Why do so many U.S. scientists continue to lean on the language of apolitical science, even as political leaders display less and less interest in scientists’ claims to expertise, or even the existence of facts? In a new book, Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science, historian Audra J. Wolfe suggests the answer lies in Cold war propaganda. Lecture by Audra Wolfe: Science, Freedom, and the Cold War: A Political History of Apolitical Science.
From the late 1940s through the late 1960s, the US foreign policy establishment saw a particular way of thinking about scientific freedom as essential to winning the global Cold War. Throughout this period, the engines of US propaganda amplified, circulated, and, in some cases, produced a vision of science, American style, that highlighted scientists’ independence from outside interference and government control. Working (both overly and covertly, wittingly and unwittingly) with governmental and private organizations, U.S. scientists tried to come to terms with the meanings of “scientific freedom” and “U.S. ideology.” More often than not, they ended up defining scientific values as the opposite of Communist science. Science, in this view, was apolitical.
The Cold War ended long ago, but the language of science and freedom continues to shape public debates over the relationship between science and politics in the United States.