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Science and Technology in the Global Cold War

Science and Technology in the Global Cold War

Naomi Oreskes
John Krige
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 472
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  • Book Info
    Science and Technology in the Global Cold War
    Book Description:

    The Cold War period saw a dramatic expansion of state-funded science and technology research. Government and military patronage shaped Cold War technoscientific practices, imposing methods that were project oriented, team based, and subject to national-security restrictions. These changes affected not just the arms race and the space race but also research in agriculture, biomedicine, computer science, ecology, meteorology, and other fields. This volume examines science and technology in the context of the Cold War, considering whether the new institutions and institutional arrangements that emerged globally constrained technoscientific inquiry or offered greater opportunities for it. The contributors find that whatever the particular science, and whatever the political system in which that science was operating, the knowledge that was produced bore some relation to the goals of the nation-state. These goals varied from nation to nation; weapons research was emphasized in the United States and the Soviet Union, for example, but in France and China scientific independence and self-reliance dominated. The contributors also consider to what extent the changes to science and technology practices in this era were produced by the specific politics, anxieties, and aspirations of the Cold War.ContributorsElena Aronova, Erik M. Conway, Angela N. H. Creager, David Kaiser, John Krige, Naomi Oreskes, George Reisch, Sigrid Schmalzer, Sonja D. Schmid, Matthew Shindell, Asif A. Siddiqi, Zuoyue Wang, Benjamin Wilson

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32610-0
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)
    Naomi Oreskes

    Historians are committed to studying science and technology in context. We accept, as a matter of principle that is rarely debated, that the context of intellectual work is part of its history, and that any account of knowledge that does not include its cultural origins is at best incomplete, and at worst misleading in intellectually and politically significant ways. Yet the question of exactly how context affects content remains challenging. Even though history of science and history of technology are mature disciplines, the scientists (and to a somewhat lesser extent engineers) that we study still tend to resist our approach,...

  5. 1 Science in the Origins of the Cold War
    (pp. 11-30)
    Naomi Oreskes

    InMilitary and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy, first published in the United Kingdom in 1948 (and in the United States a year later under the catchier titleFear, War and the Bomb), the physicist P. M. S. Blackett declared that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan was “not so much the last military act of the Second World War as the first major operation of the cold diplomatic war with Russia now in progress.”¹ Blackett was one of many, then and now, who have tried to assess the role of the atomic bomb—and therefore, implicitly, of...

  6. 2 Atomic Tracings: Radioisotopes in Biology and Medicine
    (pp. 31-74)
    Angela N. H. Creager

    In June of 1946, the Manhattan Project announced that radioisotopes would soon be available for purchase to qualified civilian institutions, thanks to the government’s decision to dedicate a reactor built for the bomb project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee for this purpose: “Production of tracer and therapeutic radioisotopes has been heralded as one of the great peacetime contributions of the uranium chain-reacting pile. This use of the pile will unquestionably be rich in scientific, medical, and technological applications.”² That August, after President Truman signed the Atomic Energy Act, the Manhattan Engineer District began distributing radioisotopes. During the next ten years, the...

  7. 3 Self-Reliant Science: The Impact of the Cold War on Science in Socialist China
    (pp. 75-106)
    Sigrid Schmalzer

    At first blush, Chinese science during the Cold War appears to reflect the same move toward “gadgeteering” that Paul Forman has documented in US physics.¹ After the communist revolution of 1949, many Chinese scientists who had previously pursued research in basic science began working instead on topics with immediate and direct potential applications. Entomologists shifted their focus from insect classification to insect control.² Physicists turned from research on theoretical questions to focus on developing China’s weapons program.³ When the political winds blew just right, influential scientists did manage to secure for basic science some level of state support, without which...

  8. 4 From the End of the World to the Age of the Earth: The Cold War Development of Isotope Geochemistry at the University of Chicago and Caltech
    (pp. 107-140)
    Matthew Shindell

    In the late 1960s, the isotope geochemist Clair “Pat” Patterson—already famous among earth scientists for determining a precise age for the planet—reported the disturbing results of his study of lead concentrations in the ice of northern Greenland.¹ Using ice cores that contained uninterrupted sequences of annually deposited snows reaching back several centuries, Patterson and his colleagues had determined a record of environmental lead that showed the increase of lead pollution from the Industrial Revolution to the 1960s. The lead in the snow told the story of the large-scale contamination of Earth’s atmosphere and surface—contamination that had been...

  9. 5 Changing the Mission: From the Cold War to Climate Change
    (pp. 141-188)
    Naomi Oreskes

    In 1996, the historian Paul Forman argued that military patronage in physics had fostered a science of technical mastery and gadgeteering in physics; in 1965, the oceanographer William von Arx had come to the same conclusion about oceanography.¹ Military patronage was problematic, von Arx argued, because it fostered a culture of technological bravado at the expense of conceptual understanding. This could be remedied, however, by changing the focus of oceanographic research. The particular change von Arx wanted was from warfare to weather (and climate). “This refreshing change of ‘mission’ in ocean research,” he wrote optimistically, “would draw a different sort...

  10. 6 Fighting Each Other: The N-1, Soviet Big Science, and the Cold War at Home
    (pp. 189-226)
    Asif Siddiqi

    In August of 1989, a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the official newspaper of the Soviet government,Izvestiia, published a long essay by Sergei Leskov titled “How We Didn’t We Land on the Moon.”¹ Leskov,Izvestiia’s science journalist, had been trying to publish the piece for some time, but Glavlit, the Soviet Union’s censorship agency, had repeatedly rejected his appeals. Later he recalled that “even in 1989, when there were no limits toglasnost’, it was such a great effort to publish the essay.”² When it finally appeared in print, with the personal permission of a...

  11. 7 Embedding the National in the Global: US-French Relationships in Space Science and Rocketry in the 1960s
    (pp. 227-250)
    John Krige

    One evening in March of 1959 a team of young French space scientists led by Jacques Blamont stared anxiously into the sky over the Sahara desert as their Véronique sounding rocket (a small launcher used to study the properties of the upper atmosphere) soared skyward from its ramp in Hammaguir. To their relief, after a few minutes a trail of bright yellow sodium vapor spewed from a small capsule carried in the nose cone. The trail gradually dispersed, blown by the prevailing winds. By visually tracking the dispersal of the sodium cloud, the French team gained new insights into the...

  12. 8 Bringing NASA Back to Earth: A Search for Relevance during the Cold War
    (pp. 251-272)
    Erik M. Conway

    During the past 30 years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has become the largest funder of climate research in the United States, and a major player in the earth sciences more generally. When NASA was created after the launch of Sputnik, though, Congress gave the agency a very limited role in atmospheric science. Since then, as the Cold War waxed and waned, the agency has gained for itself a much broader “mission,” to study the Earth, with profound consequences for the Earth and planetary sciences.

    In 1989, the administration of George H. W. Bush approved the largest science project...

  13. 9 Calculating Times: Radar, Ballistic Missiles, and Einsteinʹs Relativity
    (pp. 273-316)
    Benjamin Wilson and David Kaiser

    A popular image persists of Albert Einstein as a loner, someone who avoided the hustle and bustle of everyday life in favor of quiet contemplation. Einstein did much to contribute to that image, famously telling a journalist that his ideal occupation would have been that of a lighthouse keeper, isolated from society. Yet Einstein was deeply engaged with politics throughout his life. An outspoken socialist and pacifist, he worked tirelessly for civil rights, for civilian control of atomic energy, and to correct the abuses of domestic anti-communism. Indeed, he was so active politically that the Federal Bureau of Investigation kept...

  14. 10 Defining (Scientific) Direction: Soviet Nuclear Physics and Reactor Engineering during the Cold War
    (pp. 317-342)
    Sonja D. Schmid

    Like no other science, nuclear physics and its related scientific and engineering disciplines shaped, and were shaped by, the Cold War. In particular, what was considered physics, and what was valuable about “fundamental research” more broadly, became subjects of intense debate in the early 1950s. These dynamics took on a distinct character in the post-Stalin Soviet Union, where internal ideological debates increasingly confronted renewed international exchange among nuclear scientists and engineers. Encouraged by their peers’ recognition for their achievements, Soviet nuclear specialists started using the words for “fundamental” and “applied” in ever more sophisticated ways. Most remarkably, and against considerable...

  15. 11 The Cold War and the Reshaping of Transnational Science in China
    (pp. 343-370)
    Zuoyue Wang

    In an article in the October 1967 issue ofForeign Affairs, former vice president Richard Nixon advocated a more active US foreign policy toward China, declaring “There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.”¹ During the next several years, the perception of a China insulated from the outside world would receive confirmation as the country spiraled further into the Cultural Revolution maelstrom at home and engaged in conflicts with both the United States and the Soviet Union abroad. In science, technology, and education, almost all universities...

  16. 12 When Structure Met Sputnik: On the Cold War Origins of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
    (pp. 371-392)
    George Reisch

    One of the most dramatic moments of the Cold War occurred in October of 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite. The day after the launch, a headline in theNew York Timesgave confirming details: SOVIET FIRES EARTH SATELLITE INTO SPACE; IT IS CIRCLING THE GLOBE AT 18,000 M.P.H.; SPHERE TRACKED IN 4 CROSSINGS OVER US. Eight days later, an article in theTimesby John Finney cited the weight of the first Sputnik, 184 pounds, as “evidence of Soviet superiority in rocketry.”¹

    Anyone reading Finney’s article, titled “US Missile Experts Shaken By Sputnik,” knew that...

  17. 13 Big Science and ʺBig Science Studiesʺ in the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War
    (pp. 393-430)
    Elena Aronova

    In the 1960s, Big Science was identified as a new phenomenon, associated with changes in the organization of scientific research in the aftermath of World War II.¹ As the Big Science mode of research blossomed and expanded in the second half of the twentieth century, it became a widespread mode of scientific research in the natural sciences. More recently, in the social sciences, research has been increasingly organized around big projects involving big budgets and big interdisciplinary teams. Big Science has also become a favorite analytical category for historians of science who have used it for talking not only about...

  18. Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 431-442)
    John Krige

    What have we learned from the chapters in this volume, which describe the performance of different sciences and technologies in a variety of national contexts during the Cold War? Obviously there is much that is familiar here. All the authors draw on the rich literature on Cold War science and technology to situate their particular arguments and to highlight their originality. At the same time, if we look at this collection as a whole, rather than treat each of its contributions as distinct elements, certain commonalities come into relief. In highlighting these features, I seek both to valorize the interest...

  19. About the Authors
    (pp. 443-446)
  20. Index
    (pp. 447-456)