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In Sputnik's Shadow

In Sputnik's Shadow: The President's Science Advisory Committee and Cold War America

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    In Sputnik's Shadow
    Book Description:

    In today's world of rapid advancements in science and technology, we need to scrutinize more than ever the historical forces that shape our perceptions of what these new possibilities can and cannot do for social progress.In Sputnik's Shadowprovides a lens to do just that, by tracing the rise and fall of the President's Science Advisory Committee from its ascendance under Eisenhower in the wake of the Soviet launching of Sputnik to its demise during the Nixon years. Members of this committee shared a strong sense of technological skepticism; they were just as inclined to advise the president about what technologycouldn'tdo-for national security, space exploration, arms control, and environmental protection-as about what itcoulddo.Zuoyue Wang examines key turning points during the twentieth century, including the beginning of the Cold War, the debates over nuclear weapons, the Sputnik crisis in 1957, the struggle over the Vietnam War, and the eventual end of the Cold War, showing how the involvement of scientists in executive policymaking evolved over time. Bringing new insights to the intellectual, social, and cultural histories of the era, this book not only depicts the drama of Cold War American science, it gives perspective to how we think about technological advancements today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4514-1
    Subjects: History, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Note to the Reader
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Abbreviations Used in Text
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    When Dwight Eisenhower met with the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) on December 19, 1960 in the White House, he had much on his mind. A little over a month before, John F. Kennedy had defeated Vice President Richard Nixon in the presidential election. Eisenhower told the scientists that he had been so sure that Nixon would win the election that his thinking about the transition “had all been oriented toward that situation.” He now worried that Kennedy’s brand of liberalism would bring an activist administration, with “centralized dictation and attitude of omniscience.” PSAC, Eisenhower said, “could be an offset...

  8. Part I Prelude:: Before Sputnik

    • 1 American Public Science, 1863–1945
      (pp. 13-22)

      When the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik, on October 4, 1957, the feat did more than herald the space age. It also put the spotlight of world attention on the role of science, technology, and their practitioners in the Cold War. Widely viewed as a crowning achievement of Soviet socialism, the satellite launch challenged the perception of Russian technological backwardness, putting an immediate end to the American joke that the Soviets could not sneak a nuclear “suitcase bomb” into the country because they had not perfected the suitcase. Instead, the American public now cried over an...

    • 2 The Origins of Technological Skepticism, 1945–1950
      (pp. 23-31)

      The years from the end of World War II to the beginning of the Korean War marked a key period in American scientists’ dual drive to justify public support of science and to control an increasingly dangerous nuclear arms race. For many scientists, including those who would be active in PSAC, the atomic bomb gave them both an opportunity and a reason to enter the political arena: the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led them to question the applications of their research and its implications for the future of the world. It started with the Scientists’ Movement for civilian and...

    • 3 Mobilizing Science for the Korean War under Truman, 1950–1952
      (pp. 32-41)

      The Korean War dramatically changed the landscape of American science and government. On the heels of the H-bomb decision, the conflict brought the urgency of general military research and development (R&D) and scientific mobilization beyond nuclear weapons to the attention of government officials.¹ It also highlighted the need for a revitalization of defense research policy and organization at the top of the government. The White House became the locus of a campaign by scientists who pushed for the establishment of a science advisory setup there to coordinate both science in policy and policy for science for the Cold War.


    • 4 Science and the National Security State under Eisenhower, 1952–1957
      (pp. 42-68)

      For American society and science, the years between the 1952 election and the 1957 Sputnik crisis were full of paradoxes. The end of the Korean War and economic prosperity created complacency, but beneath the surface lurked great danger for the United States as the nuclear arms race entered the thermonuclear and missile age.¹ To meet the new threats, many American scientists remobilized themselves into national security work, only to find themselves targets of surging McCarthyist attacks that began in the late 1940s and victims of what they regarded as capricious government science policy. Against this most trying background, the ODM-SAC,...

  9. Part II Ike, Sputnik, and the Rise of PSAC

    • 5 Eisenhower, Sputnik, and the Creation of PSAC, 1957
      (pp. 71-87)

      On the evening of October 4, 1957, American physicist and ODM-SAC member Lloyd Berkner was attending a reception for International Geophysical Year scientists at the Soviet embassy in Washington, DC, when aNew York Timesreporter told him that the Soviets had just launched a satellite. Berkner immediately announced the news and congratulated the Soviet scientists present on their achievement.¹ In short order, the Sputnik news spread like a wildfire and promised to change, among other things, the science–state partnership and put the hitherto obscure scientists on the ODM-SAC into the public spotlight.

      Sputnik, or “fellow traveler [of the...

    • 6 PSAC and the Launching of NASA, 1957–1960
      (pp. 88-99)

      With PSAC’s ascendance into the White House in 1957, American public scientists moved institutionally closer to executive policymaking than ever before in peacetime. The first order of business for PSAC was to help President Eisenhower restore confidence in the American space program, which appeared technically incompetent and organizationally confused. At a press conference on February 5, 1958, the president announced that he had asked Killian and PSAC to “give for the United States a program of outer space achievement.”¹ The decision was an unusual one in that it allowed a group of technically private citizens to shape one of the...

    • 7 Military Technology, 1957–1960
      (pp. 100-119)

      If getting the American space program off the ground provided a placating pill for the agitated American public, rationalizing the military R&D programs was the medicine Eisenhower sought to solve what he perceived as real problems. Indeed, nowhere did PSAC articulate its sense of technological skepticism better than in the area of military technology. It pointed out the limitations as well as the potentials of the various defense projects that mushroomed amidst the post-Sputnik technological rush. Their advice proved enormously helpful to the president and made him include science advice in other areas of public policy. Here, as in space,...

    • 8 The Search for a Nuclear Test Ban, 1957–1960
      (pp. 120-141)

      As Sputnik ushered the Cold War world into the missile age, the prospect of a nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union became all the more deadly. Inevitably, PSAC came to reflect this concern in its advice to President Eisenhower. Remarkably, in the field of arms control, as in so many other areas, PSAC found its position much closer to Eisenhower’s than to that of the rest of the defense establishment. PSAC scientists fought passionately for a nuclear test ban, continuing a struggle that the moderate wing of the scientific community had carried on since at least...

    • 9 The Politics of Big Science, 1957–1960
      (pp. 142-157)

      On May 14, 1959, President Eisenhower addressed a high-profile Symposium on Basic Research in New York. Sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the conference and the presidential speech were both designed by science adviser James Killian and PSAC to enhance the public’s interest in science. Speaking on “Science: Handmaiden of Freedom,” Eisenhower dramatically announced that, on the advice of his science advisers, he would soon ask Congress to appropriate $100 million to build the largest scientific instrument in history, a two-mile-long linear electron accelerator at...

    • 10 The Control of Science Policy under Eisenhower, 1957–1960
      (pp. 158-180)

      By mid-1958, PSAC had accomplished much in the areas of Eisenhower’s immediate concerns, namely space and defense, and felt that it was time to put general science policy, beyond the Stanford accelerator and high-energy physics, under a comprehensive examination. In July, Killian asked PSAC to divest its attention from the DOD and NASA to “developing a program for American science.” The specific goals included increased science funding, better government–university ties, improved federal organization of research, and heightened public appreciation of science.¹ In short, PSAC, as public scientists, set out to renegotiate the terms of the social contract between science...

  10. Part III The Politics of Technological Skepticism

    • 11 Science at the New Frontier under Kennedy, 1960–1963
      (pp. 183-198)

      “The New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not,” John Kennedy declared on July 15, 1960, when he accepted the Democratic Party nomination for president at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. “Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.”¹ Kennedy’s highlighting of science was endorsed byTimemagazine when it chose “U.S. Scientists” as “Men of the Year” for 1960, featuring several PSAC members as well as Edward Teller on its cover.² For Kennedy, the rhetoric of the...

    • 12 Responding to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, 1962–1963
      (pp. 199-218)

      On August 29, 1962, when President Kennedy held his forty-second press conference, foreign policy, especially the nuclear test ban and suspicion of Soviet shipment of missiles to Cuba, dominated the exchange until one reporter brought the discussion closer to home. “Mr. President,” he asked, “there appears to be growing concern among scientists as to the possibility of dangerous long-range side effects from the widespread use of DDT and other pesticides.” “Have you considered asking the Department of Agriculture or the Public Health Service to take a closer look at this?” “Yes,” Kennedy answered, “and I know that they already are....

    • 13 Testing the Limits, 1961–1963
      (pp. 219-235)

      In contrast to their remarkable effectiveness in the new area of environmental policy, the presidential science advisers, ironically, faced mounting challenges in space and arms control, their traditional strongholds, during the Kennedy years. In both these arenas, PSAC scientists remained committed to a set of ideals formed during the post-Sputnik Eisenhower years and under his influence. They wanted the United States to follow a space program of substance, preferably one guided by scientific merit, and not one geared toward propaganda effects; they cautioned against a resurgent technological enthusiasm for manned space programs. In arms control, they agreed with Eisenhower’s argument...

    • 14 “Scientists for Johnson,” 1964
      (pp. 236-257)

      Like the rest of the country, PSAC scientists were shocked and saddened by Kennedy’s assassination. Despite their disagreements over a number of policies, PSAC members appreciated what Wiesner called Kennedy’s “spirit and charm and intelligence” as well as his support of science, education, and arms control.¹ Mixed with a genuine sense of grief was, on the part of PSAC members, a worry over the continuity of science in Johnson’s White House. Feeling “loss and waste and danger,” Richard Garwin, for example, wrote Wiesner both to console him and to express his concern over the transition:

      Brilliant, hard working, and effective...

    • 15 PSAC, the Vietnam War, and the ABM Debate, 1964–1968
      (pp. 258-286)

      The polite but largely productive relationship between Johnson and his science advisers took a turn for the worse as the Vietnam War polarized the nation in the late 1960s. The “poison of Vietnam” introduced questions of loyalty and trust as each side felt betrayal by the other—scientists criticized Johnson for breaking his peace promise and the president resented their protest against a war he regarded as a fight for freedom.¹ The tension then further deepened with the debate over ABMs. Both the war and the ABM controversy sharpened a dilemma that had always faced PSAC and other moderate scientists...

    • 16 The Politics of Technological Dissent under Nixon, 1969–1973
      (pp. 287-310)

      Surprisingly, when Richard M. Nixon won the presidential election in 1968, the troubled relationship between American science and the government seemed to take a turn for the better. To the delight of many scientists who had opposed him during the election, Nixon not only called for increased and stable support of basic research, but also selected Lee A. DuBridge, retiring president of Cal Tech and former chairman of the ODM-SAC, as his science adviser. Nixon took other well-publicized steps to improve his image within the scientific community: he restored $10 million to the NSF’s budget ceiling and met with the...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 311-317)

    In 2001, following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, the U.S. government, under President George W. Bush, launched a global war on terror, together with a mobilization of federal and national scientific and technological resources on a scale that brought comparisons with the Cold War.¹ The overwhelming American military-technological strength no doubt made it possible—and perhaps enticing—for the Bush administration to start the invasion of Iraq in 2003 on what turned out to be false or manipulated intelligence about the Iraq leader Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Code-named Shock and...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 318-324)

    Now, more than half a century after the launching of Sputnik and decades after the demise of the PSAC, we live in an paradoxical era that in many ways resembled the one they book-ended. The Cold War is over, but nuclear weapons, concern for which had helped propel PSAC into national prominence in the first place, have remained, as they did then, the most serious threat confronting the United States and the world. American society faces other unprecedented challenges, such as global warming, which PSAC first called public attention to in 1965, and terrorism, and seeks technological solutions for them....

  13. Appendix
    (pp. 325-328)
  14. Abbreviations Used in Notes
    (pp. 329-332)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 333-418)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 419-442)
  17. Index
    (pp. 443-454)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 455-456)