Freedom's Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science
The Cold War ended long ago, but the language of science and freedom continues to shape public debates over the relationship between science and politics in the United States.
Scientists like to proclaim that science knows no borders. Scientific researchers follow the evidence where it leads, their conclusions free of prejudice or ideology. But is that really the case? In Freedom's Laboratory, Audra J. Wolfe shows how these ideas were tested to their limits in the high-stakes propaganda battles of the Cold War.
Wolfe examines the role that scientists, in concert with administrators and policymakers, played in American cultural diplomacy after World War II. During this period, the engines of US propaganda promoted a vision of science that highlighted empiricism, objectivity, a commitment to pure research, and internationalism. Working (both overtly and covertly, wittingly and unwittingly) with governmental and private organizations, scientists attempted to decide what, exactly, they meant when they referred to "scientific freedom" or the "US ideology." More frequently, however, they defined American science merely as the opposite of Communist science.
Uncovering many startling episodes of the close relationship between the US government and private scientific groups, Freedom's Laboratory is the first work to explore science's link to US propaganda and psychological warfare campaigns during the Cold War. Closing in the present day with a discussion of the 2017 March for Science and the prospects for science and science diplomacy in the Trump era, the book demonstrates the continued hold of Cold War thinking on ideas about science and politics in the United States.
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About the Author
Audra J. Wolfe is a Philadelphia-based writer, editor, and historian. She is the author of Competing with the Soviets: Science, Technology, and the State in Cold War America. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and the podcast American History Tellers.
"A strong contribution to the history of modern science."--Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Audra Wolfe's provocative new book, Freedom's Laboratory, dives into the fascinating history of why asserting the apolitical nature of science became a political priority during another notably politicized period in America's past: the Cold War."--Science
"Cold-war history, Wolfe writes, is not a heroes-and-villains narrative: it must be told in 'shades of gray.' The government used scientists' ideals for its own political reasons. And the scientists, who saw themselves as apolitical, used the government's political messages and support to question, observe, conclude, write and speak--freely and in accord with their ideals."--Nature
"One of the common misbeliefs about science is that it is apolitical. Actually, as historian Wolfe reveals in her well-researched and closely argued study, during the Cold War, American scientists were often deeply involved in promoting American cultural values to other parts of the world in an effort to defeat the communists at the same game. An excellent study on a topic that deserves more attention."--Library Journal
"Wolfe's new book, Freedom's Laboratory, frontally addresses questions of what science is, how it is best done, and how it (and scientists themselves) might be strategically deployed to advance national interests."--LA Review of Books
"Carefully researched works on the Cultural Cold War, like Freedom's Laboratory, reveal what a murky world we have inherited. Scientists fighting against restrictions on their profession used the language of crusading anti-Communism, defining their work as apolitical and therefore free. But it was neither. The point is not, as Wolfe argues clearly, that 'freedom' is an impossible value to hold, nor that scientific internationalism isn't worth defending, nor that the fiction of apolitical science means that science is better off being relentlessly politicized. The point, rather, is that power and knowledge are always entwined. During the Cold War, American institutions were assumed to be ideal by default. We now know more than enough to understand that they were not, and that the task of making them better belongs to us."--New Republic
"Explores the science of the Cold War beyond its more tangible role in developing weapons. Instead, Wolfe focuses on science as propaganda, part of America's psychological offensive designed to convince people to buy into American ideology. She traces the perception that science should be free and unimpeded by borders and politics to this era."--The Verge
"It is hard to imagine a history of science that is more timely than one that situates our current political environment in the context of the Cold War... Wolfe's text is essential reading for both students and scientists who have been immersed in the idea of science as an apolitical pursuit."--Physics Today
"This book is a well-written and information-packed account of science's roles in American culture and diplomacy during the cold war and its denouement. [A] strength is the depth and breadth of the archival and historical research offered."--Metascience
"Historian Wolfe offers a thoughtful, thoroughly researched history of how the American government employed science and scientists to improve world opinion of liberal democracy during the Cold War... readers with an interest in the conjunction of science and politics will find her book an informative one."--Publishers Weekly, starred review