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Scientists and the State: The Legacy of World War II

  • Michael Fortun
  • Sylvan S. Schweber
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 151)

Abstract

A convincing case can be made that the principal events shaping the twentieth century until the nineteen nineties have been wars: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam. The two world wars changed the practice of science. Among many other things, both wars highlighted the value to the state of scientists and scientific institutions. But in contrast to the first world war, the second altered the character of science in a fundamental and irreversible way.1 The importance and magnitude of the contribution to the war effort of engineers and scientists, particularly physicists, changed the relationship between scientists and the state. Already during the war, and with ever greater emphasis after the war with the onset of the Cold War, the armed forces in the United States, particularly the Navy and the Army Air Force, realizing that the future security of the nation and its dominance as a world power depended on the creativity of its scientific communities and the strength of its institutions of higher education, invested heavily in their support and expansion. From the mid-forties to the mid-fifties a close relationship was cemented between scientists and the military. Physicists played a key role in these developments and our paper was an outgrowth of an inquiry into the special skills and characteristics that made their contributions so central until the early sixties.

Keywords

Operation Research Operation Research Scientific Management Atomic Bomb Biographical Memoir 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    D. Pestre and G. Pancaldi have explored the consequences of the first world war on the scientific institutions in France and Italy in papers presented at a conference on “Science, Technology, Institutions in Europe (1900–1920)” that was organized by the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) and held in Rome on the 27th and 28th of November 1990. It is interesting to compare the subsequent history of the various national research councils that were formed during the first world war. In France, Great Britain and Italy these government sponsored and supported organizations had a substantial impact on science policy in the interwar period. In the United States, although influential, the National Research Council remained a division of the National Academy of Sciences, and was supported primarily by the Rockefeller Foundation. See Heilbron and Seidel. For a discussion of Great Britain see Gummett.Google Scholar
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    Ian Hacking, “Was there a Probabilistic Revolution 1800–1930?,” in The Probabilistic Revolution. L. Kruger, G. Gigerenzer, and M. S. Morgan, eds. (Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T. Press, 1987) volume 1, pp. 45–58.Google Scholar
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    The presentation in their text was an attempt to resist “what is surely a deplorable trend to substitute a code for a theory, to substitute an oscilloscope display of many curves for a detailed physical understanding of the system.” Their monograph therefore did “less that justice to the many elegant machine computing techniques which are now (1958) in vogue in many nuclear centers.” Wigner and Weinberg also declared: “Let the new generation remember that the first full scale reactors, Hanford, were designed with desk calculators and slide rules.” Alvin Weinberg and Eugene Wigner, The Physical Principles of Nuclear Chain Reactors, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958).Google Scholar
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    Hendrik W. Bode, Synergy: Technical Integration and Technological Innovation in the Bell System. (Murray Hill, New Jersey. Bell Telephone Laboratories, 1971) Bode credits T. N. Vail, who became the president of AT&T and chief executive of the Bell system in 1907, with articulating as early as 1909 the concepts of the “systems approach.” His slogan was: “One Policy, One System, Universal Service.” Vail reorganized the numerous small autonomous units that constituted AT&T into an integrated and more manageable structure with higher and more uniform standards.Google Scholar
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    Project Lexington was carried out during the summer of 1948 under M.I.T. auspices. It explored the feasibility of designing and constructing a long range nuclear powered airplane. Interservice rivalry played a large role in launching the project. The project was initiated by the Air Force in order to obtain parity with the other services in matters of funding. The technological issues of an A-plane were considered and answered. The question of whether it is desirable to have such an airplane was not addressed. A program to develop a nuclear powered aircraft continued for a decade. It was canceled in 1961 by Kennedy after over a billion of dollars were spent. J. Tierny, “Take the A-Plane: The $1,000,000,000 Nuclear Bird that Never Flew.” Science (1982).Google Scholar
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    In 1950 — shortly after the fall of China and the detonation of Joe 1, the first Russian atomic bomb — the Navy approached M.I.T. to look at the threat posed by Soviet submarines. Jerrold Zacharias — following the precedent that had been set at the Rad Lab by Rabi in dealing with the Navy during World War II — agreed to head the summer study but only on condition that he be allowed to address the larger issue of how to move ships and materials across the oceans in case of war. He had been a member of Project Lexington and had been appalled by the constraints that had been accepted in carrying out that assignment. The Navy accepted Zacharias’ demand and his “Report on the security of overseas transport” was issued on September 21, 1950. The project was huge and influential. It consolidated the systems approach to Navy problems. There was a tendency for the Navy to compartmentalize functions in various Bureaus and to maintain communications among them on the basis of need to know. Rabi had broken down these barriers in so far as the activities of the Rad Lab were concerned. Zacharias insisted that that approach be maintained in the activities of Project Hartwell. S. S. Schweber, “The mutual embrace of science and the military: ONR and the growth of physics after World War II.” in E. Mendelsohn, M. R. Smith, and P. Weingart (eds.), Science,Technology and the Military. (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988).Google Scholar
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    Project Charles in 1951 was concerned with the Air Defence of the U.S. and led to the formation of Lincoln Labs and the Mitre Corporation. Project Vista, overseen by Cal Tech, dealt with problems connected with the defense of Europe during the summer of 1952. F. B. Llewellyn, “System Engineering with reference to its Military Applications.” This is the text of speech Llewellyn, the executive secretary of the Science Advisory Committee, delivered on November 1, 1951. “Oppenheimer Papers,” Library of Congress.Google Scholar
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    In general, see P. M. S. Blackett, Studies of War. Nuclear and Conventional (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd; New York: Hill and Wang, 1962) and the various papers of his reprinted therein; in particular “Tizard and the Science of War,” Pt. I, 101–119; “Operational Research: 1948.” Document 1, Part II, 169–198; “The Scope of Operational Research.” Document 2, Part II, 199–204. See also P. M. S. Blackett, “Operational Research.” Advancement of Science British Ass. 5 (April 1948), 28; P. M. S. Blackett, “Operational Research.” Operational Research Quarterly 1/1 (March 1950) 3–6; P. M. S. Blackett, “Operational Research: Recollections of Problems Studied, 1940–45.” Brassey’s Annual (1953): 88–106; reprinted in Studies of War, 205–234. P. M. S. Blackett, “Evan James Williams. 1903–1945.” Obituary Notices of the Fellows of the Royal Society 5 (1947) reprinted in Studies of War, 235–238. See also Sir Bernard Lovell, F.R.S. “Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett,” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 21 (1975): 1–115. Solly Zuckerman, “Scientific advice during and since World War II.” Proc. Royal Society of London A 342 (1975): 465–47. Solly Zuckerman, From Apes to Warlords: The Autobiography (1904–1946) of Solly Zuckerman. (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1978). C. Kittel, “The Nature and Development of Operations Research.” Science (ADD vol.) (1947): 150–153; M. Stone, “Science and Statecraft.” Science (ADD vol.) (1947): 507–510; W. J. Horvath, “Operations Research — A scientific basis for Executive Decisions,” American Statistician 2 (1947); Florence N. Trefethen, “A History of Operations Research,” in Operations Research for Management, Joseph P. McCloskey and Florence N. Trefethen, eds. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1954).Google Scholar
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    Blackett, Studies of War, 171. See also R. W. Clark, The Rise of the Boffins (London: Phoenix House, 1962).Google Scholar
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    Perhaps the best introduction to OR and systems engineering is the volume entitled Operations Research and Systems Engineering, edited by Charles D. Fagle, William H. Huggins, and Robert H. Roy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1960). In OR the mixed-team was usually small in number. Incidentally, mathematicians did not do well as operational analysts during WW II, presumably because they were not used to being part of “teams”.Google Scholar
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    O. Solandt, “Observation, Experiment and Measurement in Operations Research.” Journal OR Society of America 3 (1955): 1–15.Google Scholar
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    Characteristic names were Directorate of Naval Operational Research on the Naval Staff of the British Admiralty, the British Operational Research Section of the RAF Coastal Command, Combined Operations SE Asia Command. Neville Mott, Freeman Dyson, and H. R. Hulme are some of the physicists who were attached to some of these divisions. For an account of Desmond Bernal’s work in Bomber Command and Combined Operations, his contributions to tactics and strategy while on the staff of Mountbatten in Libya and during the preparation and oversight of the Allied invasion of continental Europe, see Dorothy M. C. Hodgkin, “John Desmond Bernal,” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 26 (1980): 17–84.Google Scholar
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    See John Burchard, Rockets, Guns and Targets: Science in World War II. History of NDRC (Boston: Little Brown, 1948); P. M. Morse, “Operations Research”, Technology Review February 1951, 191–217 and P. M. Morse, “Operations Research”, Technology Review May 1953, 367–398; Jacinto Steinhardt, Proc. U.S. Naval Institute 72 (1946): 649–56.Google Scholar
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    John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (Princeton: Princeton University Press. First edition, 1943; second edition, 1947). For a concise introduction to game theory see Martin Shubik, Readings in Game Theory and Political Behavior (Garden City: Doubleday, 1954).Google Scholar
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    It is interesting to note that some operations research activities had already been carried out during WW I by Edison to analyze how to meet the threat posed by the German U-boats. See Lloyd N. Scott, Naval Consulting Board of the United States (Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., 1920); W. F. Whitmore, “Edison and Operations Research,” J. OR Society of America 1 (1952/3): 83–85. It has been suggested that the lack of impact of Edison’s useful and insightful recommendations was due to the fact they were made to a civilian official, the secretary of the Navy, who did not have operational responsibility for the deployment of ships and shipping.Google Scholar
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    The Rand Corporation. The first fifteen years. (Santa Monica, California: November 1963). For an overview of the approach see Modern Systems Research for the Behavioral Scientist. A Sourcebook, W. Buckley, ed. (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1961).Google Scholar
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    T. P. Hughes, “The Seamless Web: Technology, Science, Etcetera, Etcetera,” Social Studies of Science 16 (1986): 281–292. See also his Network of Power (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983). During and after World War II the scope of engineering broadened to encompass the interrelation between the separate parts of a complex system, and “systems engineering” was the name given to that activity. It was the formal recognition of the importance of interactions between parts of a system. J. W. Forrester, one of the founders of M.I.T.’s Digital Computer Laboratory that produced the Whirlwind computer, and one of the guiding spirits in the development of the Sage system at the Lincoln Laboratory in the mid-fifties, accepted a position in MIT’s Sloan School of Management to develop a unified “systems approach” for management education that would integrate the various activities of an industrial company into a coherent system. “This new framework, which will be developed in the next few years, will be based not on the functional divisions like manufacturing, sales, accounting and engineering, but on the underlying fundamental movements of materials, money and labor, all tied together into an information-flow and decision-making network,” J. W. Forrester, “Systems Technology and Industrial Dynamics.” Technology Review 59 (June 1957): 417–428. See also Herbert A. Simon, The New Science of Management Decision (New York: Harper and Row, 196 ADD).Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    This definition was slightly amended in Great Britain to read: “Operational Research is the use of scientific method in providing executive departments with a quantitative basis for decisions regarding the operations under their control.” “Operational Research in the Research University,” Nature 161 (1948). Google Scholar
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    P. M. Morse and G. E. Kimball, Methods of Operations Research (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1951), 1. Google Scholar
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    Blackett, OR Quarterly 1/1 (1950): 3–4. Google Scholar
  22. 23.
    In the USA: at MIT, Case, Carnegie Tech, Columbia, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Pennsylvania; in the UK, at Birmingham and Imperial College. See J. F. McCloskey, “Training for Operations Research,” Journal OR Society of America 3 (1953): 386–393. Google Scholar
  23. 24.
    In 1953 George E. Kimball, a member of the NRC Committee on OR, reasserted this viewpoint: “Operations Research is not separated from such sciences as statistics and industrial engineering by any sharp boundary; there is now a large area recognized as its province. This area is that of the application of the scientific method to the operations of complex organizations. It is based on the conviction that the factors affecting such operations can be measured quantitatively and that there exist common laws obeyed by the basic variableschwr(133) The main problems concerning operations research today are the discovery of such laws and the development of techniques, both techniques of measurement and techniques for rapid, simple application of existing laws.” G. E. Kimball, “On a philosophy of Operations Research,” Journal OR Society of America 2 (1954): 145. Google Scholar
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    Maier, 26. Scientific management and Taylorism should also be seen as expressions of important distinctive characteristics of the Progressive Era: the adoption of novel ideas about the authority of science and the promulgation of science as a philosophy of social control. Peter D. Hall has noted in The Organization of American Culture (New York: New York University Press, 1982) that: “Thanks to the war [world war I] and their social reading of Darwin [the intellectual and social elite] could redefine their ideas about the locus of authority, shifting it from politics and religion to science, the world of matter in which the voice of God expressed itself far more authoritatively than through the voice of the people. In concrete social and political terms, this shift altered the public perception of the relation between wealth, ideas and power.”Google Scholar
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    Maier, The Search for Stability, 23. See also David Dickson, The New Politics of Science (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), 319–321. There is a vast literature regarding the lure of “scientific management” as a means for increasing productivity and control over organizational activities. Max Weber indicated that the attraction of scientific organizational techniques was rooted in their potential for transforming an organization into “a precision instrument which can put itself at the disposal of quite varied — purely political as well as economic, or any sort of — interests in domination.” Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. (New York: Free Press, 1947.) Google Scholar
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    Le Chatelier, Le Taylorisme 73. See also the chapter entitled “Enseignement de L’Organisation,” 142–160. Google Scholar
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    See for example Thomas L. Saaty, Mathematical Methods of Operation Research (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1959). Google Scholar
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    J. Crowther and R. Whiddington, Science at War, 119–120.Google Scholar
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    Committee on Elimination of Waste in Industry of the Federated American Engineering Societies, Waste in Industry (New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1921).Google Scholar
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    Blackett, Studies of War, 201.Google Scholar
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    Thorton L. Page, “A survey of Operations Research Tools and Techniques” in C. D. Flagle, W. H. Huggins, and R. H. Roy, Operations Research and Systems Engineering (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1960), p.120.Google Scholar
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    T. Porter, HSS meeting Seattle, 28 October 1990.Google Scholar
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    Peter Miller and Nikolas Rose, “Governing Economic Life” Economy and Society (1990); also Peter Miller and Ted O’Leary, “Accounting and the Construction of the Governable Person,” Accounting, Organizations and Society 12 (1987): 235–265.Google Scholar
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    Daniel Kevles, The Physicists, The History of a Scientific Community in Modern America (New York: Vintage Press, 1979).Google Scholar
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    Thus Tizard became the chair of both the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, which replaced the wartime Scientific Advisory Committee to the War Cabinet in 1947. The function of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy was to advise the Lord President in the formulation and execution of government policy regarding non-military scientific matters; the Defense Research Policy Committee was to do the same for the Minister of Defense in military scientific policy. The panel on Technology and Operational Research (ACSP) was chaired by William Stanier, the Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Supply. Cockcroft who replaced Tizard as the chair of the DRPC in 1952 was the head of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell at the time. See Gummett, pp. 28–36.Google Scholar
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    Thus for example Rudolf Peierls, who together with Frisch had initially proven the feasibility of an atomic bomb, and who had been a group leader at Los Alamos during the war never consulted for the British government on these matters after the war, because he was never asked. There are exceptions; the prominent ones are Blackett and Zuckerman. But their influence waned with the chilling of the Cold War (due to their identification with the left) and the advent of a conservative government in the early fifties.Google Scholar
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    See H. L. Nieburg, In the Name of Science (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1966), esp. Chap. 13, “The New Braintrusters”; Ida R. Hoos, Systems Analysis in Public Policy: A Critique (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), esp. 45–67; Marcus G. Raskin, “The Megadeath Intellectuals,” New York Review of Books (November 14, 1963); and Noam Chomsky, “The Mentality of the Backroom Boys,” in The Chomsky Reader (New York: Pantheon, 1987), 269–288.Google Scholar
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    Report from Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace, with Introductory Material by Leonard C. Lewin (New York: Dial Press, 1967), 89–90; quoted in Hoos, Systems Analysis in Public Policy, 59. It is interesting to note that in 1971, Murray Gell-Mann, a member of PSAC and a Jasonite, gave a speech at the dedication of the new physics building at the University of California/Santa Barbara in which he indicated that: “the priority need is to develop a systems analysis with heart that society can rely on to choose between possible technologies.” Murray Gell-Mann, “How scientists can really help.” Physics Today May 1971, 23–25.Google Scholar
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    See in this connection the Morse papers at MIT which detail his activities in bringing this about.Google Scholar
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    P. M. Morse, “Must we always be gadgeteers?” Physics Today 3/12 (1950): 4–5.Google Scholar
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    See the forthcoming biography of Jerrold Zacharias by Jack Goldstein (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press 1992).Google Scholar
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    Thus among the participants in project Hartwell were Alvarez, Dicke, Getting, Lauritsen, Pierce, Purcell, Hill, Hubbard, Weisner, Piore, Berkner, Fisk.Google Scholar
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    See the November 1, 1951 report by F. B. Llewellyn, the executive secretary of the Science Advisory Committee, entitled “Systems engineering with reference to military applications.” Oppenheimer Papers. Archives Div. Library of Congress.Google Scholar
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    There is another important issue to be addressed but which lies outside the scope of the present inquiry: “To what extent did the physicists represent pure science and its relevance and usefulness to applied science and technology?” It is worth noting that the physicists’s influence waned in the early sixties. Among the many factors contributing to this, the conclusions of Project Hindsight undoubtedly played a role. “In 1963, the Pentagon had the technology of twenty essential and advanced weapons analyzed: Various nuclear warheads, rockets, radar equipment, a navigation satellite and an naval mine. As far as possible the contributions of separate scientific and technological advances made since 1945 to each weapon were traced. In this way 556 separate contributions were found. Of these 92 percent came under the heading of technology; the remaining 8 percent virtually all in the category of applied science, except for two which came from basic research.” Daniel S. Greenberg. The Politics of American Science (New York: New American Library, 1967).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Fortun
    • 1
  • Sylvan S. Schweber
    • 1
  1. 1.Harvard UniversityUSA

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