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A political history of apolitical science

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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. From the late 1940s through the late 1960s, the US foreign policy establishment saw a particularly American way of thinking about ‘scientific freedom’ as essential to winning the Cold War. In this presentation drawn from her new book, Freedom’s Laboratory, historian Audra J. Wolfe will focus on a crucial moment of this story, the late 1950s, when US policymakers explicitly articulated what it meant to describe science as apolitical, objective and international, all in the name of the intensely political goal of Cold War supremacy. A particularly troubling part of this story involves the government’s decision to funnel its propaganda efforts, whenever possible, through nongovernmental organizations of scientists. How should historians understand groups of non-state actors doing the state’s work? Does the concept of ‘transnational science’ even make sense for the Cold War?

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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