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comprehensive American research, and to add a tiny mite toward lifting its efficiency through indicating its charm, its national worth at this time, the educational requirements to those new in the field, and in pointing out the reasons for loss in efficiency through misconceptions, intense duplication work, and the many snares and pitfalls awaiting the unwary inventor. Major General William M. Black, Chief of Engineers, United States Army, pointed out that the Government in Washington was simply deluged with suggestions and so-called inventions from all over the country for the winning of the war.
The records show that about 98 per cent of all the inventions examined were declared to be without military value and that time and labor have been thrown away by men eager to help, but entirely ignorant of the history and conditions of warfare.
It is also pointed out that the Naval Consulting Board had sixty thousand inventions submitted with but substantially the same low average of practical merit. The same inefficiency occurs in times of peace through tens of thousands of men working upon problems, in the history and conditions of which they are equally ignorant, and moreover they are frequently working upon problems they are not educationally equipped to develop.
It is now in the field of peace research that we should emphasize efficiency.
Dr. W. R. Whitney, a famous American research chemist, states:
“We are generally superficial. The interesting lives of a few exceptionally able American inventors have led us to overprize engineering short cuts. We are patenting inventions at the rate of nearly fifty thousand a year, but very few Americans are advancing the sciences at all.”
Dr. J. S. Ames, an equally famous physicist, writes:
One illustration of this may suffice; one government board, with whose activity I am familiar, has had submitted to it in the course of the year 16,000 projects and devices, proposed by so-called inventors; of these only five had sufficient value to deserve encouragement. I have nothing but admiration for those 15,995 men, whose disappointment must have been keen. Most of them were more than willing to give their inventions freely to the government. The point I wish to emphasize is that the ability and knowledge required in waging this war successfully are not those possessed by any body of men except those with a profound knowledge of science and of scientific method. The problems are too complicated. It is true that with the help of trained technical men we will get better engines, better explosives, better guns; and for these we should be truly grateful
to our much-boasted American genius. But, consider a problem like this: To devise a light signal, which can be used by day or by night, and which will be absolutely invisible to the enemy. Who can solve that? The answer is obvious: Only a physicist.”
I shall write much in the first person at the risk of being criticised as egotistical, but in the interest of directness, for first-hand experiences are usually more readable. I am moreover enabled, by writing in this vein, to reflect in many instances the views and comments of the many brilliant men of Dr. Whitney's and Dr. Ames' calibre with whom I have come in contact or with whom I have been associated in my war work in the Council of National Defense, The National Research Council, the specialists in the Army and Navy, the chemists, physicists, metallurgists and engineers at the Bureau of Mines Experiment Station, and the War Experiment Station at the American University, together with the technical staffs of the French, British and Italian High Commissions, and I shall quote freely from the writings of distinguished scientists and scholars where they treat of the subjects under discussion.
It is hoped by this method that some economic good may be brought about by showing how many students and inventors are today
working hopelessly and how many fall into the hands of inferior profit-taking patent attorneys who advertise in sensational ways, and how weeks and months, and sometimes years could be saved and hundreds and often thousands of dollars could be conserved, if the research workers and inventors were only honestly and unselfishly told something of the prior art. But we have too large a number of unconscientious attorneys who hourly add many worthless patents to the thousands of like kind already in existence.
With our factories, on the other hand, another kind of waste and inefficiency is apparent. Too many are without research laboratories or research affiliations, for today it is but an antique policy to attempt to maintain a supremacy either by efforts to keep processes or methods of manufacture secret, or by relying upon a patent. A live competitor with experimental and research facilities will sooner or later discover other, and often superior, ways of accomplishing the same ends. To put the situation in other words, no method of manufacture or process or art can live for long these days, which is not advancing scientifically.
And last, but by no means least, is the important subject, how to equip for and how to carry on research work. Even wise heads trained for the theme and with definite ideas
often work most uneconomically and frequently go astray.
It is only after many years spent in the field of experimental research, in times of peace and war, inside and out of the Government service in scientific and administrative capacities, and after association with many brilliant minds, that I venture to throw out suggestions to the worker with a narrower experience and whose occupations have necessarily limited his research and inventive possibilities. I shall be very grateful for criticisms and suggestions and will be glad to correspond with those interested in any phase of American research.
N. M. H. Washington, D. C.