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'Big vs. Small'

August 12, 1987

I would like to compliment The Times for its fine editorial on "Big vs. Small Science," (July 20). The "collective farm" approach to science to the detriment of the individual investigator is unwise. Granted that worthy, large laboratories and institutes are deserving of support, it would be tragic if this meant the liquidation of the individual scientific enterprise.

The assertion made by the National Science Foundation that small-scale investigators at universities have not been hurt is puzzling. In speaking to numerous well-established scientists, many of whom have international reputation and have trained and inspired outstanding young researchers, I have found a depressingly uniform pattern. Their programs have not just been cut back; they have been shot down by a total withdrawal of support.

On previous occasions, when retrenchment was deemed necessary, the NSF was always cooperative in trying to work out some modest level of support to prevent research endeavors from expiring. The NSF now seems to have no interest in providing even an extremely minimum level of support.

Without disparaging the importance of teamwork, the contributions of individual scientists working with a few students must not be wiped out, otherwise what remains of our scientific leadership in the world will be grievously eroded. We are presently indeed in peril of exactly that happening.

To impose mandatory collectivism upon science is no more likely to be successful than has been the well-known collectivism in agriculture.


UCLA Dept. of Astronomy

Los Angeles

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