Science Comes Outside the Laboratory
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 4 Apr 1957, p. 308-319
Goodeve, Sir Charles F., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The war and the things it brought forth that continue to affect our lives today. Radar; background and history. The introduction of science into war operations. Operation Research and how it has grown in Great Britain, especially since the war. Some details of Operational Research Units. The Operational Research Society in the United Kingdom, and in other countries. Technological advances in recent years, with which the development of society has not kept pace. An example. Changes in the meaning of words such as "peace" and "freedom." The bewilderment of scientists when they first come outside the laboratory. The scientific method. Science as one of the most human forms of activity. The study of social systems. Decision-taking, and some examples. Determining inefficiencies. Examples to illustrate the way that science is helping management. Tackling the problem of the control of population. The Australian Snowy Mountain Project. The use of a computer. The Canadian problem of foreign investment. The need for science in economics.
Date of Original
4 Apr 1957
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Full Text
An Address by SIR CHARLES F. GOODEVE, O.B.E., D.Sc., F.R.S. Director, The British Iron & Steel Research Association, London
Thursday, April 4, 1957;
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Donald H. Jupp, O.B.E.

MR. JUPP: We are happy to welcome as our guest speaker today a Scientist of unusual distinction and in fact a man whose name in connected with the more thrilling aspects of war in the twentieth century.

Born in Winnipeg, son of Canon Frederick Goodeve of the city, he was a lecturer in Science at the University of Manitoba at the age of 19. In 1927 he went to England and at the outbreak of war was a Reader in Physical Chemistry at University College, London.

It was in 1940 that he was appointed head of a group of a dozen or so scientists assembled by the Royal Navy in London under the innocent sounding title of the Inspectorate of Anti-Aircraft Weapons and Devices. This department was dearly loved by Churchill who called it "The Department of Wheezers and Dodgers". Thus began a fascinating story of research and invention which was destined to influence the whole of the war. The story is told in some detail in a book by Gerald Pawle entitled "The Secret War 1939-1945". In reviewing this book, Percy Rowe hazarded the opinion that with the possible; exception of Lord Beaverbrook it was Sir Charles Good

eve who did more than any other Canadian for the war effort. The Foreword to the book is by Nevil Shute, who worked under Sir Charles during the war.

It must have been quite a change to switch from magnetic mines and degaussing equipment, Oerlikon guns, rocket ships, hedgehog bombs and Mulberry Harbours to peacetime preoccupation with the iron and steel industry in Britain as Director of the British Iron & Steel Research Association.

Sir Charles has been visiting India and Australia and so has come to talk to us at the same stage of round-the-world tour as Sir Harry Pilkington did in December 1955. It is a happy coincidence that they should both be with us today.

The subject chosen by Sir Charles Goodeve for his address today is "Science Comes Outside the Laboratory".

SIR CHARLES F. GOODEVE: First of all, Mr. President, I should like to thank you for your very kind introductory remarks, and I should also like to say how pleased I am to be back again in Toronto--a city that I have had the pleasure to visit on quite a number of occasions these last fifteen or twenty years.

You have heard a reference to the war and perhaps I might start from there. The war brought forth many new things that continue to affect our lives today and one of these is the subject of my talk.

Early in the war, half a dozen scientists were sent to Fighter Command by our friend on my right, Sir Robert Watson-Watt, to teach them how to use the new radio location device known as "radar". They decided to do some research into operations of the Command, into the deployment and control of our aircraft. This research used the most rigorous scientific methods and required these to be welded to the fighting experiences of the Air personnel. Radar itself made a ten-fold increase in the effectiveness of the Royal Air Force at a critical time of the Battle of Britain. But this research into the operations of the aircraft under radar control made them about twice as effective again. Each aircraft now became equal to twenty on the old basis. The success of the Battle of Britain was primarily due to radar, but secondly, to this introduction of science into operations.

Science had come to help people to use the tools which science had given them--tools which had been designed inside the laboratory. Now scientists were outside the laboratory studying the use of these tools.

From that beginning, if it were a beginning, Operational Research has grown considerably in Great Britain; particularly, since the war. There are now sixty to eighty? Operational Research Units in industry and government departments, carrying on these techniques and developing new techniques. There are many more units in the United States. a larger country, where the subject has expanded even more vigorously.

In the United Kingdom there is an Operational Research Society, now about nine years old, which has pulled together the activities of all these rather scattered groups in a wide range of industries. In the United States there is the Operations Research Society of America. I was pleased to find on my visit to Australia and India that there are societies being set up in both these countries. Here, as many of you will know, is the first Canadian Society--the Operations Research Society of Toronto, the President of which is with us today. I hope before long we shall see an all Canada Operations Research Society.

We have seen many technological advances in recent years, but unfortunately the development of society has not kept pace with the technological advances. One could quote many examples. I think the most serious one, and the one perhaps least talked about, is the fact that medical science is prevented, or at least discouraged, from being applied in large parts of the world because of the terrible consequences that would ensue if the death rate were reduced; instead of men dying of disease, they; would die of famine because the sociological state of that particular community has not kept pace. I have been .. rather conscious of this problem during my visit to India and Pakistan.

Another characteristic of the present age is that words like "peace" and "freedom" which formerly had a meaning for us, have become so twisted for some particular purpose that you don't really know what they are intended to mean when used. Conclusions as to cause and effect are reached in a very loose way. You find that the politicians are blamed for acts of God and God is blamed for the acts of politicians!

So you can hardly be surprised that, when scientists come outside the laboratory, they at first get rather bewildered, because they have had a rather sheltered and perhaps narrow training. They have been brought up with a sense of discipline, a very rigorous sense of discipline, and in that discipline they believe that there is something for which they use the word "truth"--another word which is very much abused.

What is more, they believe they have a method of finding what truth is, or at least of getting nearer to it, since you can rarely get to absolute truth. That method is not based on what people say, nor on what authorities say. It is based on the experiences of people, the experiences of all people or at least of a large number of people. It requires that these experiences be carefully recorded, collated and analyzed. That is part of what we call the "scientific method".

Most scientists consider the scientific method to be a very high form of culture. In its ideological sense, it certainly is an extremely high form of culture. It does not however, always reach to those heights, indeed it very often does not.

I cannot attempt to describe here a method which requires years and years of training, but I would like to remind you that science is one of the most human forms of activity. The whole of the progress of science depends upon the imaginations of people, the fluidity of their minds, unrestricted by prejudices. It is an extremely human activity.

But it is not only a human activity. Everything which is created in the imagination has to be put to the test of an experiment, to the test of other people's opinions, to the test of argument and sometimes very vigorous argument. Non-scientists sometimes chuckle when they see scientists disagreeing. They don't realize that that is an essential part of their discipline. A scientist starts off by disagreeing and remains this way until he is convinced; he is a very disagreeable person, in a way!

The scientific method is based on measuring things wherever possible. If you are going to compare your experiences with other people's experiences and are able only to describe them qualitatively, then you can't be very sure of the answer. But if you can measure these experiences precisely, then you can make your comparison more rigorously and thus get closer to the truth. So measurement becomes an essential part of the scientific method, an essential part of Operational Research.

When a scientist comes out of the laboratory to study the operations of a part of the social system he must first get clear what he means by an operation. The simplest way to do this is to say that an operation consists of two parts. The first is a decision taken by anybody, such as the simple decision of stopping at a traffic junction, or else an important decision like that of the Prime Minister of a country. The second part is the action following the decision; later there are perhaps further decisions and further actions. So an operation consists of a sequence of decisions and actions. The studies of science come in at the decision stage or before. There is, of course, an implied assumption here, which I hope you will accept without argument, that you can always make a better decision if you know more about what you are deciding! Sometimes that is not true and sometimes you have to make a decision very quickly and can't wait for science to help.

I would like to emphasize that. Operational Research is not a cure-all. It only helps in certain kinds of decision-taking and I hope to illustrate this presently by some examples. But even if it does not help to solve the whole problem, a knowledge of this discipline of science helps most people if only because it demands clearer thinking as to what is being talked about and what the real objectives are. If you are talking about "peace" it demands to know why you want to talk about peace, and what you mean by peace--presumably not just peace at any price.

The branch of science to which I have referred has come into many of our activities. It has come into transport in a very big way, particularly in Britain and the United States, and I think to some extent in Canada. It has come into a large part of British industry to study the flow of materials throughout the factories, to study the interactions of one department on another and to study whether some problem of one departmental manager is really the problem as he sees it. It has come in to optimize the stock of the wholesaler and the flow of goods. It is used to measure the efficiency or the productivity of parts of a process and, to do this, the right method of measuring productivity must first be found.

Decision-taking is a balancing operation. If you are going to make a decision you really are consciously or sub-consciously balancing the pros and cons of two or more alternatives. The better you can measure or assess the alternatives the more accurately you can balance.

I will illustrate this by an example which is important in the British economy. We bring a large amount of iron ore into Great Britain with large numbers of ships from ports all over the Atlantic waters. These ships come in to about eight or ten British ports and in a very erratic sort of way. You can't control ships--they are controlled by the weather. Four or more may come in to a port on one day and then perhaps none for a week. As a consequence, ships sometimes have to queue up waiting at anchor to get alongside the unloading wharf, and this costs nearly one thousand dollars per day per ship.

One could install very high capacity unloading equipment to cope with the four or five ships that might arrive on one day and thus avoid the delays of queues or one could have just enough unloading equipment to cope with the average intake and not worry about the ships waiting. If you have the first condition you obtain high efficiency in the operation of the ships and gross inefficiency in the operation of the port. If you have the second you get efficiency in the port and inefficiency in the ships. This is a clear case where two efficiencies are in rigorous competition and it would seem likely that a balance between the two would produce a lower over-all cost than either extreme. Research soon showed that this was true and indeed showed exactly what was the lowest cost balance for any set of circumstances. To the surprise of many people the answer came out that you had to have about twice as much equipment at the port as would be necessary for the average intake.

In other words you had to have enough so that the men and equipment are idle for half the time. Under these circumstances the over-all cost of ore is reduced considerably. The ratio of two given here applies to ports with an annual intake between I and 2 million tons.

In Great Britain we have been operating very far from this optimum balance. You might ask how did that come about but, the answer is very simple. The thousand dollars a day was not being paid by the man who ran the unloading equipment and he naturally cared only about the efficiency of his own show.

The solution of the problem was to couple those two inefficiencies, and now one-third of the cost of the ships delay is paid for by the man who unloads the ore. It now pays him to install higher capacity equipment and he is quite happy to have this and his men idle at times because he saves money in the long run.

There are many other examples to illustrate the way science is helping management. I would like, however, to talk about a few broader national problems. We all believe in a democratic system which is based on decision-taking by a majority in some elected council or parliament. We believe rather firmly that it is right to make decisions that way.

I do not know whether you have thought about it but if you start analyzing how that majority got there you get rather disturbed; perhaps one shouldn't disturb people about a happy situation.

Let us take for example a community in which you have just a two-party system and in which the people are divided, let us say, 51 to 49 per cent for the respective parties. In most countries, for example, in the United States, Great Britain and Canada, it works out in practice that in a Parliament of 400 representatives there would probably be a majority of about 26. In other words the ratio of 51 to 49 in voters becomes 213 to 187 in representatives or a majority of 4% in voters becomes about 13% in representatives. Now this modest degree of exaggeration turns out to be a good thing but how does it come about? Why is it not more or not less? A study made to answer this has led to a most alarming conclusion in that the exaggeration only stays at the above degree because people somehow or other segregate themselves to a certain fixed extent in accordance with their political allegiances.

If we took the voting slips of all the people in the community, that is the 51 and 49 per cent, and mixed then up thoroughly in a pot and drew out batches of say 25,000 slips to represent each constituency, we could determine the political colour of the representatives by finding which had the majority in each batch. This would give exactly the same answer as if the people were thoroughly mixed up inside each constituency and between constituencies. It is easy to prove that the ratio of the representatives would no longer be 213 to 187 but 399 to 1, which of course would be unworkable. It seems therefore that our democratic system would not work at all if it was not for the fact that people who think alike tend to live close together.

That is something rather disturbing. I do not know the answer except that we have to watch our system rather carefully or it would break down. Proportional representation gives worse troubles in another direction.

As you have heard from your President, I have had the privilege of visiting some other nations in our Commonwealth. India, particularly, is a land of problems. In a way it is a gold mine for scientists, if they want problems; there are more per square inch than in any other place I have been. One of the encouraging things about India is that the Indian people are studying themselves and using all the latest techniques of Operational Research. They have learned these in Britain and have had British and other European people out there to help them and they are making a very active attack on their problems. They cannot claim much success as yet because the problems are so enormous.

They are taking dozens of villages as samples and studying the whole of the economics, the habits of the people, the transport associated with those people, how they sow their crops, how they think politically, and they are measuring these things. In the next stage they are going to study how they can influence the operation of these villages which have such a large effect on the progress of the Indian economy.

Above all, and this is perhaps the most encouraging thing I saw during my visit, they are tackling the problem to which I referred at the beginning, that is the problem of control of population. All thinking Indians firmly believe they can no longer go along on the assumption that children should be born into the world simply to die of disease or famine, there is a higher ideal than that in the future of the Indian people.

India needs a lot of help--she needs a lot of help from all parts of the Commonwealth, Canada, Australia and Great Britain.

Australia, by contrast, was to me at first a land of no problems. Their wonderful climate gives indeed a most ! favourable impression--a great prosperity, wonderful cities and almost everything you can want.

But, of course, as you stay there awhile you begin to find some problems, and their worst problem is that of transport and, curiously enough, about the only field of Australian society in which I could find no research. It is a problem which I hope and I think they will soon tackle using in part the methods of operational research.

By contrast I should like to mention one example in Australia which may not be known to you. You, of course are conscious of your great St. Lawrence Seaway project. You are also conscious of the great achievement which I unfortunately just failed to see last week at Kitimat. But you perhaps do not know that the Australians are undertaking a project at least as big as each of these the Snowy Mountain project. They are harnessing all the waters on the oceanside of this great mountain range damming it in large reservoirs and pushing the water to irrigate vast territories of Australia. At the same time large quantities of electricity will be generated.

The interesting part is not only the conception and magnitude of the task and the vigour with which it is going ahead. That large scheme is a very complex one with dozens of tunnels and about twenty-five power stations and will require the most highly developed methods of control. These are now being studied by Operational Research methods which are leading to the design of an electronic computer that will daily tell the management of that organization how best to use the enormously complicated set of water resources according to the nation's needs on that particular day. This computer will not use a series of theoretical mathematical formulae, but rather will use the experiences of the last fifty years in the rainfall of 'that part of Australia. Week by week new corrections will be put in as experience grows on the operating side, so the whole vast enterprise will operate with the maximum efficiency from the very beginning.

I wish I were staying longer here in Canada so that I could pick out some of Canada's problems and see how they are being tackled. I must plead substantial ignorance. Therefore, my neck is stuck out further and further for anybody to chop my head off!

understand that one of your problems is how to prevent your children from growing up in a Canada which is largely or very substantially owned by people from foreign parts and particularly from across the border to the south. Apparently Canadians do not save enough to invest in their own country. I do not know the figures but I believe that whatever the savings are they are not enough. l do not mean to suggest that investment from abroad is a bad thing--far from it--but it is not as good as investment by Canadians.

There are lots of ways one could tackle a problem of this kind. One suggestion that was put to me was to tax the production of paper. Supposing one analyzed a proposition of that kind. First of all, of course, one could determine the direct money that could be raised by taxing paper production. That money would be owned here and put into Canadian resources, just as the Snowy Mountain l scheme is entirely owned by Australians and their children.

Of course taxing paper would reduce the amount of advertising and in doing so, it might reduce expenditure on consumer goods which now compete too successfully with savings for investment in Canada. I say "might" because the selling power of a page of advertisements would go up if there were less paper; as it is today, people cannot read all that is put out.

All these things are measurable, or at least predictable within a certain degree, and I think one of the ways Canada should tackle the investment problem is to examine the various possibilities in a clear way and not be disturbed by certain people who think they might be hurt.

This is a matter, of course, of economics. One of the hardest jobs of science is to penetrate economics. I am reminded of a story of a Professor who was being visited by one of his old students. It happened that he was setting the annual examination. He gave the paper to the old student who took a look at it and said, "I don't understand. This is exactly the same paper that I wrote six years ago."

The Professor said, "It is always the same paper". The student said, "But you must change something every year?"

"Oh yes, we change the answers!"

More than anywhere else science is needed in economics, particularly to impress upon the community that there are such feelings as general experiences in economics that have become so universal that they are now really established as laws.

One of these, the "first law, of economics", says that you cannot export more or less than you import. There is no such thing as an unbalance of trade unless you define your exports and imports in a manner which leaves out certain important things. Our friends across the border have been trying to defeat this law for fifty years, and now their "success" is measured exactly by the gold they now have buried in Fort Knox. I am told that the Canadian Government have helped by subsidizing gold production.

Well now, I will end only by saying that when a scientist comes outside the laboratory and gets into these fields which managers and others have always thought to be their own, do not look upon him as somebody who is going to do your job for you. There are not many scientists who have been successful in doing the jobs of management because their training has generally been too narrow. In the industries that use scientists in the management team in Britain, the head of the operational research section is in the same position as the Chief Accountant. He is there to help management by providing him with a new tool.

The other idea I would like to leave with you is that if you take the trouble to learn something about the scientist's way of thinking 1 believe you will find that your own job will become very much more interesting.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. John Griffin.

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Science Comes Outside the Laboratory

The war and the things it brought forth that continue to affect our lives today. Radar; background and history. The introduction of science into war operations. Operation Research and how it has grown in Great Britain, especially since the war. Some details of Operational Research Units. The Operational Research Society in the United Kingdom, and in other countries. Technological advances in recent years, with which the development of society has not kept pace. An example. Changes in the meaning of words such as "peace" and "freedom." The bewilderment of scientists when they first come outside the laboratory. The scientific method. Science as one of the most human forms of activity. The study of social systems. Decision-taking, and some examples. Determining inefficiencies. Examples to illustrate the way that science is helping management. Tackling the problem of the control of population. The Australian Snowy Mountain Project. The use of a computer. The Canadian problem of foreign investment. The need for science in economics.