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Journal of Cold War Studies 6.1 (2004) 101-103

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Alfred K. Mann, For Better or for Worse: The Marriage of Science and Government in the United States. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. 240 pp. $27.50.

In an earlier book, Shadow of a Star: The Neutrino Story of Supernova 1987 (New York: W.H. Freeman, 1997), Alfred Mann undertook the daunting task of describing the search for evidence of neutrinos. His ability to write about a complicated scientific quest in an understandable manner made that volume a success. He has relied on those same abilities to assist him in For Better or for Worse in presenting the complicated history of post-World War II relations between the U.S. federal government and the American scientific community.

Mann uses the metaphor of marriage to frame the on-going evolution of relationships between scientists and federal bureaucrats. He focuses his examination on four non-military federal agencies: the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and its eventual successor, the Department of Energy (DOE); the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA); the National Science Foundation (NSF); and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Mann explains the development of these agencies and their connections with the science community for the past fifty years. In keeping with the marriage metaphor, he uses terms such as "courtship," "honeymoon," and "estrangement" to describe the tenor of the relations between scientists and federal bureaucrats during specific periods.

Mann's second chapter, "Love at First Sight, 1939-1945," provides the background and rationale for the expanded roles of science and government. He argues convincingly that the relationship between government and science was rooted in the successful partnerships forged in the Manhattan Project and the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) during World War II. The winning of the war, he argues, led to the courtship stage in the relationship. In chapter three, Mann examines [End Page 101] the decade following the war, when scientists and government officials laid the basis for continual collaboration. It was also during these years that the AEC and NSF were set up as important agencies that supported scientific research. Marriage followed courtship, and in chapter four Mann looks at the formal establishment of relations between the science community and the government. Over the next decade, scientists pursued large-scale projects with unfettered government support. NASA doggedly sought to make up for the Soviet Union's breakthrough with Sputnik in 1957 by placing a man on the moon. The AEC put itself in a precarious situation with the "Atoms for Peace" proposal, and the research budgets ballooned for the NIH and NSF. Harmony and unquestioned support characterized this decade.

The honeymoon ended when the government sharply increased American involvement in Vietnam. As Mann demonstrates in chapter five, the combination of budget constraints, social unrest, and growing disillusionment led many scientists to question not only the war, but also the very nature of the relationship between science and government. President Richard Nixon's termination of both the Office of Science and Technology and the President's Scientific Advisory Committee best illustrated the growing gulf between the former partners. Mann regards the decade after 1975 as a period of estrangement and reconciliation. In chapter six he outlines the transformation of the AEC into the Department of Energy (after the brief existence of the Energy Research and Development Administration), NASA's focus on the Space Shuttle program and Challenger disaster, and the challenges that arose to the peer-review processes of the NIH and NSF. Although funding was either restored or in some cases increased, the degree of trust once characteristic of the science/government relationship failed to return to the pre-1975 level. The final decade covered by the book marked the golden anniversary of the close relationship between the science community and the government. Mann notes in chapter seven that as the golden anniversary approached, "the compact between the science establishment and the federal government remained intact and as felicitous as long-term compacts between...