Richard Bellman said :

"The 1950s were not good years for mathematical research. We had a very interesting gentleman in Washington named Wilson. He was Secretary of Defense, and he actually had a pathological fear and hatred of the word research."

Basically he said army and politicians hated the maths and research. That's why he named it : dynamic programming.

But why ? According to my knowledge in WW2 had a lot of progress in maths and research : linear programming (simplex method), conditional probability (enigma machine), AI(it was basically maths research). So even with those achievements, why did they hate maths in 1950?

Honestly I didn't found this information on web (or maybe I don't know how ask to google)

Best regards


2 Answers 2


The quote appears to be from: Stuart Dreyfus, (2002) Richard Bellman on the Birth of Dynamic Programming. Operations Research 50(1):48-51. https://doi.org/10.1287/opre. In context, it's clear Bellman is talking about DoD spending on basic math/research specifically, not math in general.

As to why the DoD was cutting spending, Eisenhower spent much of the period between the end of the Korean War and Sputnik trying to cut the large Defense budget left from the Truman admin., and Wilson was something of a hatchet man in this effort. Basic research, which wasn't directly related to the military's basic mission, was an obvious target. (Famously, Eisenhower would reverse course on this after Sputnik was launched.)


simplicio's answer certainly provides the correct historical context. Adding to his answer, the quote is also found in Bellman's autobiography, p.159 - which seems to be the original source. Immediately after the sentences you quoted, Bellman continues:

[...] hatred of the word research. I'm not using the term lightly; I'm using it precisely. His face would suffuse, he would turn red, and he would get violent if people used the term, research, in his presence. You can imagine how he felt, then, about the term, mathematical. The RAND Corporation was employed by the Air Force, and the Air Force had Wilson as its boss, essentially. Hence, I felt I had to do something to shield Wilson and the Air Force from the fact that I was really doing mathematics inside the RAND Corporation.

From Bellman's description, it seems that in particular Wilson as a person had a very adverse attitude towards basic research. Wilson was only a hatchet man for Eisenhower's mission, but he seems to have been very passionate about cutting down basic research.

Source: Richard Bellman, Eye of the hurricane. An autobiography, World Scientific, 1984.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you. I'll search more about that autobiography. $\endgroup$
    – NIN
    Oct 4, 2020 at 12:29

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