Disrupting Science: Social Movements, American Scientists, and the Politics of the Military, 1945-1975

Disrupting Science: Social Movements, American Scientists, and the Politics of the Military, 1945-1975

Disrupting Science: Social Movements, American Scientists, and the Politics of the Military, 1945-1975

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.


In 1960, American scientists were Time magazine's “Men of the Year,” described as superheroes whose powers and social contributions surpassed those of any other group in human history. The “true 20th century adventurers, the real intellectuals of the day,” and the “leaders of mankind's greatest inquiries into life itself,” scientists were “statesman and savants, builders and even priests” whose work shaped the “life of every human being on the planet.” In 1970, after a decade of criticism from environmentalists, antiwar activists, and members of the counterculture, The Nation declared that science had become a “war/space machine.” As a result, some citizens had grown “hostile to science, identifying it with war, pollution, and every manner of evil.” Philip Abelson, the editor of Science, decried the growing “war on scientists,” caused, he argued, by unrealistic demands for “relevant” scientific research. Once lauded for their contributions to national security, scientists were now under fire for helping to perpetuate warfare. One of the most interesting aspects of the challenges to the relationship between scientists and the military was that these challenges were not simply waged by “outsiders.” Scientists themselves filled the ranks of critics, charging their peers, the government, and industry with a failure to make good on the promise of science to improve human life. Although criticism of science and scientists and doubts about the benefits of technology have a long history in America, by 1970 the criticisms of science and of scientists were more vociferous and diverse than ever before.

Although it is tempting to treat scientists' self-criticism as an aberration, the historical record demonstrates quite the opposite. Throughout the twentieth century, American scientists were involved in varied and visible forms of public political action, especially in efforts against racism and war, often working closely with and inspired by activists who were not scientists. Disrupting Science examines the development of scientists' activism against the financial and political relationship between scientists and the military between 1945 and 1975. To do so, the book compares three episodes in which scientists formed organizations that articulated different public political roles for themselves and their peers. In the early 1950s, pacifist scientists formed the Society for Social Responsibility in . . .

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