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Cold War Science
In the early 1960s, Hugh Odishaw and Artem Povzner, the managers of American and Soviet World Data Centers (WDC), established to serve the International Geophysical Year (IGY, 1957-8), publicized WDCs among historians of science. Odishaw used the leading history of science journal, Isis, as the way to reach out the community of historians of science; Povzner have written a thesis on the history of the IGY at the Moscow Institute for the History of Science and Technology. In both cases, the managers presented their ‘archive of Big Science’ as a key resource for studying new form of science – Big Science that have become international and global. This episode is symptomatic of the ways Big Science was deployed as a resource to debate, negotiate, and rationalize the concerns and anxieties of Cold War. Throughout the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union advocated their ability to offer different visions of modernity, and Big Science played major role in these powerful Cold War imageries. This paper will take us through several episodes in the history of different Big Science ventures, which will serve as snapshots of the ways in which the norms of Big Science have become a site of debate and contest, on the opposite sides of the Iron Curtain.
For Western European countries, the main international arena during the Cold War era was not the conflict between East and West, but their transatlantic relations with the United States. Europe’s main worry was not how to keep the Russians out, but how to keep up with the Americans. The Cold War certainly was important, but indirectly, to the extent that it influenced American policy regarding Europe. This is true for most of the Cold War era, and for most policy areas, including international politics but also industry, technology, and science. I will discuss this view, using examples concerning European science organizations such as CERN (high energy physics), ESO (astronomy) and ESRO (Space research), and Dutch higher education policy in the 1950s and 1960s.
Ronald E. Doel
In 1942, in “A Note on Science and Democracy,” the sociologist Robert K. Merton began outlining what he viewed as the guiding norms of scientific practice: communism [community], universalism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism—in shorthand, CUDOS. Written as World War II was shattering Europe, Merton was confident that the values of scientists contrasted favorably to those of dictators and leaders of totalitarian societies.But as the Cold War heated up in the 1940s and 1950s, these values were tested—or so some inside and outside the scientific community thought. With the results of science increasingly crucial to national security, scientists became more and more embedded within the state, including its foreign policy pursuits. For instance, in the United States, scientists created the Office of Scientific Intelligence within the new Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); promoted a system of science attaches within the Department of State; and worked with White House officials in the Eisenhower Administration to evaluate the impact of science as an agent of psychological warfare. Restrictions on participation in international scientific congresses increased, and secrecy about scientific research and results grew apace.What do we now know about the practice of scientific intelligence during the Cold War, and its effect on the production and circulation of knowledge? This presentation will lead directly to a discussion among workshop participants: what do we consider the major unsolved problems of science in the Cold War? What do we know most about; what remains elusive; what are the most important questions we should ask?
In the summer of 1952, some thirty-seven eminent mathematicians, economists, psychologists, and other assorted social scientists met for a six week "summer seminar on decision processes" in Santa Monica, California, under the aegis of the U.S. Air Force-funded RAND Corporation and the world's wealthiest philanthropic organization, the Ford Foundation. This paper contextualizes the seminar in terms of several broader trends marking the postwar social and behavioral sciences in the United States. These include the influence of military-nonprofit partnerships epitomized by the relationship between RAND, Ford, and the Air Force; their emphasis on a certain brand of interdisciplinary research, facilitated by new theoretical frameworks like game theory and decision theory; and the emergence of "values" as a prominent (if vexed) object of study in the postwar social and behavioral sciences.
Kristine C. Harper
Atmospheric sciences in the Cold War got a kick-start from World War II: the extension of observation stations almost from pole to pole around the world, the introduction of computing machines, and the training of thousands of young math and physics-savvy men (and a handful of women) to be meteorologists—people who would never have entered in the field in the absence of the war. These three factors plus an infusion of defense funding were the ingredients that enabled the development of numerical weather prediction techniques in the late 1940s and early 1950s, which led to a better understanding of atmospheric circulation, and—with the introduction of increasingly faster computers and better models—the development of climate models and predictions. At the same time, the US military in particular and the US government in general, were investing heavily in weather control techniques, driven in part by worries that the Soviet Union already had the capacity to “rule the world” by controlling the weather. In reality, the Soviet Union was just trying to save its wheat crop, but no matter…the race was on to control the weather at home and abroad and plenty of money was flowing in to make it happen. Where would atmospheric science have been without the Cold War? In the United States, it probably would have been where it had been before World War II – a scientific backwater with a lack of patrons. But due to the Cold War, the defense money never stopped flowing to atmospheric scientists, and the discipline was transformed from a “guessing science” to a major player in world affairs.
Located between the USA and the USSR, Greenland was of the highest strategic interest to the USA during the Cold War. The development of a US polar strategy around 1950 called for a massive build-up of US military capacity in the Arctic region. This military activity demanded new knowledge on many levels and from many different disciplines, particularly in the geosciences. The 1950s saw research camps built across Greenland, and hundreds of scientists pursued systematic research in fields including glaciology, geology, meteorology, and ionospheric research. Sovereignty over Greenland was of vital geopolitical importance to Denmark, and scientific activities played a fundamental role in the Danish foreign policy strategy to regain and bolster its national claims for full sovereignty over Greenland. The relation between the small state and the superpower shifted from tension and uncertainty in the immediate postwar period to silent accord in the 1950s during the height of Cold War tensions and saw significant readjustment after 1968. The paper will present results of a collaborative Danish-US research project pursued at Aarhus University and Florida State University.
Dutch defense research in the 1950s bears remarkably strong marks of the American hegemon’s influences. Applied and fundamental research were orchestrated in a typical Cold War manner, within a military–industrial-academic complex. This circumstance is perhaps surprising, as defense research in the Netherlands took place at negligible levels before WWII. Furthermore, antimilitarism prevailed in the Dutch scientific community, and society at large. So, one wonders who built up the Dutch arsenal of military technological knowledge in the postwar era, and why? How and why did one seek out international partners, and when did these exert their influence? In my talk the Dutch tradition of trading and sailing will appear in a new, Cold War light.
The post-war period was not just a time that saw enormous changes in the development of physical subdisciplines such as nuclear, plasma or solid-state physics, it was also an era during which the journal market was reoriented under the influence of new professional authority and a politically divided world. This talk will attempt to highlight these changes and, using the concrete example of the founding of the journal physica status solidi in the DDR in 1961, present the scientific and political framework in which professional journals operated during the Cold War era.
The classrooms of American colleges and universities bulged like never before after World War II. Several major changes, including the G. I. Bill, brought over two million veterans into the nation's institutions of higher education. Enrollments in nearly every field rose exponentially. Yet graduate enrollments in physics grew fastest, at almost twice the rate of all other fields combined. Twenty-five years later, enrollments in nearly all fields underwent a major contraction; again, physics led the way, falling faster and deeper than any other field. This talk examines some effects of these violent demographic swings on physics pedagogy by focusing on how physicists in the US taught quantum mechanics during the decades after World War II. Faced with runaway enrollments, American physicists re-crafted the subject in the classroom, accentuating those elements that could lend themselves to high-throughput pedagogy -- a cache of exemplars that could be routinized into problem sets and exam questions -- while quietly dropping vestiges of "philosophy" or "interpretation" that many physicists had long considered crucial for understanding the subject.
A good deal of scholarly attention has recently been paid to secrecy in science, and its effect on the research enterprise. Much of that work focuses on the US and is confined to the national container. This paper takes a transnational approach to the impact of classification on nuclear weapons and weapons related technologies with particular attention to US-UK and US-France relationships. It emphasizes that it was possible, by virtue of special agreements and subterfuge, for scientists and engineers to share very sensitive nuclear knowledge with allies. This could happen when the US executive judged that American foreign policy demanded a more relaxed approach to the circulation of knowledge than that inscribed in the general provisions of the McMahon Act.
Early in the Cold War, Denmark found itself uncomfortably situated between the superpowers -- and with its colony, Greenland, a keystone in the United States' developing polar strategy. As US presence in Greenland (including air bases and military-scientific facilities on the ice-free coasts and on the ice sheet itself, manned by thousands of troops) put pressure on the Danish government in both domestic and foreign arenas, Danish authorities aimed to control scientific knowledge on the island as part of a broader effort to re-assert and demonstrate sovereignty over Greenland. But this active control of scientific knowledge in Greenland stretched back to the 19th century, when scientific expeditions were a key aspect of the Danish performance of sovereignty in the face of Norwegian claims and challenges to the island. This talk traces these dual themes of scientific nationalism and intellectual sovereignty from the early 19th century through to the Cold War. It asks three main questions: how did Danish authorities aim to control the creation of, access to, and circulation of scientific knowledge in Greenland? Why was this control important to Denmark? And, how successful were Denmark's efforts in this regard?
In the late 1950s computing installations were confronted with the proliferation of computer models and the absence of a “common” or “universal” language for all computers and for all purposes. This “modern Tower of Babel” carried serious economic costs and risks, as programs coded for one machine could not be used by another machine. The search for programming tools independent of the machines led eventually to the development of the ALGOL language for scientific computation, a product of US-Western European cooperation, and of the COBOL language for data-processing, a project sponsored by the US Department of Defense.Both projects shared much in common, but their outcomes were very different. COBOL, under the control of the US federal government, underwent few modifications and is still in use. ALGOL, in contrast, failed to reach widespread implementation, but its development did much to identify programming as a proper field of knowledge and provided the nascent field of computer science with a first conceptual apparatus. In my lecture I will argue that the ‘failure’ of ALGOL resulted from the difficulty of reconciling the use of the language as means of thinking about programming with the practical need to deliver a working and stable programming tool. This “double nature” of ALGOL, as epistemic object and as programming tool, became the source of many disputes among the individuals and organizations involved in the project, including IBM.
1960. An American delegation of A.E.C. and governmental officials visited The
Hague, Amsterdam and Bonn. Their request was simple: please classify the whole
ultracentrifuge research as secret. West-Germany reacted quickly by classifying
their projects. In the Netherlands discussions arose on the hidden agenda of
the U.S.A. but in the end they too decided to classify the research. A lid was
put on the centrifuge.
“Need-to-know” restrictions have been traditionally associated with the security layout of compartmentalization; one of the pillars of Cold War science policy. In 1959 NATO established a Science Committee to promote collaborative research, especially in environmental studies, in the countries members of the defence alliance. Although the Committee would not sponsor research on classified items, its chairman Norman Ramsey and other American representatives agreed that researchers supported by the Committee should be given access to some classified literature produced in the USA in order to help them to complete original work. One of the first tasks for Ramsey was thus how to design an efficient mechanism of knowledge-sharing to boost collaborative work and, at the same time, prevent the unwanted dissemination of restricted scientific information. This paper discusses the origins, adoption and outcome of these US plans and NATO deliberations on knowledge-sharing. I thus probe how knowledge “flows” in a transnational organization like NATO and highlight key differences with non-transnational agencies managing open and secret information. My argument is NATO attempted to pioneer a new information security system to go beyond the principle that secret scientific knowledge should be provided exclusively on a need-to-know basis.
While the Soviet Union was the primary nuclear antagonist for the United States during the Cold War, American notions about the relative importance and reliability of non-Communist European nations played a major role in their formulation of their nuclear classification policies. This was due to a number of factors, including the centrality of European alliances to American containment policy, the relative scientific and industrial capabilities of the European states, and the tricky nature of several of the European alliances. In this talk I will discuss several episodes that illustrate the special position that the idea of Europe played in American classification and declassification policy over the course of the Cold War.
This talk examines the Cold War origins of
nonlinear optics, the science of the interaction between matter and intense,
coherent light. In the early 1960s an elite group of consultants working for
the Institute for Defense Analyses (among them the physicists Charles Townes
and Nicolaas Bloembergen) began to consider the
possibility of using lasers as anti-ballistic missile weapons. To evaluate
these proposals, a few of the consultants started to study the effects of
high-intensity light-matter interactions, in their academic laboratories and in
advisory meetings in Washington. Their work helped to found the new field of
nonlinear optics, and would even earn Nicolaas
Bloembergen a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1981.