science, however, the real work rarely gets adequate description in print, either because the people who do it rarely have the time to write it up (this is my own case since leaving basic research), or else because the results are trade secrets.

To sift out the gold from the dross is therefore more than an administrative job, nor can it easily be mechanised. Efforts to do the latter have been made using the 'keyword' concept. This works in restricted fields; the chemical engineers, for example, have such a system in their literature which has proved itself over a number of years. But try to generalise this and you are in trouble; the meaning of the jargon changes between the specialities. I have tried using keywords to search the literature in my own hobby-horse project (to find a theoretical basis for management costs, using statistical measures of variability), and have searched under 'information, entropy, temperature(1), management, overhead costs',etc, in various combinations, and have come up with articles on overhead camshafts, or temperature-dependence of entropy in heterocyclic compounds....

There is no short-cut. In order to know what is going on, you have to have a live research centre that is in personal touch with other centres via the grapevine rather than through the literature. The latter is no more than an archive to which it is occasionally useful to refer.

What does help is a good abstracting service..... (There follow some examples drawn from the international information network)

The above represents only a tiny fraction of the flood of information that is pouring in from abroad all the time. The IIRS maintains an information service, but the problem is how to ensure that it is sifted and used by people who appreciate its significance. This problem is insoluble within the framework of information-handling, librarianship etc alone; there must be special people who are alive to developments, appreciate their significance, are 'in on' the invisible network so that they get to know the information before it is printed, and are then in a position to use the information services to fill the gaps. The existence of such people in a research-centre is one of the factors which make up the definition of a 'centre of excellence', that elusive, but important, concept to which I keep coming back.

April 23 1970

One of the more effective methods of picking up scientific and technological information can be attendance at international conferences.

I do not mean the type of phoney symposium at which VIPs give out generalities and there are a few polite questions; I mean genuine scientific conferences at which papers are read which are subject to searching criticism by people who are familiar with the topic and aware of its significance.

The trouble is that as numbers increase, the second type of conference tends to degenerate into the first.....

The natural reaction of the people who really want to exchange information and experience is to retire to the bar and to do so in comfort and informality, so that a structure of 'ins' and 'outs' develops, those not in the know being fobbed off with the largely phoney world of the plenary sessions, while those in the know lament the decline of conferences, reminiscing about Aix-les-Bains '52 as though it were a rare vintage wine.

How do people get to conferences? One passport is to time the writing of a paper so as to be able to present it as something new. Then, however, one has the problem 'does being recorded in the conference proceedings count as a publication or not?' With the weighing-scales for publications for promotion-fodder in mind, the artful paper-writer can so guage the content of his conference contribution that by the time he has finished his work he can publish again, updating his/her conference contribution, and getting, at best, two papers for the price of one, and at worst a 'dry run' to expose the weaknesses. The latter is, of course, an important raison-d'etre for conferences.

Some people get to conferences on the basis of a genuine evaluation of, and reward for, work done, whether it has led to an actual paper or not. More often, however, attendance is a matter of chance, political pressures, horsetrading and other unscientific but highly human pursuits.

What they get from a conference depends on its structure and size; these factors determine the number of personal encounters which take place. There has been considerable heart-searching in the scientific world as to how best to structure a conference and make it a genuine market-place for ideas. One thing is certain: the massive conference, with 1000 or more participants, parallel sessions of traditional papers for the record, the real business going on in the bars, all the irrelevant words printed and few of the relevant, is on its way out. Every thoughtful scientist is disgusted with it.

The news was released last Friday, on the occasion of the first meeting in Dublin of the Programme Committee, that the 1972 Conference of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS) is to be held in Dublin, in Trinity College.

Being a member of the Committee, I can comment with insight. I must refrain from giving details, as the situation is still highly fluid. However it is legitimate to comment on facts which are already common knowledge, so as to show the trend.

Firstly, a word on Operational Research itself. This consists in the application of the scientific method, including the building of mathematical models, to problems involving complex systems, possibly involving human beings, which seek some measurable goal. It originated in war, having roots in the classical war-games of the 19th-century German military theorists, and came to maturity in the second world war, with the extension of the efforts of those who had developed (for example) the complex hardware of radar systems to the mathematical analysis of the tactics of their use in a battle environment.

The parallel with the peacetime analysis of investment-decisions in the firm is obvious. Operational Research can perhaps be described as micro-economics at the level of the firm, fortified by analytical tools made possible by the existence of the computer.

The Irish OR Society was formed in 1964 and became affiliated to the international body in 1967. In view of its small membership, the achievement of Dublin as the venue for the 1972 Conference is an indication of a relatively rapid rise in standing(2).

The 1969 Conference, in Venice, which the writer attended, had a number of serious weaknesses. The insistence on having all proceedings printed in advance had a deadening effect. Attempts to form 'working groups' around growth-areas, or need-areas, degenerated into idle chat, without synthesis or outcome. Participants tended to treat it as a 9 to 5 affair, and night-life failed to sparkle; there was no viable social centre. The best contributions tended to come from complete outsiders, such as one of the Los Angeles City Commissioners, who painted a frightening picture of the urban planning problem, and pleaded for a little help at the level of the back-of-the-envelope calculation, rather than the sophisticated model with 1000 varriables. The gulf between theory and practice yawned; theoretical coteries referred to each others' papers without a thought for the needs of the outside world. Founding father figures, like Russell Ackoff, tended to drift to the periphery and philosophise rather than to participate. All the symptoms of advanced decay were there; some clear break would be necessary if official OR were not to be declared clinically dead at the next conference.

So Dublin, the ORSI and the Programme Committee face a real challenge. Can a structure be devised, and filled with content, that will restore life and unity to a discipline which is, after all, only in its infancy?

Some proposals have emerged from the preliminary, informal discussions at Venice and subsequently:

1. Develop the 'working group' idea and give it a sense of purpose by involving each group in specifying an actual problem posed by an agency in the host-country, with participation by personnel from the latter.

2. Open the flood-gates for new ideas by abolishing the referee system at international level, giving each national society a quota of contributions, these to appear in abstract only in the proceedings.

3. Open a 'market-place' for individual papers, to appear by title only in the proceedings.

4. Concentrate the mainstream into a few well-chosen review-papers by key people.

Whether IFORS succeeds with this structure will be watched by other cconference-organisers with interest.

There exists, scattered, some experience of all the elements of this multi-level structure. It would be of interest to learn of other scientific conferences where good and bad practices have been observed. Very few people can compare conference experiences at first hand. There is a need for an experimental measure of conference-effectiveness, as one element of the scientific study of science itself.....

July 15 1970

(Dr Tom Walsh, Director of the Agricultural Institute, made some comments on the occasion of the opening of the new Soils Research Laboratories at Johnstown Castle, Wexford.)

.....As I have recently written about the type of work that goes on there.....I want to restrict myself to commenting on some of the implications of Dr Walsh's opening speech, in which he linked the use of science and technology in the development of our national resources with the European Economic Community question.

The EEC was also referred to in a similar way by Dr Peter Thornton, of Erin Foods, who wrote on 'our technological lag' in Business and Finance on June 5.

There is a common acceptance of inevitability of the drift into the EEC in both these statements; in the case of Dr Thornton there appears to be an additional assumption that entry into the EEC will give us 'free access to a vast wealth of technical knowhow' from which somehow otherwise we would be excluded.

Both assumptions are highly questionable, the latter especially so. Dr Walsh's speech shows that there are at present no obstacles to the participation of scientists in research on an international basis, with exchange of personnel and results. Such obstacles as there are can be seen to be created by our own administrative structures: rules governing leave of absence, pension rights etc, the old chestnuts.

The principal obstacles to technological advance are organisational and structural on the side of the users of technology, not its producers. He who is organised to make use of advances in technology will be the one who reaps the benefits of the discoveries made in research laboratories, whether here or abroad.

In the EEC it is primarily the multi-millionaire firms (both in agriculture and in industry) which make the best use of science and technology. If we as a nation were to attempt to organise our applied research on a sponsorship basis and make it primarily available to Irish productive units (whether industries, firms or agricultural co-operatives) in a defensive attempt to maintain some sort of national technological effort, we would be likely to be over-ruled by the Brussels Commission. The net effect under EEC conditions would be the aggravation of the existing trend for the brain-power to be sucked in to work on problems posed by the battles of the giants, whether on the military or the commercial field.

On the other hand, under conditions of assertion of economic independence (ie choice of direction of growth under conscious national democratic control; I do not mean simply import-substitution behind tariffs, in the 30s tradition) we would still have access to the world fund of scientific knowledge, just as we have now (cf Dr Walsh) and always have had. The difference would be that we would remain in a position to build a structure under our own control for the dissemination and application of scientific knowledge, making use of co-operative industry-wide associations of users of technology within the nation, as we are now beginning to learn how to do.

The writer personally, in the course of a career in research and development of one kind or another, has built up a web of contacts throughtout the EEC, the UK, the US, Eastern Europe and the USSR, the Asian countries, etc, on the basis of mutual acceptability, exchange of reprints, letters, visits etc, over a period of 20 years. This is the way the international scientific fraternity works. The web will continue to exist, irrespective of national political and economic arrangements. To suggest that by some magic its continuattion or development is dependent on membership of the EEC is to confuse the EEC debate with irrelevancies.

November 19 1970

....It is appropriate in this context to review a book by Donald C Pelz and Frank M Andrews, of the Institute of Social Research, University of Michigan. It is entitled 'Scientists in Organisations' and is published by Wiley.

It constitutes an attempt, using the techniques of sociological research, to quantify the variables which have been sensed by scientists working in organisations, and on occasion explicitly voiced by them in the form of articles, after-dinner speeches and suchlike forms of communication other than the learned paper.

It is noteworthy that the authors are at pains to establish a measure of effectiveness for the individual scientist which takes account not only of the number of papers published, but also of the number of patents and unpublished technical reports. The authors go on to use this measure to determine under what circumstances a scientist can be most effective.

It would be wrong to expect this work to provide a recipe for success. Some of the independent variables, such as 'involvement in work' or 'self-reliance' are not things that can easily be planned for by even the most enlightened administration. But some of the variables undoubtedly can be influenced, such as the opportunity to seek and receive contacts with colleagues, and the number of specialities or technical functions undertaken by one person. The latter is positively correlated with high effectiveness. In other words, diversification rather than specialisation makes for productivity. This needs, perhaps, to be told to the industrial engineers and economists.

Work along these lines is currently in progress in relation to the Agricultural Institute, under the direction of Professor T J Allen, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has not yet been published specifically in relation to the Agricultural Institute, although he has lectured to the Royal Irish Academy on work that he has done on other scientific institutes.

Professor Allen in his work considers all environmental factors, including such things as architecture. It is surprising the extent to which something like physical distance, or a flight of stairs, turns out to be a barrier to communication. An other important factor is critical size for the maintenance of creative group activity; this involves the process of group renewal, with the interplay between the experience of age and the enthusiasm of youth. The existence of a fixed establishment, all recruited at once, and aging in unison, is a particularly difficult hazard. This can be overcome by encouraging a controlled leakage from research into teaching and practical applications, or between the internal compartments of the research system. In the case of agriculture, the levels of the system can be taken as (1) atomic and molecular (2) enzyme (3) metabolic (4) animal management (5) farming (6) regional economic (7) national socio-political.

It should not be too difficult, for example, for an animal management research person to make the step outward into farming. This would leave a space in the 'establishment' whereby someone previously engaged in metabolic system research might develop into animal management. And so on. This development of people towards multiple specialities, according to Pelz and Andrews, is beneficial to their scientific effectiveness. The latter have been examining the system from outside, phenomenologically; Allen has been looking at the inner mechanisms. These two approaches complement each other.

Allen has established, by studying the communications network between individual researchers in many organisations, that there are certain key individuals who play a special role; these he labels 'gatekeepers'.

Gatekeepers read widely and are heavily consulted. They have many outside contacts, mainly informal. They account for 90% of new ideas, only 10% coming in via the printed literature.....

The 'gatekeeper' in the small-nation scientific scene is clearly the scientist who is accepted on the international network (the 'invisible college' which by a word or two at an international conference can make or break the credibility of the individual). Allen finds that the development of a 'gatekeeper' requires work abroad; not just a degree or qualification, actual work.

It turns out that in any viable organisation there exists a network which contains nearly all the gatekeepers. The probability of outside information coming in increases with the size of this network.

For 'organisation' in Allen's work read 'small nation' and the work becomes directly relevant to national policy.

The gatekeeper must have direct contact with the working level. If he/she gets promoted, the gatekeeper function erodes. (This ties up with the 'Peter Principle'...)

Allen's work provides a fascinating insight into the laws which underlie the phenomenological work of Pelz and Andrews. I look forward particularly to his study of the Irish scene; if we can absorb and digest this rather strong meat, perhaps we can survive as a nation.

March 10 1971

Most scientists should now be aware of the Research Register. This is a survey of the personnel engaged in research in science and technology in the Republic; it was first carried out by the Royal Irish Academy in 1968 and is now being repeated under the joint auspices of the Academy and the National Science Council.

I have criticised various aspects of the earlier register, including the classification system, and the failure to show up the existence of group or co-operative work. All projects were listed as though they were the private property of single individuals.

In my earlier critique I missed out on another omission, which looks like being repeated in the current Register, if the form we are being asked to fill in is anything to go by. I refer to the fact that the survey is a 'snapshot' of current work, and that it ignores cumulative experience.

Mr Sean Cooney, who is Librarian of the Agricultural Institute, read a paper to the Academy on April 28 1969, in which he outlined the thinking behind the Register. This is available from the Agricultural Institute and is due to be published in Administration, the journal of the Institute of Public Administration. Mr Cooney starts off by pleading ignorance: it is better to light a candle than to sit cursing the dark. He says 'virtually no-one was able to give us any clear guidelines at the start regarding possible uses'.

It seems that he cannot have known whom to ask. Possibly he went to the administrstors or to the academics (cf the 'mandarins' article in this series(3)). If he had gone to a working professional (there are some; alas, not enough) he would have been told with great precision: 'make me a register that will enable me to find the list of people in Ireland who know about 'X', where X might be something like polymers, alginates, linear programming, high pressures, low temperatures, fermentations, etc, rather than 'physics', 'chemistry' or 'biology'.

The last thing he would have been told is 'make me a register which tells me what 'A' is doing, because most likely if he knows 'A' he will automatically know what A is doing. It would take a mandarin (ie someone quite out of touch with the needs of practical work) to produce a register such as has been produced.

It would not be necessary to devise any system of classification in advance; just get them to list their areas of interest, where they would be able to give practical assistance if asked, allowing them to choose their own labels. They could be given a sample listing, so as to give an idea of the level of detail required.

A classification system could then be devised so as to enable the expert to be found who knows about the given topic. This could be done, with a suitable generic system, even if no two workers wrote the same keywords.

To give Sean Cooney his due, he did make some effort to go beyond the snapshot principle; in the 1968 survey he asked people to list data for up to two previous projects. This section, which drew a 38% response, was not published; instead it was relegated to some unindexed limbo. What about those of us who have two or more projects per annum and who go back 20 years or more? The amount of suppressed knowhow, and implied opportunities for the 'rediscovery of the wheel', is a matter for serious concern.

With the same effort, and a little consultation with the practitioners, this survey could be 100 times as valuable as it is.

The 1968 survey did not include the social sciences, such as geography and economics....This corresponds to the split in educational affairs into 'science' and 'humanities'; it is a nonsense and should be got rid of as quickly as possible.

Quantitative, scientific methods in economics, history, sociology, literature and Biblical scholarship are already a commonplace. I know a mediaeval historian who uses sophisticated statistical techniques for dating events based on coin-hoards. The stylistic analysis of the Pauline epistles by computer methods is well-known. I personally have a long-term (hobby-horse) project for making material relating to Irish music available for analysis by historians and/or musicologists. This involves developing a random-access data-bank which would enable (for example) a musicologist to pull out 'all tunes in the Dorian mode originating in Munster before 1780', or a historian to get 'all songs relating to landlords'. Such a project would be scientific, but it would be outside the Register; whoever was working on it would be well up in random-access database systems, and would be useful for other jobs.

Similarly, there is a well-developed aesthetic in the scientific world, which is lost on most people who are victims of the false values imposed on them by the educational system. Elegant experimentation, style in work, technical craftsmanship all have a highly human element about them. An architect (I mean a real architect, not a floor-space engineer) has an evident understanding of this aesthetic.

Structure and form crop up in computer-programming. If a programme is not aesthetically pleasing, it is highly probable that it has other faults as well. I cannot give statistics, but I think that there may be a connection between elegant programming and a liking for baroque music.

To return to the 1970 Research Register survey: compared to the 1968 one it has regressed into the 'pure snapshot' mode; it does not even have Sean Cooney's unindexed limbo for two earlier projects. It has progressed, in that it covers this time the socialsciences, among which it includes, curiously, statistics and information-science.

The survey form defends itself by saying that the fields are classified in accordance with UNESCO and OECD norms; this is, presumably, supposed to make us take off our hats and bow down. To which I retort that if the international mandarins(4) decide on a curious and unscientific classification system, we don't have to use it internally to confuse ourselves. We simply organise the data so as to be able to give it to them in the odd form that they want, while maintaining a well-structured version for our internal consumption.

....Let us not be content that a candle has been lit. The research register in its present form is only a candle compared to the floodlight it could be if it were organised in such a way as to act genuinely as a guide to the national pool of experience and knowhow.

March 24 1971

....(While welcoming) the fact that there is now such a thing as a research register.....I must make a stand on the essentials: a register, indexed on a 'keyword' principle, that is cumulative rather than 'snapshot', is what we need......

Sean Cooney has done the job for the Agricultural Institute library. The techniques he has used would be valid for the type of index of cumulative national research experience I have in mind, but the keyword-set would not be the same, nor would the procedure, for a system based on the person as the unit rather than the publication. To restrict it to publications cuts out vast areas of applied research and development experience.

If the NSC is indexing the material derived from the survey form that was sent out, the results will be far short of what Sean Cooney has done for the Agricultural Institute, and very far short indeed of what is needed......the reason for this may lie in the nature and status of the NSC as a Civil Service unit. The good, hardworking people within it are precluded by the rules from engaging in public controversy. They feel hurt if criticised, as they lack the power to reply...

I fail to see why NSC staff should be precluded from bringing forward policy ideas in their own names, and from engaging in the rough-and-tumble of public controversy. If they were to do this, the whole approach to questions such as the research register would be enriched by contact with practicality.

The NSC should be liberated from the Civil Service, and it should be set up so that there is an automatic flow of feedback, via an annual delegate conference of affiliated bodies. If an open event like this were to take place, it might even be possible to get resources allocated by open discussion (ie a 'budget debate') rather than behind closed doors, and on the advice of consultants whose experience, and its relevance to the resource allocation problem in Ireland, is a matter needing more public scrutiny than it gets....

December 29 1971

...Now that the 1971 Research Register has been published, and launched with brave words by Dr Vincent Barry, President of the Royal Irish Academy, and Professor Colm O h-Eocha, Chairman of the National Science Council.....it is incumbent on me to follow up my March article with some more comment.

The press comment on the 21st omitted much of the significant discussion that emerged in the press conference. While noting the intention in future registers to include the work of expatriate Irish scientists and technologists.....it ignored the very significant statement by Dr Barry, in response to a question by Senator John Horgan, of the Irish Times, that there was no basic obstacle to the organisation of the Register on an all-Ireland basis. The scope of the RIA, like Rugby football, has always remained 32-county.

The 26-county basis of the previous and current Registers is a reflection of the 26-county thinking of the Dublin Civil Service, as imposed on the National Science Council, and transmitted to the RIA in the course of the NSC-RIA collaboration.

As regards the Register itself, I regret that I must reiterate and develop the criticisms I made in March, primarily that the Register was a 'snapshot' and not a record of cumulative experience. If I want to find someone who knows about 'X', I will only succeed if he or she was actually working on 'X' at the time the Register was compiled. This is serious defect.

Suppose I wished to ferret out someone in Ireland who knew about alginates. I might be an investor, or a Government agency; I might want, for social reasons, to upgrade the seaweed-drying industry, which currently has a rather marginally profitable existence in Connemara, to the level that it was fit to export a refined product, ready for direct use by the food industry, instead of a crude raw material. Suppose I had capital and wanted to find out who had the know-how. I would look up the register, and find.....nothing.

Yet it is only a matter of weeks since Professor Thomas Dillon died. He would have been alive at the time the questionnaire went out. He did basic work on alginates some decades ago; even if he did not know the latest developments, he would know the names of the people and where they were. A State agency, bent on independent Irish technological development, could have gone to Professor Dillon and drawn upon his experience. It could have brought in the key people for alginate technology, and established a sound industry in the West.

..So much for the snapshot approach: it leaves untapped nine-tenths of the experience of the over-forties. It is a 'young-man-in-a-hurry' solution to the problem of how to get out a Register that looks like a useful piece of work, without actually being such.

The other basic criticism I have is that the Register and its subject index are subdivided into seven sections: agricultural sciences, engineering and technology, medical and life sciences, natural sciences, social and economic sciences, business enterprise sector, other research workers. Thus, if I want to know who knows about 'X', I first have to decide which index of the seven to look up. As most of the interesting topics are borderline cases (this, by the way, has almost the status of a 'law'), my search is longer than it need be.

And why is technology grouped with engineering? Is there no agricultural technology? Medical technology? Are the 'other research workers' (in which limbo, incidentally, is to be found a reference to the writer of these lines) to be regarded as non-engineering, non-agricultural, non-technological, non-medical etc?

May I therefore reiterate that classification of data relevant to science is itself a branch of science. It needs to be taken out to the hands of the amateur administrator and made a professional task.

It is not enough to state, as did Sean Cooney in a letter on March 23 in reply to my March 10 article, that a classified index is available at the Academy. Mr Cooney knows, as well as I do, that Professor Allen of MIT has made a major research study of the flow of information among scientists, and has used the Agricultural Institute as his experimental material. If, as Professor Allen has established, the length of a corridor, or a flight of stairs, is a barrier to personal displacement to get information within a single building, how much more of a barrier is the Dublin 'transport system'?

There is no substitute for having a research register, covering the whole of Irish scientific experience, with a single integrated index, appropriately structured. It need not be large or expensive; the focus could be broadened, with some sacrifice of detail.

Perhaps the RIA and the NSC will do better next time. In the meantime, I welcome the second edition of the Register, and I will find it useful as far as it goes.

February 9 1972

...A correspondent in Cork has questioned my statement that the use of DDT in agriculture has now been discontinued, enclosing Department of Agriculture leaflet no 101 (Diseases and Pests of Vegetable Crops) to prove me wrong. Touché.... it is indeed disturbing to find in a Department leaflet in the seventies a bland listing of various substances (DDT, dieldrin, chlorinated nitrobenzenes etc, which formed the basis of Rachel Carson's book 'Silent Spring') without any reference to their ecological dangers, their behavour as regards concentration in food-chains, etc.

I turn to the Research Register to find out who knows about this area, in quantitative terms. Circumnavigating the tortuous channels of the indexing system (the authors of the Register know my views on this; I won't labour it) I look up 'ecology' first under Agricultural Science. (Dieldrin and DDT are not in the index). I find some plant ecology at Johnstown Castle, also some soil micro-organism ecology. I find some wild-fowl ecology at Creagh, Co Mayo (BWH Stronach). This is getting warm. I find that Professor Evans in UCD (Albert College, Glasnevin) knows about ecology of arthropoda in association with stored food products. This is the sum total of ecological research registered under Agricultural Science. I turn now to Natural Sciences. Still no dieldrin, nor DDT, nor chlorinated hydrocarbons in the index. There is some ecology: Professor O'Rourke in UCC knows about ecology of tabanidae....Mrs Healy in the UCD Zoology Department knows about the ecology of peatland enchytraeidae. By serendipity I find that Dr M Ryan of the same Department knows about the role of natural enemies in regulation of the carrot-fly population. This is ecology, but is not indexed as such, because the word does not occur in the title. This illustrates the indexing problem: one needs a keyword system, with the authors defining the keywords. The UCG microbiology people, under Professor Dunican, know about the ecology of peat bacteria, also blue-green algae. Professor O Ceidigh's Zoology Department, although mainly marine-oriented, includes Dr Fairley who knows about the ecology of Irish mammals, their predators and parasites.

Dr Jeffrey, in the TCD Botany Department, is concerned with aspects of applied ecology and conservation. Dr Goodhue, in the TCD Zoology Department, knows about insect ecology, and Dr Blackith is interested in the latter in a peatland context.

This is the picture as it emerges from the Register. Either the indexing system is inadequate, or there are very few people at work in Ireland who know about the effects of persistent chemical pesticides on the Irish fauna.

There are two main reasons why ecology is important for this purpose: (1) traces of pesticide in prey can become concentrated by the digestive process and can end up toxically in some organ of the predator. (2) Methods of control of pests exist which do not depend on toxic chemicals but make use of ecological principles.

Rachel Carson, in 'Silent Spring', advanced the hypothesis that the various pest eradication campaigns initiated by the US Department of Agriculture were, in fact, Parkinsonian. As the number of farmers declined, and agricultural advice became less of a social service and more a free business consultancy, the number of civil servants per farmer increased. They had to justify their existence, so they thought up the various chemical warfare campaigns which would, but for Rachel Carson, have eradicated the greater part of wild life in the United States.

I am not suggesting that this is yet the case here, but the evidence of the Research Register suggests that we are not sufficiently on our guard. The time-lag in agricultural practice is such that by the time Dr Eades, in the Crop Husbandry Department of the Agricultural Institute at Carlow, detects the danger signals from his pesticide residue analysis, it might be too late to begin educating farmers away from pure chemical control towards conservationist systems(5).

March 8 1972

...The university applied mathematics people have been circulating a letter to interested parties suggesting the publication of a newsletter..... with scope such as to interest 'applied mathematicians, numerical analysts and engineers'....to act as a clearing-house for news of conferences, seminars etc. Those interested should contact Dr Crane or Dr Miller in TCD. This newsletter will be as good as its contact list; it appears to be an attempt to do by private enterprise what I have advocated should be done by the National Science Council. This could be more effective...

The suggested scope seems narrow. What about scientists? How many numerical analysts are there in Ireland? Could this category not be subsumed under 'applied mathemetics'?

Dr Miller also has organised a short course on 'the scope of optimisation'; this took place last week, under the auspices of the TCD Administrative Research Bureau....Dr Miller has proved that there is a demand for short courses of this type....

It is a common mistake in such courses to try to cram in too much. It is necessary to be quite clear whether they are 'shop window' events, aimed at imforming management what a branch of scientific technology can do, or professional courses, aimed at upgrading the skill of the practitioners. The proper place for the former is the Irish Management Institute, or the University Business Schools. In the case of the latter, the proper place is the appropriate specialist department with primary concern for training the practitioners. Dr Miller's course appears to be trying to be both, and is casting the net too wide.

There is some experience around relating to professional updating courses. The buckshot approach should be avoided. It is desirable, when organising a shop-window course, that the people who are involved in the production of the goods should have a hand in it. One can imagine the ire of the Medical School if, say, a biologist were to come along and organise a course on 'the Scope of Medecine', using GPs as lecturers.

The participants in the course ended up at Dr Noel Murphy's lecture to the Institute of Chemical Engineers at UCD. There they heard a polished lecture which drew on the historical roots of of optimisation techniques in ancient and mediaeval mathematics. It was a gem of human culture, produced for our entertainment. The audience enjoyed it, and laughed at the right places. It is nice to know, for those of us who spend their working lives trying to get the system to work at all, that there are various names for the tricks that people use to make it work better, and that that techniques exist for working out theoretically how to make it work at its best, if we had time to use them.

This particular lecture was an annual ritual event....connected with... the visit of the Chairman from London, Dr Barrett. The latter had some kind words to say, but added that the top-priority problem for most chemical and process engineers was not theoretical performance optimisation but safety. Catastrophic failure, natural hazards etc affecting chemical plant were increasingly a limiting factor on performance....

June 14 1972

I have to hand a publication of the UCC Engineering Society entitled 'Recoil'. This is available at 50p and is a glossy with 112 pages. It carries a forword by the Taoiseach, in the best Cork tradition.

I was prompted by the Galway students' publication to look again at this. The similarity in form calls for comment. We have here two journals, each of which is an amateur production, and in each case I get the feeling that the editor had to beat the contributions out of the authors, making use of various goads like social duty.

In each case there is a series of articles, one after the other, each introduced by a photograph of the author, and a few words about him or her.

There is an attempt at professionalism, in that UCC made some staff available temporarily to help with the production. On wonders whether there was any professional journalistic advice taken, or even any attempt to look at other semi-popular publications, such as the 'New Scientist', or, closer to home, 'Technology Ireland'.

There is no attempt made to separate the 'learned journal' aspect from the ' 'popularisation' or 'lighthearted'. Nor is there a clear indication of what market is expected. Presumably it is by engineers, for engineers, and intended to bolster up the internal professional loyalty, and possibly as an aid to recruiting to the profession.

In the popularisation category are Professor Charles Dillon on technological forecasting; Dr Pat O'Regan on the computer (how engineers get hooked on it); Professor Mac Conaill on bio-engineering (he is a pioneer in the field, having written standard works on the mechanics of joints and muscles); Professor Bary of UCG on electronic applications in oceanography; Dr C J Buckley on microwaves and Professor Raftery (Agriculture Department) on pollution and the farmer. This has some data on smelter pollution derived from Norwegian experience, and this is clearly part of the Cork smelter battle.

There are historical and socially-orientated articles: HP Pollock on a 19th century Irish contribution to the industrialisation of the Ruhr, Dr D Lucey on developing rural communities in Ireland; Tomas O Cannan on 'being a human being'.

Verging on the 'learned paper' status (ie to which an engineer wanting to design something might refer) are Sean Collins on the Yarra Bridge disaster (Melbourne); Eamonn O Gluimhin on statistical decision theory, and Peter MacNamara on the industrial hazards of static electricity. But no-one would, in fact, consult these or refer to them; they would go back to the originals.

The 'lighthearted' category would, as far as I am concerned, make the sale of 'Recoil' a possibility. I have previously referred to Mrs Walshe's 'Ramblings of a Female Engineer' (after Molly Bloom). To this must be added James Healy's piece on business correspondence jargon.

After going through the above, I must ask 'why?'.

In engineers aspire to be literary, why do they confine themselves to their own circle? There are acknowledged periodicals, like the 'Dublin Magazine', which have nurtured many a short-story writer. If literary-inclined scientists and engineers were to write for a wider market, the latter would be enriched. Let them not fear rebuffs. Non-engineers get them too.

If they aspire to popularise, why do they seem to want to popularise to each other? Is this a kind of intellectual protectionism inherited from the economic protectionism of the 30s?

There is a role for an engineers' magazine in Ireland, but 'Recoil' has (if I may succumb to the temptation) recoiled from it.

I have before me a reprint from Redmond Holloway.....which appeared in the journal of the American Concrete Institute, and is a hard-core technical analysis of the use of pre-cast composite sections in structures. Examples of their use in four small- or medium-span bridges in Ireland are given, including Rosslare Harbour and the road-bridge over the railway at Tivoli, Cork. Here is an example of a cost-reducing innovation that people should know about.

It would be more to the point if the Cork Engineers were to publish annually, or quarterly, as a service to the whole profession (to fill the gap left by the central leadership of the profession in this respect), a volume of REPRINTS by Irish engineers, with maybe some structuring and commentary, so that we would know what they really were up to, without having to scan the world's journals.

Everyone knows that for academic prestige reasons one has to publish abroad. It would however be of great use if there existed a system whereby an author would send a reprint to an Irish centre, for appearance in a regular publication for the benefit of the Irish technological community.

It would be easier for the editor of 'Recoil' to fill his paper like this, than to beat stuff specially out of unwilling contributors in order to fill the space behind Jack Lynch!

I have to hand also the 1972 issue of 'Baile', the magazine of the UCD Geographical Society. This (consists of)...a mixture of serious and light-hearted.....again, no price and no address.....

Geography is an under-rated discipline....it needs to sell itself. No town, county or regional planning authority should be without a full-time professional geographer..

..Maybe the idea of a reprint service, with informed comment by critics, would work in this field, as well as for the engineers, as proposed above?

The 1972 issue of 'Orbital', the journal of the Institute of Chemistry of Ireland, is now available. It circulates among the members of the Institute; copies may be obtained from the editor c/o the RDS at Ballsbridge.

It contains a historical review of the scientific work of the RDS by Desmond Clarke.. This peaked at the turn of the 18th century and continued creditably into the 19th, on the basis of a generous grant from the Irish Parliament, one of its last Acts before the Union.. The present-day scientific work of the RDS, apart from its role as a publisher of scientific papers, centres round the triennial scientific exhibition, the next one being due next February.

There is some career guidance material from G Harrison, of the Guinness research laboratory, and a review by Donal Thornhill of the IIRS series of lectures 'the Business End of Chemistry'.....which appears to have been a creditable effort which won the approval of the younger chemists who are pressing agressively for an upgrading of industrial chemistry, and for an increase in the awareness among the academics of the problems of the industrial environment in Ireland.

I welcome the fact that the Institute has succeeded in getting finance for a £2500 per annum three-year 'Pollution Control Fellowship'. This will be tenable from next September by any suitably qualified person, not necessarily a chemist, who submits an appropriate project..... the outcome could be influential on future legislations....

September 6 1972

I find it impossible to write objectively about the conference of the International Federation of Operations Research Societies (IFORS), which took place in TCD last month, having been involved in the work of the international programme committee. (There was another factor, also, which prevented the writer from giving it the attention it deserved: his father, Joseph Johnston, died during that particular week.)

However I must venture a word about Professor Ackoff and his 'Education Working Group'. This hit the headlines and has started controversies in the press.

His iconoclastic approach and rejection of the need for analysis of the present situation is quite unrepresentative of Operations Research philosophy. I heard comments to the effect that we should be on our guard against importing solutions to American problems (if Ackoff's slogans are in fact such!), as we would only succeed in importing the problems.

The working group on 'agricultural research and its implementation' developed, I understand, into an interesting exchange of ideas among Irish, English, Australian and Indian participants. I noticed that the Indians were like the Irish, only more so. There were more Indians present who held academic posts in the UK and the US than in India itself. The aspiration of the former appeared, for the most part, to be for academic recognition in the WASP establishment, while the latter had a well-developed social conscience.

I asked Professor D C Pepper, of TCD, who contributed to the Pollution working group, to put down some of his impressions of the conference. Professor Pepper has been building a strong anti-pollution lobby in the Institute of Chemistry, as readers of 'Orbital' will be aware.

(There follow some extracts from Professor Pepper's article)

...(There were) about 400 foreign and 60 Irish participants...expensive at £60 for academics, cheap for management executives. Both groups are intertwined in OR, since one of the aims of this science/art/method is to make decision-making easier....providing a formal logical basis and computational methods for quantitative assessment of alternative courses.

Whether this should be the only aim is excercising OR people at present. The formal methods have become very sophisticated, and their development has become an end in itself, outweighing in many academic courses the consideration of the purposes. William Horvat, a leading exponent, recently denounced this tendency: OR is the application, he insisted, not something to be applied....OR has now reached the stage where it needs other fields to conquer, but is distinctly uncertain whether some of the potential new fields are amenable to the method.....

Certain environmental problems....seemed to be 'tractable', and it was particularly desirable to examine them carefully, because of the enormous public interest generated by the conclusions (judged premature by Dr Charles Hitch, President of the University of California, a member of the Rand Corporation 'think-tank', and keynote speaker at the Conference) of the recent Club of Rome/MIT study, which computed on the Forrester-Meadows model the response of 'the world' to present estimated trends in population growth and environmental pollution.

President Hitch was not impressed by its Doomsday conclusion, arguing that if you put Malthus into the calculation, you get Malthus out....

Most of the members most of the time went to the formal presentations, but about a third turned up regularly at their chosen workshop sessions....Some of the workshops kept their eyes on the ball, and were able at the end to present workmanlike reports to the final session. In some of the others, too intensive examination of conscience prevoked effects ranging from scruples to megalomania....

The Education workshop.....ended up by concluding that no philosophies (other than the Chairman's) had any merit, all present systems were worthless, and all managements should be restructured at all levels!

The Environmental workshop....(was)..driven to the negative, if prudent conclusion that realistic OR models to simulate the effects of pollution were not at present quantitatively feasible, for lack of reliable knowledge of the processes of diffusion of pollutants and their long-term biological effects.

If and when such knowledge becomes available, OR techniques should be able to produce objective ways of assessing overall 'environmenal costs' to weigh against social and economic benefits.....

December 6 1972

On November 29 there was published the fourth edition of the 'Union List' of periodicals held by scientific libraries in Ireland. The first edition was published in 1929, the third in 1965. These were laboriously collated by hand, and were out of date most of the time.

The 1972 edition is the first produced by computer; an annual update is now possible.

The publisher is the Association for Documentation and Information Services. Desmond Clarke, of the Royal Dublin Society, one of the founder-members of the Association (along with the late Professor Felix Hackett), introduced the speakers on the occasion, who were Dr Pierce Ryan, Deputy Director of the Agricultural Institute, and Professor Colm O h-Eocha, Chairman of the National Science Council.

The number of libraries associated with the successive editions were 10(1929), 12(1940), 19(1965), and now 49. Many industrial and commercial firms have house libraries taking periodicals; these are now participating and are responsible for the sharp increase. The next edition is expected to include libraries in Northern Ireland.

The 1972 Union List comes in two bound volumes 8 inches by 6, and retails at 4 pounds. It contains 11,000 entries of names of periodicals currently being received in Ireland, their locations and the date of the first available issue. Discontinued series are not listed. This omission, hopefully, will be rectified, for the benefit of historians and others, by the production of a supplement, with a less frequent updating cycle.

A service which is currently available, however, is a listing for any given library of all its holdings.

This project grew out of an internal project in the Agricultural Institute, with the help of the National Science Council. It was directed by Sean Cooney.

Librarians and researchers will find this Union List a worthwhile investment. It will enable them to cut down on journals which are consulted infrequently, once they know that they are available elsewhere for photocopies of articles. Any means of reducing the amount of paper accumulating on our shelves is not only welcome but essential.

February 14 1973

Let me compliment the organisers of the (Royal Dublin Society Science) Exhibition on having done an excellent job in displaying scientific technology as a whole; I can think of no area which was unrepresented in some way.

As a career-guidance event it has no equal. As a means of informing the lay public how their money is being spent, and as an adult-educational event, I feel it was successful. I heard some, though not many, complaints that the explanations of the exhibits were beyond lay comprehension. But then, perhaps, if a fully lay-orientated approach were to be adopted, the third important role would suffer: that of a meeting-ground for scientists and technologists from all regions and disciplines. This role, at present, remains at an informal level. Perhaps if it were to be formalised it would be too big. But I can see a role for a series of loosely-structured meetings among those with common problems, such as Regional College, and Dublin College of Technology, staff.

Events such as the Exhibition, crossing normal boundaries, can provide stimulus for the arrangement of subsequent events, designed to explore in greater depth the fruits of chance contacts.

One remarkable feature was the quality of the exhibits prepared on the basis of voluntary labour, as I understand is the case throughout the third-level education system.

There was surprisingly little interest from private industry. One would have expected some support from the instrumentation people. Technicon(Ireland) had their automatic analysis equipment on display, Guinness had a micro-malting unit, Electro-technik (Ireland) and Manotherm had some industrial instrumentation. This completed the list.

Where were the many science-based firms now working in Ireland? Are we to understand from this that with a few honourable exceptions only our own State firms are prepared to underwrite Irish-based science and technology as an investment in the future?

(Some references to the educational impact of the exhibition appear in Chapter 1.3 on the educational system)

I come now to the most interesting exhibit: the computer terminal linked to the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) at Darmstadt. I spent half an hour with Paul Wallace, who manages the Standard Pressed Steel Research Centre at Naas, watching him feed in keywords like 'hardness', 'tungsten' and 'machine tool' while he narrowed the search down from some thousands (for an individual keyword) to about ten or less, by imposing logical criteria like (A or B) and (C or D).

I then did the same myself: pseudomonas, growth, temperature yielded no fruit. Unfortunately the files are not as yet comprehensive enough to include applied microbiology on Mother Earth. I could have found out about growth of pseudomonas under Martian conditions.

This is an excellent system, and we need something like it, but I am not sure that the ESRO data-bank as at present constituted is the best one to buy into, especially as it involves a 100,000 entrance-fee to ESRO itself. If this system were to be extended to include a fair proportion of existing applied-scientific abstract-files, it would then become extremely useful. At £20,000 per annum and a 70% utilisation, it should be possible to do a search for £10 or so.

We would have to look closely at the economics of the ESRO entrance fee, however. Membership of that body, along with CERN (the European high-energy nuclear physics centre) would certainly help to give our basic academic research some sort of European parity. These decisions should, I feel, be made independently of which data-bank we buy into.


Last Friday there was a special conference at the Burlington Hotel, at which this ESRO system was explained to an audience which included a fair number of librarians. I seemed to detect some incredulity among the latter, a sort of cultural gap. I doubt if the local-authority libraries are functioning as an outlet for the world current publications data-bank to any effective degree. Books and periodicals, yes, but technological abstracts and reprints of the type yielded by an ESRO search, no.

It does not take much imagination, however, to see the Regional Colleges as the missing link. Suppose, for example, that the IIRS were to establish a manned out-station on each regional college campus, staffed by a full-time industrial liaison officer, and by College staff (part-time). Such a centre could have its own library, connected by telex with the central data-bank terminal at Glasnevin. The industrial problem in the plant would then have to hand local diagnostic expertise, in direct touch with the whole of world technology. Does this sound too far-fetched?

This conference was addressed by Professor Georges Anderla, who set out to predict the future in terms of self-fulfilling prophesies made by systematically polling the opinions of a nation's leading brains. This procedure, it seems, has been adopted in Japan.

Dr G Romerio, of ESRO, then described their system, as outlined above. He was followed by Mr G P Sweeney, of the IIRS, who outlined the results of the recent NSC survey on the use of technical information in industry.

There was an exchange of volleys between the speaker and Mr Sean Cooney, of an Foras Taluntais, who cast doubt on the validity of the survey. Mr Sweeney stoutly defended his position: 15,000 technical enquiries from a good statistical base for a pragmatic approach.

I see here, possibly, the makings of a destructive multi-centrism, such as to give the NSC the arguments it needs for bureaucratic centralisation. I also see a danger of downgrading the role of the National Library and the Royal Irish Academy library, both of which are strangled for lack of funds. We run the risk of being railroaded into a piece of premature sophistication at relatively high cost, available to a few privileged people in Dublin, while the basic traditional library network is left as a Cinderella. There must be proportionate advances in the information services, with emphasis on their being available to large numbers of people.

August 8 1973

I have in recent weeks reviewed some ephemera and annuals, with passing reference only to the mainstream periodicals. I am in receipt of Technology Ireland, the Engineers Journal, Plan, Build, Export, Management, Food Progress, Farm and Food Research, Irish Journal of Agricultural Research, Irish Journal of Agricultural Research and Rural Sociology. For all this I am duly grateful, in that it enables me to keep in touch with the background of continuous work which has evolved to the extent of having a printed outlet in Ireland.

The material does not cover the whole field. There is nothing which represents the basic specialist disciplines. These publish abroad, as the main motivation is academic reputability, and there is no adequate home-produced publication with the necessary status and readership. The Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy and Royal Dublin Society have little or no effective international status in the majority of specialist disciplines. 'Gatekeepers' in the international technology transfer business would not feel deprived if they did not subscribe to them.

I am not condemning the practice of publishing abroad; it is necessary to concentrate basic papers in a few international publications of high standing. What I do condemn is the lack of any effective attempt by anyone to produce an updating indexed set of abstracts of papers published abroad by Irish scientists, or by Irish scientists when abroad.

The lack of such an abstracting service is one of the factors which perpetuates the isolation of Irish basic science from the mainstream of national life. The Academy could do the job, if it had the resources. Perhaps the new National Board, which is to replace the National Science Council, will see that the resources are provided.

The Research Register was a step in this direction. This, though useful, is vitiated by faulty indexing and over-zealous inclusion of unnecessary detail.

Titles and abstracts of papers which have made the grade into the international literature would constitute a filtered set of data that one could look at and get some feel for what science in Ireland is about.

The Engineers' Journal cannot, therefore, be blamed for the inbred insularity which it exhibits, its complete failure to establish any intellectual contact with the basic sciences. Indeed, I remember (pace the present Editor) some years ago trying the convince the then editor (this was in the days before Cumann na nInnilteoiri amalgamated with the specialist Institutes to become the Institution of Engineers of Ireland; I refer to the Cumann journal) that an article he had published was 'crank' and bore no relation to science, and that if the Cumann, as it then did, claimed to represent both scientists and engineers, it should show evidence of some intellectual contact between the two groups. I made no impression, and shortly afterwards resigned from the Cumann(6).

This is ancient history, and things have improved, but regrettably there is still no evidence of any intellectual contact. I blame the basic scientists, who by turning their backs on the search for basic problems which arise from practicality, have left the engineers to grope their way into science without insight.

Turning now to Export, I scan it in vain for any explicit awareness of the existence of Irish-based scientific technology. Insofar as there is editorial policy (this is hard to detect), there appears to be an attempt in progress to develop an abstract concept labelled 'design' and to seek to further it. By divorcing 'design' from the underlying technology, or by linking it implicitly with a craft-based, pre-scientific technology centred at Kilkenny(7), Coras Tractala have so emasculated the concept as to render it meaningless. I have already alluded to this in the College of Art controversy(8). This should, of course, be put at Ballymun(9), and the whole complex of art, architecture, engineering and science allowed to power a new wave in Irish-based science-based aesthetic technology. The role of the existing Kilkenny centre in the new complex would then be as a regional centre, associated with IIRS and the Ballymun complex, specialising in a certain direction: a creditable role. Other regional centres could then grow up in association with Regional Colleges, each specialising in its own preferred direction. Where are the obstacles to developments like this? Will the new Board flush them out?

There is scope for rationalisation between Food Progress, published jointly by IIRS and AFT, and Farm and Food Research, published by AFT. The former is single-mindedly aimed at providing a technological advisory service to the food industry; the latter however is somewhat schizophrenic. The farm-orientated part, which expounds in popular form the findings of agricultural research, would be more effective as a supplement to the Farmers Journal, than as a relatively high-cost glossy, distributed by AFT itself. The food-orientated part, which contains articles on such topics as milk proteins, whey utilisation, meat tenderness etc, would find a more natural market in the food industry.

Why not re-define the policies of these two journals?......

Management, produced by the Irish Management Institute, shows signs of a dynamic editorial policy in the May issue... In this, the maritime lobby shows signs of having broken through at last. I cannot vouch for its consistency, as I don't get it regularly. I once was a member of the IMI, to see how it worked, but I found that the immediate needs of running a technology column were not served, nor did it help to generate any operational research or other scientific consultancy. I decided that while undoubtedly it was serving a purpose for others it wasn't my 'cup of tea'. However if the dynamic of the May issue is maintained I may have second thoughts.

The doyen of the mainstream periodicals, undoubtedly, is Technology Ireland.....editorial policy is directed at making a strong impact on a particular sector each issue......it is beginning to bridge the gap left by the Engineers' Journal: the academic scientists interested in the technology derived from their work are being drawn in...

The two AFT publications listed are reputable scientific publications, and are achieving some international recognition. Although primarily filled by AFT staff, the academic departments are beginning to come in, as well as applied scientists in agro-industry (eg the Sugar Company). Perhaps there is a case for establishing these journals under some form of autonomous editorship, and developing them as an international forum for research-papers in temperate agriculture?

To complete the list, Plan and Build, though superficially similar, are as different as chalk from cheese. Plan is the analogue of Technology Ireland, while Build is the Engineers' Journal. Plan is a pleasure to read, Build requires an effort. Plan has an all-round, cultured approach, while knowing its technologies. Build knows is technology but is somewhat pedestrian and philistine.

I hope I have trailed coats now in various directions to start some creative controversy at the various barricades. The trouble is that our scientistts and technologistts tend only to write for their own in-markets, and it is difficult to pull them out. Technology Ireland, thanks be to God, is doing this at last. May it prosper.

October 17 1973

I now come to a small crow-plucking operation with the Confederation of Irish Industry, which through its Director-General, Liam Connellan, on October 8 was headlined in the press as issuing an urgent call for a national energy policy.

As it happened, I was in the audience on October 7 when he issued the call in Athlone, at the annual conference of the Operations Research Society of Ireland.

The audience consisted of about 50 people, employees of firms such as the ESB, Aer Lingus, Guinness, Roadstone, CIE; also the State (ie the Department of Public Services) and the Universities. It also included a sprinkling of independent consultants, some of whom ran firms which are in the export market for computer software.

These people earn their livings by providing some applied mathematical and scientific thinking as an aid to business and national decisions.

They are, in fact, the makings of the national 'think-tank'; they are precisely the kind of people who would, if asked, be capable of developing a scientific approach to a national energy policy.

Liam Connellan gave his contribution in the form of an after-dinner speech, thus precluding any creative interaction with the 'think-tank'. He came for the dinner and went immediately afterwards.

Thus there was no channel whereby the CII could become aware of the type of topics that were discussed at the conference, or the methodologies exhibited(10). No wonder Irish industry is so technologically weak; when its intellectual leadership is handed the opportunity of interacting with a significant sector of advanced information-technology, it prefers to remain in the rarified heights of macro-economics.

November 28 1973

Peter Smith, in the UCG Department of Microbiology, is compiling a Directory of Life Science research techniques, so as to enable better communications to be established between research workers in Ireland.

He has sent a questionnaire to 170 laboratories involved in life science research in Ireland, and is hoping for a response on a scale sufficient to make the Directory useful. Those who answer will get free copies.......

This work is being done with the assistance of the UCG Industrial Liaison Office. The thinking behind it is that the decision to buy equipment is often made without the benefit of the experience of other users.

The suggested criteria for inclusion of a particular piece of equipment are: (a) it is not generally in use in Ireland (b) developments or modifications have been made in the laboratory where it is used (c) experience suggests that savings could be made (d) a long 'debugging' or acclimatising period is necessary.

I look forward to evaluating the success of this venture, and to supporting similar ventures in 'Earth Sciences', 'Physics and Chemistry', and other possible broad classifications of related research areas.

Such a directory is more likely to end up in a useful form than one published centrally by administrative-minded people lacking the insights derived from practical work.

There is also scope for the development of problem-orientated directories. Most academic scientists are technique-obsessed. The real meat, however is in that tricky area where the 'problem space' interfaces with the 'technique space'. This is one definition of the role of the 'operations research' worker. More specifically, it is the role of the Industrial Liaison Officer, on the fringe of the university or college of technology research system. (There is an analogy with the medical 'general practitioner', who recognises the problem, producing a diagnosis, with referral to the specialists where necessary for treatment.)

The National Science Council, which finances these posts, is reputedly worried that the demand for them will extend to every Regional College, and is taking the view that every staff member in the Colleges of Technology should be his/her own Industrial Liaison Officer, as part of his/her job. This position would be sounder if there were a more sympathetic attitude on the part of the Department of Education and the local Vocational Education Committees to paying staff for industrial contact time.

Likewise, it would be more valid if there were provision for Colleges of Technology to earn consultancy fees for local industrial problem-solving(11)..

Even if the above opportunities existed, there would still be a need for an extra person to spend time looking outward and managing the College consultancy function. Such a person, if the College consultancy service was making money by selling its services to local business, need not be a charge on the National Science Council in the long term(12)......

December 12 1973

The National Commission for Microbiology of the Royal Irish Academy has sent out a questionnaire to over 200 workers in Ireland (including the North) in order to assess the activity and potential in microbiological research. This Commission consists of an extended sub-committee of the National Committee for Biology. It is chaired by Professor FS Stewart of TCD; the secretary is Dr MR Stuart of UCD. It includes key people in medical, agricultural and industrial microbiology.....

The history of generalised registers, on the whole, is not happy. The focus, over the spectrum, varies from too fine to too coarse, by large factors. There is hope that in the case of a specialists' register, compiled by people who are actually working in the field, a useful source of information might emerge.

There is need for some standardisation in the approach to the compilation of registers. I have voiced this demand before. The IIRS, with their 'Ireland: Products and Services' series are, I feel, the best to date.

(The indexing concept outlined previously is reiterated).

October 9 1974

Some three weeks after the event I discovered that an important international conference had taken place in Dublin, on a subject germane to my own interests: 'University Research Work and its Application in Industry' was its secondary title. Its main title was 'Machines and Mechanisms'.

Advance notice of this was available in 'Mechanism News', the newsletter of the Mechanisms section of the (UK) Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The event was billed to take place in 'Dublin, Southern Ireland'. The contact-point was Dr J Duffy, in Liverpool Polytechnic, and the local organisation was in the hands of ETA (Congress and Group Travel), Ballsbridge, Dublin.

The conference was to have been in UCD (Belfield), but I gather that the arrangements broke down and in fact it was held in a hotel. There was a slight UCD connection, in that Professor Leahy, Dean of the Engineering and Architecture Faculty, chaired the first session. The other Irish participands were Professor JR McCraith, of UCD, and Dr WG Scaife, of TCD; also Mr J Holmes, managing-director of the gear-cutting firm in Monasterevan.

Other participants came from Austria, England, Egypt, Germany (East and West), Israel, the Netherlands, Romania, the USSR, Wales and Yugoslavia. In other words, it was an international symposium of some significance, and I wonder how it got to be such a well-kept secret.

Scrutiny of the 'coming events' section of back numbers of 'Technology Ireland' draws a blank; likewise (and this to me is incomprehensible) the Mechanical Engineering News section of the Irish Engineers' Journal......

I can only conclude that the symposium was organised from Liverpool and contracted out to a travel agent, who treated it, according to his lights, as a piece of touristic business. Such Irish participants as managed to get to know of it depended entirely on the UK-published newsletter, which did not trickle down as far as the usual information-distributing centres in Ireland.

This is not good enough....

There was material in the conference which would have been of interest to the IIRS mechanical engineering people, also to the Standard Pressed Steel research labs at Naas, who are themselves in the forefront of the application of electronic techniques to mechanical engineering problems. It would have been of interest to many of us to have had the chance to get the measure ofthe German Technische Hochschule people who were there in force, also the Philips people from Eindhoven, the Cranfield School of Automotive Studies, and similar heavyweights.

I will refer to only one paper, that of JG Beese, H Clarke and RM Peters, of the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, at Cardiff.

This paper summarises what I have been personally engaged in discovering independently in the Irish context, and preaching through this column, and in my industrial liaison work in TCD: namely, that the greatest opportunities for academic involvement in industrial problems exist among the small-to-medium sized firms.

This is because the large firms are able to look after themselves technologically; if they do sponsor research it is usually rather basic, long-term stuff, which does not lead to any direct industrial involvement for academics.

The Cardiff people have been involved at three levels: (1) rush jobs, trouble-shooting (2) prototype design studies (3) staff training schemes, on a sandwich basis, involving project work, with academic supervision of the practical work, on a consultancy basis.

They also have a more ambitious scheme tto get directly involved in a commercial company employing redundant steel-workers in Ebbw Vale...

The basic strategy of the Cardiff people is to try to reverse the traditional academic posture of looking (usually in vain) for applications for clever tricks, replacing it with a sincere desire to begin with the product/process as it is, and to excercise expertise in improving the performance. Once mutual confidence is won by this process, larger innovative leaps become possible.....

I learned by another channel that the Cardiff people have developed a controlled environment system which produces chickens, carp, hothouse plants and methane; the only input is chicken-meal. The carp live off the chicken-droppings, which contain assimilable nitrogen. The pond-water is oxygenated continuously. The pond sludge is digested anaerobically to produce methane, and the residue fertilises the plants in the hothouse.

The system differs from classical 'muck and magic' horticulture in that it has been bio-engineered(13) as a semi-automatic process....an integrated multi-species system like this can produce more food per unit of nitrogen input than a single-species system (like intensive pig-fattening).

I got word of this informally via a meeting of Industrial Liaison Officers at Bangor (N Wales) on September 25-26.....

November 18 1974

On Wednesday October 30 the Irish Branch of the Institute of Information Scientists hosted Dr AK Kent, Director of the UK Chemical Information Service, who lectured on 'The Computer Processing of Large Data-bases to provide Personal Chemical Information Services'.

If I may again be forgiven a slightly acid comment, this seems to me to be another 'run-before-you-can-walk' event. Our basic library services are so run down and understaffed that I would prefer to see some priority given to spending money on certain elementary services for mass-consumption. It is only about a year ago that it was recognised officially that the Regional Colleges of Technology needed librarians. Not that I am opposed to what Dr Kent is doing (it is fine and we need it), but what I am afraid of is an unbridgeable gulf developing between an elite vanguard of information-technologists, and the mass of ordinary information-technicians and information-users. I have been conscious of this gulf at meetings in the past which have been held under the label 'information-technology' and it has made me feel slightly uneasy.

January 31 1975

On January 23-23 Professor Max Perutz, of the Medical Research Council laboratories, Cambridge, was in Dublin, as the guest of the Irish Section of the Chemical Society.

Professor Perutz is a Nobel Laureate, and the leading world authority on the structure of haemoglobin. He delivered what the advance publicity described as a lecture in UCD (Belfield) and a seminar in TCD. I missed the former and attended the latter, which consisted of an elegant account of the physical and chemical mechanisms whereby the oxygen is lightly held in an embrace by the haemoglobin, without being allowed to oxidise the ferrous iron to ferric....

The occasion was slightly spoiled by a misunderstanding: Professor Perutz was under the impression that he would have continuity of audience between the two events. If he had had this, he could have gone in more depth into the specialist material at TCD, secure in the knowledge that his audience was already familiar with the background from the Belfield lecture. Despite this, an effective impression of some exciting interdisciplinary frontier work was conveyed.

I am prompted to suggest that perhaps other methods are open to us, apart from dependence on voluntary effort by members of the Chemical Society, for opening up a window in the direction of the major world scientific frontiers. If the object of the excercise was to prove that interdisciplinary work pays off, then it is necessary, somehow, by investment of some skilled management, to produce an audience representative of the leading people in the disciplines concerned, and place them in a situation where, afterwards, some good research projects might get to the stage of an inseminated ovum, of not an embryo. Perhaps this did in fact happen. Time will tell.

....This type of voluntary effort deserves full-time professional support....if the State is concerned that Irish scientists should have good outside contacts, then it should be prepared to give financial support to voluntary effort, enabling the fruits of the interaction to be maximised......the problem of foreign affairs and external contacts in science and technology..... has the traditional 'many-body' form... Here is another role for the new National Board for Science and Technology......the problem is how to get this role accepted by the 'many bodies' even to the extent of supplying the NBST with information for a bulletin....

April 8 1975

I have been asked....to call for support for the updating of the Life Sciences Research Directory. This was first published in 1974 on the initiative of the UCG biologists....a revision is now timely.

I note also that the Royal Irish Academy, whose latest Research Register was published in 1971, is bowing out of this field in favour of allowing initiatives such as that shown by UCG to blossom, haphazard.

This, I suggest, is a retrograde step. The process should flow in the opposite direction; good local initiatives of general interest should be taken up and generalised on a consistent basis by the central body, which should have funds with which to do the job effectively.

Predictably, the UCG initiative is also in danger of being stifled for lack of funds......they need 500 pounds to cover their costs, and are asking the help of this column in raising it......

..I cannot with a clear conscience advise industrialists to seek a little publicity and perhaps credit by donating such an amount to the project in its present form. I would prefer to look for 5000 pounds for the purpose of organising its improvement and generalisation across the spectrum.....

What is wrong with the Directory as it stands? It is inward-looking, it is university scientists talking to their peers, including aspirant academic scientists who regard themselves as doing a period of captivity in the State applied research bodies. It does not look towards the person with the problem, whether in the food or pharmaceutical industries, in the health services, in agriculture or in fisheries.

Also, it has been labelled 'Directory of Techhniques', as if the problem-areas and general experimental strategies were irrelevant. As a result, most of the entries stress the techniques, and play down, or simply don't mention, the problems for which they are used. Most techniques, however, are routine and standard. The editors were aware of this, and specified 'non-standard techniques only' in their questionnaire. This would have excluded a broad class of people working on novel and interesting problems with standard techniques. However, in these cases fortunately most of them allowed 'the problem' to creep in past the techniques barrier, and as a result the Directory is more useful than it would have been if people had answered strictly as required.

I therefore urge the editors to reconsider the system of collecting the data and organising the indexing, with an eye to the market for applied- scientific consultancy and industrially-sponsored work in the life sciences. I have no doubt that if the academics were to take the initiative and begin to look business-like, sponsorships would be found in industry; in the case of the IIRS Engineering Products and Services Directory....sponsorship was obtained from Irish Steel Holdings ltd and the Verolme Cork Dockyard ltd....

October 21 1975

Preliminary impressions of the RTE series 'Eureka', which brings the latest news of scientific discoveries to the Irish viewing public at tea-time, are perhaps in order.

First let me welcome the fact that it is there; it shows a recognition by the most powerful of the media that scientific discovery is interesting, important and newsworthy.

Having said this, duly conveying goodwill, let me go on to give some friendly criticism, which I hope will not be interpreted as an attack. I want Eureka to succeed, and to become compulsive viewing, a universal educator, as was its predecessor, 'Telefis Feirme'. The latter (remember it?) was a model worthy of emulation. The key idea was that the exposition was done by a communicator who was a master of the science of the topic, who believed in and understood what he was saying, conveying a simplified understanding with conviction. Justin Keating in Telefis Feirme was paralleled in science on the BBC by the Bronowski series, which depended on the same principle.

The BBC 'Tomorrow's World', on the other hand, on which Eureka is apparently based, lacks this central core of conviction. I saw the Irish edition of Tomorrow's World and I noted how it reduced the interest by having lay communicators talking with simulated conviction about objects that they only partially understood. We were shielded from contact with the people who had worked to develop them. I said to myself 'RTE surely can do better than this'. Alas, on performance to date, I am disappointed.

There is some concession to 'people' rather than 'objects' in that there is an interview. The success of this depends on the interviewer's ability to ask the right questions. Experience may develop this if there is good feedback. But the main weakness of the programme is that it has fallen into the 'Tomorrow's World' mould.....they should consider breaking away from this and moving towards interacting with a living and developing system which includes people who understand what they are doing and can communicate: the Keating/Bronowski model.

It could be argued that there are not many of these. There are some, however, and they can be developed. They are to be found among the veteran university lecturers who have mastered the craft of demonstrating classical experiments in front of a class. Some time spent at the feet of Ernest Walton in the TCD physics laboratory would convey what I mean.

Such talent being rare, it would be foolhardy to squander it on a series of magazine-like snippets.....better to put on an 'in-depth' survey of some topic, following up with related linkages, building the programme round a central role for one key scientist-communicator for each topic.

The timing also is bad. Again, the Telefis Feirme model should be studied; this was, if I remember correctly, fairly late in the day. Few are likely to want to look at a serious programme at tea-time.

November 4 1975

The Institute of Industrial Research and Standards has published a report by Liam Clifford which surveys comparatively the procedures for organising the collection, storage and dissemination of scientific and technological information in nine European States and two Asian.

This shows a rather complex and by no means uniform situation. For example, the system is funded through the Prime Minister's office in Belgium, Israel and Turkey; through the Department of Education and Science in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Poland and the UK; through the Department of Industry and Commerce in France and Sweden; in the case of Holland it is funded through both Education/Science and Industry/Commerce.

There is no mention in the Report of the Irish scene, perhaps because it is indescribable; the objective of the IIRS in producing it is to provide some leverage to help us put our house in order.

In Ireland the centre of gravity seems to be shifting towards Industry and Commerce and away from Education. The National Science Council, which relates to the former Department, has set up a Documentation Co-ordination Committee which is running a presentation on November 13 to the Irish Management Institute, to which everybody interested in documentation, libraries, abstracting and other information services is invited....

The area under the influence of the Department of Education in Ireland includes, however, the Royal Irish Academy, which receives many foreign national scientific periodicals on an exchange basis, and of course the major college libraries. It also includes Cinderellas like the National Library, which is outside the scope of this enquiry because it is 'non-technical'.

There is a perfectly sensible rationale for developing a dual responsibility for information services, in that the Universities and basic sciences require access to learned papers, while the industrial and applied-scientific sectors require access primarily to patents and abstracts, the learned paper being of lesser importance. Thus any co-ordinating system which evolves out of the November 13 event will need to recognise these distinct spheres of influence, and provide for their representation on or linkages with the co-ordinating committee, as evidently is the case in the Dutch system.

Underlying this debate is a major question-mark over the future of the scientific paper as a communications medium. Most experienced researchers would hold that the primary channel of communication is the personal contact, and that the paper is secondary. Perhaps the main role of the information service is to unearth the nearest knowledgeable contact in the field to which a researcher is new. Even his step, however, is most easily implemented by diligent personal enquiry.

One way or another, the November 13 event should lead to some creative questioning of present structures, barriers and flow-patterns.

November 11 1975

There passed relatively unnoticed last month an event of some importance, namely the Ninth Congress of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) in Moscow on October 13-16.

At this conference a successful bid was made for the next Conference in 1977 to be held in Dublin(14). This bid was supported by a short film prepared by RTE for Bord Failte.

This on its own is newsworthy, but the underlying meat, on the basis of which an Irish bid was credible, included a contribution to the Congress by Paul Hogan, who is manager of the Coras Trachtala technical assistance programme.

Paul Hogan was speaking as rapporteur on behalf of a working group concerned with problems of developing countries. This group, which was set up on Canadian initiative six years ago, consists of ten people appointed in their own right by the Board of ICSID. It includes Victor Papanek, whose book 'Design for the Real World' is one of the seminal works of the 'intermediatte technology' movement.

Hogan in his paper, after stating he population vs resources problem quantitatively, placed it squarely on the agenda of the 'industrial design' trend-setting Establishment; lets get away from electric toothbrushes and towards relevant technology, such as to help the undeveloped human resources of the planet to realise their creative potential, in appropriate friendly social structures.

The first step on this road is the establishment of a School of Industrial Design for developing countries, in a developing country; Hogan proposes that the central concern of this School should be food and agriculture. There is no centre in existence in the world today specialising in the industrial design problems related to the realisation of the full value of the food produced by the world agricultural system. The specific problems are well-known; implements and machinery, transport and storage, spoliage, irrigation, drainage, cultivation etc. To date these have evoked minimal response from the industrial design establishment, which has been dominated by the wants of the mass-consumption markets of the USA and Europe.

This is a revolutionary message, appropriately delivered in Moscow in a world climate where where there are genuine moves being made to beat swords into ploughshares, in a climate of 'detente'.

It is also, potentially, good business for Ireland, which in its engineering sector is well equipped to supply relevant equipment to developing countries. Perhaps if Paul Hogan and CTT are able to open up windows into the market, and into the design problem, the 'relevant technology' concept will become fashionable, and Professor (Small is Beautiful) Schumacher will be taken more seriously in Ireland than he was at this year's IMI Conference(15).


The first Irish Industrial Exhibition took place in Cork in 1952. (This, I suspect, is the one immortalised in the song relating to the exploits of one Thady Quill.) It was, characteristically, Cork's answer to the taunt of the Athaeneum that no part of the British Empire had contributed so little to the Great Exhibition of 1851 (the father of all Exhibitions, for which the Crystal Palace was built) as Ireland.

An important part was played in the Cork Exhibition Committee by Sir Robert Kane (author of the classic 'Industrial Resources of Ireland'), who was then President of Queens College, Cork.

In the decade after the Famine this was a courageous venture, which would, had the political environment been more appropriate, have triggered off a technology-based boom. It did, despite the economic bias inherent in the Act of Union (not to speak of the feudal system of land tenure), have a positive influence in drawing to the attention of the market what was locally available.

It was followed in 1853 by a larger Exhibition in Dublin, sponsored by Dargan (the railway entrepreneur).

These insights come from an article by Dr AC Davies, of Queen's University, Belfast. People interested in the interaction between technology and socio-economics in 19th century Ireland can get the full story by subscribing to the Economic and Social History Society of Ireland, from whose Journal the above is drawn.....

There is a lesson for Irish scientists in the form of the historians' publication. I referred last week to the 'information explosion' problem and to the fact that there is no way of knowing in Ireland who is doing what, on a systematic updating basis. The economic and social history annual contains (a) original articles based on research (b) abstracts of PhD theses (c) a bibliography of all papers published...during the year.

The problem is science is that most disciplines publish in high prestige journals abroad. There are exceptions, geology being one, which has made the RDS Proceedings its own.

It would be very useful if someone were to publish (say) 'Abstracts of Pure and Applied Science in Ireland', with some review articles, thesis abstracts, and classified abstracts of papers, on an annual basis.

The Royal Dublin Society would be fulfilling the function for which it was intended if it were to take this up. Its Proceedings at present are of very limited specialist interest, fulfilling no industrial role whatever.

December 12 1975

I welcome the second edition of the Life Sciences Directory produced by PR Smith and FI O'Brien in UCG.....it is available for free circulation to those interested in the field and has been produced with the aid of a small grant from the Royal Irish Academy. Compared with the first edition, which appeared in January 1974, the number of entries has gone up by 50%, which is a measure of acceptance by the scientific community. I welcome particularly the involvement of Carlow Regional College, which has come in with continuous fermentations, cheese-making, gas/liquid chromatography applied to food problems, etc. Although the structure and layout is technique-orientated, the problem-areas being tackled in many cases filter through, and it is possible for an industrialist with a problem to pick his consultant if he is prepared to work at it.

I have criticised this Directory before for being too inward-looking among the scientific community; the editor acknowledges this and we are promised a more market-orientated third edition, provided some money is forthcoming. Over now to the Food Industry Division of the CII.

February 3 1976

The first area to structure itself to maintain organised contact with the EEC with an eye to R and D opportunities has been (predictably) energy. There is an advisory panel, which briefs national representatives on various EEC committees; these in turn advise the Commission. The panel convenor is Padraig MacAlister, who is also Chairman of one of the EEC committees. We will see how well the system works when the first round of R and D contracts is awarded.

The next area to become structured is the environment, under the leadership of Dr Liam Downey. The advisory panel consists of 21 people drawn from the third-level educational system and from industry, whogive their time without remuneration in the hope that thereby their institutional interests will be defended. (It would, I feel, be better if their institutions were compensated for the loss of their time; the State would then get a better and more disinterested service.)

Dr Downey has produced, as a result of the work of this panel, a register of environmental research going on in the Republic.....(which) covers water, air, food, noise and recycling. It is indexed by institution, pollutant and 'target' (in the sense of 'that which is affected by pollution').

It gives the location of the work being done, but not (unfortunately) the names of the people concerned. The indexing system is to be regarded as a pilot-study; this is a complex problem which so far has defied easy solution. There are moves afoot to computerise it next time.

For example, if you want to know about heavy metal in meat, or antibiotic in milk, you go to Abbotstown. There you will have to cross-examine the telephonist, until, hopefully, you find the appropriate knowledgeable person.

Dr Downey is keen to get feedback from users of this register, so as to do better next time. Particularly important users, perhaps, are those concerned with food exports, where micro-pollutants can be of crucial importance. On pesticides we have the best record in the world, on heavy metals we are not too bad, but there are indications that on antibiotics we are open to question. The cumulative effects of traces of antibiotics can be disastrous, as it builds up resistant strains of bacteria.

April 6 1976

The current issue of 'Orbital', the annual production of the Institute of Chemistry in Ireland, contains in the Presidential Address by Dr Robert Letters a strong statement of the professional ethical position, including references to 'red mud' effluent from the proposed titanium oxide plant at Cork, the Flixborough disaster, the DDT problem, acrilonitrile at the East Wall in Dublin, and other problems calculated to stir the conscience of the chemist. He calls for a proper Chemical Inspectorate cbacked up by sensible legislation.

There are various other articles: organometallics, analytical chemistry, the IDA, a proposal for the registration of chemistry teachers, the Euroanalysis conference. There are obituaries of the late Dr Vincent Barry and Dr PK Hanley.....

I feel I should add a comment on Orbital and other similar professional institution publications that are aimed at an in-group. They would be of much greater interest to the outside world if, annually, they were to give some sort of account of what the in-group is doing. A step in this direction would be to collect in one place abstracts of all papers produced by chemists in Ireland, together with abstracts of patents registered by the industrial people. This would perhaps be beyond the scope of a voluntary association, but clearly the National Science Council could provide the professional back-up service for the voluntary network, enabling an effecive National Inventory of chemistry in Ireland to be established.

A beginning in this direction has been made by Dr Liam Downey with his national inventory of R and D in environmental problems.

If all the professional specialist institutes were to publish a national inventory of the work of their members, it would make the task of compiling a general inventory by the NSC much easier.

What a prospective industrialist needs to know is the answer to questions like 'what are the scientific resources of region X?', 'who in Ireland is the expert on substance A?', etc. The key to the utility of such an inventory is the indexing system. Attempts to date (eg the Royal Irish Academy 'Research Register') have been in this respect disastrous.

April 20 1976

The Proceedings of the 1974 Royal Irish Academy Numerical Analysis Conference are now available, edited by Dr John Miller of TCD....

This has the status of a memorial to Professor Cornelius Lanczos, who delivered the inaugural address to the first conference in the series in 1972, and died in his native Budapest in June 1974, shortly before the second one.

Professor Lanczos had 'grand old man' status in this field, which he pioneered in the early days of computers. We can attribute the developing status of Dublin as an international centre for numerical analysis, supporting a biennial international conference, to Lanczos' final period at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies.

Areas of relevance to current technology in Ireland in the 1974 event are touched on in a paper by Sin Hitotumatu:'..elementary functions by microprogramming..' (this underlies the workings of those pocket calculators that give sine, cos, log etc); also K R Kelly et al: 'Application of Finite Difference Methods to Exploration Seismology'; this of course underlies the problem of unscrambling the mass of seismic survey data which is lying in the Geological Survey Office, over the failure to cope with which the sole State geophysicist, Robin Riddihough, resigned last year.

Before deciding to put Dublin on the map as an international centre for numerical analysis at an academic level, building on the Lanczos tradition, which he did with his first conference in 1972 and confirmed with his second in 1974, Dr Miller made an attempt to get some practical applied numerical analysis going, with an eye to pulling in some of the world market in unscrambling seismic survey and other geophysical material, where sophisticated numerical techniques are in use for picking out a signal from a background noise.

These attempts were met with the usual blank wall of incomprehension by the various departmental builders of road-blocks, the same people no doubt who have mede their careers on seeing to it that we still have no centre for geophysics itself, let alone instrumentation or numerical signal analysis.

The Miller story reflects the norm in Irish science: acceptance with high standing abroad (the 1974 Conference had 200 participants from 26 countries), but rejection as irrelevant by the key decision-makers in the State.

There are however signs that some of the more enlightened State agencies are waking up to the fact that in our academic science we have an asset, realisable in terms of high-technology industry.

May 18 1976

The UCD Biological Society has begun to bring out a record of papers presented, on an occasional basis. The first issue covers the highlights of the period 1973-75 and includes a paper by Mr A Meany on fish farming in Ireland, as well as other topics of interest to conservationists and academic biologists.

As usual with quasi-amateur publications, it is not clear how you go about ordering copies, or how you pay......

I must reiterate my plea for some sort of national publication policy for scientific literature, at a range of appropriate levels, and with a rational allocation of sectoral spheres of influence. The so-called national bodies concerned have abdicated leadership, leaving a free-for-all system where voluntary enthusiasts attempt to plug gaps, without adequate technical or professional support.

Could not the Academy, the National Science Council and the Royal Dublin Society put their heads together and come up with some rational scientific publications policy, so that those of us who are aspirant consumers of science and technology in Ireland can find our way through the maze of theoretically available but in practice inaccessible expertise?

June 22 1976

I acknowledge receipt of Milieu, the annual publication of the Geographical Society of Maynooth College. The UCD people do one too, if I am not mistaken. There is good material in it, including socio-economic studies of interest to market-researchers. There is a particularly trenchant blast against the Government for dropping the 1976 Census, an essential piece of raw material for economic planners, whose ranks qualified geographers are beginning to swell.....

May I reiterate my....plea for some State support for co-ordination of scientific publishing effort in Ireland. Far too much good material is available on an obscure and ephemeral basis, limited to an in-group. (We need)....a national quarterly, aimed not simply at an in-readership, but at a wider public where the specialist knowledge ought to be held in high esteem. For geographers, this implies economists, architects, engineers, planning officers in local authorities, sociologists. Specialist groups need to pay more attention to developing their markets....

August 31 1976 Recently (August 16-20) the third of a series of international conferences on Numerical Analysis took place at the Royal Irish Academy. This series was initiated by Dr John Miller of TCD in 1972 and has become a regular biennial event.

This year it was attended by 122 participants from 26 countries, a nice size for a genuine information-exchange event. Of the 26 countries, five might be classified as 'developing'.

This is an area of applied mathematics which is of considerable economic importance in fields such as stress analysis (in civil engineering, aerodynamics etc; engineers are regularly attending short-courses to improve their knowledge of 'finite-element methods'...), time-series analysis, extraction of signals from background noise (as in seismic survey work)....

Last week's conference made the frontier of the world's knowledge of these important fields available to Irish scientists and technologists for the price of a trip to Dublin, plus a small fee.

As an example of the type of material available, there was a paper from the Amoco Production Company Research Centre, Tulsa, USA, on a problem of time-series analysis related to seismic survey signals from a horizontally stratified medium.

There was also a paper by J W Hosken, of BP Research, which appears, from a reading of the abstract, to be an application of techniques developed for the analysis of deep-crust phenomena(16)....in the field of oilfield prospecting, or at least to be an attempt to find a common theoretical base for these two areas of work.

Dr Hosken gave a seminar in the TCD Mathematics Department some two years ago, which I attended and reported. The current paper covered a development of the earlier work, which described numerical deconvolution techniques...(17).

This work is carried out for the oil companies by specialist contractors. Dr Hosken's function in BP is to be an in-house source of know-how, for the purpose of dealing intelligently with the specialists. I pointed this out on the previous occasion, and drew attention to the lack of any such centre of know-how in the Irish Geological Survey Office. Since then the situation has got worse, with the resignation of Dr Riddihough, the solitary geophysicist with any insights into this area.

I had hoped that this numerical analysis conference might flush out of hiding some unsuspected expertise from the Irish State system, suggesting that the lessons of the Riddihough resignation had been learned. Alas, this proved to be unfounded optimism. The only Irish participants in the conference were Dr John Miller of TCD and his students, and Dr John Bradley of the Central Bank, who is a past student of Dr Miller. Numerical analysis techniques are no doubt useful to the Central Bank, insofar as that body is involved in attempting to unscramble economic time-series, for the purpose of generating inputs to economic models. But this is a far cry from....seismic survey analysis, where there remains a vacuum in the State system, despite the best efforts of Dr Miller and Professor Murphy (of the Institute of Advanced Studies Geophysics Section) over the years. If one believed in conspiracy theory one would suspect a deliberate attempt by the oil companies to block the development of any independent expertise within the Irish State sysem, by the use of illicit payments to key individuals.

I prefer, however, knowing the high level of personal integrity of our Civil Servants, to believe in a combination of ignorance, inertia and delight in the excercise of power to block positive proposals which might appear initially as items of expenditure.

Until the Geological Survey gets enough autonomy to run its own recruiting policy, and an adequate budget, it looks as if we will be unable to negotiate withh the oil companies from a position of independent knowledge of the facts about our own resources.

Also, we remain without any....policy for ensuring that the right people attend the right conferences, in order to pick up insights into relevant technologies. I have noted this before, primarily in connection with the recent conferences on Natural Gas, Applied Physics in Industry, Europe+30 and various other occasions. We have no scientific Department of Foreign Affairs. It is left to chance. Readers must forgive me if on this question I sound repetitive, but it is my experience that in the end repetition of the existence of a need breaks through into the consciousness of enough people to generate a political will.


1.See Chapter 1.1 (4/2/70) for some remarks on the writers embryonic 'thermodynamic theory of management costs'.

2.This can be attributed to the work of the Operations Research people in Aer Lingus (the Irish national airline), including David Kennedy, the present Chief Executive. With easy access to world travel, they participated regularly in the meetings of the Airline Group of IFORS, which enabled easy access to the leading IFORS committees to be obtained.

3.See Chapter 3.3 (Innovation) 24/2/71.

4.It is said that the international agencies are staffed with misfits who don't make the grade in the national agencies, and get 'north-east promotions'. This may be unjust.

5.See Chapter 4.3 (Environment) for further development of this train of thought.

6.This weakness in the engineers' philosophy of science is not peculiar to Ireland. The writer received for many years an otherwise reputable American periodical, with excellent material on advanced instrumentation systems, which however persisted in giving editorial support to topics such as laetrile, or the ideas of Velikovski.

7.See Chapter 3.3 (Innovation) 9/7/70

8.See Chapter 1.3 (The Educational System)

9.At this time the Dublin Colleges of Technology were planning to centralise themselves at Ballymun, on the north side of Dublin, balancing UCD (Belfield) on the south. Subsequently the site was reallocated to a new National Institute of Higher Education, on the Limerick model (See Chapter 1.3), which began to take in students in 1980. The Dublin Colleges of Technology, now the Dublin Institute of Technology, remain in the city centre, and tend to associate with the old-established Trinity College where there is common ground.

10.The Confederation of Irish Industry has improved its attitude to science and technology no end since 1973, and is contributing a very positive influence to the development on technological education, through the work of Con Power and others. But when the energy crisis struck in 1973, the CII, like most of Irish industry, was caught unawares. Their first instinct was to turn to the economists; an appreciation of the need for technology came later, in parallel with an awakening which took place among the economists themselves regarding the significance of 'knowhow' as a hitherto ignored factor among the 'residuals'.

It is appropriate here to summarise what the 1973 OR conference was interested in. Dr Harry Harrison of UCD was working on an integrated route-planning and scheduling system for a distributor; Donal Lyons (of TCD and AFT) was planning the central location of a processing unit for pig-slurry to serve the pig-fattening units now polluting Lough Sheelin; the CIE people (Feeney and Metcalfe) were taking a behavioural look at price-elasticities; the Government OR unit (Honeyman) was looking at maintenance planning for large fleets, also (Cantwell) at the cost of forest fire prevention. Guinness was interested in computer-aided rostering; Dr Micheal Ross of ESRI took a philosophical look at problems of decentralised decision-making, drawing on Eastern European experience.

The New University of Ulster group made a valiant, though not very credible, attempt to formulate the Northern Ireland economic planning problem as a linear-programming optimal resource allocation procedure. Also from NUU came a paper on the application of computer modelling techniques to the evaluation of alternative control processes for liver-fluke; this was the result of a collaboration involving the TCD Zoology Department (Professor Grainger) and an Foras Taluntais (Dr Chaudry at Glenamoy).

Aoileann Nic Gearailt presented in interim report of a study currently in progress for Gaeltarra Eireann (the development agency primarily concerned with the Irish-speaking areas of the country, mainly in the West), which consisted of a computer-based approach to the evaluation of factors connected with the viability of a fishing-port: boat size, fleet size, harbour berthage, tidal effects, shore-processing facilities. The writer had a hand in this also.

11.At the time of writing,, any such fees were lost in the budget of the education authority, and the consultting department or college received no credit. This remains a problem in 1983.

12.The writer fulfilled such a role for a period in Trinity College Dublin.. See the Epilogue for an account of this experience.

13.See Chapter 3.5 for some essays on this and related themes.

14.This took place, and the writer attended it. It had no impact whatever on the local engineering scene; leading engineers dismissed it as 'long-haired stuff'.

15.He was competing with Herman Kahn (the Hudson Institute).. See Chapter ().

16.Professor Thomas Murphy, in the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, has been active in this field; see Chapter 5.1.

17.See Chapter 4.1 (15/5/74).

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