THE PROBLEM OF SCIENTIFIC SURPRISE

Created: 9/1/1961

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Progress report on efforts to pin down an elusive estimative

THE PROBLEM OF SCIENTIFIC SURPRISE James G. Otttnioc

Unforeseen Soviet achievements In science andshown In recent years that.'means ahould;be;..

whereby intelligence estimates can better antlclpaU! theof Soviet research and development, forestallingand technological surprise and providing lead time for our own research and developmentrecision orin the prediction of Soviet advances can of course not be expected, but It may be possible to develop methods of using the Information we do obtain on current Soviet scientificto gain some Insight Into the likelihood oferies of studies aimed at developing such methods,earch for Indicators, trends, andthat might make It possible to foresee at least certain kinds of scientific and technological innovations with some measure of accuracy and reliability, was begun.

Three approaches to the problem have beenthrough Identification of promising frontier areas andtrends In worldwide scientific research: one through the analysis of environmental and sociological factors In pastachievements first of Western science and then of Soviet science: and one through analysis of projected Soviet research programs. The results of these studies to date point Lo amethodology for Improving upon estimates of what will and what will not be achieved within the next two decades In many fields of science and technology: but the attempt to find methods for predicting where and by whom discoveries will be made has been much less successful

The findings of the studies made along these threeare given Individually below.

Frontier Areas and Trends Worldwide

The best source for Identifying promising frontier areas,objectives, and prominent trends in the world of scl-

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price is the judgment and speculation of leading scientists themselves. For this study, therefore, authoritative andprojections and forecasts by scientists as to trends and future possibilities were collected from world scientificin all basic fields. Annual reports and general survey or review articles were found to be richest In such material. The published judgments thus assembled were supplementedurvey by Interview of the views of somecientific leaders In the United States.

composite of .epjnion served to identify-not; aber of generalaVtfaat towardatization and theoretical explanation of phenomena In all sciences and that toward interdisciplinaryalso the major problems, goals, and speculations In manysubflelds of the basic physical and biological sciences, subjects such as gravitation, anti-matter, plasmas, computers, non-linearchemical theory, fast reactions, climate control,biology, control over heredity and growth, brainand environmental research. Many of the ideas that were speculative7 are being realized in research today. It Is one thing, however, to state research goalsield and anticipate advances, quite another to specify when the goals will be reached or by whom the advances made.for example, scientists of all countries areatisfactory theory of elementary, particles and believe anot far away, It may be in' the United States, in the' USSR, or In some other nation that It is first achieved.

Sometimes it may be possible toink between the likelihood of future scientific achievement in general and the prospects for Soviet science in particular when specific Soviet research objectives are known or can be surmised. Plans to build certain kinds of scientific facilities orinstallations or instruments may both Indicateand help define capabilities for reaching them: us.can estimate, for example, what can and what cannot be achieved by such-and-such Soviet accelerators. The Soviets anticipated5 that their accelerator research mightin tbe discovery of theiscovery which they Indeed, as well as the West, were able to announcehese considerations, however, bring us to our third ap-

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proach, the study of projected Soviet research programs, which will be discussed later.

A negative outlook for scientific advance, the unlikelihood of achievement, can also, when identified, at least narrow the field for the prognostics tor. The development of an "anti-gravityor example, is pretty well ruled out on theoretical grounds. As mathematically puthysicist. "Gravity change has only one sign. This immediately negates the possibilityhield for gravitationo the hand,ts^bborn adherence to questionable^thenry may itseuegative outlook for achievement: the longand strong influence of the Lysenko-Mlchurln theory of genetics has been considered by many Westernufficient basis for expecting few Important results from Sovietegative Influence Is also exerted by the lack of adequate research equipment oroptical and radio telescopes, electron microscopes, specialized computers, space vehicles, oceanographlc ships,If we have reliable information about these weasis forwhat cannot be achievedountry. The Soviet lack of digital computers may have retarded work In some secondary fields of research.

Another Indicator of the likelihood of important scientific advanceajor data collection effortarticular field; observational discoveries, new theories, and practicalare likely to follow. For example, the Intensive IGYprogram for space data led to our discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt and that for oceanographlc data to thediscovery of the Lomonosov range under the Arctic The extensive Soviet efforts to collect climate-logical data could bring important advances In the understanding of climate change and Its control.

Environmental Factors

The environmental or sociological approach to afor predicting scientific advances began as an academic study of the recent history and sociology ofase histories of major advances in four areas of Western science

- a '- tokldmore't "Tbe Symptoms of Brim titleStudies IV..

Surprise

were analyzed In an attempt to identify influences withinenvironment that might have been decisive Inthem. It was concluded that many scientifichave certain characteristics In common: they areresult, among other things, from new techniques.and methods of research, from the Interactionof other fields of knowledge, and from theeffortsroup of young but experiencedThe sociological circumstances conducive to rthowever,.aeem^tc.defy complete

.creativliy Is affectedumber of elusive factors,

Includingeflnable "state of theocial andprejudices and fads, the practical needs of the times, and other motivations, quirks, and Intuitions within the mind of the scientist.

A similar study of environmental factors was attempted for Soviet scientific advances; but so little data was available on the circumstances of specific Soviet discoveries and even on the general Soviet research environment that it wasThe group making this study concluded, on the basis of the existing literature about creativity, that "that which is common among creative men does not appear In personality pattern, media used, products produced orhere Is nothing which lends support to the view that Inventions can behey saw no prospect of foreseeing Soviet scientific discoveries even If Information on Soviet research were abundantly available.

Projected Soviet Programs

The environmental approachtudy of Soviet science having thus been abandoned, the empirical relationshippublished Soviet directives for research or projectedotherwise revealed and corresponding announced achievements was explored. In many Instances, for example In the development of certain nuclear reactors, accelerators, computers, and satellites, the Soviet Intention to score an achievement had been made known In advance: but nocorrelation between this rather obvious basis forand ensuing successes had ever been attempted Statements in the Soviet literature about projected research, whether official directives or Indirect references, were there- j

fore collected for ten years back in four Importantpolymer chemistry, nuclear physics, semiconductor physics, andclaimed achievements were checked against the planned program as thus pieced together.

As expected, the mam difficulty in this study arose from the fragmentary picture of Soviet research formed byofficial and semi-official statements about researchand activities; In many fields these statements are In-I opcrmlttivet was not possible to arrive at statisticalmuch less validated rules for prediction, but some generalisations could be made. The data strongly suggested that Soviet directives and statements of research Intentions and Interestsseful basis for anticipating specificactivities and resulting achievements. In fields in which the Soviets are belilnd the West and where the trends and objectives of research are clearly evident, the results can be foreseen with some confidence. In frontier areas that are undergoing very rapid and revolutionary change, however, it would be difficult to say mucb more than that the Soviets are likely to make original discoveries of some kind or other in directions in which theyapability and havetrong interest There seems to be no reason, at any rate, not lo credit or even to discount stated Soviet Intentions, at least in the fields covered by this study: Soviet scientific achievements appear to follow closely their research plans.

Furthermore, there were no significant Instances ofaccomplishments which were not preceded by the disclosure of research programs. Because the data for this study cannot be assumed to have been complete. It cannot be asserted that Soviet accomplishments are Invariably preceded by the disclosure of projected research: but the weight ofIn the case studies indicated that it would not be the usual Soviet practice to embarkesearch programpublished announcement. The prediction of Sovietin science seems therefore to rest most heavily onstudy of Soviet research programs and statements of Intent.

Course for the Future

The developmentredictive capability with respect to Soviet science and technology can best proceed. It thenalong the following lines: Continued Identification of tbe most challenging andscientific problem areas according to the Judgment of leading scientists. Detailed and systematic reconstruction and evaluation of the Soviet research program, with special attention to

of Soviet capabilities and limitations for experimental and theoretical research. Identification of the most promising Soviet creativeespecially young men, and their research Interests and special capabilities.

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