What a Difference a Decade Makes: The Planning Debates and the Fate of the Unity of Science Movement

  • George A. ReischEmail author
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science book series (BSPS, volume 336)


This paper examines selected writings of the American science writer Waldemar Kaempffert, Science Editor for the New York Times, in public support of Otto Neurath, his Isotype projects, and his Unity of Science Movement. Attention is focused first on Kaempffert’s writings in the 1930s, when some intellectuals, the American public, and their elected leaders were relatively sympathetic with Neurath’s quest to unify the sciences in ways that would advance and direct scientific research toward practical goals. Attention then turns to the 1940s to examine the debate over the nature, scope, and limits of wartime research and Vannevar Bush’s call for a national institution to support research. Against Bush, James Bryant Conant, and others, Kaempffert argued vigorously for a foundation that would adopt values and methods of the Unity of Science Movement, but he lost that argument as the National Science Foundation finally took shape. To suggest that this public debate influenced not only the decline of Neurath’s Unity of Science Movement but the scholarly development of history and philosophy of science after the war, the paper considers early writings and events in the life of Conant’s protégé Thomas Kuhn, whose Structure of Scientific Revolutions helped shape that development.



I thank Günther Sandner for pointing out Modley’s importance to me, as well as spirited commentary from others at the conference ‘The Socio-Ethical Dimension of Knowledge: The Mission of Logical Empiricism,’ Budapest, December 2017.


  1. Barnard, Eunice. 1933. In the Classroom and On the Campus. New York Times, Aug. 20.Google Scholar
  2. Bush, Vannevar. 1945. Science: The Endless Frontier. Washington, DC: National Science Foundation.Google Scholar
  3. Capps, John. 2003. Pragmatism and the McCarthy Era. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 39 (1): 61–76.Google Scholar
  4. Cartwright, Nancy, Jordi Cat, Lola Fleck, and Thomas Uebel. 1996. Otto Neurath: Philosophy Between Science and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Charles, Loïc, and Yann Giraud. 2013. Economics for the Masses: The Visual Display of Economic Knowledge in the United States (1910-1945). History of Political Economy 45 (4): 567–612.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Conant, James Bryant. 1945. Letter to the Editor (“National Research Argued”). New York Times, Aug. 13.Google Scholar
  7. ———. 1947. On Understanding Science. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  8. ———. 1970. My Several Lives: Memoirs of a Social Inventor. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  9. Douglas, Heather. 2014. Pure Science and the Problem of Progress. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 46: 55–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Duffus, R.L. 1939. A Graphic View of Our World, review of Neurath (1939). New York Times, Oct. 1.Google Scholar
  11. Fleck, Christian, Albert Mueller, and Nico Stehr. 2005. Afterword in Paul Neurath, Society of Terror: Inside the Dachau and Buchenwald Concentration Camps. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Flexner, Abraham. 1939. The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge. Harpers179, June/November, 544–552. Reprinted by Princeton University Press, 2017.Google Scholar
  13. Fuller, Steve. 2000. Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History for Our Time. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. ———. 2004. Popper vs. Kuhn: The Struggle for the Soul of Science. New York: Columbia.Google Scholar
  15. Hollinger, David. 1996. Science, Jews, and Secular Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Howard, Don. 2003. Two Left Turns Make a Right: On the Curious Political Career of North American Philosophy of Science at Midcentury. In Logical Empiricism in North America, ed. Gary L. Hardcastle and Alan W. Richardson, 25–96. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  17. Kaempffert, Waldemar, ed. 1917. Book of Modern Marvels. New York: Leslie-Judge, co.Google Scholar
  18. ———. 1933. Staccato Speech for Silent Statistics. New York Times, Jan. 22.Google Scholar
  19. ———. 1935. Words, Words, Words. A School of Thought in Vienna Makes a Test of Language. New York Times, Feb. 3.Google Scholar
  20. ———. 1936. Congress in Copenhagen. The New Concept of Causality Will Receive Emphasis. New York Times, April 12.Google Scholar
  21. ———. 1937a. Unifying the Sciences. A Language Must Be Developed Common to All Fields. New York Times, Jan. 10.Google Scholar
  22. ———. 1937b. Language of Isotypes. New, International Means of Communication Gains Use. New York Times, Jan. 17.Google Scholar
  23. ———. 1937c. Science Encyclopedia. Sciences to Be Unified Through Common Language. New York Times, Feb. 14.Google Scholar
  24. ———. 1938. Toward Bridging the Gaps Between the Sciences, review of first 2 volumes of the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, New York Times, Aug. 7.Google Scholar
  25. ———. 1943. Horizons of Science: The Case for Planned Research. American Mercury 57: 442–447.Google Scholar
  26. ———. 1945a. Science in Review: Dr. Bush Outlines a Plan for the Creation of a National Research Foundation. New York Times, July 22.Google Scholar
  27. ———. 1945b. Science in Review: Further Arguments in Favor of Research Organized on a National Scale. New York Times, Aug. 19.Google Scholar
  28. ———. 1945c. Science in Review: Organization and Planning Held Necessary to Close Gaps in Our Knowledge. New York Times, Sept. 9.Google Scholar
  29. Kegley, Charles. 1959. Reflections on Philipp Frank’s Philosophy of Science. Philosophy of Science 26: 35–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kuhn, Thomas. 1962/2012. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 4th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  31. ———. 1963. The Function of Dogma in Scientific Research. In Scientific Change, ed. A.C. Crombie, 347–369. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  32. McCumber, John. 2001. Time in the Ditch. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  33. ———. 2016. The Philosophy Scare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Modley, Rudolf. 1935. Facts Told Pictorially. New York Times, Sept. 15.Google Scholar
  35. Neurath, Otto. 1928/1973. Personal Life and Class Struggle. In Empiricism and Sociology, ed. Marie Neurath and Robert S. Cohen, 249–298. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Neurath, Otto, Rudolf Carnap and Hans Hahn. 1929/1973. The Scientific Conception of the World: The Vienna Circle. In Empiricism and Sociology, ed. Marie Neurath and Robert S. Cohen, 299–319. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
  37. New York Times. 1933. Educator Describes Picture Esperanto, Jan. 10.Google Scholar
  38. ———. 1937a. Real Estate Expects Fair to Spur Market, Jan. 24.Google Scholar
  39. ———. 1937b. Review of Rudolf Modley, How to Use Pictorial Statistics. New York: Harper & Bros., Nov. 14.Google Scholar
  40. ———. 1939a. Magnetic Blackboard, May 28.Google Scholar
  41. ———. 1939b. Book Notes, announcement of Neurath, Otto, Modern Man in the Making (Neurath 1939), Aug. 17.Google Scholar
  42. ———. 1939c. Books Published Today, announcement of (Neurath 1939), Sept. 12.Google Scholar
  43. ———. 1939d. Books for Christmas, includes (Neurath 1939), Dec. 3.Google Scholar
  44. ———. 1945a. Research for Defence, July 21, 1945.Google Scholar
  45. ———. 1945b. The Nobel Awards, Oct. 27.Google Scholar
  46. ———. 1945c. Large Problems of Post-War America Are Laid Before Congress by President in Message, Sept. 7.Google Scholar
  47. ———. 1945d. Truman on Research Bill, Oct. 30.Google Scholar
  48. ———. 1945e. Truman Aid Asked for Magnuson Bill, Nov. 27.Google Scholar
  49. ———. 1956. Waldemar B. Kaempffert Dies, Science Editor of the Times, 79, New York Times, Nov. 28.Google Scholar
  50. Nye, Mary Jo. 2011. Michael Polanyi and His Generation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Reisch, George A. 1994. Planning Science: Otto Neurath and the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. British Journal for the History of Science 27: 153–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. ———. 2005. How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. ———. 2017. Pragmatic Engagements: Philipp Frank and James Bryant Conant on Science, Education, and Democracy. Studies in East European Thought 69: 227–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. ———. 2019. The Politics of Paradigms: Thomas Kuhn, James Bryant Conant, and the “Struggle for Men’s Minds” in the Cold War. New York: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  55. Shils, Edward. 1947. A Critique of Planning – The Society for Freedom in Science. Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Stadler, Friedrich. 2001/2015. The Vienna Circle: Studies in the Origins, Development, and Influence of Logical Empiricism. 2nd edition. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  57. Survey Graphic (Anonymous). 1932. Otto Neurath Visits Russia. Survey Graphic 21 (Nov. 1): 538–539.Google Scholar
  58. Thompson, Ralph. 1939. Books of the Times, review of (Neurath 1939), New York Times, Sept. 13.Google Scholar
  59. Tuboly, Adam Tamas (ed.). 2017. The Life and Works of Philipp Frank, Special Issue. Studies in East European Thought 69 (3): 199–276.Google Scholar
  60. Uebel, Thomas. 2000. Logical empiricism and sociology of knowledge: The case of Neurath and Frank. Philosophy of Science 67: 138–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Weaver, Warren. 1945. Letter to the Editor, “Free Science Sought,” New York Times, Sept. 2.Google Scholar
  62. Werskey, Gary. 1978. The Visible College. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  63. ———. 2007. The Marxist Critique of Capitalist Science: A History in Three Movements? Science as Culture 11: 397–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wuest, Amy. 2015. Philipp Frank: Philosophy of science, pragmatism, and social engagement. Ph.D Dissertation. University of Western Ontario.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations