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History and Debate over the Creation of a National Science Foundation

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History and Debate over the Creation of a National Science FoundationBibliographyBrennan Hildebrand, SI589, Winter 2010History and Debate over the Creation of a National Science FoundationThe United States officially entered the Second World War in 1941. Certain insightful individuals, such as (at the time) Temporary Brigadier General Leslie Groves saw the value in the enlisting (mobilizing, in the language of the time) of the greats minds in science to work on winning the war from a viewpoint of research and application of research toward the war effort. It is unclear—and probably unlikely –that any saw the long-term ramifications of bringing research scientists into this effort and of the governmental funding of said research. While both the history and the result of the Manhattan Project are well known, the government funding of scientific research was both new and revolutionary atthe time. As early as 1942, as the Manhattan project began, it was known that funding was going to scientific research even when what was being researched was still classified. A discussion had already developed at that early date about the implications of this federal funding and what might be done with both the funding itself and the results of the funding during the war after the war was ended.While much of this discussion was sublimated by the practicality of the war effort at the time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent a letter (November 17, 1944), even before the successful use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima (August 6, 1945), to Dr. Vannevar Bush, head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), asking about the results of scientific investigation during the war and its potential use during times of peace in post-war America in the furtherance of scientific knowledge, understanding, and development of peaceful and civilian application of said research.While Dr. Bush was unable to complete his response to the President before the death of FDR, he did respond to President Truman in an historical and widely quoted letter from his position at the OSRD. On July 25, 1945, in his statement entitled “Science: The Endless Frontier”, Dr. Bush called for theBrennan Hildebrand, SI589, Winter 2010establishment of a national body—a National Science Foundation (NSF)—controlling (passive) funding of and distribution (active) of funding for the research of important subjects in science.Almost immediately upon the presentation of this letter to the President, several bills were presented to congress to address this question of national funding of scientific research. Two, of most import, were the bill presented by senator Kilgore of West Virginia, and the bill submitted by senator Magnuson of Washington State. Each hoped to establish a department of the government that might fund scientific research for the greater good of the American people. Differences, though, in the implementation, control, and focus of these two bills quickly became apparent and three major issues emerged at the heart of the debate.The first considered the structure of control of the organization, a board of people with authorityto determine the appropriate distribution of the funds available for scientific research and which projects deserved federal funding. One view was that control should remain governmental, at the whim of the president. Another view was that the distribution of monies should be decided by a panel of civilians, primarily eminent scientists (Parsons, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 1, 1946, p. 7).The second issue concerned the debate over ownership and patent of the research—the intellectual property—and the results of the research gained through funding by a NSF. Do the individuals doing the research have rights of ownership to that which they discovered, invented, etc. using funds provided through the auspices of a NSF? Do the institutions with which these researchers are associated have rights of ownership in those results because those researchers are, on some level, employees? Or, because it is ultimately the US Government that provided the funding for said research, does the US Government retain some ownership of the results of the research funded (Parsons, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 1, 1946, p. 7)?Brennan Hildebrand, SI589, Winter 2010The third problem was actually two interrelated issues. First, that of whether or not the distribution of funds should be delivered equitably amongst the states and institutions, instead of to certain few yet specific institutions in which research considered important to the government and the American people was taking place. Second, that said funds should also be directed to research in the “social sciences”, not just medical research, the physical sciences, and national defense as laid out in S-1285, the Magnuson bill, presented to the senate July 19, 1945 (legislative day July 9, 1945), which would mean the distribution of said funds to a wider group of institutions, and as such be more equitable amongst states and institutions.It was decided that both bills would be debated together in the Subcommittee on War Mobilization of the Committee of Military affairs and began on September 8, 1945, which was chaired bySenator Kilgore. Debate was rigorous, especially on the issues of administrative structure, patents, and funding. On September 29th, 1945, the entire session was given to the discussion of social sciences as presented by the Social Sciences Research Council (Parsons, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 1, 1946, p. 7). The feeling was that the socials sciences weren’t getting included in the Magnusson bill, and in fact this was so, and not enough money was ear-marked for land-grant schools. Dr. Bush felt that much funding was already going to these schools through various departments already, including Agriculture, Commerce, and Interior (Bush, Science: The Endless Frontier, p 28).Concerning patent rights the debate circles around several issues, the discussion of ownership ofthe results of nationally funded research was of great import. The Magnusson bill stated that those who developed technologies under NFS had the right to patent their work, unless otherwise restricted under the agreement of distribution of the funds (Parsons, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 1, 1946,p. 7). For example, if research was done for defense purposes, it might remain classified, and thus patents would be


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