Scientists and the Problem of the Public in Cold War America, 1945-1960

TitleScientists and the Problem of the Public in Cold War America, 1945-1960
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsWang, J
JournalOsiris
Volume17
Pagination323-347
ISBN Number0369-7827
KeywordsActivism, article, Cold War, History &amp, OLD, PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE, Professional Associations, Public Sphere, Repression (Political), Science Society Relationship, Scientists, United States of America
Abstract

In 1927, the philosopher John Dewey asked whether public political authority could survive and prosper in an age of experts. This essay takes Dewey's question as the central problem of science and civil society in twentieth-century America, and examines the place of scientists in public life during the early cold war years. Using the atomic scientists' movement as a case study, the author argues that scientists experimented briefly but vigorously with public engagement, only to succumb to cold war political repression and its circumscription of civil society during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Yet, even as scientists became victims of totalitarian political forces, science itself became feared as a potentially totalitarian locus of power in cold war America.