Disrupting Science: Social Movements, American Scientists, and the Politics of the Military, 1945–1975 (review)
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Disrupting Science: Social Movements, American Scientists, and the Politics of the Military, 1945–1975. By Kelly Moore. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008. Pp. x+311. $35.

As a sociologist, Kelly Moore is very much concerned with generalizing on the historical data she has unearthed, which are considerable. Her data support a straightforward thesis: The unquestioned preeminence of science in the United States at the end of World War II had largely vanished within three decades. This was at least in part because some scientists sought to redefine the proper “relationships between fact and value, between politics and science, and between expert and citizen” (p. 2). Disrupting Science addresses the critique of science through a theory of social movements wrapped around four organizational case studies. After an overview, Moore’s second chapter offers a more theoretical introduction; it reviews [End Page 947] the relationship of science to the American polity, especially its military arm, from 1945 to the mid-1970s, and then sorts the opinions of critics as moral-individualist (her invented term), or liberal, or new left.

The next four chapters present the case studies, first of the moral-individualist Society for Social Responsibility in Science (chapter 3), then of the liberal St. Louis Committee for Nuclear Information (chapter 4). Chapters 5 and 6 follow the rise of a new-left critique of science in a variety of campus antiwar activities leading to the formation of SESPA (Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action), which subsequently metamorphosed into Science for the People. A concluding chapter returns to the theory of social movements.

In her theoretical chapters, Moore is prone to sweeping generalizations that are either wrong or questionable; e.g., “The close association between scientific research and the military began after World War II” (p. 4), or “The Korean War in particular confirmed to many scientists, politicians, and military leaders that science and engineering could be put to great use in wartime, and as a result, R&D monies tripled” (p. 26). The endnote to this breathtaking misunderstanding refers only to a summary of federal budgets. The book has other flaws as well. Some are merely annoying, such as Moore’s unfortunate penchant for acronyms, ranging from the idiosyncratic, as WU for Washington University in St. Louis, to the incorrect, as S-90 instead of Sr-90 for strontium-90. Even the book’s subtitle is quite misleading. There is no “politics of the military” here. Like virtually every other analysis of science and scientists after World War II, Disrupting Science treats “the military” as a mirror or black box, devoid of internal structure, politics, or agency, against which science or scientists rail, struggle, organize, or what have you.

Moore also very much restricts the kind of organizations she examines, which range from liberal to radical; she has little to say about scientists organizing in support of right-wing causes like creationism or continued nuclear weapons testing, or in opposition to fluoridation. She presents the views of individual scientists and scientific reports, but she rarely considers individual pronouncements in the context of the weight of scientific opinion. About science itself, Moore can be decidedly shaky, seemingly unable to dig beneath the rhetoric to address the underlying phenomena in any useful way. Her discussion of the Committee for Nuclear Information, for instance, misstates the basic character of the fallout controversy. She also uses “atomic” rather than “nuclear,” conflates explosive power and fallout, and seems to equate “atomic energy” with “nuclear weapons.”

On the plus side, Moore’s book is very well-organized and her prose is mostly clear and serviceable, something not always true of sociological writing. She has done her homework, as her fifty-three pages of endnotes (pp. 215–67) and twenty-three pages of bibliography (pp. 269–91) testify. The scholarly apparatus and an exhaustive index (pp. 293–311) account for [End Page 948] a third of the book. Reflecting her extensive archival work, Moore seems particularly informative on the activities and inner workings of those organizations that comprise her case studies. These are the best accounts of these organizations I have seen, and, for historians at least, provide...