Why do many American students drop the scientific careers which they have spent several years training for with reasonable success? This question is likely to seem more patriotic than scholarly to anyone who is a respecter of science both as an area of inquiry and as a method of scholarship. The missile race, with the values it expresses, has tended to put off any serious and disinterested study of what has been happening to competent youngsters who set out to become scientists in our society. Yet, quite apart from any imputation that students ought to have stayed in science either for their own sake or that of the nation, the self-image of the scientist and the relationship of his culture to that of the humanities, both in the academy and in daily life, is now a crucial issue in itself. The choice of a profession is the one commitment our culture really takes seriously: this is for keeps; it is not a matter, like love or loyalty, to be continually altered to fit new circumstances. Conflicts in this area, if they are serious enough to make youngsters change their plans dramatically and follow any discernible common pattern, are social phenomena worth studying.
At Brooklyn College during the academic year 1958-59, together with my colleague, economist Carl Nordstrom, I set about investigating whether such a pattern existed. The study is a small one as social science research goes in the mid-20th century. After a pilot operation confined to a group of twenty Brooklyn College students, we applied to and received from the Cooperative Research Division of the U. S. Office of Education support to extend the study to Ohio State and Stanford Universities during the year 1959-60.1
At these schools, we examined the student records, and asked those students who had switched from a major in one of the natural sciences (physical or biological) or in engineering—after having firmly established a satisfactory record in their major fields—to come in for a one-hour research session. For comparative purposes, we secured a sample of excellent students who were continuing in their scientific work.
The total number finally included in the study was 121: 20 from Brooklyn, 60 from Ohio State, and 41 from Stanford. Seventy-five of these had changed from science or engineering to another field; 46 formed our “control group,” students who were continuing in science.
Our procedure was as follows: every student was given a deck of thirty-two cards, each of which contained a statement critical of science. These thirty-two critical estimates were meant to be pieces of cautionary advice that might be given to a younger person trying to make up his mind whether or not to become a scientist. The student read all the cards, then sorted them into seven piles (containing, respectively, 1; 3; 7; 10; 7; 3; 1 cards) from the soundest to the most misleading or silliest statement. In other words, the first pile—of one card—contained the subject’s estimate of the best advice that could be given to a potential science student; the last pile—again of one card—contained the worst advice.
Immediately after this sorting, an interview with the student was recorded. It began with a question as to whether there were any important things the student might have wanted to advise his imaginary young friend that the cards did not cover. After discussing the subject’s answer to this question—it was usually, but not always, negative—he was asked to discuss why he had placed the cards he had chosen in the four extreme piles.
There is no basis for inferring that our 121 subjects are representative of all science students in the country. In fact, they could not be, if only because only about half of those invited took part in the research; and science students who are willing to participate in an unfamiliar research project clearly have a different attitude toward science than those who ignored such a request. Even though our 121 may be atypical in various ways, however, they are still of interest for what they are in themselves. A fact is still a fact, whether or not it can be generalized. The story of Marat and Charlotte Corday is of itself enough to disprove the canard that 18th-century Frenchmen never took baths.
Of the thirty-two gards, seven elicited sharply different responses from the students who have left science or engineering and from those who are continuing in these fields. Three of the seven cards deal with whether scientists get enough money to justify the time and trouble they spend on their training. The texts of these cards read:
2. Scientists’ salaries may seem high enough usually, but since they usually work for a company or university on a pure annual basis, they have much less chance than doctors, say, or lawyers, to do well for themselves.
3. Over a lifetime, perhaps, a person with a Ph.D. in one of the sciences will earn about as much as other professionals; but it takes him so long to get up there with the others that he and his family have quite a struggle.
4. As professional people, scientists have to expect to move socially among people who earn just enough more than they do to keep them in a state of mild but unpleasant tension.
Students who had left science tended to reject these cards as containing unimportant or misleading advice more severely than did the students who were continuing. The members of the control group were more willing to admit that these items might be legitimate complaints against a career that nevertheless appealed to them on balance. (When control subjects did reject these cards, they were likely to do so on the grounds that their information was misleading, out of date, while students who had abandoned science usually stressed that the money was just not that important to them.)
A fourth card which resulted in sharp differences discussed an unfavorable public image of the scientist. It was extremely unpopular with the students who had abandoned careers in science, but the control group distributed it almost by chance. It reads:
5. People are really pretty ambivalent toward scientists. Officially, they are highly respected, but the stereotype of the mad scientist is seldom wholly absent from the mind of the man in the street.
As one Brooklyn College student who had changed from physics to English put it: “I felt that a scientist should just have a love for his work if he goes into it at all, and so, even if there was such a stereotype—I don’t know that there is—this should not concern him in the least.” Hardly anyone who rejected this card did so because he thought it was a false statement. Generally, they did think so, but just did not much care whether it was or not.2
The remaining three card choices that distinguish the students who have left science from the control group are all cards that the former science students favor as important pieces of advice. And all deal with different aspects of the same issue—the training, method, and approach of scientists. The control group both dislikes and rejects the first of these cards, which discusses scientific training. Three of them pick it as the worst card—and none pick it as the best, while two of the ex-science group pick it as the best card and none pick it as the worst.
23. Contrary to what one usually expects, scientific training actually seems to offer little encouragement to independence of thought. There is more lecturing and less discussion than in other disciplines; the examinations tend to be rather petty and factual. Even the lecturer’s jokes are listed in the syllabus.
Mr. Perry, a bright, personable Ohio State senior who switched from engineering to business management, explained why he picked this card as his first choice.
Perry: If this guy was going into engineering with the idea of gaining indepen . . . of being independent and having a broad concept of things . . . the subjects he’s going to be taking are very limited and I don’t think they encouraged really independent thinking. What they encouraged was the ability to, well, deal with specific mechanical processes in solving problems. . . .In most of the examinations in engineering, if you forgot the formula, well, you just don’t solve the problem. Which puts a premium on memorizing certain mechanical things . . . . It doesn’t really lend itself to general discussion because, well, there’s not much question about it.
By contrast, Mr. Wheeler, one of the most successful engineering students at Ohio State, rates the same card as the worst. Yet, in his comments, he agrees fairly well with Mr. Perry as to how things are. The contrast is largely between Mr. Perry’s short-term irritation and Mr. Wheeler’s long-range identification with his vocational goal:
Wheeler: I think actually lecturing, discussing a topic, the more familiar the scientist’s professor becomes with his subject, as far as I can see, the more prepared he is to do basic research. It has to get to be, so that he knows these facts and principles upside down, backwards, in his sleep.
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Possibly there is more opportunity for discussion in the arts, but that probably stems from the fact that so many of the arts questions are not, actually, don’t have one answer, while such things as two and two is always four. There’s not too much discussion you can carry on about it.
The second of these three cards, on scientific method, is also rejected by members of the control group, though not as sharply. It reads:
25. The scientific method, as it is taught in the classroom and thought of by the general run of scientists, actually hampers efforts to understand many problems. Insight into the way things develop, and their unique, particular meaning, are sacrificed to rigid experimental control and statistical generality in order to keep the research scientifically respectable.
And the control group scatters the last card in a chance pattern; most of the ex-scientists, however, are solidly behind it. It reads:
26 . The scientist’s commitment to place objectivity first, while it has made science the instrument of empirical mastery of the environment, ultimately limits his power to penetrate to fundamental meanings. With so much of human experience tending toward depersonalization, it is just those perceptions that cannot be “consensually validated” that are often of crucial importance.
The subjects who leave science and engineering, then, insist that their feelings are the source of their integrity; and consider them more important than their economic or social aspirations. They must, therefore, demand respect for them and act them out at once. The students who remain may be equally critical of the limitations of scientific truth and of the society in which they must function—though they generally are not as critical. But they are either less confident of their ability to find any spot outside the system in which they would be any freer than they would be in science, or more confident that if they accept the system they will ultimately find themselves within it. Some seem to combine these two feelings, like Mr. Byron, a Stanford electrical engineer: young, married, cool; bright and sharp as a hound’s tooth.
Byron: I don’t think it’s the best use of me, but I’m in it now—up to the hilt. I mean, you know, after you get two years of school. I’m perfectly satisfied. I enjoy myself in electrical engineering; it’s just that I would have enjoyed myself more in other fields . . . . I do like the technical side of engineering. It’s just that I wish there were more of a creative aspect to it than there is. I won’t be unhappy in engineering . . . . I don’t enjoy being with purely intellectuals, either . . . . People that are for Adlai . . . madly for Adlai and join political causes. . . . I’m for Adlai myself, but not madly.
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There was the funniest headline: “Nixon will try to run as an individual if nominated.” He’s not going to run as an elephant, he’s going to run as an individual, if he possibly can.
Interviewer: Card 23 [“scientific training actually seems to offer little encouragement to independence of thought”]?
Byron : Well, it’s true. What’s there to discuss?
Interviewer: Then, your most extreme negative card: Card 5 [“mad scientist” public image]?
Byron: Yes, I think it’s silly. So what? Who is the man on the street? You just don’t go fiddling around with the man on the street if you’re a scientist.
Interviewer: Any other comments you’d care to add?
Byron: No. I think I’ve discussed my reasons for being slightly down on scientists. Definitely an interesting profession; it’s just that these people get a slight case of narrow brain. That’s just about it.
In Mr. Byron’s manner there was nothing at all supercilious or snide. A wiry, bronzed, clean-shaven young man, clad in a sport shirt, jeans, and a pair of zori sandals; he broke the toe-strap on one of these by the ardor of his gestures during the interview. “May I?” he inquired politely at the end; and, dropping the zori into the wastebasket, strode out of the research office and into the Western world, barefoot.
Analyzing the card-sorts of these young men and women by another statistical procedure yields, not a set of individual numerical scores, but clusters of individuals who tend to see things in similar ways.3 (It produces as well isolated individuals whose card-sorts are different from all others.) There is no magic in this; how many clusters are produced, if any, is as much a consequence of the particular levels of significance the research worker selects as it is of the way the subjects sort the cards. One selects levels of significance that yield the fineness or coarseness of discrimination warranted by the character of the data. Our choices yielded us eight clusters of from five to nineteen students, amounting to a total of 64 of the 121 subjects. Thus, 57 of our subjects were not assigned to any group on the basis of their card-sort.
The largest cluster contains nineteen members. They include students from Brooklyn, Ohio, and Stanford, and from both pure science and engineering curricula. Eleven of the nineteen have abandoned science or engineering; eight are continuing. We call this group our eclectic cluster.
The favorite cards of the eclectic cluster are 17 and 31 which read:
17. The work of the laboratory scientist is less varied and engrossing than the image of the pioneer serving mankind in his laboratory would lead you to expect. Most scientists spend most of their time in rather dull, routine activity.
31. The costs of scientific research today have tied science so closely to the purposes of elite groups in society that it has abandoned most of its critical and skeptical function. When you are dependent on tax exemptions and foundation grants in order to get your work done, you get to be pretty careful never to catch Truth in embarrassing commerce with Mars or Mammon.
Two cards that most of our subjects reject but that the members of the eclectic cluster dislike with special intensity are:
8. Scientists don’t seem to live like other upper-middle-class people, even when they are quite successful. They tend to have fewer interests outside their work in things like the arts, or even in other people, so that life can get pretty dreary.
21. While there are many exceptions, groups of scientists are generally not as pleasant to be among as other intellectuals. On the whole they tend to be stiffer and somewhat less broad-minded and sophisticated; they hardly seem to know how to enjoy themselves.
Mr. Rabinow, a Brooklyn College senior recommended to our study as one of the most promising young chemists in the graduating class of 1959, illustrates very vividly, though with a manner and volubility that are purely Brooklyn, and a sensitivity that is purely his own, some of the characteristic attitudes of the eclectic cluster. On the one hand, there is a compelling—almost a compulsive—identification that leads the subject to insist that he likes science and scientists (whether or not he himself is going on in it). On the other hand, there is a nagging preoccupation with the daily annoyances of scientific work under the conditions in which it must actually be done. Mr. Rabinow explains his choice of Card 17:
Rabinow: Well, I’ve had opportunities, see. I work after school. I work for a big chemical company, and I see what most research chemists are expected to do . . . . Only Ph.D. chemists do actual research. The way they set it up, most of it is dull routine activity . . . . I mean, once in a while you come up with an idea, I mean, that’s the fascinating part; but then to go through the synthesis and the library work, I mean, that’s actually a big part of science, really, and that is dull and routine . . . . I suppose everybody says Hollywood-type scientists are something glorious, and that’s not really true.
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It’s dull and routine, the work, but it leads to something [italics are ours] . . . . I mean, you know you’re going . . . the work itself is dull and routine, then you get satisfaction after it’s all over and accomplished.
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I know I like a certain kind of recognition when I do a certain type of work. See, the work I do is nothing really, I mean, to be recognized, but on my level, naturally, there isn’t any. But even on higher levels, it’s always emphasized—one man never gets the credit, it’s always four or five men have done it. Usually the—I know this would bother me—I mean the—usually the research director gets his name on it even though he had nothing to do with it, and then other people, you know, sometimes the vice-president, they might stick his name on there too, to show, you know, like a dedication to a symphony or something to your patron sort of kind of thing, and I just don’t feel that this is right. . . . In other words, you know, apple-polishing is very prevalent; if you want to get somewhere, you’ve got to be able to toe the line and show them that, you know, you’re with them—very little dissension. Everybody’s smooth and calm. No arguments, no fights.
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Let’s say that I’m not particularly satisfied with my work now, but . . . well, after I get out of graduate school, if I go back into industry, I don’t feel that it’ll be, I don’t expect—let’s say, I hope it will be different, but I don’t expect it to be much different from now. . . . This is the way it is.
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It’s really hard for me to say exactly why, the general question, why I chose science. I never had a chemistry set. When I wanted to do some things, I couldn’t do it at my house. I mean, my parents couldn’t see it, you know. I did fool around a little bit; but right away they were on my back for fooling around. Once, I even developed some pictures, and this annoyed my father because of the acetic acid smell; he didn’t like it, so that was the end of that . . . . I don’t know, I was just curious about different things, and I thought that in science you have opportunity, really, to see a lot of different things . . . really, you need extensive training . . . . I try to tell myself, from the way I talk, I try to tell myself that the thing that I’m looking after in life is not a lot of money. That’s the way I feel. [Pause] I feel that I just want to make, naturally, a comfortable living and then devote myself to, oh, reading and learning and things. . . . I also enjoy, well, working with my hands. I enjoy that, and not as a hobby, but more as a career. I rather enjoy that. And science lends itself most to that. . . . I rather like to work with my hands; it fascinates me and I get pleasure out of it.
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Anyway, it’s remarkable the way things fit in . . . . Through high school I got the job where I work now, and when I started to work, well, I mean, they had students working there who were working nights and going to full-time day school and they said, “Well, why don’t you do this?” . . . and I started to day school. And everything worked out for the best. . . [sotto voce] in the best of all possible worlds.
Though mundane in their attitudes and concerned with the realities of the scientist’s or engineer’s working life, the members of the eclectic cluster are not happy about those realities as they see them; too modest or not confident enough to make large claims for the authority of their inner life, they nevertheless display that life vividly in their reactions to conditions they hardly hope to transcend. They may continue, as Mr. Rabi-now is continuing, in science. But if they do so, their level of aspiration is appreciably low; they haven’t much hope of attaining distinction.
An Ohio State member of this cluster, continuing in geology and doing extremely well in it, speaks in this way of his burgeoning career: “I like to study geology, but I’m not sure yet exactly what field of geology. And I don’t know, I’m afraid that if I’m married soon and have a family, I might just have to drop geology just to work, so I could make some money.” The “experimental” members of the eclectic cluster, though perhaps more sensitive to petty details of their experience as science students than to larger value or epistemological issues, at least have the ego-strength and detachment to make a break. Mr. Eero, a stalwart, roughly handsome ex-engineer of Finnish stock, falls into this group. Commenting on Card 17, which is his first choice among the thirty-two, Mr. Eero says:
Eero: I think everybody, when thinking of a profession, tends to glamorize it. There is a lot of routine to any kind of job . . . . I think of people like Madame Curie, for instance, and her husband, who worked for I don’t know how many years shoveling pitchblende around . . . . All my experience has been that science requires a great deal of precision, and precision sometimes for precision’s sake. And, thus, there is a certain going over of things. I think there is a certain amount of scientific work that is dull no matter what level you reach. Even a guy like Einstein has to sit down and work out mathematical formulas, go through a lot of pages and pages of work, and I imagine there are times when they wish they could skip that part . . . . This is to tell someone who you’re talking with who’s thinking of choosing science. Now if a person is . . . there are people happy doing things that I couldn’t do for two minutes, and this is something that a person has to look into and not glorify science as standing in a white coat and “Eureka—” because very little of it is that.
The eclectic cluster is not only the largest cluster yielded by the methodology of the study; it is statistically the most central. Its characteristics do not contrast with those of the total group of subjects so much as they emphasize certain of them. The popular cards that warn against the tendency of science to deny subjective truth are distributed within the eclectic cluster very much as they are by the total group of subjects. But the eclectic cluster is especially troubled about the daily ennui in a scientist’s life, and especially reluctant to imagine that ennui transcended by noble vision or purpose, or by heroic individual capacity. No man is a hero to the eclectic cluster. Which is, after all, the way we live now.
There is, however, a subsidiary and somewhat less clearly delineated focus of central tendency in the total group which produces a cluster of twelve individuals. We call this the adolescent cluster, because its members share a common preoccupation with their own identity and their peculiar perception of the meaning of life. They talk about what it means to be them endlessly, enthusiastically, and also refreshingly and well.
The adolescent cluster emphasizes cards 23, 25, 26, and 27 far more than most of our subjects do. The first three of these have been quoted; Card 27 reads:
27. An interest in science is, to some extent, something many people in this culture need to grow through. An American adolescent, if he has any spontaneous curiosity about the world he lives in at all, almost has to couch his interest in scientific terms, for these are the terms available. But when he gets far enough, he may well find that the questions science can answer are no longer the questions he must ask.
All four of these cards warn against various ways in which scientific rigidity may exclude or impose upon elements of intuition or poetic vision.
The archetype of our adolescent cluster is Mr. Hughes, a big, attractive, highly articulate Stanford junior whose interview, rather to his own astonishment, went on for well over an hour. Here is a part of it:
Hughes: If you’re going to do something you’re interested in, you might as well base your education on your interests at the same time. I consider this rather a valid argument.
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Interviewer: Your mother [Hughes’s father is deceased] was anxious for you to enter engineering, or what?
Hughes: No, she was just worried that philosophy was highly out of date as a paying profession. This is the question I get from everyone: “Well, what in the world are you going to do?” and I smile and answer “I don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter at the moment,” because it doesn’t. I’m considering teaching as a profession, and I have a summer job as a teacher in prep school which I will find out just how I like it . . . . I feel profoundly happier. . . . I find that everything I do, from every discussion I have over coffee on a casual date, or every book I read, every magazine, everything I hear, do, and see is somehow related to everything I’m doing.
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[Of engineering] I, as I said, was profoundly disappointed in all my classes. Math has been one of my best subjects all my life. It was quite easy for me. I had no trouble in the math courses; the same with the engineering courses. It just came easy, but it wasn’t anything there—like sand in soup. . . .A lot of this comes from just realization—it’s just one awakening after another, and a lot of these interests I didn’t know I had. I didn’t know how much I was interested in literature or religion or philosophy because I’d not had an introduction to these, and my life had been full of engineering. I hadn’t read but about one or two books in four years [emphasis Hughes’s].
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I like engineering. I like math. Math, to me, is art. I like it. I like the way things work out and I like engineering. I will still fiddle with it. I still have junk, electronics stuff in my garage at home and, off and on, kick around with all the time. But the big thing is there’s nothing there, nothing I can get my hands on . . . . It’s just things that are not covered and I feel that engineering is . . . would limit me too much.
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I still don’t know exactly what I want to go into and this sometimes worries me . . . . But, no; the inner struggle has been pretty much settled. It was rough turmoil for a while but, once I accepted it—accepted the fact that I wasn’t an engineer . . . I mean, it’s just round; it’s nice, inner calm, peace and perfectly satisfied. I know, in general, where I’m going, and how I’m going to get there. I know what I like and, in general, of course this is always changing; it’s expanding . . . . It’s not because I did not like engineering. I have an awful lot of respect for the guys who can just, in a sense, throw away their lives and settle for just having things cut out for them, and that’s—what time is it getting to be?
Another stanford member of the adolescent cluster, Mr. Grant, comments on the reasons for his change from engineering to political science. Mr. Grant’s style is less effulgent than Mr. Hughes’s; he broods along like the young adult Westerner that he is. But similar feelings have been stirring the two boys:
Grant: AS far as a career is based, when I changed, I threw away virtually a set career and a job in companies I could have gone to work for, knowing that what I was going to study now was what I wanted to study. I’d just take a chance on what I’d find. I figured I’d find my place.
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These friends of mine, they were also engineers, they just took this [training in engineering theory] in a way that was just foreign to my nature, because I’ve seen too many people—young engineers in jobs, I’ve worked with them—who come out and know it right out of the books but don’t have the slightest idea how to get a job done. And I turned away from this, and I knew that I could never be that way and I began to kind of re-examine what I really wanted; I found that engineering wasn’t what I really wanted . . . . So, finally I decided it was time to get out . . . . I’d rather get the kind of education that would do me . . . that I’d feel would do me the most good in the long run, and that is a broader, liberal education.
Interviewer: Yes. Do you what sort of good?
Grant: Just being more [pause]—this is the question, because the things that I figure are . . . least important is the economic angle, because I figure that if I can get the liberal education, why I can make a living anyway; if you’ve got a college degree you stand a reasonably good chance of making a living. I’m not out to get rich in this world, because there’s so much of this world that I don’t understand and want to find out about; and I don’t think you find it in math books or engineering books. And I know I’ll probably never find it, and I know it’s very, very easy to think about these things. . . .It’s very easy to be all involved with these ideas while you’re in school; but I can sit around in a discussion and talk about these ideas and philosophies and different things; and you can walk right out and never think about them again. I’m just more interested in the ideas of politics and political action and theories of government and the way men are, the way men work, why men do things, than I am in building roads for men to drive on. That’s it. . . .I don’t have any false illusions about going out on any big campaign of any ideal, and that’s just it: I’d like to try and sell these ideas [earlier in the interview Mr. Grant had expressed a specific, rather conservative social ideology] or try and influence a few people; but yet, I really don’t know whether my ideas are as yet that important or that good. And if I should come to the conclusion that I did have some ideas that could be of some use, I really don’t know how I could go about trying to spread them. . . . This way, I don’t . . . at the present time have the same connections and ins, but I think I’ll find what I’m more interested in here. I don’t know where it’ll lead me; lead me along the lines I’m more interested in following.
From Mr. Hughes’s and Mr. Grant’s comments one would infer that the adolescent cluster must be composed of youngsters who are lost to science; and it is. Only one member of it—Mr. Bond, of Ohio State—is still in a scientific field. Mr. Bond is a healthy-looking, jolly, crew-cut young man. But he is not exactly a conventional type scientist.
Bond: In my mind, to really do something, you’ve got to have a skill. It takes more than just aspirations. And you’ve got to have a certain amount of specific skill that you can offer. I’m talking in terms of humanitarian endeavor, if you want. . . . I’d like to be the organizational type in Who [World Health Organization] or something like that, if you want. A man in WHO working, I think, can accomplish more than Schweitzer. . . . Schweitzer has become quite a symbol. He has, there’s no doubt about it. A young man, you like to think—at least I do—“What can I do with my life, which I consider to be really valuable?” . . . And to me, service is the biggest concept. It really is. Along with, of course, in the end, I’m trying to achieve personal happiness. Let’s not get away from that.
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Science is not an end in itself to me. It’s merely, once you go far enough in science, I think that you do have to jump again to other questions, because I think science stops and, if you want, philosophy and a lot of other questions begin to pick up a little bit. And I couldn’t. I think you could say that I’m a scientifically trained person with goals which are strictly not scientific research, but an application of science to man. So I guess you would call me, well, a humanist.
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So, independence of thought; if one just took science courses, I’d feel like he was just regurgitating. Until you reach the state, now . . . that might take me toward research eventually way further on, that you know science so well there’s no more regurgitating. From there, it’s newness; and if I could find newness in science, there’d be a real challenge.
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It’s been very interesting to be able to sit and analyze. I’ve thought about this . . . or else I would have switched out of the curriculum of science which I’m now in [our emphasis]. And I couldn’t go ahead and be a doctor. I’d become a philosopher; but, to me, being a philosopher all of your life isn’t achieving what I’d like to achieve very generally. There is a temptation for a young man, I think, once you begin to be exposed to thinking and to new thoughts and to philosophy and to more general readings, and Tillich and a few other gentlemen, to want to do more thinking and less learning of facts. Original thought. And I’d like with science to lead an original life . . . and it’s not a life that’s so set up that it’s rigid to begin with. It’s very general. I can’t tell exactly what fate is going to take me into, but I can only define things as I clearly see them now. They may change in the future.
The cards the adolescent cluster rejects, as might be expected, are the money and status cards (1 through 5, and 8).4
Mr. Bond, with his interest in service and in having an impact on the society in which he lives, and his willingness to function within a group like WHO, illustrates rather clearly the characteristics of another cluster to which our procedure assigns him; and he shows how it is related to the adolescent one. This ancillary cluster, which we call the societal cluster, has eight members, all of whom, except Mr. Bond, have given up on science. (Three of these—including Mr. Bond and Mr. Hughes—also fall into our adolescent cluster.5) The same cards which the adolescent cluster tends to interpret as warnings that scientific training may stifle a student’s inner flame and deafen him to the unverifiable comments of his inner voice, the societal cluster tends to interpret as warnings against ignoring matters of personal concern in their external lives. The adolescent members can thus take the reference (on Card 27) to the possibility that “The questions science can answer are no longer the questions he must ask” as an allusion to their deeper subjective interests; while members of the societal are reminded of the broader social and political commitments that they might have made. Mr. Bond illustrates the juxtaposition of these two kinds of concern; Mr. Hughes much less so.
Just as the adolescent cluster has the societal cluster overlapping it from the general direction, ideologically speaking, of the left, the eclectic cluster has an ancillary cluster of eleven subjects, overlapping it from the right.6 What is exaggerated in these eleven subjects is the “conventionality” of the eclectic cluster. Among them, the control group members seem almost to parody conventionality in their acceptance of their world and in their reduction of every fundamental conflict to the most stereotyped terms.7 The students who have abandoned science, on the other hand, seem to have failed to establish their identity.
The qualities of conventionality are revealed by the subjects’ slight tendency to accept Card 1, “Scientists make too little money . . .” as sound advice, while most other subjects reject it; and by the tendency to reject as nonsensical the cards which emphasize the conflict between science and subjective aspects of experience. These subjects emphasize even more than those of the eclectic cluster that science is full of “dull, routine, activity”—Mr. Rabinow is one of the overlapping members—but like the eclectics, the conventionals also insist that scientists have just as much fun as anybody. “They’re people,” an Ohio State student continuing in engineering school reported, “scientists are people, educated people. Enjoy getting together, enjoy parties. I don’t think I could exist without my golf in the summertime.” Another commented: “Many of my friends are engineers or pure scientists or mathematicians and I find that they tend to like music, art; they believe very well in girls—and outside of working hours they’re . . . you couldn’t stereotype them as scientists at all.” Miss Larinn, an attractive and very bright young chemist, who is one of the European subjects in the conventional cluster, clearly illustrates the sometimes illogical positivism of this group:
Larinn: Well, well science doesn’t deal with philosophical understanding of problems. It’s true that you cannot gain a philosophical understanding of the problem through the scientific method. On the other hand, I think it’s impossible to solve any scientific problem through a philosophical approach.
Finally, a last comment by a Stanford economics major (who has not been able to “pin down” why engineering “didn’t agree with me”):
I think that the empirical method will make a lot of things that are now important to people in philosophy, make dead issues out of an awful lot of things. . . . Where now the lot is conjecture, there’ll be empirical bases for conclusions later on, and that’s going to limit such fields as philosophy quite a bit, and religion. It’s going to be a little bit rough on these people.
The four clusters so far described Comprise the core of our sample and include slightly over a third of its members. We take these clusters, and the common attitudes that generated them, then, to lie at the heart of our problem. Arranging the clusters in terms of the social attitudes they represent, one can order them, moving from left to right, as follows: societal, adolescent, eclectic, and conventional.
One very unsettling point emerges from this classification. There are no more science students in our left field. Our method identifies and groups together youngsters who share a noble and sensitive vision of themselves and their place in the universe, and who once planned to become scientists or engineers. They do not plan to do so now. They have been repelled either by what they regard as excessive limitations on their chance to respond and to take account of their own feelings, or by an equally distasteful limitation on their chance to do anything that is both original and useful. Similarly, our method also identifies and groups together youngsters who seem willing to accept, on the whole, the world they live in and who come to the usual terms with it. One group, indeed, the conventional, seems unable even to imagine any real alternatives to the values and assumptions of that world: these students defend science and scientists (even though some have left the field in response to various comparatively disorganized feelings of personal dissatisfaction with the way science works today). Others in these two clusters are going ahead as planned.
But have they such stuff as science is made of? In a sense, yes, for it will be made of what they have. Meanwhile, however, the poets and philosophers have packed up, packed it in, and left. An occasional original like Mr. Byron remains as an individual or as a member of a small cluster distinct from the core group. But we have no cluster of brilliant, creative youngsters who expect to fulfill their destiny and their inner vision within science. There are many such youngsters; there are enough just at Stanford to lead an immodest visitor to wonder whether he may not have died and passed on to his reward without noticing it. Science and engineering, though, do not hold them.
By way of contrast, we do have a small, five-man cluster composed entirely of highly successful, continuing Ohio State science and engineering students, which in its card choices and comments, treats science as would a group of comfortable “old pros.” Its members see Card 17—”dull, routine”—simply as trivial, leaving it in the middle of the distribution; and like most of the controls, they vigorously reject 23 and 25, which deal with the deleterious effects of scientific training and method. But they never seem defensive in the quality of their responses. As one subject said: “I do not feel that science is against religion or religion is against science. I feel that they are perfectly compatible. . . . I think that the scientist and the theologians are coming closer together in their attitudes in working together, and I think that in the future this controversy will die out.” To this cluster, both science and religion are against sin and ignorance, and, therefore, are bound to triumph; they are quite intelligent enough to be able to agree afterward on a satisfactory division of their proper spheres of influence.
These are nice guys (one of them is a nice girl) and, as they say, “no sweat.” They are committed, though not dedicated, to science or engineering, and they will make good, solid, contributions that will get bigger and better as they learn their way around. They are conventional—their cluster lies closer to the conventional cluster than to any other—in their own way, but they are not twitchy. They’ll do just fine. In the idiom of fifty years ago, one might have said of them that they would never set the world on fire. Today—well, these are the kind of competent young men and women who get their job done.8
The “old pros” are more mature and better adjusted than the adolescents. But it seems to me that this means merely that as late adolescents continue to grow up in the United States they find life easier, and are granted more opportunities with fewer conflicts, if the “old pro” values are the ones that come naturally to them. They are more mature in the sense that they are more like successful adults already, and therefore less threatening. But they are not more mature in the sense of being more nearly ready to bear the rich harvest of which the human species, under favorable conditions, is capable.
I am not enough of a nationalist to wish to keep in science the ardent and promising youngsters who leave it, nor even convinced that it would be in the national interest, whatever that may be, to do so. But it does seem to me that the experiences that drive them out have far less to do with science as either a method or an epistemological system than they do with science as a social institution. Those of our best subjects who left did so because of the way scientists are taught and the way they are used; not because of what science essentially is. After all, it is our respondents who believe that science deals with deep and fundamental issues of being, who are correct. But undergraduates do not get much chance to get down to fundamentals.
It would seem that the sensible way for a nation to retain such youngsters as future scientists and engineers would be to try to improve the way they are taught and to modify the opportunities open to them in their later employment so as to provide a legitimate expectation of personal autonomy in work. But this is not the way our culture is actually going about it. Instead, subject after subject in our study complains that the way the high school led him into science confused him and made it much harder for him to see just how his career choice was going to affect his life and his image of himself. From an adolescent, considering what it is he has to do to grow up, this is a very serious charge against secondary education.
Mr. Perry, the first subject quoted in this article, and an ex-engineering member of the adolescent cluster in excellent standing, is rather sardonic about his high-school experience:
Perry: Well, I think it’s just because all through my high school that we had sort of the idea that the, you know, the engineer was the person that was—actually, it was just a bunch of propaganda—that the engineer was the person who was going to be successful . . . which I fully believe now is entirely a fallacy. . . . I don’t—nobody actually told me this, but it just seemed to be the general consensus of opinion . . . that if you were a boy and did well in math and had a natural adaption [sic] for mechanical drawing, well, that “you just come over here and be in engineering.” . . . [Then, in college] I just began to think, well now, if doing twenty calculus problems every night, that it’s just sort of busy work, really, and, well, I just didn’t like it at all. I began to think “Well, now, is this what I’m preparing for?” and if I’m going to be using this after I graduate, I don’t even want to be using it after I graduate. And so, if I’m not going to use it, why am I doing it now?
Mr. Hughes, at the opening of his interview, in response to the “Is there anything that has been left out that you would care to add” probe of the interviewer, stated flatly:
Hughes: Now, my decision was made on the grounds that I didn’t want to be an engineer—that I wasn’t an engineer—and my reasons for being in engineering lie, inherently, in the California state public school system,9 is being that for the person of above average ability and interest there are only two outlets in the curricula of the California high schools which allow for any expansion, any room to vent any extra ability and interest—and these are the math and physical science fields. . . . And my last two years in high school were spent preparing for an engineering career. Everyone said, “You’ll make a great engineer!” . . . It’s a very easy process. . . . Now, in our graduating class, we had 77 people, and of the about 30 boys in that class that went through the last two years with me in math and science classes—same group went all the way through—there are two left in engineering. . . . But so many go in; it’s easy, it’s nice, “Oh, you’re going to be an engineer, scientist!”
Of course, sometimes the process works, and when it does, the experience may take the form described by Mr. Valcic, esteemed at Ohio State as one of its best young chemical engineers. Explaining his career choice, he says:
Valcic: Well, in high school, I took an examination with an employment bureau in which our skills were investigated. I was told that I had the ability and understanding of knowledge to do just about anything. And so, well, I had been interested in the scientific field, engineering and so on. I took a scholarship test and received a scholarship to go into chemical engineering. Well, since I’m in it, and I am having all my education paid for, it would be somewhat foolish to go out of engineering, considering that I have the ability to understand engineering as such; and to me, it doesn’t make too much difference in what field I actually make my living. Personally, if I hadn’t gotten this scholarship, I would have gone into agriculture. Not to have come to college and studied, but just started farming. Try to run farming as a business rather than just a way of life.
Mr. Valcic, I think, may be allowed to have the last word. It figures.
1 Both these institutions most generously provided us with every resource we requested, though neither was a party to our research contract or received any compensation whatever for what they gave us. I mention this simply as evidence that the academic community is still as much a reality as the more conspicuous academic market place.
2 Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraux, however, in their milestone study of the “Image of the Scientists Among High School Students” (Science, 126, August 30, 1957) found the “mad-scientist” image one of the most widespread and influential components of the students' image of the scientist.
3 Readers familiar with research methodology in the behavioral sciences will recognize what is described here as an application of William Stephenson's Q-technic. See The Study of Behavior (University of Chicago Press, 1953).
4 Card 1, which has not yet been quoted, reads simply: “Scientists make too little money in the course of a lifetime, compared to people in other professions, to justify the costs of getting a doctor's degree.” It is the most general of the money cards; and also the most generally rejected by all subjects. For convenience in analyzing, cards dealing with related issues were numbered consecutively, but were presented in random order.
5 Two members of the twelve-person adolescent cluster are also grouped, through other portions of their card-choice pattern, into the central eclectric cluster; but no member of the societal cluster is.
6 Three members overlap—a smaller proportion in this case—and the cluster represents an exaggeration of some of the characteristics of eclectic cluster in a comparable way. This cluster also includes former science students or engineers and controls. Its members are drawn from all three schools.
7 Two of these, however, recent arrivals from Northern Europe—one is returning to Norway as soon as he has finished his degree—thus have less reason to be concerned with subtler aspects of the American way of life.
8 C. P. Snow's Minister of Production, Thomas Bevill, is a little blunter about them. “‘It's funny about those chaps,’ he reflected, ‘I used to think scientists were supermen. But they're not supermen, are they? Some of them are brilliant, I grant you that. But between you and me, Eliot, a good many of them are like garage hands. Those are the chaps who are going to blow us all up.’” The New Men, pp. 67—68.
9 Technically, Mr. Hughes should have referred to the Monterey County School System; California schools are not organized into a state system.