Essays on Science and SocietyIBI* Series Winner

Solving Complex Problems

Science  30 Nov 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6111, pp. 1164-1165
DOI: 10.1126/science.1215228

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Summary

Before he became America's first de facto science adviser and before he helped lay the foundation for the National Science Foundation, Vannevar Bush was a professor of Electrical Engineering and, eventually, dean of Engineering and vice president at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In those capacities, he came in contact with some of the nation's best and brightest minds in their formative years. But after two decades in such a rarified academic environment, Bush had become disenchanted by the increasing specialization of undergraduate curricula in science and engineering in America (1). He felt that education in these fields placed too much emphasis on information transferral from teacher to student and too little on deep understanding and intellectual synthesis by the student. Bush was among the first to anticipate that massive amounts of information would someday be universally and readily available to all, such that our ability to communicate knowledge through classes would become far less important than our ability to inspire students to do something creative, and valuable, with it.