Floyd Ferris, PhD (born 1973), in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, was the Associate Director and "Top Co-ordinator" of the State Science Institute. That is, he was nominally the Associate Director, but in fact was the real head of the Institute. The actual head, Robert Stadler, was a totally naïve, politically clueless researcher. Ferris built on Stadler's work on the physics of sound and supervised the construction of a weapon of mass destruction, known most widely as Project X (X for Xylophone). He also developed a project for the harsh interrogation of a suspect, using electric shock. Ultimately, his plans, like the economy of the United States, came to nothing, though the novel does not describe his ultimate fate.
The novel says nothing about Floyd Ferris' background, other than that he was a biologist by training. Where he obtained his various degrees, and how he came to Washington, DC to join the State Science Institute, the novel does not say. We do learn that he was nominally its Associate Director and senior "co-ordinator," and technically reported to Robert Stadler, the titular director. But aside from drawing a smaller salary than did Dr. Stadler, Dr. Ferris held the actual power in the Institute, for a simple reason: he was a politician at heart, understood political power, and knew how to use it, which Robert Stadler did not.
Of Dr. Ferris' publication credits as a biologist, the novel says nothing. Dr. Ferris had one definite publication credit in the course of the novel: a textbook titled Why Do You Think You Think?, published in May 2018. In it, Ferris developed a theory that every thought in a man's head was an accident of neurochemistry, and that no man's thoughts were any more special than those of any other man. Robert Stadler described the work as "a piece of indecency" and compared it to the rantings of "a drunken lout." This criticism, however, did not faze Ferris in the least, for he knew that Robert Stadler could do nothing either to censure Ferris or to halt or even materially affect the book's publication or distribution.
In addition, Dr. Ferris might, or might not, have been the author of the original critical report on Rearden Metal that provoked such a controversy before the opening of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad's "John Galt Line."
At about the time of the lighting of Ellis Wyatt's infamous Torch in the mountains of Colorado, Ferris organized what would be remembered as his most infamous project: Project X. The X stood for Xylophone, and the project was, in essence, a weapon of mass destruction that used ultrasonic sound to pulverize any target within a range of more than a hundred miles.
In June 2018, Dr. Ferris sought to obtain ten thousand tons of Rearden Metal to give the Xylophone the greatest range possible. But Henry Rearden refused to sell to the Institute, "for any purpose whatever, good or bad, secret or open." Ferris might have supposed that Rearden bore a grudge against the Institute for its handling of the Rearden Metal controversy, but in that Ferris was vastly mistaken, though he would probably never realize it: in truth, Henry Rearden had begun to believe that the government had no business running anything remotely similar to the State Science Institute.
When Rearden and coal mining magnate Ken Dannager concluded a business transaction that was contrary to the Fair Share Act and other related laws and directives, Ferris went to see Rearden and told him bluntly that if he didn't sell the Metal to the Institute, he would face arrest, trial, and possible imprisonment for the illicit transaction. Rearden still refused, and in due course, he and Dannager were both indicted.
Ken Dannager vanished almost as soon as the indictment was handed down. Rearden appeared at his trial and openly defied the court. The men who formed the court were not prepared to deal with Rearden as Ferris might have recommended, so they imposed a meaningless fine of $5000 and made that gesture even more meaningless by suspending sentence.
Ferris gave up trying to obtain Rearden Metal. He had to settle for ordinary steel, and for browbeating Orren Boyle of the Associated Steel Company into at least managing to fulfill a government order, if the notoriously unreliable Boyle couldn't fill any other order.
Ferris got his steel, and Project X took shape in Dunkertown, Iowa, later renamed Harmony City.
In April 2019, Mr. Thompson, Head of State under the new Constitution, personally authorized Wesley Mouch, Senior Coordinator of the Bureau of Economic Planning and Natural Resources, to promulgate Directive 10-289. This was an effort to freeze all economic inputs and outputs at present levels, to stop the economy from deteriorating any further.
Point Four of this Directive included the shutdown of the Register of Copyrights and the United States Patent Office. James Taggart, one of several men present at the final planning meeting, pointed out that all private research institutions would have to close. Wesley Mouch asked Ferris whether he would be able to take on at least some of the students who would be effective, and he answered, with relish,
|“||Some—those who prove co-operative.||”|
Point Three was a provision by which the inventors of any major discoveries would each sign a "gift certificate" placing his invention into the public domain. Dr. Ferris warned everyone present that a certain type of man, whom he called "the guiltless man," would never cooperate. But James Taggart said, "Are you talking about Hank Rearden? Don't worry. He'll sign." Ferris would later hear directly from Mouch what James Taggart had had to share: that Henry Rearden and Dagny Taggart were having an illicit affair, and had been having this affair since the opening of the John Galt Line.
Accordingly, in May 2019, Ferris confronted Rearden in his office with hard, written evidence of the affair, in the form of records of hotel stays in and near Starnesville and Rome, Wisconsin, that occurred shortly after the John Galt Line had opened. As Taggart and Mouch had confidently predicted, Henry Rearden signed the "gift certificate" and surrendered the rights to his Metal.
If Ferris tried again to get a supply of Rearden Metal for Project X, the novel does not say. Orren Boyle did try to make Rearden Metal, now known as Miracle Metal, at his mills on the coast of Maine. But the notorious privateer Ragnar Danneskjöld destroyed those mills. Neither Boyle nor anyone other than Rearden would try to make Rearden Metal ever again.
Project X, revisited
June 29, 2019, Project X was ready for demonstration. Floyd Ferris arranged everything, including attendance by a befuddled Robert Stadler. The demonstration was a complete success, and Stadler, as Ferris knew he would, cooperated by reading the speech that Ferris himself had written for Stadler to deliver. An obstreperous reporter tried to make trouble for the Project by encouraging Stadler to disaffect, but Ferris quickly took the situation in hand by having that reporter's work permit revoked.
Henry Rearden's disappearance
In October 2019, the government prepared to promulgate the Steel Unification Plan, along the lines of the earlier Railroad Unification Plan. This time the government took no chances; they knew that only a tremendous threat would persuade Rearden to sign on. To that end the Unification Board set up a very elaborate ruse to make Rearden think that labor violence was about to break out in his mills. Then on October 31, the Internal Revenue Service entered a lien on all of Rearden's assets, to satisfy a nonexistent income tax obligation.
Floyd Ferris, Wesley Mouch, James Taggart, Tinky Holloway, and Eugene Lawson all invited Henry Rearden to a meeting to "straighten out" the tax situation. Rearden agreed to meet them at the Wayne-Falkland Hotel in New York City.
Henry Rearden did attend the meeting, held on November 4. He spent about fifteen minutes disputing Wesley Mouch and his friends as to the wisdom and practicality of their economic policies. The assembled men described the plan to Rearden, and Rearden told them flatly that their numbers didn't add up. Then he asked, in a manner that was not quite sarcastic, what his hosts thought could save them.
That was when Jim Taggart made a major blunder. He said, "Oh, you'll do something." The minute Taggart said that, Ferris knew that Taggart shouldn't have said it. The look on Henry Rearden's face said it all, and when Rearden abruptly turned to leave, Ferris knew that Taggart, Mouch, and the others had blundered badly. Nothing would sway a man like Henry Rearden but direct force. Henry Rearden had said as much at his earlier trial, and why those men had never learned that lesson was beyond Floyd Ferris' comprehension.
In the end, even those false tax liens could not hold Henry Rearden, who evidently decided that the government had confiscated everything from him except the clothes on his back, with the result that he quite literally had nothing to lose and therefore nothing to forfeit. Ferris was probably not surprised to learn, the following morning, that Henry Rearden had vanished without a trace, like so many other industrialists. What might have surprised him was that several key members of his workforce had vanished along with him, leaving his steel mills standing still.
Mr. Thompson prepared to address the nation on November 22, 2019, to deliver a report on the world crisis. But fifteen minutes before he was to speak, all the radio and television stations were jammed. Then at the appointed hour, a voice spoke through the jamming: a voice identifying itself as that of John Galt, a name that Ferris had known only as part of a slang phrase. The man calling himself John Galt took credit for the economic collapse, and for three hours essentially said that he and all the other "men of the mind" were on strike, and then called for a general strike of anyone else whom he personally had not yet been able to reach.
That John Galt was who he said he was, neither Ferris nor Mr. Thompson nor anyone else in the Legislature or the administration could doubt—not after Galt specifically named several of the vanished men in his speech. (Galt also named Robert Stadler as one who had allowed his mind to enter the service of destruction rather than construction.)
Robert Stadler surprised Ferris by showing a rare flash of insight. Realizing that John Galt would never cooperate voluntarily with the government or anyone in it, Stadler urged the government to have Galt killed out-of-hand.
Three months passed with more pointless foolishness and no real action on any front. During this time Rearden Steel deteriorated under one incompetent manager and one manager who simply sold everything he could. Then, on January 22, 2020, Rearden Steel burned to the ground.
On February 22, 2020, John Galt was found—in New York! Mr. Thompson had him kept under guard in the penthouse suite of the Wayne-Falkland Hotel in New York. He and many other men tried to persuade John Galt to cooperate with the government and accept the post of Economic Dictator of the country. Ferris knew that Galt would never accept that and nearly ran out of patience with Mr. Thompson.
Then Mr. Thompson invited Ferris to interview Galt directly. Ferris' message to Galt was direct and to the point: if Galt did not cooperate, then the government might have to execute some of the feeblest people in order that the stronger ones might live. Mr. Thompson, coward that he was, protested that Ferris did not mean it. John Galt replied that of course Ferris had meant every word that he had said—a deduction for which Ferris could not help but feel a grudging admiration—and then indicated his refusal to hold his own "moral stature...at the mercy of" the actions of Ferris or anyone else. Mr. Thompson then peremptorily ordered Ferris out of the room. Ferris could do nothing other than retreat—for now.
Finally Mr. Thompson arranged the worst waste of time that Ferris had ever seen him make: a television special to announced something called "The John Galt Plan for Peace and Prosperity." Of course Mr. Thompson was bluffing, both with the American people and with Galt himself. Ferris never expected that plan to work. Sure enough, when Galt's turn came to speak, he moved so fast that the camera caught the hidden gun trained on him. Then he said,
|“||Get...out of my way.||”|
The torture session
Ferris and the other officials retreated to a side room. Ferris waited patiently while the men whined and moaned and sobbed. Chick Morrison threw his hands up and stalked out; apparently he had his own hideout in Tennessee, but not another man present would lay any odds on his being able to reach it.
Now Ferris, unquestionably the senior man in authority at the State Science Institute (Robert Stadler had fled; Ferris would learn only later where), challenged Wesley Mouch directly on what he proposed to do. Mouch could only reply, in a halting tone, that Galt had to "take over and save the system." Ferris sarcastically asked whether Mouch intended to "write him a love letter about it," whereupon Mouch pushed the lump out of his throat and said the obvious: that the assembled men had to force John Galt to take over the system.
Ferris then pressed his own solution: to put John Galt to torture by electric shock. Jim Taggart practically jumped at the chance to participate. Wesley Mouch went along—because by then, Mr. Thompson had thrown up his own hands, said that he could not help it, and bade the others "do whatever you want."
At the secret installation of what was known as Project F, Ferris laid it on the line: if Galt did not start telling them his plans for rescuing the national economy, they would start delivering electric shocks, and they would not stop until they had the plans. Galt still refused. For the next fifteen minutes, Mouch, Taggart, and Ferris watched as John Galt, stripped and lashed to a bed, endured one jolt after another that made him writhe. Galt took this treatment without an outcry as Ferris and the others continued to shout at Galt that they wanted him to rule and to give orders.
Suddenly Wesley Mouch cried out to Floyd Ferris that they did not dare kill him, because if he died, they all would die. Ferris, now thoroughly out of patience with Mouch, insisted that the treatments continue. Jim Taggart sat quietly and took in the sight with actual enjoyment.
Then the electroshock generator stopped working. Ferris shouted at the technician in charge to repair the generator or face imprisonment. Then Galt stunned them all by telling them not only what was wrong with the generator but how to repair it!
The technician backed away from Galt and the three interrogators and then bolted. Galt, still lashed to the bed, roared with laughter. Then Jim Taggart rushed forward and tried to repair the generator himself. Wesley tried to stop him, but Jim said, "I want to make him scream." And then Jim let out a scream, and muttered, "No...no...no..."
Galt looked at Jim and said, "Yes. I told you that on the radio, didn't I?"
Whereupon Jim collapsed completely. Ferris then suggested to Wesley that they ought to take Jim out of the chamber and get medical attention for him. He and Mouch helped Jim to his feet and half carried him out of the basement torture chamber, never to return.
The most likely hospital to which Ferris and Mouch would have tried to take Jim Taggart was the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, down the Lyme road and then off to the east from the State Science Institute. Whether anyone was even at the hospital to admit Taggart, the novel never says. Ferris would doubtless learn later that Project X had destroyed itself and a two-hundred-mile-diameter disk of Iowa countryside, and cut the Taggart Bridge in half. Ferris might have connected the disappearance of Robert Stadler from New York, three days before, to the Project X disaster. Or he might not. Ferris was not the best judge of character, and Robert Stadler never gave anyone a clue, during his life, that he would take any such initiative.
In any event, the Project X disaster would have a ripple effect that would strand Ferris and his companions in New Hampshire.
One may infer that various citizens' militias strove with the various criminal gangs that were running rampant throughout the land and asserted themselves as the new force for law and order. (John Galt did promise in his speech that, following the final social collapse, he and his fellows would "act as the rallying point for such outposts of civilization" as other American "patriots" might build.) Either Ferris and the others fell into the hands of one of the criminal gangs (in which case they were probably killed out of hand), or they fell into the hands of one of the militias. In which case that militia held them for eventual trial by a special tribunal, either before Judge Narragansett or at least before a court that operated under rules that Judge Narragansett, as Chief Judge of the new United States Committee of Safety, made and enforced. Floyd Ferris would probably have been defiant to the last and dared the court to impose the maximum penalty. Whether he would have actually suffered that penalty is impossible to infer reliably.
Spoilers end here.
Floyd Ferris is, of course, a major villain in the novel. He is also a type of any scientist who willfully places his talents in the service of the government and not only understands the full implications of such a policy, but fully embraces them.
Robert Stadler is a naïve scientist who actually believes that government-supported "pure scientific" investigation is noble. Floyd Ferris does not try to be noble at all. Like John Galt, Ferris understands, as Robert Stadler does not, that all science must have a practical purpose in order to have value at all. Unlike John Galt, Floyd Ferris prefers to devote his talents to destruction, rather than construction.
Life imitating art
John Holdren, the new science czar in the Barack Hussein Obama administration, has proposed many policy initiatives that are remarkably similar to those of Floyd Ferris. He has never gone so far as to advocate summary execution of the aged and infirm, but he has in fact suggested mandatory abortion, even in the United States, as a means of population control.
- Zahn D, "Obama science czar Holdren called for forced abortions 'Comprehensive Planetary Regime could control development, distribution of all natural resources'", WorldNetDaily, 12 June 2009. <https://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=103707>