John Desmond Bernal
The Social Function of Science (1939)
Routledge, 1946; digitized 2007
- World Encyclopaedia. -- Behind these lies another prospect of greater and more permanent importance; that of an attempt at a comprehensive and continually revised presentation of the whole of science in its social context, an idea most persuasively put forward by H. G. Wells in his appeal for a World Encyclopaedia of which he has already given us a foretaste in his celebrated outlines. The encyclopaedic movement was a great rallying point of the liberal revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The real encyclopaedia should not be what the Encyclopaedia Britannica has degenerated into, a mere mass of unrelated knowledge sold by high-pressure salesmanship, but a coherent expression of the living and changing body of thought; it should sum up what is for the moment the spirit of the age:
"We have been gradually brought to the pitch of imagining and framing our preliminary ideas of a federal world control of such things as communications, health, money, economic adjustments, and the suppression of crime. In all these material things we have begun to foresee the possibility of a world-wide network being woven between all men about the earth. So much of the World Peace has been brought into the range of -- what shall I call it? -- the general imagination. But I do not think we have yet given sufficient attention to the prior necessity, of linking together its mental organizations into a much closer accord than obtains at the present time. All these ideas of unifying mankind's affairs depend ultimately for their realization on mankind having a unified mind for the job. The want of such effective mental unification is the key to most of our present frustrations. While men's minds are still confused, their social and political relations will remain in confusion, however great the forces that are grinding them against each other and however tragic and monstrous the consequences.
"This World Encyclopaedia would be the mental background of every intelligent man in the world. It would be alive and growing and changing continually under revision, extension and replacement from the original thinkers in the world everywhere. Every university and research institution should be feeding it. Every fresh mind should be brought into contact with its standing editorial organization. And on the other hand, its contents would be the standard source of material for the instructional side of school and college work, for the verification of facts and the testing of statements -- everywhere in the world. Even journalists would deign to use it; even newspaper proprietors might be made to respect it." -- H. G. Wells' World Brain, pp.39-40 (p. 306)
- The original French Encyclopaedia which did attempt these things was, however, made in the period of relative quiet when the forces of liberation were gathering ready to break their bonds. We have already entered the second period of revolutionary struggle and the quiet thought necessary to make such an effort will not be easy to find, but some effort is worth making because the combined assault on science and humanity by the forces of barbarism has against it, as yet, no general and coherent statement on the part of those who believe in democracy and the need for the people of the world to take over the active control of production and administration for their own safety and welfare.
- CHAPTER XI. SCIENTIFIC COMMUNICATION. The Function of Scientific Publication (pp. 306-307)
- In science men have learned consciously to subordinate themselves to a common purpose without losing the individuality of their achievements. Each one knows that his work depends on that of his predecessors and colleagues, and that it can only reach its fruition through the work of his successors. In science men collaborate not because they are forced to by superior authority or because they blindly follow some chosen leader, but because they realize that only in this willing collaboration can each man find his goal.
- CHAPTER XVI. THE SOCIAL FUNCTION OF SCIENCE. The Transformation of Science (pp. 415-416)