Okay, I’m having a cool conversation in the linkedin Sci-Fi group about technology and colonizing other planets ‘n’ stuff. I was stating my notion that space travel and weapons design and manufacture share many of the same skill sets and you could shift funding from the latter to the former with minimum dislocation of jobs. One person replied thus: Like it or not, humanity makes more scientific progress in times of war, not peace.
As those of you who know me even a little bit probably won’t be surprised in hearing, I took issue with this statement. I looked up some stats from the U.S. patent office and this is what I found:
U. S. Design Patents (inventions) issued by year:
In the year 1916 – 43,892
In the year 1917 – 40,927 (America enters WW I)
In the year 1918 – 38,450 (the Allies win WW I)
In the year 1919 – 36,795
In the year 1939 – 43,073
In the year 1940 – 42,237
In the year 1941 – 41,108 (America enters WW II)
In the year 1942 – 38,449
In the year 1943 – 31,054
In the year 1944 – 28,053
In the year 1945 – 25,694 (the Allies win WW II)
IN the year 1946 – 21,805
As you can see, during both of the largest wars America was ever involved in the number of design patents awarded falls rather precipitously in every year of fighting and even falls in the year after each war is over. In fact in WW II, which was disastrously larger and more destructive than WW I, the decline is much steeper. If WW I or WW II drove scientific progress it certainly isn’t reflected in the number of design patents awarded.
Feel free to share this info with anyone who makes the argument that war propels us to greater scientific achievement.