Secretary of State George P. Shultz, apparently referring to scientists who have criticized the Reagan administration's policies on arms control and space weaponry, said last night that scientists "have every right to take part in the public debate but they have no special claim to infallibility."
In a speech to the National Academy of Sciences, Shultz said: "Too often in recent years we have seen scientists with well-deserved reputations for creative achievement and intellectual brilliance speaking out on behalf of political ideas that unfortunately are neither responsible nor particularly brilliant."
Shultz acknowledged that it is "not surprising that scientists will have strong views on such technically complex matters as nuclear weapons, arms control and national defense." But he added:
"Scientists should not expect their words to have special authority in nonscientific areas where they are, in fact, laymen. Scientists are not specialists in the field of world politics, or history, or social policy or military doctrine . . . they have every right to take part in the public debate but they have no special claim to infallibility."
Shultz gave special emphasis to President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, the so-called "Star Wars" program of research into defensive satellites capable of intercepting nuclear missiles aimed at the United States. Some scientists have criticized the program as unfeasible, and many strategic thinkers have warned that it could focus attention away from traditional methods of strategic deterrence.
"Adapting our ways of thinking is never an easy process," Shultz said. "The vehemence of some of the criticism of the president's initiative seems to come less from the debate over technical feasibility -- which future research will settle one way or another in an objective manner -- than from the passionate defense of orthodox doctrine in the face of changing strategic realities.