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  • Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture ed. By David Kaiser and W. Patrick McCray
  • Chris Elcock
Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture edited by David Kaiser and W. Patrick McCray. Chicago & London, The University of Chicago Press, 2016. vi, 426 pp. $75.00 US (cloth), $25.00 US (paper or e-book).

The American counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s has sometimes been treated as an embarrassing footnote of the better-known social movements of the decade (the Vietnam War, civil rights, second-wave feminism) or as a brave but failed cultural revolution with limited achievements. While both sides of the debate have held conflicting views on the counter-culture, they tend to agree on its definition and place in American culture: a rebellious, disenchanted, non-conformist, idealistic, youth-driven phenomenon that located itself outside "mainstream" America and the "Establishment." This binary opposition is problematic, because it denies a fluidity of boundaries between these two spheres, and aligns itself with the counter-culture's politics of revolution and independence.

Historians like Thomas Frank, who has studied the influence of the counter-culture on business, have since chiselled away these boundaries [End Page 383] to further problematize this dichotomy. This collection of essays does a similar job by focusing on the relationship between the counterculture and science. Editors David Kaiser, who has previously examined its influence on physics, and award-winning historian of science Patrick McCray seek to displace the notion that American youth were rejecting science and technology. As the authors argue in this volume, "Instead of traditional science and technology promulgated by giant government programs, defense contractors, and corporate research labs, the counterculture embraced something new and different… groovy science" (2). They look at how orthodox scientists "sought ways to engage with different communities and non-traditional forms of science" (3). Additionally, the editors contend that the 1970s were not a time of decline in scientific and technological research as a result of de´tente. Instead, "[n]ew approaches, motivations, and institutions emerged, some with clear debts to prior patterns and others striving for genuine novelty" (7).

The twelve essays of the collection are divided into four sections. The first one seeks to document the relation between state power, Cold War science, and some cases of unorthodox research of the Seventies that has elicited little academic coverage. We learn that John Lilly's dabbling with dolphins, lsd, and sensory deprivation tanks was funded by the military interested in brainwashing techniques; that the "shortboard" revolution in surfing came from aerospace engineers; and that Defense also funded a new department at UC Santa Barbara to study parapsychology, ecology, and mystical phenomena. The second reveals how the desire to seek authenticity was an important force behind several technological and scientific innovations. Abraham Malsow's humanistic psychology and its emphasis on self-actualization was popular among the counterculture; some seekers turned to science and technology hoping to build an environmentally sustainable future and started the ecological design movement; other counter-culturists turned to orthodox and Indigenous medicine to develop home midwifery. The third section looks at countercultural icons like Timothy Leary, Gerard O'Neill, Immanuel Velikovsky, and Hugh Hefner and their involvement in novel or otherwise unorthodox methods of scientific enquiry. The final section examines the legacy of groovy science and how part of this sometimes-radical science has since been incorporated into "legitimate" knowledge. Notions of ecological sustainability and some of the trends in architecture can be traced back to the work of the iconoclastic Buckminster Fuller, famous for designing geodesic domes; innovative publications helped change the dull and dehumanized image of scientific entrepreneurs over the course of the 1960s; the vogue of artisanal and organic foods can be traced back to the counterculture and its desire for simple life removed from mass production and technocracy. [End Page 384]

Though the argument of the book is fairly easy to grasp and well-supported, it is marred by a definition of the counterculture that is far too vague. Although this caveat is very briefly addressed in the introduction, the counterculture too often encompasses or alternates between the New Left, protest movements, youth culture (whatever that means), hippies (idem...


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pp. 383-385
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