President Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address (for a version with Ike's handwritten notes go here) on January 17, 1961 made barely a ripple at the time being overshadowed by John Fitzgerald Kennedy's famous inaugural address a few days later, but just a few years later his warning of the potential dangers of a growing military-industrial complex gained wide circulation.
It remains little known that Eisenhower's address warned not of one, but of two, complexes. The President cautioned us about the risks associated with an emerging scientific-technological elite, specifically the "prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money":
Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.The dangerous trends noted by the retiring President have only accelerated in the intervening decades.
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.