For Better or for Worse: The Marriage of Science and Government in the United States

For Better or for Worse: The Marriage of Science and Government in the United States

For Better or for Worse: The Marriage of Science and Government in the United States

For Better or for Worse: The Marriage of Science and Government in the United States

Synopsis

The development of an American science establishment -- today an amalgam of scientists, engineers, universities, industrial laboratories, and federal science agencies -- began early in the twentieth century when the federal government began to invest in a national scientific infrastructure. During World War II this investment swelled to colossal proportions. At present, the yearly federal investment in basic science and technology amounts to about thirty-five billion dollars. How did this complex marriage between science and government occur? How will increasing economic pressures affect its future? In this engaging overview of the science establishment and its relationship with the federal government, renowned physicist Alfred K. Mann details the reasons behind the creation of the four nonmilitary federal science agencies that are responsible for the bulk of this budget and are the principal supporters of scientific research and technology in American universities. Looking into each agency, he elucidates the ways in which decisions were made, whose interests were at stake, and the resulting discoveries, mishaps, and bureaucratic mazes that were constructed in the name of research. Mann interweaves fascinating stories that grew out of the scientific enterprise: ¿ the allies' invention during World War II of the proximity fuse and its tremendous battlefield success, ¿ the first use of blood plasma in World War II field hospitals, ¿ the invention of radar, ¿ strategic policies of the Cold War, ¿ the double helix of DNA, ¿ space explorations and the space missions, ¿ modern global positioning systems (GPS), ¿ satellite surveillance, and ¿ recent declassification of covert operations. Charting the origins and operations of a remarkable collaboration, For Better or for Worse encompasses many of the key scientific discoveries of our time and offers a renewed vision of the future direction of the United States science establishment.

Excerpt

Early in the twentieth century, when funds from wealthy individuals and private foundations ceased to meet the needs of modern science in the United States, the federal government began to invest in a national scientific infrastructure. This was done tentatively at first and then in World War II on the largest scale imaginable. The investment was so successful that it virtually demanded to be continued when peace came. So began the development of an American science establishment, today an amalgam of scientists, engineers, universities, industrial laboratories, and federal science agencies. The establishment is a remarkable achievement in its own right, distinct from the science and technology it has helped to produce but an integral part of them. It has been held together for a half century by a federal government determined to foster the benefits of science and technology for its citizens. The government has achieved this using public money to underwrite the cost of the science establishment despite the intrinsic fluidity and ungovernable nature of both the science and the establishment.

By chance, my career coincided with the emergence and growth of the science establishment. In the words of Dean Acheson, I was “present at the . . .

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