The New Authoritarianism

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Professor Lancelot Hogben
Professor Lancelot Hogben (1895 – 1975)
Professor Francis Albert Eley Crew
Professor Francis Albert Eley Crew (1886 – 1973)
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at Conway Hall 22 March 1949. Chaired by Professor F A E Crew and presented by Professor Lancelot Hogben.

There is an ongoing conflict between authority and intellectual initiative. In Britain and the U.S.A., intellectual freedom is not threatened by any authority external to science. Rather, the threat comes from within science itself. Scientific projects have become very large-scale, and therefore authoritarian, because they exert remote control over the individual worker. This authoritarianism can be reduced by the growth of a more accommodating attitude to the viewpoint of the individual worker; and by the actual reduction in the size of the project.

The problem of size is compounded by that of the sheer growth of specialised knowledge in the 20th century. This means that the individual worker has to take a good deal on trust, because inadequately equipped to question received ideas. What is needed is a radical improvement in the system of general education, to narrow the gap between general and specialist scientific knowledge.

A further difficulty is that large-scale enterprises require enormous funding. Funders demand immediate results: a demand often incompatible with painstaking and thorough research. The answer to this is a more mature public attitude toward science. This can result from, again, a better education system.

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