Disrupting Science : Social Movements, American Scientists, and the Politics of the Military, 1945-1975
In the decades following World War II, American scientists were celebrated for their contributions to social and technological progress. They were also widely criticized for their increasingly close ties to military and governmental power--not only by outside activists but from among the ranks of scientists themselves. Disrupting Science tells the story of how scientists formed new protest organizations that democratized science and made its pursuit more transparent. The book explores how scientists weakened their own authority even as they invented new forms of political action.
Drawing extensively from archival sources and in-depth interviews, Kelly Moore examines the features of American science that made it an attractive target for protesters in the early cold war and Vietnam eras, including scientists' work in military research and activities perceived as environmentally harmful. She describes the intellectual traditions that protesters drew from--liberalism, moral individualism, and the New Left--and traces the rise and influence of scientist-led protest organizations such as Science for the People and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Moore shows how scientist protest activities disrupted basic assumptions about science and the ways scientific knowledge should be produced, and recast scientists' relationships to political and military institutions.
Disrupting Science reveals how the scientific community cumulatively worked to unbind its own scientific authority and change how science and scientists are perceived. In doing so, the book redefines our understanding of social movements and the power of insider-led protest.
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Princeton University Press
January 06, 2008
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Excerpt from Disrupting Science by Kelly Moore
In the 1940s and 1950s, it was difficult for scientists to speak out on these issues. The national security system, which was intensified in 1947, swept up scientists in high-profile and routine investigations. As Jessica Wang has shown, scientists made up more than half of those investigated by the federal government between 1947 and 1954. The security frenzy included extensive surveillance of scientists who were peace activists, including Albert Einstein, and repeated public investigations of leading scientists such as Robert Oppenheimer and Edward U. Condon, whose reputations were damaged despite the failure of loyalty committees to find them guilty of security breaches. Restrictions on travel and security clearances for federal grants and contracts added to the atmosphere of suspicion and fear.16 As a result, many scientists--but by no means all--were wary of taking explicit political positions that might be construed as contrary to the military goals of the United States or in any way "political." Part of the story I tell in Disrupting Science is of a small group of dedicated pacifist scientists who personally refused military funding and who urged their peers to find ways to use science for "productive" ends, even though they were at great risk for asserting their perspective.
By the late 1950s, as repression had eased, scientists began to raise new questions about the politics of science, this time about the extent to which democratic procedures were being subverted by the failure of scientists to provide the public with facts and information sufficient to allow their full participation in political debates about the wisdom of atomic testing. In the late 1960s, radical scientists went beyond calls to reform the behavior of scientists or democratic procedures; they called for the wholesale restructuring of society.
Yet scientists were not the only ones who questioned the new military-science relationship. In the early 1960s, members of Congress began to raise questions about the wisdom of using the majority of federal research funds for military purposes. They called instead for more spending on health and social problems. President Eisenhower's last presidential speech famously warned of the dangers of a "military-industrial complex," and of the dangers to the freedom of university research presented by massive federal funding. Politicians and presidents, however, played a relatively small role in generating the moral outrage that drove scientists to rearticulate their place in American public life. The social movements of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s provided some of the pressure and much of the moral argumentation and camaraderie that led to the creation of new means of organizing the relationship between knowledge production and power. The scientists who are featured in this book often considered themselves part of these broader political movements. The intersection of social movements and changes in the organizational, moral, political, and economic organization of science offers a window through which we can observe how scientists created new understandings of the place of science in American public life.
The critiques of science and scientists that scientists and other activists made in the three episodes I examine can best be understood as arguments stemming from two established and dominant American political traditions, liberalism and moral individualism, and one emergent perspective, that of a Marxian-inspired New Left. By political traditions, I do not mean static tools strategically identified and mechanically applied. Traditions are full of currents and countercurrents that people endlessly recon-figure as they creatively integrate them with real political problems. Even as the protagonists in this book drew on political traditions to formulate criticisms of science, they also transformed them in powerful ways. By the late 1960s, scientists' efforts to forge a new relationship with the public and the government were informed by the political analyses of the New Left and by Marxists. Both had roots in earlier American political thought, but compared to moral individualism and liberalism, they were more fertile ground for the development of novel ways of articulating how scientists could use their skills in the service of the public.
The least well known, but earliest, tradition on which critiques of science were based in the thirty years following World War II was moral individualism. In this tradition, transformation of the individual moral conscience is the source of broader social change.17 Those who drew on this tradition argued that scientists had failed to take personal moral responsibility for the development and use of scientific ideas and products. Unlike liberal scientists and commentators, scientists drawing on this tradition did not turn to the government for solutions to what they saw as the moral corruption of science and scientists through association with the military. These scientists were inspired by religiously based activists and leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Fellowship of Reconciliation leaders Brad Lyttle and A. J. Muste. Those scientists who espoused this tradition had little confidence in either the government or organized political groups to effect real transformations in the science-military relationship. They believed that the relationship between science and the military could be decoupled only through the personal commitment and choice of individual scientists to refuse military work.
A second tradition from which ideas were drawn about the proper arrangements among science, the military, and citizens was liberalism. Scientists and other activists working in this tradition assumed that an educated and informed citizenry was the major means for making decisions about the proper role of science in public life. From scientists who called for scientific rather than government control of science after World War II to critics of "technocracy," those who argued from a liberal perspective believed that scientists' proper role was to inform the public of facts that citizens could use to rationally decide among alternatives.
These two traditions were the basis for the criticisms of the science-military connection through the middle of the 1960s. In the mid-1960s new voices were added. Marxists and New Left activists and intellectuals became critical of the relationship between capitalism and science, and feminists and antiracists associated science with the domination of women and blacks. College students were especially important in generating activism among scientists. In 1966, they began to gather information about how the facilities and faculties on their campuses contributed to weapons production. Some who were influenced by Marxism argued that science had been captured by the needs of the upper classes and by what they saw as imperialist goals of the United States bent on the material and military domination of its citizens and those of other nations. Many New Left activists, inspired in part by the ideas of Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse, were critical of the ways in which capitalism and instrumental rationality left people bereft of the ability to imagine and create.18
In practice, few of the scientists whose activities I examine in this book called themselves "moral individualists," "liberals," or "radicals" when they engaged in challenges and defenses of science. In the episodes in which contradictions in the professed and actual relationships between science and politics were variously uprooted and exposed or vehemently defended, activists, intellectuals, and journalists often wove together elements of different traditions and perspectives. Moreover, the volatile intersections of science and politics were not abstract debates, but involved concrete political events. The arms race, the development of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and the war in Vietnam were the substantive issues around which scientists struggled to make good on the promise of science to serve all people.
Scientists were ultimately trying to steer a course between two potentially contradictory positions. On the one hand, many asserted that the public political authority of science was based on the strong distinction between scientific knowledge and practices, and the messy world of values and moral concerns. On the other hand, some claimed that the value of science lay in its affinities with and beneficial effects on aspects of social life, including democracy, moral progress, and the economy. Both of these bases would be fundamentally shaken by the close ties between scientists and the military that characterized the mid-twentieth century and by the social movements that condemned that relationship.
After sixty years of building a professional field that increasingly centralized the power to make uncontested claims about nature in the hands of scientists, the two decades following World War II at first seemed to continue that pattern, given the lavish funding and the centrality of scientific ideas to the military and security projects of the cold war. Yet the cumulative pattern of scientists' political organizing against this new relationship helped to contribute, ironically, to a weakening of their political authority. The organizations they formed linked science to moral and political projects that called for more citizen and scientist involvement in technopolitical issues. In turn, this call led to a weakening of scientists' political authority, but also led to the greater importance of scientific claims and technologies in structuring and adjudicating political debate. Of course, this was not the only source of the disruption of scientific authority. The growth of the regulatory state beginning in the mid-1960s, especially the regulation of research on human and animal subjects, highly visible problems resulting from scientific technologies (thalidomide, atomic fallout, pollution), intellectual critiques of science, and the growing importance of the market also contributed to these shifts. Disrupting Science is an effort to demonstrate the role of scientists in contributing to the "unbounding" of scientific authority from scientists and its "binding" to other decision makers through social movement activity on the part of scientists.19 In the next section, I turn to a theoretical elaboration of some of the main sociological claims of this book.
Although this book considers three key episodes separately, it will show that each group built on or responded to those that came before it, so that over time different visions of how scientists should act in a moral fashion proliferated and contended. This variation in itself helped to undermine the idea that science was a socially or morally unified field built on facts that could be used to constitute political or social life. Although concerned specifically with scientists, my analysis is situated in a longer tradition of analyses of contentious moral politics.20
I will seek to explain when and why scientists engaged in work that was simultaneously an attempt to redeem science from the moral pollution of its association with the state and a deliberate effort to encourage the values and moral meanings of other communities to affect scientists' behavior. Such action poses a puzzle for most analyses of scientific authority.
SCIENTIFIC AUTHORITY AND POLITICAL ACTION
The distinctiveness of science as a specific form of social action, and of scientists as a group, is a major theme in Western culture. Historians and sociologists have understood the emergence of science as a distinctive field in terms of scientists' efforts to limit access to the social and material means of producing credible scientific knowledge. Just as other forms of action were differentiated, so, too, did science come to be a distinctive practice.21 Sociologists of science have also been concerned with the ways that scientists have established authority using material, and especially linguistic, tools to manage the "boundaries" of science. Such activity is normally considered to be protective of the areas in which scientists engage.
As Thomas Gieryn argued in his 1983 foundational article on this subject, "boundary work" is the process by which scientists "attribute certain qualities to scientific claims in order to draw a rhetorical boundary between science and some less authoritative, residual non-science."22 Other writers have followed Gieryn, elaborating on the causes, processes, and consequences of how scientists contest epistemic claims among themselves and others in ways that reestablish the authority of science and scientists.23 In contrast to earlier structural-functionalist analyses that assumed that scientific activity was autonomous from other forms of social action and that its authority derived from its objectivity and prima facie social value, studies of boundary work demonstrate that the political authority of science depends in part on scientists' active engagement in discursive, organizational, and material projects.
Although the concept "boundary work" is theoretically able to incorporate actions in which scientists engage in activities that are intended to lessen their control over decisions about science, it has not often been a subject of study. One of the assumptions common to studies of boundary work among scientists and other groups is that professional advantage and monopoly drive most decisions by scientists and others. As Gieryn argues in his analysis of "cultural cartography," or the making of cultural boundaries, "it makes little sense to argue that cultural cartographers are indifferent about how epistemic authority is allocated or that they would deliberately prefer tactics designed to lose it."24 Whether the analysis draws on rational choice theory, Marxism, Bruno Latour's systems-based models of credibility, or Bourdieu's class-based analysis of science, the monopolization of expertise and authority is assumed to trump other motivations.