Containing science : the U.S. national security state and scientists' challenge to nuclear weapons during the Cold War

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Date

2008-08

Authors

Rubinson, Paul Harold, 1977-

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Abstract

Throughout the Cold War, many publicly influential and socially committed scientists participated in a wide array of efforts to push U.S. foreign policy toward nuclear disarmament. Some of these scientists, such as Linus Pauling and Carl Sagan, relied on their credibility as respected public authorities to sway public opinion against nuclear weapons. Other scientists, such as Eugene Rabinowitch, quietly pursued informal, quasi-diplomatic methods. Still others, such as Hans Bethe, George Kistiakowsky, and Jerome Wiesner, worked within the government to restrain the arms race. Though rarely working in concert, all these scientists operated under the notion that their scientific expertise enabled them to articulate convincing and objective reasons for nuclear disarmament. But the U.S. government went to great lengths to neutralize these scientific arguments against nuclear weapons with a wide array of tactics all aimed at undermining their scientific credibility. Some scientists who offered moral reasons to end the arms race found their loyalty questioned by the state. When prodisarmament scientists offered strictly technical reasons to oppose to nuclear weapons, the government responded by promoting the equally technical objections to disarmament held by pronuclear scientists. At still other times, the government attempted to co-opt the arguments of its scientific challengers. In addition, scientists’ professional identity as objective and apolitical experts hampered scientific antinuclear activism. From the beginning of the Cold War to the 1980s, scientists continuously challenged nuclear weapons in a variety of ways; the government likewise continuously reshaped its responses to meet this challenge, and in so doing crafted a method of scientific containment. Thus the result of this incessant struggle was the consistent defeat of scientists’ dissent. By the time the Cold War ended, it did so on terms unrelated to scientists and nuclear weapons.

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