Jim Frankenfield - Science & Engineering Pages
Excerpts from the Unabomber ManifestoDate: Wed, 20 Sep 95 14:49:55 -0700
From: Arthur P Smith
To: Young Scientists Network
Subject: #9 The Unabomber
No doubt many of us are aware of the manifesto recently published in the Washington Post at the request of the Unabomber. An online version is available. The target of this person or group is modern society in general, but science and technological development are found particularly to blame. With apologies for the length, I enclose a quote of the comments specifically on what scientists are doing and why they are doing it, from this bomber's perspective. As others have noted, there is probably a lot of truth in the arguments - do we, as scientists have a clear response?
THE MOTIVES OF SCIENTISTS
87. Science and technology provide the most important examples of surrogate activities. Some scientists claim that they are motivated by "curiosity," that notion is simply absurd. Most scientists work on highly specialized problem that are not the object of any normal curiosity. For example, is an astronomer, a mathematician or an entomologist curious about the properties of isopropyltrimethylmethane? Of course not. Only a chemist is curious about such a thing, and he is curious about it only because chemistry is his surrogate activity. Is the chemist curious about the appropriate classification of a new species of beetle? No. That question is of interest only to the entomologist, and he is interested in it only because entomology is his surrogate activity. If the chemist and the entomologist had to exert themselves seriously to obtain the physical necessities, and if that effort exercised their abilities in an interesting way but in some nonscientific pursuit, then they couldn't give a damn about isopropyltrimethylmethane or the classification of beetles. Suppose that lack of funds for postgraduate education had led the chemist to become an insurance broker instead of a chemist. In that case he would have been very interested in insurance matters but would have cared nothing about isopropyltrimethylmethane. In any case it is not normal to put into the satisfaction of mere curiosity the amount of time and effort that scientists put into their work. The "curiosity" explanation for the scientists' motive just doesn't stand up.
88. The "benefit of humanity" explanation doesn't work any better. Some scientific work has no conceivable relation to the welfare of the human race - most of archaeology or comparative linguistics for example. Some other areas of science present obviously dangerous possibilities. Yet scientists in these areas are just as enthusiastic about their work as those who develop vaccines or study air pollution. Consider the case of Dr. Edward Teller, who had an obvious emotional involvement in promoting nuclear power plants. Did this involvement stem from a desire to benefit humanity? If so, then why didn't Dr. Teller get emotional about other "humanitarian" causes? If he was such a humanitarian then why did he help to develop the H-bomb? As with many other scientific achievements, it is very much open to question whether nuclear power plants actually do benefit humanity. Does the cheap electricity outweigh the accumulating waste and risk of accidents? Dr. Teller saw only one side of the question. Clearly his emotional involvement with nuclear power arose not from a desire to "benefit humanity" but from a personal fulfillment he got from his work and from seeing it put to practical use.
89. The same is true of scientists generally. With possible rare exceptions, their motive is neither curiosity nor a desire to benefit humanity but the need to go through the power process: to have a goal (a scientific problem to solve), to make an effort (research) and to attain the goal (solution of the problem.) Science is a surrogate activity because scientists work mainly for the fulfillment they get out of the work itself.
90. Of course, it's not that simple. Other motives do play a role for many scientists. Money and status for example. Some scientists may be persons of the type who have an insatiable drive for status (see paragraph 79) and this may provide much of the motivation for their work. No doubt the majority of scientists, like the majority of the general population, are more or less susceptible to advertising and marketing techniques and need money to satisfy their craving for goods and services. Thus science is not a PURE surrogate activity. But it is in large part a surrogate activity.
91. Also, science and technology constitute a mass power movement, and many scientists gratify their need for power through identification with this mass movement (see paragraph 83).
92. Thus science marches on blindly, without regard to the real welfare of
the human race or to any other standard, obedient only to the psychological
needs of the scientists and of the government officials and corporation
executives who provide the funds for research.