Doing good while doing science: The origins and consequences of public interest science organizations in America, 1945-1990.
KeywordsScience -- Social aspects -- United States.
Research -- Social aspects -- United States.
Science -- Public opinion.
Committee ChairMcAdam, Doug
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractOver the past thirty years, public interest science organizations have had significant and varied effects on the course of several contemporary social movements, on public knowledge of science, and on policy ranging from weapons to toxic waste to recombinant DNA. This dissertation considers the origins of these organizations, and their differential ability to survive. Archival, interview, and secondary data analyses of three prominent public interest science organizations: Scientists' Institute for Public Information, Science for the People, and the Union of Concerned Scientists are used to examine these questions. This research shows that these organizations were formed by scientists in the 1950s and 1960s who found that their political commitments were increasingly at odds with scientific demands for objectivity and value-neutrality. The tension arose as a result of three factors: the liberalization of the political climate in the 1950s and 1960s, the development of political protest that charged science with being complicit making war possible and the encouragement, even demand, that Leftists find ways to join their professional and political lives. As a result, some scientists created new organizations that publicly defined scientists as socially responsible. Once created, however, these organizations faced a rapidly changing political, scientific and organizational climate that made their survival difficult. I show how early choices about goals, membership, activities, and division of labor in each group strongly shaped the differential ability of organizations to survive over time. Adaptive survival is shown to be related to the ability of an organization to engage in repeated and routinized exchanges with other individuals and groups, which is in turn dependent on choices organizations make within months of their founding. The last section of the dissertation suggests how public interest science organizations (both individually and collectively) expand the political capacities of scientists and the public, affect the practice and subject matter of science, and shaped the lives of the participants.