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  • Science, Democracy, and the American University. From the Civil War to the Cold War by Andrew Jewett
  • Larry S. McGrath
Andrew Jewett . Science, Democracy, and the American University. From the Civil War to the Cold War. New York: Cambridge UP, 2012. 402 pp.

How might science foster modes of critical reflection sufficient to empower democratic participation? This question steers Andrew Jewett's intellectual and cultural history of the scientific democrats who, from the Civil War up to the Cold War, shared the common project of culling democratic values from the sciences in Science, Democracy, and the American University. Against the predominant conception of scientific inquiry as a disinterested task of accumulating instrumental knowledge, Jarrett recovers an expanded conception in the writings of thinkers who used science as a means of prompting all-embracing cultural change. They spanned from the pioneers of the American research university, such as Daniel Coit Gilman and Charles W. Eliot, through pragmatist philosophers of the Progressive Era, and up to anthropologists such as Margaret Mead and Franz Boas. Cutting across political and generational differences, Jewett weaves together the debates and relationships among these and hundreds of other scientific democrats into a distinct intellectual formation.

Scientific democracy is the master-concept that Jewett employs to identify myriad thinkers' basic commitment to generating ethical values from within science. For Jewett, "science" does not refer only to the technical and natural sciences. His book focuses on the human and cultural sciences: psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and, to a certain extent, biology. While these disciplines are still seen as scientific in the wide sense of Wissenschaft, or better, les sciences humaines, Jewett argues that the narrowly defined "hard" sciences only came to monopolize the meaning of science in America following the Second World War. The mobilization of vast resources into national projects aimed at fighting communism abroad and shoring up the economy at home placed a new premium on quantification. Value-neutrality only became the hallmark of scientific research, Jewett demonstrates, in the recent past.

Jewett's book responds to historians who have endorsed the disengagement thesis, according to which objectivity ascended in the 1920s and '30s as the imperative to expunge traces of the scientist's subjectivity. Social theorists, especially those taking their cue from the early Frankfurt School, treat science in a [End Page 1203] similarly narrow manner by positing instrumental rationality as its sine qua non. As a result, science is understood as either divorced from social engagement or wed to market hierarchies. Jewett argues that these conceptions of science only gained currency after a rich era in which scientific democrats treated science as value laden. "Rather than a 'view from nowhere,' they sought a view from the perspective of the deepest needs of the American people" (123).

Jewett reconstructs the line of scientific democracy running from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries from extensive readings of major and minor thinkers' books, addresses, and journal articles. The common thread tying scientific democrats together, according to Jewett, was their shared aspiration to conceive science as "a mode of public service in the interest of the community at large" (13). Jewett's book is worthwhile reading for his patient and clear presentation of diverse thinkers' ideas, but his thesis is all the more incisive for his close rhetorical readings of thinkers' conceptions of science, as when John Dewey claimed, "so-called scientific judgment appears definitely as a moral judgment."1 Our conceptions of science expand and contract over time, as Jewett reflects in his conclusion. Unlike histories that explain such transformations on account of their political and cultural contexts, Jewett situates science as an independent vector of historical change. While the history of science was informed by political and cultural contexts, science itself was equally determinative of politics and culture. In this respect, Jewett borrows his method from the history of science and science and technology studies, which also examine the intersection of science and politics. But the critical import and singular achievement of his book is to integrate the history of science with a forceful intervention in the present, showing that "the story of the scientific democrats of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries...


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