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Reviewed by:
  • Disrupting Science
  • John Parker
Disrupting Science By Kelly MoorePrinceton University Press. 2008. 328 pages. $38.50 cloth.

In Disrupting Science, Kelly Moore examines social activism among scientists in the three decades following World War II. In doing so she asks three main questions: Why did scientists engage in such activism? How and why did their forms of activism vary? And how did these actions transform the epistemic authority of science and scientists? In answering these questions Moore challenges and extends existing theories of scientific work and social movements and provides a rich account of the reasons for the decline of the authority of scientists in the late 20th century. She also provides a well researched, theoretically compelling and eminently readable book of interest to scholars as well as the general public.

Moore grounds her study in an in-depth, comparative analysis of three prominent organizations within the broader social movement: the Society for Social Responsibility in Science, the Committee for Nuclear Information and Science for the People. Overall, she finds that the major driving force behind scientists' activism was increased interaction among scientists and activists both on university campuses and in other arenas. These interactions caused some researchers to question the social benefit of ties between science and the military, and thus to attempt to link science more closely with the public moral order. The result was the formation of new scientist-activist organizations that promoted different visions of the appropriate forms of social engagement for scientists, utilized different strategies [End Page 991] to achieve their goals, and were shaped by immediate historical circumstances. SSRS affiliates argued that scientists should take individual responsibility for the uses made of their research, and used Quaker methods of witnessing to forward their perspective. CNI members held that scientists should serve as neutral conduits of objective knowledge, and worked to provide the public with information upon which to base democratic decisions. Most radically, SftP rejected the idea of scientific work and information as politically neutral, with members actively engaging in protest and calling for a wholesale restructuring of the social and political order. Members of each group are viewed as being informed by different "cultures of action" while simultaneously responding to and building on earlier models of protest and engagement. Ultimately, these efforts served to "unbind" the epistemic authority of science from scientists, while enhancing the ability of other social groups to leverage science for their own aims.

Disrupting Science represents a major contribution to the literature. The level of empirical resolution achieved in the book is remarkable. Through meticulous archival work and in-depth interviews, the inner workings of these groups and their relations to the state, military and outside activist communities are revealed in fine detail. The book also makes important and original theoretical contributions. It extends studies of "boundary work" in science by moving away from the caricature of scientists as concerned only with increasing their professional power and toward a more nuanced and compelling description of the diversity of motivations and opinions of those at the center of these organizations. New ground is also broken in the area of social movements by examining the ways in which broader historical circumstances (e.g., red baiting, nuclear testing, the Vietnam War) shaped social movements within the scientific community, and the reciprocal role of scientific expertise in catalyzing broad-scale social change. Through these analyses Disrupting Science links traditional studies of social movements with the newer research areas of "scientific/intellectual social movements" and the "new political sociology of science." In addition, the author expands notions of social movement success by considering the efficacy of these organizations not only in affecting policy change, but also in providing other activist groups with wider repertoires of potential action and shaping institutions such as scientific societies.

The book suffers from two minor shortcomings. The first is a lack of theoretical and empirical integration within the text. Data on the historical contexts in which the organizations were formed and functioned and materials from case studies are bookended by two tightly written theoretical chapters. It is only in these two chapters that specific links are made between data presented by the author and existing theories of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-7605
Print ISSN
0037-7732
Pages
pp. 991-993
Launched on MUSE
2010-02-07
Open Access
No
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