chapter  2
20 Pages

Politics and the Communities of Science

Now that the advance of knowledge is not only the source of countless practical applications for 'the relief of man's estate' but is the decisive index of modernization and military power, the old separation of science from social concerns - and with it the relative independence of the 'republic of science' (Polanyi, 1962) - has become impossible to maintain. The fruits of scientific research are too important to national security, and to economic growth, welfare, and public health, for scientists to escape all social direction and regulation, and the by-products of industrial civilization have so much effect on the safety and balance of the environment that regulation of technology and remediation of its harmful effects must be essential instruments of government. A t the same time, scientists have become heavily dependent upon governments, directly and indirectly, for their livelihood and for their very ability to do research. Especially in the case of 'big science' projects, with uncertain and remote pay-offs, public subvention is a sine qua non. On all these scores, scientists are inevitably drawn into the political process as technical advisers, policy adversaries, and supplicants for support. While most continue to prefer their laboratories and classrooms to parliamentary lobbies and administrative committees, many have come to play a prominent role in political affairs, both domestic and international - some have done so with a sense that the bearing of their work imposes a special civic

responsibility (Hawkins et ah, 1986; Lakoff, 1979). This great change in the relationship of scientists to society did not come about

initially because it seemed mutually beneficial. Rather it emerged in reaction to an enforced politicization of science. Totalitarianism, both as a source of ideology and as a system of social control, was the serpent that first drew scientists out of their own state of nature. Scientists in the Soviet Union were caught up in the purge of the old intelligentsia ordered by Stalin. They suffered not only philosophically from his insistence that dialectical materialism be accepted as the foundation of all knowledge, natural as well as social, but more seriously from a host of constraints that made their personal and professional lives difficult and sometimes impossible to maintain. In place of the old cosmopolitanism and openness of the scientific enterprise, they had to endure enforced isolation from 'Western' or 'bourgeois' science. A t Stalin's direct order, the physicist Pyotr Kapitza was forbidden from returning to the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England in 1934 (Badash, 1985). (Rather than rebel or go into 'internal exile', however, Kapitza accepted political discipline and worked within the system to direct a research program which eventually, with no small help from espionage, produced an atomic bomb only four years after its development in the United States (Holloway, 1994).) Stalin also gave official approval to the work of the pseudo-scientific 'agronomist' Trofim D . Lysenko. A t Lysenko's instigation, the 'orthodox' geneticists were persecuted and their leader, S. I. Vavilov, who was also the head of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, was arrested and forced to concoct a bogus confession admitting that he had engaged in sabotage (Graham, 1967; Joravsky, 1961b; Josephson, 1991; Krementsov, 1997). In Nazi Germany, racist ideology led to the expulsion of 'non-Aryan' scientists. By a conservative estimate, a quarter of German physicists were forced to leave the country, including Albert Einstein and nineteen other Nobel Laureates. Those who remained were expected to serve the new regime and its goals loyally and did so, a few out of ideological sympathy, most out of a combination of patriotism and the hope of protecting the country's scientific institutions (Beyerchen, 1977: 47, 63). A l l who remained were willing to overlook the evil character of the regime and some physicians conducted grossly inhumane medical experiments on concentration camp inmates (Cole, 1983; Haberer, 1969). In reaction, scientists in the democracies began to impose self-censorship on their publications in sensitive areas of research, and readily turned their talents towards war preparedness.