An Uneasy Partnership

In each of these cases a central question persists: what is the proper relationship between the establishments of science and the military? This question leads to others about science’s role in politics, whether it can be employed morally, and how scientists should use their scientific expertise. As a consequence, in part, of the massive political and military engagement of scientific research during World War II, scientists in the mid-20th century had new authority in political and social matters, especially as the products of science (like nuclear weapons) became matters of public concern. As Moore concludes, scientists mistakenly thought that this new situation necessitated a new role for them as producers and communicators of facts. They soon learned, however, that they were not nearly as important as the science that they produced. Science, minus the scientists, has become a ubiquitous feature of politics. Perhaps this is one reason that some of the direct-action groups, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists (started at MIT in 1969), continue to operate to this day. Eliminating politics from science, it would seem, is no easy task, and it is still unclear just how science, politics, and morality ought to coexist.

Despite the obvious links between Moore’s historical account and our current scientific-political landscape, it is hard to link Moore’s story with her conclusion that today’s wildlife ecology, green chemistry, and immunology are heirs to the midcentury period of intellectual, political, and moral strife (p. 213). Moore rightly wants to end on a positive note. But in her attempt to historicize the present moment, she has created some connections that don’t seem to fit. Where her story stops, campuses across the country are in turmoil, students are taking over buildings, and debates are taking place about the future of relationships between science and the military and the moral duties of scientists. The reader is left in suspense: what will the future look like? What happens next? We now live in a time when the students of the students of those under investigation during the McCarthy era are in their prime, setting the course for research. But, we should wonder, how has that collective experience shaped the way scientists voice their opinions, conduct their research, and seek funding? What is the continuing legacy of the Cold War? What is the missing history that links the days of moral and political engagement in the scientific community with a future that accommodates the creations of both sustainability science and military research on campus?

 Jody A. Roberts is program manager for environmental history and policy in CHF’s Center for Contemporary History and Policy.