It was hoped that the conference on the weekend 18-20 April would be the first to be held in spring-like weather after an unusually prolonged winter. But there was still only a thin scattering of daffodils in the field running down to the lake and there was only a hint of spring on the Sunday. The subject on that weekend was 'How should planning and resource allocation be managed in the fields of science and technology?' Sir John Kingman, Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University and former Chairman of the Science and Engineering Research Council, took the chair. The British participation was strong in numbers and width of experience, but the US participation was less so. Some important participants from European partner countries dropped out at the last moment. In the end there was one visitor each from Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway and the Commission of the European Communities. This, in Ditchley terms, somewhat unbalanced composition did not affect the quality of the conference unduly. The discussions were substantial and illuminating, and the atmosphere was convivial. The chairman reminded everyone that scientists enjoy science: it was obvious that they also enjoyed talking about it at a weekend in the country.
To a non-scientist, the most surprising aspect of the debates was the laager mentality which seemed to prevail among the scientists. Funds had been copiously available for science in the post-war period up to the mid-70's, and university science departments and scientific research bodies had expanded at an exponential rate. Since the oil-price shocks of the 70's, rapid economic growth had ceased, the funds available for science had levelled out and the pressures of inflation and rising costs had intensified the squeeze. There was a tendency among the scientists to see science as being in danger, There were apocalyptic warnings of impending collapse in Britain, which were not palliated by comments from across the Atlantic that, if the conference had been held in the US, it would have been inundated by gloomy prognostications from the US science community.
It was agreed that there were two separate questions - were enough funds being devoted to basic science? and was the scientific community managing satisfactorily the funds which it had? No answer was found to the first question: the scientists could not refrain from asking for more but found it difficult to make the case that they did not have enough. Everyone agreed that science had become the instrument of human evolution and the means by which mankind confronted its environment and the problem of life (a function which in earlier centuries used to belong largely to the churches), but no one could say how big it should be or who could or should delimit it and the establishment which served it. As regards the quality of management, it was agreed that scientists themselves needed to become more critical of their own weaker brethren; but only pious hopes were expressed that some way would be found of instituting a weeding process so that the allocation of funds would be more related to the actual achievement of excellence than to the claim to have it by historic right.
It was generally accepted that basic science was best left to the universities, although it was noted that more participation from non-English speaking countries might have led to a different assumption. The relationship between research and teaching at universities (teaching being the activity in which the tax-paying public was chiefly interested) was not seriously tackled, although it emerged towards the end that the scientists might be more successful in getting what they wanted by concentrating on increasing the numbers of pupils receiving a scientific education in schools and universities. If science faculties grew, greater funds for research would probably have to follow. It appeared that the state of science teaching in schools was the subject which all present would most like to see Ditchley tackle at a future conference.
Just as plurality of science centres was regarded as the best guarantee of quality, so plurality of funding was much commended. The British bemoaned the inflexibilities induced into British science by dependence on central government funding through research councils and expressed envy of the funds available to science from industry in the United States. They were reminded that they could do much for themselves if they could develop their own managerial skills, and the participants from France, Sweden, Norway and Australia described alternative, and in some respects better, ways of managing the relationship between science and government.
The discussions on technology transfer from the laboratory to the production line were detailed and thorough. Development was a matter for industry, but industry must get to know the universities better and the universities should be prepared to interest themselves in some strategic research for industry as well as devoting themselves to pursuing the grail of basic research. Too much R & D in the defence sector tended to be one of the conference’s shibboleths, but those who could speak for defence science and technology managed to argue fairly convincingly that shortcomings in normal, civilian science were not their fault, although they did admit to diverting valuable talent. Venture capital was not found to be lacking, but the data base on which British venture capital worked was inferior to that on which US venture capital worked. The answer here, as in relations with government and industry, was greater communication, interchange and joint study of every kind.
There was not much discussion of international cooperation in scientific ventures. Open frontiers and free circulation of literature provided science with its international scope. International collaboration was needed in big, capital-intensive science and the major problem here was to protect scientific budgets from the sharp fluctuations of exchange rates, etc. This was a problem which governments, not scientists, had to address.
The conference seemed unable to prevent itself being cheerful and even optimistic in spite of the pessimistic notes which kept on being struck round the table. Scientists like being scientists and, as is usual with professionals, do not want to have to be managers. But on the evidence of this conference they are moving steadily in that direction and will no doubt find that it has its compensations.
This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.
Conference Chairman: Sir John Kingman FRS
Vice-Chancellor, University of Bristol; Vice Chairman, Parliamentary and Scientific Committee; Member, Council, British Technology Group
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Professor Don Aitkin
Chairman of the Board, Institute of Advanced Studies, Australian National University; Chairman, Australian Research Grants Committee; Member, Science and Technology Council
Professor John Ashworth
Vice-Chancellor, University of Salford; Chairman, Information Technology Economic Development Committee (EDC), and Member, Electronics EDC, National Economic Development Office; a Member, Programmes Committee, the Ditchley Foundation
Professor Ian Butterworth CBE FRS
Professor of Physics, Imperial College of Science and Technology, on leave of absence as Research Director, European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), Geneva; Member, Science and Engineering Research Council.
Sir Charles Carter FBA
Chairman, Research Committee, Policy Studies Institute; Editor, Policy Studies.
Dr Ronald Coleman FRSC
Government Chemist; Visiting Professor, Kingston Polytechnic
Mr David Fishlock
Science Editor, Financial Times
Dr Kenneth Gray
Director of Research and Technology, Thorn EMI pic
Mr Ian Harvey
Chief Executive, British Technology Group
Mr Nigel Hughes
Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser, Ministry of Defence
Mr Andrew Kurzfeld
Private Secretary to the Chairman of the Science and Engineering Research Council
Mr John Maddox
Writer and broadcaster; Editor, Nature
Sir John Mason CB FRS
Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Surrey; Vice President and Treasurer, Royal Society; Director, Royal Society Programme on Acidification of Surface Water; Member, Advisory Board for Research Councils
Mr Richard Morris
Chairman and Managing Director, Brown and Root (UK) Ltd; Director, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd; Visiting Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Strathclyde; Pro-Chancellor, Loughborough University; Member, Advisory Board for Research Councils
Dr Charles Reece
Research and Technology Director, Imperial Chemical Industries pic (ICI); Member of Councils of Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development, Science and Engineering Research Council, Royal Society of Chemistry; Member of Council and of General Committee and Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, Royal Institution of Great Britain
Professor Martin Rees FRS
Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy, Cambridge University; Fellow, King’s College, Cambridge; Regents Fellow of Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Member, Council, Royal Society.
Mr G W Robinson
Technical Director, IBM United Kingdom Ltd
Sir Trevor Skeet MP
(Conservative), Bedfordshire North; Barrister, Writer and Consultant; Co-Chairman, All-Party Committee on Minerals; Member, Technical Legislation r Committee, Confederation of British Industry
Mr Lawrence Tindale CBE
Deputy Chairman, Investors in Industry Group pic; Member, British Technology Group
Dr John Turney
Research Adviser in the Secretariat of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils, Department of Education and Science; formerly Science Correspondent, The Times Higher Educational Supplement
Mr George Walden CMG MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science; Member of Parliament (Conservative), Buckingham
Dr William Cochrane
President and Chief Executive Officer, Connaught Laboratories Ltd, Willowdale, Ontario; Professor of Paediatrics and Professor of Community Medicine, University of Toronto
Professor Dr Herwig Schopper
Director-General, European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), Geneva; Professor, University of Karlsruhe and Director, Institute of Nuclear Physics, Nuclear Physics Centre, Karlsruhe
Dr Hywel Davies FIEE
Deputy Director-General for Science, Research and Development, Commission of the European Communities, Brussels
Monsieur Jean-François Vinson
Direction de la Coopération Scientifique et Technique, Ministère des Relations Extérieures, Paris
Mr Erik Klippenberg
Head of Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt)
Dr Kerstin Niblaeus
Director-General, Swedish Chemical Inspectorate (Kemikalieinspektionen)
Dr John Ahearne
Resources of the Future, Washington, DC
Dr Sherwood Fawcett
Chairman, Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio
Dr Ronald Kerber
Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Research Engineering (Research and Advanced Technology)
Ms Nancy Naismith
Program Manager for Science, Education and Transportation, Office of Technology Assessment, Congress of the United States; Program Officer, Historic Preservation, US Department of Housing and Urban Development
Dr Willis Shapley
Consultant to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Senior Author of annual AAAS reports on research and development
Dr James Wilson
Manager, Liaison and Planning Operation, Research and Development Center, General Electric Company, Schenectady, NY
Dr James Wyngaarden
Director, National Institute of Health, Bethesda, Maryland
Dr Dorothy Zinberg
Lecturer in Public Policy and Director of Seminars and Special Projects, Center for Science and International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University