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Project Hindsight

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Project Hindsight was a retrospective study conducted to determine the effectiveness of several post-World War II weapons research projects.[1] The project was conducted by the Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, a sub-agency of the United States Department of Defense (DoD).


The study ran from 1963 to 1967[2] and the final report was published in October 1969 and released to the public in September 1970.[3] The project had two goals: the first was to identify R&D management productivity and the second was to measure the overall cost-effectiveness of using recently developed weapon systems compared to their predecessors that were in use 10 to 20 years earlier.[4] The project conducted the examination of 20 weapon systems, other military equipment, and the contribution of R&D during World War II identified in the study as "events".[5]


Of all 'events' studied by Project Hindsight, 91% were technological, and only 9% were classed as science. Within the latter category 8.7% were applied science, whereas only 0.3%, or two 'events', were due to basic or undirected science.[4][6][7] This particular finding undermined the traditional view that technological progress is the outcome of basic research[8] since the direct influence of science on technology is very small.[9] On the other hand, it confirmed the DoD's research strategy, citing that the investment on science and technology from 1946 to 1962 "has been paid many times over".[8]


As science and technology studies scholar Edwin Layton observed in 1971, 'the publication of these results produced a spate of indignant letters to the editors of Science.' He noted that many of these letters missed the point, and instead should focus on the interaction between science and technology rather than attempting to demonstrate that fundamental scientific research influences technology development more than Project Hindsight had suggested.[10]

He also called attention to a subsequent study, Technology in Retrospect and Critical Events in Science (TRACES), which 'revealed cases in which mission-oriented research or development effort elicited later nonmission research, which often was found to be crucial to the ultimate innovation'.[11] TRACES was a study undertaken to challenge Project Hindsight's conclusions through the examination of civilian technologies and their development.[9]


  1. ^ Kostoff, Ronald N. (1 January 1993). "Research impact assessment". Business Economics. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  2. ^ Kreilkamp, Karl (January 1971). "Hindsight and the Real World of Science Policy". Science Studies. 1 (1): 43–66. doi:10.1177/030631277100100104. JSTOR 370196. S2CID 144213620.
  3. ^ "Project HINDSIGHT - Summary". Defense Technical Information Center. October 1969. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  4. ^ a b Sherwin CW, Isenson RS (23 June 1967). "Project hindsight. A Defense Department study of the utility of research". Science. 156 (3782): 1571–7. doi:10.1126/science.156.3782.1571. PMID 6025113.
  5. ^ Godin, Benoît (2017). Models of Innovation: The History of an Idea. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. p. 103. ISBN 9780262035897.
  6. ^ D. S. Greenberg, 'Hindsight: DOD Study Examines Return on Investment in Research' Science 154 (November 18, 1966): 872-73
  7. ^ Philip H. Abelson, 'Project Hindsight,' Science 154 (December 2, 1966): 1123.
  8. ^ a b Geiger, Roger L. (1993). Research and Relevant Knowledge: American Research Universities Since World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 191. ISBN 019505346X.
  9. ^ a b Sismondo, Sergio (2011-08-17). An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781444358889.
  10. ^ Edwin Layton, 'Mirror-Image Twins: The Communities of Science and Technology in 19th-Century America', Technology and Culture, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Oct., 1971), pp. 562-580
  11. ^ Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute, Technology in Retrospect and Critical Events in Science, 2 vols. (n. p. [Chicago], 1968).

Further reading

  • Gibbons, M and Johnston R, 'The Roles of Science in Technological Innovation' Research Policy 4 (1974), 220–242.
  • Isenson, R. Technology in retrospect and critical events in science (Project Traces). Illinois Institute of Technology/National Science Foundation, Chicago (1968).
  • Kreilkamp, Karl. "Hindsight and the real world of science policy." Science Studies 1.1 (1971): 43–66.

This page was last edited on 16 September 2020, at 17:30
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