Monday, January 17, 2011

50th Anniversary of Dwight Eisenhower's Farewell Address

When I was 9 years old in Kansas City, I remember President Eisenhower giving his farewell address on our old static-filled black and white TV. Something about it resonated, but, being 9, I had no idea how profound his words were.

He began his address (full text here) by thanking the networks for allowing him to make the address live. He also talked about conflicts and the tug of war between the public and private sectors.  Then he said,

But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise.
Of these, I mention two only.

Two things he thought were important enough to focus the nation’s attention.

Ever since Eisenhower made the address, this part has been widely quoted:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

The phrase "military-industrial complex" entered the American lexicon almost immediately. And, he was right: The revolving door of military officers into defense companies has been a real problem with people actually ending up in jail for putting their interests above those of the nation's. One could argue the recent acquisition of unnecessary "nude machines" by the TSA (their manufacturer, Rapiscan, was/is represented by the former head of the TSA) represents exactly what the President warned of. 

But, it is the second warning, virtually ignored for nearly five decades, that has proven, at least to me, to be the more interesting:

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

This warning epitomizes the problem with the pro-global global warming cadre. The National Science Foundation leadership is pro-GW and even atmospheric scientists who do research in areas unrelated to global warming fear they will lose their funding if they express their doubts about global warming. 

A number of universities have built – largely with federal funds – multidisciplinary “centers” for studies of global warming and related topics. Once the buildings are built and people hired, where is the institutional incentive to disprove global warming? Disprove global warming and all this money goes away.

In honest science, we have to be unbiased and go where the data leads. But today, just as Eisenhower said,  
a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.

Bingo! The federal scientific establishment rewards pro-GW findings and those scientists get more contracts. Dollars flow into universities for more bricks and mortar and more scientists get hired. 

In true science, people diligently work to disprove a hypothesis. In mathematics, those that disprove theories receive as much or more acclaim than those who come up with the original hypothesis. Among U.S. government-funded global warming researchers, “skeptics” are nearly non-existent and when they emerge they are often shunned.

Consider this quote last week from the National Center for Atmospheric Research's (funded by NSF) Kevin Trenberth:

Given that global warming is “unequivocal”, to quote the 2007 IPCC report, the null hypothesis should now be reversed, thereby placing the burden of proof on showing that there is no human influence.

"Unequivocal" -- a non-scientific term (like "consensus") if there ever was one. His suggestion to reverse the burden of proof is a mockery of the scientific method. This form of advocacy is what seems to pass as climate 'science' in the last decade among many federally-funded researchers. 

Let me clearly state: It is entirely possible that global warming is a major problem. I believe we will know in another two to four years. And, if that determination is made, it will be because the data and science lead us there, not political advocacy.

I believe the giant dollars surrounding global warming research, which are by far the biggest inflow of money ever in atmospheric science, have corrupted the integrity of the science I love. I dislike writing about it but do so out of a sense of obligation so blog readers can make sense of what they read in the media on this topic. 

President Eisenhower passed away in 1969. On this the 50th anniversary of Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell, we should take a moment to appreciate this extraordinarily wise Kansan who both saved the world from the Nazis and then served with distinction in our nation's highest office.  


  1. Mike, I forgot this anniversary. I am amazed at Ike prescience concerning both the military and scientific industrial complex. Think I'm gonna have to post this on my FB page and blog.

  2. He might have served with distinction but Ike also sent military advisers into Vietnam, preciptating the horrendous U.S. military involvement in that country in which we had NO BUSINESS AT ALL being there in the first place. Ike was contemptuous of Atheists and apathetic at best when it came to enforcing equal rights for black people. Don't paint Ike with such a rosy, patriotic stroke. The man was fallible and was no angel.

  3. Aha! Didn't take long for the usual ad hominem attack. It was not Eisenhower, but the Kennedy and Johnson administrations that screwed up the Vietnam War--under them, major strikes had to be run back to the top. By the time permission got back, it was usually too late. There was someone in a high position who was passing information to the Viet Cong. Someone of the Left. And the Leftist darling Jack Kennedy was practically a satyr, so don't be pointing fingers at Ike.

  4. No, and this isn't an ad hominem attack. Study your history! Eisenhower was the first American president to send American military advisors to Vietnam! That is the start of the Vietnam conflict as far as United States military involvement in Vietnam. Kennedy and Johnson did expand the conflict, Kennedy by sending more military advisors and Johnson sending in actual troops. But it was IKE who got the ball rolling.

  5. Folks, I will not delete these, but comments are supposed to be about the posting. JFK, etc., have nothing to do with the post.

    You are welcome to comment about Eisenhower's address or his public service if you wish to continue commenting on this posting. Other comments off-topic will be deleted.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.