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Deutch Expounds on Science At TBP Lecture Series Kickoff

By Satwiksai Seshasai

Institute Professor John M. Deutch '61 criticized the conventional separation of science and engineering as distinct disciplines at the opening lecture to the Fall 1998 Tau Beta Pi Leonardo da Vinci Dinner Lecture Series held Monday.

"We must change the way we approach science and technology," Deutch said at the lecture, entitled "Why I Don't Believe in Science and Engineering."

Deutch, who returned to MIT in 1997, had pursued a distinguished career in the government for seven years which culminated in an appointment as Director of Central Intelligence.

Deutch began his speech by explaining that the conventional view of the difference between science and engineering is "not true today."

Science, according to Deutch, is commonly viewed as an "abstract, creative process" with little practical value. The dichotomy restricts science to the discovery of new ideas, he said, while engineering covers the application of new ideas. He then gave a few "specifically exciting" examples of why this dichotomy is not accurate.

Deutch spoke of cryptography, DNA research, high performance computers, and other areas of study which demonstrate the "tremendous blur between science and engineering." These areas, Deutch said, do not fit into either classical category of science or engineering. Terms such as "biotechnology" are used to avoid being restricted to one side of the spectrum.

Deutch went on to explain that the distinction between science and engineering has "no purpose at all" and "causes more trouble for us." Solutions to society's problems involve a "messed up mesh" of science and engineering, requiring interaction from both sides throughout the process. The "linear view" of science and engineering is "absolutely phony."

Deutch pointed out getting money from Congress as one major problem with the distinction made between science and engineering. Congress treats "basic research" involved in science as not practical enough to deserve funding, Deutch said. Engineering, in contrast, is deemed as not needing government funding because it can be funded by private interests.

Deutch called for the elimination of the schools of engineering and science at MIT, instead replacing them with one school containing all subjects. He then extended this proposal to the government, where he suggested that the executive branch departments, such as the State Department and the Defense Department, should be eliminated.

However, Deutch soon tempered his statements. Realizing that "this isn't possible," Deutch described a several more modest goals. He said that students should be encouraged at all levels to work in groups with students from different disciplines.

Deutch fields students' questions

Answering questions from the audience, Deutch accepted a recommendation to extend his desire for integration to involve the arts.

Students generally had a positive reaction to the speech. Anand B. Ramakrishnan '01 said, "if anyone would know about this topic, it would have to be him, with so many years of experience."

Megan L. Hepler '99 agreed with most of his points, but felt that "the undergraduate experience should be solid in one field, while students can gain the broader experience in graduate school and beyond."

In discussing other issues after the talk, Deutch declined to comment on the current troubles of his former boss, President Bill Clinton, stating only "I am one of the guys who is really angry."

Ming-Hokng Maa '99, president of TBP, the engineering honor society which sponsored the event, noted that "technical knowledge alone is not enough in our complex world." The weekly da Vinci dinners, he said, are unique because they one of the only instances where interaction between students and faculty is expected rather than hoped for.

Keith Amonlirdviman '99, scholarship chair of TBP, said that each of the dinners will begin with an informal lecture by a distinguished faculty member. Speakers this year include Sheila E. Widnall '60, professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Steven Pinker, professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Dinners are open to TBPmembers only, however some lectures will be open to the entire MITcommunity.