Science of Coercion: Communication Research & Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960

Article excerpt

Simpson, Christopher. Science of Coercion: Communication Research & Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. 204 pp. $15.95.

In the decade and a half after World War II, academic research in mass communication expanded dramatically. Many journalism schools, long dominated by faculty teaching skills and such traditional offerings as history and law, began hiring researchers on media effects. And theirs became the dominating scholarly activity at most communication programs.

The dominance, Christopher Simpson contends, did not flow from normal intellectual forces, but from substantial financial support from government agencies fighting the Cold War. Effective propaganda, many government officials assumed, could defeat communism, especially in the third world. Often covertly, the federal government subsidized much if not most of the important scholarship on communication effects conducted from 1945-1960. In the process, the government rewarded one academic class. In virtually every instance, they belonged to an imperial priesthood, trained in quantitative sociology and psychology. They were not, Simpson frequently notes, bought off. Federal patrons did not dictate their conclusions. It was rather a case of the government anointing scholars sharing the government's goals and adhering to a specified methodology.

"It is clear," Simpson writes, "that use of government funding facilitated certain types of research and the winning of the professional prestige that might not otherwise have been available."

Examples abound of prominent mass communication researchers and research centers being co-opted by the federal government. Up to half or more of the operating moneys for the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center and Columbia University's Bureau of Applied Social Research (BASR) came at different times from government agencies anxious to fashion effective propaganda. Governmentsponsored conferences not surprisingly conveyed only the Cold War consensus, with debate severely bounded. …