On Science and Character

“The National Institute of Social Sciences is met to honor one of the great of the earth, not as the world has always counted greatness in the past, but as it must and will recognize greatness in the future. It is not to a soldier or a statesman who has won the acclaim of multitudes in a contest of peace or war; not to one who has acquired great material possessions, but to one who, passing by all these, with a true humility, by the benefactions she has conferred upon mankind, by her great service to humanity, has forever laid all civilization under tribute. In her gentleness, in her intelligence, in her devotion to the advancement of science, there is mark and warrant of progress of an enlightened society among men…

“But only the most casual observation tells us that something is lacking…We have just had the terrible experience when for more than four years pure science was let loose upon the world…There is something lacking in our science. It is not to be discarded, it is not to be blamed, it is not to be ignored, it is not to be cast aside. All science must be protected and fostered and advanced. But the plain truth is that science alone does not provide the salvation of the world…

“Along with our boasting of science there needs must go a greater humility. We cannot substitute science for character. Least of all can we substitute the superficial for exact scholarship…Unless there be national character, there can be no national progress and no national prosperity…

“This nation cannot pay for what is not earned, it cannot respond to a contribution which has not been made, whether supposed to be of capital invested or work performed. We must take up again the burdens of civilization. We must make of science the handmaiden of character. This appeal has never been made to America without finding an adequate response. It is an appeal not to give up pleasure, but to seek the greatest of all pleasure, the satisfaction that comes from achievement. It is an appeal to turn from pretenses to realities…

“When America is engaged in this struggle, no less hazardous than those crises which she has met in the past through her own efforts and through the sustaining sympathy and assistance of others, it seems almost providential that there should come to us the personification of what American and Americans should seek to be. Other crises have brought us men; there has come to us now a woman…Her presence here tells, as we look back over our history and its accomplishments, that there is no time to forget our friends, that there is no time to take counsel of our animosities, that there is no time to cease to do and to require justice.

“More than this, she comes bearing witness, not to riches she has secured for herself, but to the riches she has bestowed upon mankind, more solicitous to give than to receive. She comes not for glorification, but that there may be bestowed upon her the means by which to continue that service to which she had dedicated her life…

“Recognizing how worthily you represent the principles of the National Institute of Social Sciences…I am directed to bestow upon you this medal, Madame Marie Curie, as the testimony of its approval and satisfaction” — speech presented on behalf of Vice President Calvin Coolidge in honor of Madame Curie’s historic work in radium, May 19, 1921

To which Madame Curie responded with thank-filled brevity, “I am grateful to the National Institute of Social Sciences and I would like you to know how deeply moved I am by the words of Vice-President Coolidge.”

Madame Marie Curie, as portrayed by Susan Marie Frontczak

Madame Marie Curie, as portrayed by Susan Marie Frontczak, http://www.storysmith.org/.

2 thoughts on “On Science and Character

  1. “Along with our boasting of science there needs must go a greater humility. We cannot substitute science for character. Least of all can we substitute the superficial for exact scholarship..” I found those words to be spot on for many of the discussions we have today about “scientific” issues.

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