On the Drawing Board—In the Lab
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 7 Mar 1968, p. 340-351
Solandt, Dr. O.M., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Different definitions of science. Science pervading our whole way of life. The difficulty of describing and classifying science. Science as more than research. Science in government and industry. The impact of science on society. How science is being used culturally, economically and socially. Insights into how science is being used now and how it will be used in the future in Canada. The biggest need in Canada a very substantial increase in the support of research in the social sciences. The relationship between education and general progress. The issue of automation. How science can help us. A national science policy. Solving Canada's major problem of the bilingual and bicultural state. Using science intelligently
Date of Original
7 Mar 1968
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Full Text
MARCH 7, 1968
On the Drawing Board--In the Lab Toward a Science Policy for Canada
CHAIRMAN, The President, Graham M. Gore


One cannot read a newspaper or tune in radio or TV these days without constant reminders of the achievements of science. Advanced technology has enabled man to cover vast distances in ever shorter periods of time, to orbit the earth and land instruments on the moon, and to implement instantaneous communication on a world-wide scale.

More and more of the things we wear and use are made of materials of man's own creation. Man's average life expectancy has been steadily increased by the dis covery of new drugs and techniques for combatting disease and alleviating suffering.

In its comparatively short history, and despite its relatively small population, Canada has made notable contributions to numerous branches of the physical and social sciences. Yet, it has been a mitigating fact that our provision of scientific opportunities has not been commensurate with our scientific talent. The result has been the so-called "brain drain"-the flow of some of our best scientific minds to more challenging opportunities south of the line.

One of the leaders in promoting efforts to staunch this flow has been Dr. Omond McKillop Solandt, himself a prominent Canadian scientist, whom we are fortunate to have as our guest speaker today. Dr. Solandt has also concerned himself with other significant issues of our times, such as automation, the population explosion, the problems of the have-not nations, national defence, nuclear weaponry.

He was born in Winnipeg, attended Central Technical School and Jarvis C.I. in Toronto, received a doctorate degree and gold medal from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, and then did research at Cambridge. Following post-graduate work at the London hospital, he was named a Member of the Royal College of Physicians, London, and later returned to Cambridge as a lecturer in physiology.

During World War II, he directed a London bloodbank depot, founded the Physiological Laboratory at the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School, and was Superintend ent of the Army Operational Research Group. He joined the Canadian army in 1944, and in 1945 was a member of a mission sent to Japan to evaluate the effects of the atomic bomb.

He retired from the army in 1946 with the rank of colonel and became the first Chairman of Canada's Research Board. From 1956 to 1966 he held top executive positions with the CN, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd., Hawker Siddeley Canada Ltd., and DFC System Ltd. He then became Chairman of the Science Council of Canada and Vice-Chairman of the Electric Reduction Co. He is also a Director of the Huyck Corporation and was a Director of Expo '67.

Dr. Solandt has been awarded the O.B.E., the U.S. Medal of Freedom, the Gold Medal of the Public Institute of Canada, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 1965 he was elected Chancellor of the University of Toronto and holds honorary doctorate degrees from a number of Canadian Universities.

His topic today is: "On the Drawing Board--in the Lab (Toward a Science Policy for Canada)". Dr. Solandt.


Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen, thank you for your most kind introduction. I am greatly honoured by your invitation to address you today. I always feel it is a particular honour to be invited back a second time.

I have very pleasant memories of the first time I came to speak to the Empire Club in Toronto. It was in March 1950 and I was introduced by another old friend, Sydney Hermant. I am happy that I did well enough that you have invited me back.

There is always the difficulty for anyone who is labelled a scientist in speaking to a general audience to know what level of detail he should deal with. I am for tunately now getting to be pretty well free of this difficulty. As you know, the research worker is the man who gradually comes to know more and more about less and less until he knows almost everything about practically nothing. Well, I have been assiduously going in the opposite direction for years, and I am getting to know less and less about more and more until soon I will know practically nothing about almost everything.

So on this basis I have some interesting information to offer to any kind of audience. I have in the past tried to maintain a reputation for erudition by choosing subjects that the audience knew nothing about. If a speaker has a wide enough range this is nearly always possible. But in the case of science and an audience such as this you probably know as much about the general aspects of science as I do. So what I have to say to you may seem familiar, but I think it will be nonetheless interesting and important. First of all, in talking of science it is necessary to agree on some definitions. There are many different definitions of science.

The one that seems to me to be the most generally useful is to say that science is man's accumulated and organized body of knowledge about himself and his world.

This definition includes not only the natural sciences but also the social sciences. It is man's knowledge not just about his world but about himself and how he interacts with this world.

The word "science" is also used to describe a process or activity of acquiring and organizing and even using knowledge. I am going to use it predominantly to describe the body of knowledge rather than these activities.

Obviously this body of knowledge, science as I have defined it, is one of the most important elements in our society. It is this knowledge of himself and his environ ment that enables man to control his environment in a way that other animals cannot, and even to a rather limited extent to control himself and his own social activities.

Unfortunately in the modern world many people think of science as malevolent, harmful, or at least unfriendly. They think of science in terms of atomic bombs that destroy huge numbers of people, or automation that eliminates huge numbers of jobs.

This is a completely false idea. Science itself as a body of knowledge is obviously completely neutral. Man can use science for good or ill. I am sure that if you look at the record of human progress you will see that in spite of our bad record of the use of science in war on the whole the record is good, and that most of our progress in the past and foreseeably in the future at least makes use of science as a major element.

Science obviously pervades our whole way of life. One of the difficulties in talking about science is to know how to describe and classify it. One thing that is important to realize is that when one talks of science in this way we are not speaking just of research. There is a great tendency to think of science as merely research. Research is the advancing edge of knowledge. The amount of research that is done in any society is a pretty good index of the general scientific activity. But research is by no means the whole of science. There is a tremendous accumulated and organized body of knowledge that is available to us even if we do not do any research. However experience has shown that this body of knowledge is more accessible to and more easily used by people who are actively involved in research.

One way of looking at science in our society is to conceive of a scientific community which is made up of all the people that use science as their principal stock-intrade in their ordinary daily life.

On this basis the scientific community, begins with the high school teachers who teach science. . . . Incidentally, Mr. Chairman, I was surprised that in describing my education you mentioned that I had gone beyond Central Tech. It was very sporting of you but quite unnecessary. THE CHAIRMAN: I thought it was not fair.

DR. SOLANDT: I really did get a remarkably fine education in Central Tech. And certainly in my day it was the greatest school there was.

To get back on the track, a scientific community really begins with the teachers in the schools, and includes university staffs, both those who do research and especially those who teach.

There are many people in the government, not just in the research labs but all through government, who use science and are part of the scientific community. And of course industry, and particularly the more technically based industries, are full of people who use science and who do research. So that viewed in this way you can see a large element of our society which is called the scientific community.

Another way of of looking at the impact of science on our society is to think how society can be used in the service of the nation. Broadly there are three ways: cultural, economic and social. And I will just devote a moment to describing each of these, because I think it gives some insight into how science is being used now and will be used in the future in Canada.

I put the cultural aspects of science first because there is a great tendency to overlook them. Science is certainly one of man's greatest intellectual achievements. Many people, especially scientists, rate it right at the top. But whether it is man's greatest intellectual achievement or not, it is certainly one of them.

Basic research, which is the task of exploring the boundaries of knowledge, looking for brand-new information, is one of the very important cultural activities of any sophisticated society. Not only the accumulation of new knowledge, but also a study of its significance to the philosophy of science, and its arrangement into new theories and new structures of ideas are all extremely important things and ones that we must give support to.

Fortunately from the financial point of view in any given group of people there is only a relatively small number who have the required intellectual capacity and inge nuity to produce really new and creative ideas. And in science there is every evidence that this number is small enough that a country like Canada can afford, and must afford, to give very adequate support to all the really promising fundamental research workers that appear.

The second major use of science in our society is in the economic sphere. Here, of course, we think primarily of the use of science in increasing productivity, particularly in industry.

The traditional role of research and development in industry is to find new products, new processes. And, very important though not often quite as much emphasized, finding new and better methods of organization and management.

The importance of industrial research from this point of view really needs no emphasis in a group like this. We are all thoroughly familiar with things like the discovery of the transistor, which arose from some very pure fundamental physics but led quickly through development to a fully useful technology which has given rise to not just one new industry but to many new industries.

Similarly there have been tremendous break-throuhs in methods of production. If you ever considered how many of us would be driving motor cars if they were manufactured in the way they were, say, in 1910, you could see that the improvement in processes of manufacture are almost as important as the work on development of new products.

In this sphere we think particularly of automationand I will have a word to say about that later. All I want to say now is that Canada has a special need to try to apply science intelligently to increasing the productivity of our industry both primary and secondary, because we do depend so much on exports. And if we are to remain competitive in world markets then we must keep the cost of our exports in line and keep the quality high and the variety good.

So, we cannot regard either productivity in a general sense or innovation in new products as being of secondary importance to us. They are very important, and of special importance to us because of our high dependence on exports.

Finally the third classification is the use of science in the solution of social problems.

Broadly our main social problems now, or the ones that are concerning us most, centre around urbanization. It is an interesting thought that the modern city has only been made possible by the application of ideas developed by modern science. If we did not have scientific development we would not have our present cities. Now we must turn our minds to using science to improve these cities. Physical sciences can help in improving transportation, communications, housing, and many of the other physical aspects of our cities, and the social sciences still have a long way to go in studying the problems that arise when people are crowded together in cities.

I feel that probably the biggest need in Canada at the moment is a very substantial increase in the support of research in the social sciences so that we can attract an increasing number of our best people into the study of the problems of what I would like to call human ecology. That is, the whole relationship of man to his environment and of men to other people particularly in a crowded urban environment.

Of course, along with this we have obvious problems of education, and all the evidence that we have now indicates that education is probably the most important single factor which can help to solve all of our problems, ranging from the economic problems of productivity right through to the social problems we find in our cities.

It is very interesting that in connection with the Science Council we have been looking at the evidence that relates expenditure on research and development on a

national level to productivity and to gross national product per capita. It is possibly not suprising to find that there is not a very close relationship. Some countries spend a lot on research and don't grow very fast and others spend less and grow faster.

I think this is because in order to stimulate economic growth, the expenditure must be on the rather late stages of applied research and development and must be in indus

try where it has an immediate effect on productivity and on the quality of products.

But in spite of this lack of a direct correlation with research and development one does find a most striking relationship between education and general progress. All the countries that have a high standard of living and that are regarded as good places to live are spending a great deal of money on education and have a good and rising standard of education. Those that are backward, underdeveloped and having difficulties are not spending as much on education. So our preoccupation with education in Canada today is a very sound and wise one.

As I see it Canada is now at a point where most of us, certainly in a group like this, are beginning to feel reasonably affluent. We probably feel a little less affluent today than we did yesterday, but nonetheless we are not suffering. And we are beginning to think more of improving the quality of our life and rather less just of making more money.

We are beginning to see that we want more and better education, not just for our own children, but to have good educational opportunities for every Canadian child. We want better health services, better transportation, less pollution of the air and water. And we are beginning to be concerned about many cultural amenities that our forefathers regarded as frills: things like centres for the performing arts, museums, etc.

In this desire to improve the quality of our life we are not forgetting our own poor. We would all like to see every Canadian at least with reasonable food and hous ing and educational opportunities. And to add to this I am sure we would all like not only to continue our aid to developing nations but to give more help than we have been doing.

To do all this we must first maintain a thriving and prosperous economy. And this I think is the first vital role of science in Canada. We must use science in every way to increase the productivity of our industry and to maintain our position in world markets.

I feel that we in Canada are getting quite prematurely worried about automation and how we are going to find employment for those whose jobs are eliminated by auto mation, and how we are going to fill in our leisure time. It seems strange that we should be worried about automation when most Canadians still need or want many things and quite a few Canadians lack the bare necessities of food, housing and education. We still need to produce a great deal more in order to achieve for all Canadians the standard of living to which we would all like to become accustomed.

But science can not only help in making the things that we need: it can also help us in getting more of the benefits that we want for the dollars that we have to spend. And this I think is the second main area in which science can be used much more effectively than it is at present. For example the health services and education are becoming tremendous service industries, and they will become larger. Neither health nor education is open to the competitive market pressures that compel the people who are supplying many other services to increase productivity. The emphasis is, quite rightly, on quality not price.

But it is pretty obvious that all the techniques that are useful in increasing productivity in industry can be and are just beginning to be used to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our health services, education, and so on.

As I see it our problem is to make sure that we get the greatest possible benefits out of our expenditure in these fields. I am not advocating applying the methods of time and motion study in detail to teaching or to nursing but rather that we seek to make sure that in all these services whilch are non-competitive in the commercial sense we do apply the techniques and knowledge that we have been learning in other fields.

A national science policy is really a broad strategic plan on how best to deploy our limited scientific resources in order to make the greatest possible contribution to the cultural, economic and social advancement of Canada. Such a broad strategic plan has not been drawn up in the past. It is broadly the job the Science Council of Canada has undertaken to do.

We have not yet produced a plan, and I doubt if we will ever produce a complete plan, because these things change so rapidly that there will always be changes. But I hope that some time later this year we will be able to give the broad outline of a strategy for the use of science in Canada.

I think that from what I have already said you will see the direction in which our thinking, both of the Science Council as a whole and my own, is going. We are trying to see how science can be effectively used not for the specific narrow interests of, say, industry or the armed forces or any other section of society, but rather to try to see what goals Canadians want to achieve and see how science can be used most effectively in helping to achieve these goals.

We obviously now live in a very troubled world. We have our share of troubles in Canada. We have, of course, our particular problem of the bilingual and bicultural state.

I feel very strongly that this is a soluble problem. It is not a problem that is peculiar to Canada. There are many other countries that have these problems.

Whenever I talk of this subject I am always mildly amused about the story about Dr. Roger Caudry, my colleague, who is Vice-Chairman of the Science Council, when he was appointed the first lay Rector of the University of Montreal. He naturally decided to try to find out how people handled this problem in other bilingual countries. And he started with Belgium. And when he got to Ghent he found the university closed on account of student riots. So we have done a lot better than that in Canada.

But seriously I do regard the solution of problems of the relationships between the French and English parts of Canada as our most important immediate problem. But I do think it is soluble. And I think we have in Canada a broad worldwide responsibility to do everything we can to solve this problem, because surely the future of the world depends on different groups with different languages and cultures working together amicably. And if we cannot in Canada, a country with tremendous natural resources, great wealth, good education, and so on -if we cannot solve these problems, how in the world can any other country be expected to solve them?

If we solve this problem (and I am sure we will) we will not only go forward to tremendous development in Canada but serve as an example to many other countries in the world.

If we can intelligently use science, our immense natural resources and our other talents, Canada will continue to be and increasingly will be one of the finest countries in the world, leading not only in material wealth but even more importantly in the quality of our society.

Thanks of the meeting were expressed by Dr. H. V. Cranfield.

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On the Drawing Board—In the Lab

Different definitions of science. Science pervading our whole way of life. The difficulty of describing and classifying science. Science as more than research. Science in government and industry. The impact of science on society. How science is being used culturally, economically and socially. Insights into how science is being used now and how it will be used in the future in Canada. The biggest need in Canada a very substantial increase in the support of research in the social sciences. The relationship between education and general progress. The issue of automation. How science can help us. A national science policy. Solving Canada's major problem of the bilingual and bicultural state. Using science intelligently