What Next? The Intellectual Legacy of Ithiel de Sola Pool
by Lloyd S. Etheredge

A discussion of Ithiel Pool's intellectual legacy is a large task. He was a pioneer in the development of the social sciences who continued to grow and explore new issues with new methods across more than 45 years of professional work. He wrote, co-authored, or edited two dozen books and several hundred articles. He seldom repeated himself.(2) 

This afternoon I will proceed in two steps. First, I will discuss Ithiel's major enduring contributions to the development of the social sciences. Then I will address Ithiel's legacy as a pioneer who always was engaging the question "What's Next?," and I will discuss what I think he would be doing today.

I. Contributions to the Social Sciences

Ithiel contributed to almost every field of political science and to the broader development of the social sciences. In the early 1970s the late Karl Deutsch assembled a list of 60+ "Major Advances in Social Science Since 1900." Ithiel was cited for his contributions to three major advances (Figure 1).  (3)   I once discussed the list with Ithiel, and he said that he agreed with Karl Deutsch's judgments. It is a good place to begin. 

The three contributions were research methods that Ithiel helped to pioneer and where his sensible discussions and early examples remain touchstones:

1. The quantitative analysis of communications content - which he helped to pioneer, with Lasswell and others, during World War II in the study of Nazi and Communist propaganda and symbols of freedom in the speeches of political leaders.

2. The rigorous analysis of political elites, who gets into power, from what backgrounds, by what routes.

3. The computer simulation of social processes, including the first computer simulation of decision making in international crises - the outbreak of World War I ("The Kaiser, the Tsar, and the Computer") and the first major computer simulation of the American electorate based on public opinion data and used to advise President Kennedy's campaign for the Presidency in 1960 . (4)

I think there are two possible additions to this list:

4. Contact Networks and Influence.

Ithiel pioneered the rigorous study of contact networks and influence, a line of work that become known as "the small world" phenomenon. (5) One way to pose the question is to ask the probability that any two people, selected at random from a population, will share at least one acquaintance. Another version of the problem is to ask how many steps it would take a person to get a message to the President of the United States (or another target person) through chains of personal relationships. Ithiel's original work inspired a play and a movie "Six Degrees of Separation" and more recently an Internet Web site and game, "The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon."

Ithiel began this work, with the mathematician Manfred Kochen, in the 1950s when the standard view of political influence was group-based. American politics, for example, was seen as an arena of interest groups and organizations like political parties, who interacted to set the political processes. Today, the verb "to network" has become standard at the Kennedy School, or Yale's School of Organization and Management, and throughout the professional and policy world. We speak readily of "policy networks."

Right now, social scientists are still lagging in the formal study of these new realities. As they begin, specify dependent variables, and this research becomes more prominent, I think Ithiel's conceptual and mathematical foundation will be seen as a major advance.

5. The last possible entry is Ithiel's analysis in Technologies of Freedom, and his broader work on the social and political impacts of new communication technologies that will be drawn together in an edited volume, Politics in Wired Nations, this fall. (6)

The key claim is Ithiel's argument that (Figure 2) . . . "people who think about social change in traditional political [even radical] terms cannot begin to imagine the changes that lie ahead." If Ithiel is right, and his work does offer a reliable guide to the effects of communications technology on social, political, and economic life, then his work will have fulfilled, rather splendidly, the dream of the pioneers of the social sciences to provide an independent, steadier, truer, and more realistic alternative to the frameworks and choices (e.g., ideologies, election speeches, or policy argument television) that the political world provides. Clearly, it is an achievement that would be featured prominently on a list drawn a hundred years from now. 

Actually, Ithiel's work may rate a double billing, since Karl Deutsch gave separate entries for revolutionaries who created new political movements. In this respect, I draw to your attention the quotation from Stewart Brand (Figure 2, also), a leader from the counterculture left of the 1960s. 

If Stewart Brand is correct, then Ithiel pulled-off an almost unequaled historical feat of consensus building for worldwide public policy. The AT&Ts of the world were enrolled (from enlightened self-interest), and almost everybody else. 

In suggesting a double-nomination, I want to draw to your attention one of Ithiel's last writings that discusses the "unnatural institutions" that he expects - with the communications policy changes underway - now will begin to change.(8) It is a remarkable list - the nation-state, large hierarchical bureaucracies, the "unnatural" entrapment of human beings into megacities, etc. I am reminded that Ithiel was a passionate student leader and Trotskyite in his youth, and at this point I just want to draw to your attention that (surface appearances not withstanding) I am not sure, in some ways, how much he changed. Any leftist revolutionary would be thrilled by the hit list. 

And of course if we consider Ithiel's legacy, there are the obvious points in his favor that he might be more effective than Mao or Lenin and that his science was better than Marx. Time will tell.

At this point, I list this achievement as a "maybe" because Ithiel did not live to write the equivalent of Das Kapital. I do not think people fully understood, even in his own Department, the pieces that were coming together. And we still need to see how many predictions and causal pathways turn out as forecast. 

Let me just illustrate this legacy. On my desk is an announcement from Yale Medical School discussing a new global Internet research colloquium that our foundation has helped to develop that is connecting to desktop PCs of educators, public health professionals, students - and anybody else who is interested - in 110+ countries.(9) It is designed to take a global framework and to accelerate scientific innovation worldwide. The public domain technology for compressed audio and graphics (Real Audio and QuickTime) is good enough to begin, and it is obvious that it will continue to improve quickly.(10)

For most of world history, this would have seemed almost inconceivable. Global, user-initiated and user-controlled television channels? Across national boundaries, without a license and without asking for permission? And building common frameworks for international cooperation to solve urgent global problems, with many of the people in the loop who could make this happen? 

The Medical School initiative is about global organizing and influence, in addition to scientific information. The first global seminar in the Yale series was given by Dr. Ruth Berkelman, MD from the US government's Center for Disease Control. She was able, so to speak, to address the troops (3,500+ leaders in international public health) worldwide and begin to explain new leadership in US policy: the audio and video technology began to create relationships that writing an article alone could not have achieved and saved her months of jet travel. 

And once you begin to use this new global, interactive, user-controlled, and low-cost technology, contact networks become even more vividly alive as a new mechanism of policy cooperation and influence. Contact networks are not just sociological phenomena of people Dr. Ruth Berkelman (for example) has met, but the people she can interact with and work with - on a daily basis - wherever they are in the world.

II. What Ithiel Pool Would Be Doing Today

Ithiel was a pioneer who believed that he and his students should be creating the future. I think that this spirit and commitment were his greatest legacies. Forecasting what he would be doing today is easier than it may seem: Ithiel planned what he was going to do next, there is a written record of his criteria, and here are several major themes (Figure 3).

Even with these questions to call forth a list there are many hazards to this kind of enterprise. As a preface it may help to recall Ithiel's own comment on forecasting, in a famous essay "The Art of the Social Science Soothsayer." Ithiel wrote that if an analyst was faced with three possibilities, with probabilities p(A)=0.3 p(B)=0.3 and p(C)=0.4, he would predict option C (i.e., p(C)=0.4) as the most likely. But he also would predict that he would be wrong, that the probability was 0.6 that the actual outcome would be either A or B. The remark will, I think, introduce you to something about Ithiel - his intelligence, his capacity for self-reflection, his honesty, his humor. And although I was never entirely convinced that Ithiel believed he would be wrong, I will press forward in the same spirit (Figure 4). (11)

1. Developing the communications framework as a formal and systematic field in the social sciences.

Ithiel believed that the study of communication systems could be as powerful as the study of economic systems.(12) He and several other pioneers (e.g., Karl Deutsch) worked in this direction - for example, in American Business and Public Policy: The Politics of Foreign Trade, Bauer, Pool, and Dexter created a model of scientific research to examine, with an anthropologist's astute observation and alert generalization, the details of a particular communication system.(13) Ithiel edited the Handbook of Communication to begin codifying the field.(14) And with Inose, Takasaki, and Hurwitz he began to develop a set of measures to monitor trends toward a global information society.(15) But the vision needs more work and refinement to develop the equivalent analytical power of the field of economics and other disciplines. 

For example, there are flows of communication, just as there are flows of money. But we also can ask about the productivity of communications or of expenditures, about whether anything is happening or whether we are experiencing 3% - 5% annual growth in the intelligence and wisdom in what is being said; or the systems of feedback and government learning(16); or citizen learning or intelligence as a result of the flows of communications in the mass media. Etc. 

There are many directions for the development of the field. My guess is that Ithiel would be updating and expanding his early measures of trends toward a global information society. And almost surely would be engaged in experiments to develop creative potentials of new communication technologies such as designing global discussions on the World Wide Web and expanded contact nets to aid the creative process in science. (Given his earlier interest in scientific creativity, communication technology, and international agricultural research, he might be drawn to this field for initial projects.)(17)

2. Nailing the Huntington thesis.

Samuel Huntington at Harvard has recently written about the clash of civilizations as the new, emerging trend in world politics - especially the clash between Islam and the West. If true, these trends are important.(18) But I think that Ithiel would be drawn to studying these global processes for three additional reasons, especially because there is related work he began earlier in his life and that he set aside. 

a)     As you will recall, I mentioned that Ithiel and others pioneered the quantitative analysis of communication content. Eventually, they came to their senses and stopped because even inputting the data was taking too much time and they recognized that the deeper questions they wanted to ask were more sophisticated than their available technology to manipulate large data sets. For example, Ithiel worked on one study that coded 19,553 editorials from elite newspapers in 5 countries across 60 years. And each of the 19,553 editorials was coded by hand, word by word, for 416 symbols. . . In 1959 they called a temporary halt and Ithiel edited a volume that was a summary report in a time capsule, to scientists in the future, when the cause could again be picked-up with newer technology. Now, almost 40 years later, with scanning technology and the expanded capacity of computers, the time is arriving when renewed progress may be possible. 

b)     Ithiel was fascinated by cultures and tried to formulate an operational code that would capture and compare the deeper logic of political cultures. The passion was inspired by Nathan Leites, who fascinated his colleagues at Rand by The Operational Code of the Politburo and A Study of Bolshevism.(19) Ithiel started to do the same analysis for India, and in his basement is a trunk filled with note cards detailing classic Indian texts, stories of monkey kings, learned discussions of how the categories of Indian logic differ from Western logic, and other inputs into the creative process of explicating what made Indian sensibility distinctive. 

(One of the most interesting contents are letters describing his bafflement at Indian movies - they are uniquely Indian because they are greatly beloved in India, but there is almost no market elsewhere in the world. And Ithiel could never quite grasp why Indian audiences were so drawn to the stories - and he was fascinated that he could not predict the plots!) 

Ithiel never solved the problem, but he hooked himself on it. And this is a second reason why I think Ithiel would be engaged by the problem that Huntington has posed. He already would see a way - using operational code analysis - to make a deeper analysis of whether (for example) the Islamic world was becoming more Western in its sensibilities. 

c)     There is a third reason why Ithiel might be drawn to the problem and think he could do a better job of empirical grounding: 40 years ago, he had already anticipated that there were many more interesting stories to be told about cultures than an analysis of traditional religious/ethnic cultures as the organizing principles in global human affairs. He wrote, for example, about different languages and cultures that might be cross-cutting universals: "Formal language, colloquial language, rude language, mothering language, upper-class language, lower-class language, men's language, women's language, children's language. . ."(20) It would not escape Ithiel's notice that MTV is now a global channel and that a global teenage culture would be a consequential phenomenon to recognize, even if its current relevance is beyond the ken of national security elites. The study of global cultures could reveal a much more interesting and pluralist world, and perhaps - rather than a clash of cultures - a much more interesting set of interactions. And I think it is a story he might like to begin to tell.(21)

III. Intermission

At this point, I just want to take a brief intermission and suggest one thing that Ithiel would not be doing. He would not be writing a single word about Israeli or Middle Eastern politics or about Israeli-Palestinian relations. 

On its face, this may seem unexpected, coming from a political scientist whose ancestors, on both sides, included centuries of distinguished rabbis. In fact Ithiel's father, Rabbi David de Sola Pool, was the spiritual head of the Sephardic synagogue in New York City and his mother was a passionate Zionist.(22) But across two dozen books and several hundred articles there is a loud silence about Israel and the Middle East.

3. A third prediction is that Ithiel would be involved in research to improve decision making by governments and citizens concerning important issues.

a)     The battle for social science in domestic policy 

In domestic policy I think his priority would be easy to predict. Ithiel belonged to a generation of pioneers who believed that ideology was on the decline, being steadily replaced by social science, and that we were entering a period of empirically-based, rather than belief-based, public policy. Ithiel was passionately committed to free speech and democratic processes, and he also believed that the schema of hypothesis and evidence, introduced by our scientific institutions into democratic processes, could save us from the endless recycling of similar ideological arguments, give us real historical leverage, and genuine progress. The aggressive resurgence of ideologues such as Ronald Reagan or Newt Gingrich was completely unexpected. 

In this regard, Ithiel shared the views of his Harvard colleague Daniel Bell, whose famous pre-Reagan and pre-Gingrich book was The End of Ideology. Ithiel, for his own part, believed that the American people were not highly ideological and the policy differences between Republicans and Democrats often could be resolved, in practice, by testing empirical claims. He wrote: 

"The interesting issues in normative political theory are in the end generally empirical ones. Only rarely do arguments over policy turn on irreducible conflicts of values. More often they are arguments about the facts of situations to which the values are applied. Most men agree in valuing freedom and also equality, and order and also progress. . . . {There is a fundamental problem, clarified by Arrow and others of value mixes but] "for the rest, when men differ in their policy conclusions it is usually because of differing empirical judgments about how a chosen package of values may be achieved."(23)

The difficulty, as you may know, is that we made good progress in evaluating liberal assumptions of the Great Society until the first election of Ronald Reagan. Then David Stockman launched a pre-emptive strike to zero-out all behavioral science research in the federal budget and our major agenda-setting institutions in science suddenly shut-up. And the accommodations have become permanent.(24) 

I think that Ithiel would have fought back for social science, and I think he would have reacted strongly to test theories of the political right, on an equal footing with evaluations of the Great Society programs, and to preserve an independent and respected role for empirically-based social and economic policy. And I think he would have been outraged that distinguished scientific panels (such as the Luce Commission quoted from private correspondence in Figure 5) were quietly compromising the political independence of science and university-based inquiry, a challenge that he fought fiercely when the Department of Health and Human Services sought to impose requirements for prior review of research involving human subjects.(25) 

Concerning Figure 5, let me add a current illustration from the new President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. They have recently discussed the question of restarting progress in testing ideological assumptions. The meeting to discuss these issues acknowledged the distinction between "belief-based rather than empirically-based" social and economic policy, but the members expressed doubt about "the relative important of these issues to the broader public." And they decided to continue the de facto policy of quietly deferring initiatives to obtain evidence that might be too politically significant.(26) 

Here is an example of the current breakdown: if you listened to the televised selection from the Markle Foundation's experiment during the last election (bringing a sample of American voters together to discuss the issues), it was striking to hear the citizen group ask an expert panel of economists to address their concern of how much government should do for people versus how much people should do for themselves? In answer, Lester Thurow of MIT - one of the experts - changed the subject and said that the citizens were asking the wrong question - the real question is not what people (v. government) should do, but the total amount of investment made by both. 

. . . And the questioner nodded politely and, five minutes later, another member of the citizen group persevered and said, still politely: "Yes, we understand Professor Thurow's point, but what we really wanted him to talk about was how much government should do for people versus what people should be expected to do for themselves. . . ?" 

What is involved in this non-exchange is a narrowness of social science. Academic economists assume autonomous individuals with fixed motivation - there is no group psychology or capacity of government to energize people or otherwise affect their personality, motivation, or moral character by its size, subjective prominence, or the comprehensiveness of its responsibilities. But I think there is very suggestive evidence - which is beyond the scope of this discussion - that Ronald Reagan and a core of other Republicans (and members of citizen panels) worry about the possibility of a clinical-like, hierarchical relationship to a prominent government that induces dependency and affects motivation and responsibility in a zero-sum fashion. As government takes more responsibility, people take less . . . 

In candor, Lester Thurow mis-answered the question, and he should have said that he and his colleagues had no scientific basis to give advice about economic policy if you framed the question this way. Economic theory and econometric measurements have - and I intend this as a technical comment - no imagination. When Ronald Reagan was asked about economic policy, he talked about how alive and wonderful it felt to ride the open range on horseback: He was not talking in metaphors. Rather, he was trying to change a sense of reality that originates in a different universe than Lester Thurow and his colleagues inhabit. 

I think that Ithiel would have gone after the challenge to social science by broadening an empirically-based dialogue and starting to test the truth claims of these models. Especially, Republican beliefs that they can change (and have been changing) national modal personality by their policies.(27) 

There is another reason Ithiel would have done this. He went through psychoanalysis and was engaged by the study of imagery as a way to incorporate depth psychology into policy analysis. In fact, one of his most original and gifted studies was "Newsman's Fantasies, Audiences, and Newswriting" - using terms like fantasy, audiences, and reference groups to discuss projection and transference in a more acceptable vocabulary. I think he would have been especially interested to develop the study of hierarchical imagery to help evaluate the concerns and claims of ideology.(28) 

b)     Improving  government  international  policy:  forecasting 

I am quite sure that Ithiel would be actively engaged by issues of international policy, both intellectually and because the engagement could contribute to the continued strength of a political science program at MIT. 

A word of context: As many of you know, the Political Science Department at MIT was always an unnatural institution. The Center for International Studies, the Research Program in Communications, and the Political Science Department were created when James Killian from MIT was science adviser to President Eisenhower, and then Jerome Weisner was science adviser to President Kennedy. They were created during the Cold War to build national capacity and demonstrate the contribution that first-rate social science might make to understanding the major forces of change in the world. The original research program was created by a distinguished Ford Foundation-supported panel of which Ithiel was the secretary before being hired to implement the agenda.(29) The quid pro quo for a Political Science Department at MIT has always been that first-rate scientific analysis of global trends and international policy questions should be the defining agenda. 

Ithiel also believed strongly that foreign policy was too important, and the assessment of reality required too much capacity for independent thought, to be left to the kinds of people who chose careers as spies, KGB or FBI operatives, or diplomats. He campaigned very hard to open-up the CIA's analyses to rigorous vetting by outside science-based research.(30) If you look at the structure of the new National Intelligence Council at the CIA - which had, as its first directors, Joseph Nye and Richard Cooper from Harvard - it is the kind of institutional innovation and meeting ground that his writings would support. 

Just to indicate briefly: I think he would pick forecasting as a critical focus for this dialogue. He was interested in the development of the methodology and - like "international communications" - it is a wide-ranging entrČe and seems devoid of a partisan agenda. And he would surely have credibility, as he was one of the only social scientists to forecast the breakup of the Soviet Union and the resurgence of nationality- and ethnicity-based conflicts as part of this extraordinary development.(31) 

Concerning specific forecasting: Ithiel almost surely would be interested in ethnicity-based conflicts, since he had been involved in the programs of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America to affirm, among minorities in the USSR and in Eastern Europe, that their true, natural, and healthiest identity was their ethnic or national identity - i.e., and sought to encourage the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact as part of this strategy. Having helped to turn the dial in one direction, I think he would be especially engaged by the possibility of communication technology that could turn the dial in the other direction. 

My guess, too, is that he might be interested in the study of contact nets and the remarkable growth of a cluster of global humanitarian politics movements - environment, human rights (including women's rights), and support for humanitarian interventions in Africa and elsewhere - as an expression of new communication networks and organizational patterns.

IV. Conclusion

My final thought is that Ithiel did like to travel. And I suspect that he would manage to be developing projects in Japan, which he was beginning to know and admire greatly at the time of his death. And Russia, since the political transition there is surely one of the most interesting and consequential processes in world politics and reality-based policy would be very helpful.


[The MIT Library is the principal depository for Ithiel de Sola Pool's papers, with secondary holdings at the University of Chicago and in the Smithsonian. A complete bibliography of Ithiel Pool's work is included in Etheredge (in press).]

Abelson, Robert; Pool, Ithiel de Sola; Popkin, Samuel. Candidates,  Issues,  and  Strategies:  A  Computer  Simulation  of  the  1960  and  1964  Elections. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1965.  
Bauer, Raymond; Pool, Ithiel de Sola; Dexter, Lewis A. American  Business  and  Public  Policy: The  Politics of  Foreign  Trade. New York: Atherton Press of Prentice-Hall, 1963.   
Etheredge, Lloyd S., ed. Politics  in  Wired  Nations:  Selected  Papers  of  Ithiel  de  Sola  Pool (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, in press).   
Kochen, Manfred,  ed. The  Small  World: A  Volume of  Recent  Research  Commemorating  Ithiel  de  Sola  Pool,  Stanley  Milgram,  and  Theodore  Newcomb. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Company, 1989.   
Pool, Ithiel de Sola; Inose, H.; Takasaki, N.; Hurwitz, R. Communication  Flows: A  Census  in  the  United  States  and  Japan. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1984.  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola. "Deterrence as an influence process." In  Theory  and  Research  on  the  Causes  of  War, edited by Pruitt, Dean G.; Snyder, Richard C., 189-196. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1969.  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola. "Effects of cross-national contact on national and international images." In International  Behavior:  A  Social  Psychological  Analysis, edited by Kelman, Herbert C., 106-129. NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola. Forecasting  the  Telephone:  A  Retrospective  Technology  Assessment  of  the  Telephone. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Company, 1983.  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola; Schramm, Wilbur; with others, eds. Handbook  of  Communication. Chicago: IL: Rand McNally, 1973. See especially Pool's contributions, "Communication in totalitarian societies," 462-511, chapter 14 and "Public opinion," 779-835, chapter 25.  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola. "The Kaiser, the Tsar, and the computer: Information processing in a crisis." American Behavioral Scientist 8, no. 9 (May, 1965): 31-39.  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola; Shulman, Irwin. "Newsmen's fantasies, audiences and newswriting." Public Opinion Quarterly 23, no. 2 (Summer, 1959): 145-158.  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola. "Public opinion and the control of armaments." In Arms  Control,  Disarmament,  and  National  Security, edited by Brennan, Donald G., 333-346. NY: George Braziller, 1961. [A shorter version appears in Daedalus (Fall, 1960): 984-999.]  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola. "The role of communication in the process of modernization and technological change." 279-293 in Hoselitz, Bert F. And Moore, Wilbert E., eds., Industrialization  and  Society. Paris: UNESCO-Mouton, 1963.  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola. The  Social  Impact  of  the  Telephone. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977.  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola, ed. Studies  in  Political  Communication. Public Opinion Quarterly: v. 20, no. 1 (Spring, 1956). Entire issue.  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola. Technologies  of  Freedom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola. Technologies  Without  Boundaries:  On  Telecommunications  in  a  Global  Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.  
Pool, Ithiel de Sola. "Trends in content analysis today: A summary" in Ithiel de Sola Pool, ed., Trends  in  Content  Analysis; papers. Chapter 7, 189-233. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1959.  
Speier, Hans; Bruner, Jerome; Carroll, Wallace; Lasswell, Harold D.; Lazarsfeld, Paul; Shils, Edward; Pool, Ithiel de Sola. "A plan of research in international communication." Condensation  of  the  Planning  Committee  Report, Center for International Studies, MIT. World  Politics 6, no. 3 (April, 1954): 358-377.