Chapter XXV.



If the remedy were interesting, American pioneers like Charles McCarthy, Robert Valentine, and Frederick W. Taylor would not have had to fight so hard for a hearing. But it is clear why they had to fight, and why bureaus of governmental research, industrial audits, budgeting and the like are the ugly ducklings of reform. They reverse the process by which interesting public opinions are built up. Instead of presenting a casual fact, a large screen of stereotypes, and a dramatic identification, they break down the drama, break through the stereotypes, and offer men a picture of facts, which is unfamiliar and to them impersonal. When this is not painful, it is dull, and those to whom it is painful, the trading politician and the partisan who has much to conceal, often exploit the dullness that the public feels, in order to remove the pain that they feel.


Yet every complicated community has sought the assistance of special men, of augurs, priests, elders. Our own democracy, based though it was on a theory of universal competence, sought lawyers to manage its government, and to help manage its industry. It was recognized that the specially trained man was in some dim way oriented to a wider system of truth than that which arises spontaneously in the amateur's mind. But experience has shown that the traditional lawyer's equipment was not enough assistance. The Great Society had grown furiously and to colossal dimensions by the application of technical knowledge. It was made by engineers who had learned to use exact measurements and quantitative analysis. It could not be governed, men began to discover, by men who thought deductively about rights and wrongs. It could be brought under human control only by the technic which had created it. Gradually, then, the more enlightened directing minds have called in experts who were trained, or had trained themselves, to make parts of this Great Society intelligible to those who manage it. These men are known by all kinds of names, as statisticians, accountants, auditors, industrial counsellors, engineers of many species, scientific managers, personnel administrators, research men, "scientists," and sometimes just as plain private secretaries. They have brought with them each a jargon of his own, as well as filing cabinets, card catalogues, graphs, loose-leaf contraptions, and above all the perfectly sound ideal of an executive who sits before a flat-top desk, one sheet of typewritten paper before him, and decides on matters of policy presented in a form ready for his rejection or approval.

This whole development has been the work, not so much of a spontaneous creative evolution, as of blind natural selection. The statesman, the executive, the party leader, the head of a voluntary association, found that if he had to discuss two dozen different subjects in the course of the day, somebody would have to coach him. He began to clamor for memoranda. He found he could not read his mail. He demanded somebody who would blue-pencil the interesting sentences in the important letters. He found he could not digest the great stacks of type-written reports that grew mellow on his desk. He demanded summaries. He found he could not read an unending series of figures. He embraced the man who made colored pictures of them. He found that he really did not know one machine from another. He hired engineers to pick them, and tell him how much they cost and what they could do. He peeled off one burden after another, as a man will take off first his hat, then his coat, then his collar, when he is struggling to move an unwieldy load.


Yet curiously enough, though he knew that he needed help, he was slow to call in the social scientist. The chemist, the physicist, the geologist, had a much earlier and more friendly reception. Laboratories were set up for them, inducements offered, for there was quick appreciation of the victories over nature. But the scientist who has human nature as his problem is in a different case. There are many reasons for this: the chief one, that he has so few victories to exhibit. He has so few, because unless he deals with the historic past, he cannot prove his theories before offering them to the public. The physical scientist can make an hypothesis, test it, revise the hypothesis hundreds of times, and, if after all that, he is wrong, no one else has to pay the price. But the social scientist cannot begin to offer the assurance of a laboratory test, and if his advice is followed, and he is wrong, the consequences may be incalculable. He is in the nature of things far more responsible, and far less certain.

But more than that. In the laboratory sciences the student has conquered the dilemma of thought and action. He brings a sample of the action to a quiet place, where it can be repeated at will, and examined at leisure. But the social scientist is constantly being impaled on a dilemma. If he stays in his library, where he has the leisure to think, he has to rely upon the exceedingly casual and meager printed record that comes to him through official reports, newspapers, and interviews. If he goes out into "the world" where things are happening, he has to serve a long, often wasteful, apprenticeship, before he is admitted to the sanctum where they are being decided. What he cannot do is to dip into action and out again whenever it suits him. There are no privileged listeners. The man of affairs, observing that the social scientist knows only from the outside what he knows, in part at least, from the inside, recognizing that the social scientist's hypothesis is not in the nature of things susceptible of laboratory proof, and that verification is possible only in the "real" world, has developed a rather low opinion of social scientists who do not share his views of public policy.

In his heart of hearts the social scientist shares this estimate of himself. He has little inner certainty about his own work. He only half believes in it, and being sure of nothing, he can find no compelling reason for insisting on his own freedom of thought. What can he actually claim for it, in the light of his own conscience? (1) His data are uncertain, his means of verification lacking. The very best qualities in him are a source of frustration. For if he is really critical and saturated in the scientific spirit, he cannot be doctrinaire, and go to Armageddon against the trustees and the students and the Civic Federation and the conservative press for a theory of which he is not sure. If you are going to Armageddon, you have to battle for the Lord, but the political scientist is always a little doubtful whether the Lord called him.

Consequently if so much of social science is apologetic rather than constructive, the explanation lies in the opportunities of social science, not in "capitalism." The physical scientists achieved their freedom from clericalism by working out a method that produced conclusions of a sort that could not be suppressed or ignored. They convinced themselves and acquired dignity, and knew what they were fighting for. The social scientist will acquire his dignity and his strength when he has worked out his method. He will do that by turning into opportunity the need among directing men of the Great Society for instruments of analysis by which an invisible and made intelligible.

But as things go now, the social scientist assembles his data out of a mass of unrelated material. Social processes are recorded spasmodically, quite often as accidents of administration. A report to Congress, a debate, an investigation, legal briefs, a census, a tariff, a tax schedule; the material, like the skull of the Piltdown man, has to be put together by ingenious inference before the student obtains any sort of picture of the event he is studying. Though it deals with the conscious life of his fellow citizens, it is all too often distressingly opaque, because the man who is trying to generalize has practically no supervision of the way his data are collected. Imagine medical research conducted by students who could rarely go into a hospital, were deprived of animal experiment, and compelled to draw conclusions from the stories of people who had been ill, the reports of nurses, each of whom had her own system of diagnosis, and the statistics compiled by the Bureau of Internal Revenue on the excess profits of druggists. The social scientist has usually to make what he can out of categories that were uncritically in the mind of an official who administered some part of a law, or who was out to justify, to persuade, to claim, or to prove. The student knows this, and, as a protection against it, has developed that branch of scholarship which is an elaborated suspicion about where to discount his information.

That is a virtue, but it becomes a very thin virtue when it is merely a corrective for the unwholesome position of social science. For the scholar is condemned to guess as shrewdly as he can why in a situation not clearly understood something or other may have happened. But the expert who is employed as the mediator among representatives, and as the mirror and measure of administration, has a very different control of the facts. Instead of being the man who generalizes from the facts dropped to him by the men of action, he becomes the man who prepares the facts for the men of action. This is a profound change in his strategic position. He no longer stands outside, chewing the cud provided by busy men of affairs, but he takes his place in front of decision instead of behind it. To-day the sequence is that the man of affairs finds his facts, and decides on the basis of them; then, some time later, the social scientist deduces excellent reasons why he did or did not decide wisely. This ex post facto relationship is academic in the bad sense of that fine word. The real sequence should be one where the disinterested expert first finds and formulates the facts for the man of action, and later makes what wisdom he can out of comparison between the decision, which he understands, and the facts, which he organized.


For the physical sciences this change in strategic position began slowly, and then accelerated rapidly. There was a time when the inventor and the engineer were romantic half-starved outsiders, treated as cranks. The business man and the artisan knew all the mysteries of their craft. Then the mysteries grew more mysterious, and at last industry began to depend upon physical laws and chemical combinations that no eye could see, and only a trained mind could conceive. The scientist moved from his noble garret in the Latin Quarter into office buildings and laboratories. For he alone could construct a working image of the reality on which industry rested. From the new relationship he took as much as he gave, perhaps more: pure science developed faster than applied, though it drew its economic support, a great deal of its inspiration, and even more of its relevancy, from constant contact with practical decision. But physical science still labored under the enormous limitation that the men who made decisions had only their commonsense to guide them. They administered without scientific aid a world complicated by scientists. Again they had to deal with facts they could not apprehend, and as once they had to call in engineers, they now have to call in statisticians, accountants, experts of all sorts.

These practical students are the true pioneers of a new social science. They are "in mesh with the driving wheels"(2) and from this practical engagement of science and action, both will benefit radically: action by the clarification of its beliefs; beliefs by a continuing test in action. We are in the earliest beginnings. But if it is conceded that all large forms of human association must, because of sheer practical difficulty, contain men who will come to see the need for an expert reporting of their particular environment, then the imagination has a premise on which to work. In the exchange of technic and result among expert staffs, one can see, I think, the beginning of experimental method in social science. When each school district and budget, and health department, and factory, and tariff schedule, is the material of knowledge for every other, the number of comparable experiences begins to approach the dimensions of genuine experiment. In forty-eight states, and 2400 cities, and 277,000 school houses, 270,000 manufacturing establishments, 27,000 mines and quarries, there is a wealth of experience, if only it were recorded and available. And there is, too, opportunity for trial and error at such slight risk that any reasonable hypothesis might be given a fair test without shaking the foundations of society.

The wedge has been driven, not only by some directors of industry and some statesmen who had to have help, but by the bureaus of municipal research,(3) the legislative reference libraries, the specialized lobbies of corporations and trade unions and public causes, and by voluntary organizations like the League of Women Voters, the Consumers' League, the Manufacturers' Associations: by hundreds of trade associations, and citizens' unions; by publications like the Searchlight on Congress and the Survey; and by foundations like the General Education Board. Not all by any means are disinterested. That is not the point. All of them do begin to demonstrate the need for interposing some form of expertness between the private citizen and the vast environment in which he is entangled.

1. Cf. Charles E. Merriam, The Present State of the Study of Politics, American Political Science Review, Vol. XV. No. 2, May, 1921.
2. Cf. The Address of the President of the American Philosophical Association, Mr. Ralph Barton Perry, Dec. 28, 1920. Published in the Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual Meeting.
3. The number of these organizations in the United States is very great. Some are alive, some half dead. They are in rapid flux. Lists of them supplied to me by Dr. L. D. Upson of the Detroit Bureau of Governmental Research, Miss Rebecca B. Rankin of the Municipal Reference Library of New York City, Mr. Edward A. Fitzpatrick, Secretary of the State Board of Education (Wisconsin), Mr. Savel Zimand of the Bureau of Industrial Research (New York City), run into the hundreds.