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Containing Science: Scientists and Nuclear Weapons during the Cold War

Paul Rubinson

The Cold War forced scientists to reconcile their values of internationalism and objectivity with the increasingly militaristic uses of scientific knowledge, leading many to oppose the nuclear arms race. Containing Science: Scientists and Nuclear Weapons during the Cold War explores this bitter struggle between scientists and the government over the direction of U.S. nuclear weapons policy. But because scientists ultimately failed to halt the nuclear arms race, Containing Science also explains the ways the government—and scientists themselves— managed to thwart this challenge throughout the Cold War.

By examining influential and iconoclastic scientists who both protested and promoted nuclear weapons, as well as case studies of critical debates about nuclear weapons, Containing Science places scientists at the heart of the Cold War. Antinuclear scientists pursued an array of scientific alternatives to nuclearism, ranging from grassroots peace activism to transnational diplomacy to government science advising. But the national security state repulsed all of these challenges. Just as U.S. Cold War policy embraced containment to meet the communist threat overseas, the government contained antinuclear scientists in a variety of ways. For decades, pronuclear scientists campaigned for nuclear weapons and sought to link science to conservative politics, while government officials alternately coerced and co- opted antinuclear scientists. Additionally, the conservative and cautious mindset of the scientific community frequently neutralized scientists’ objections to nuclear weapons.

Containing Science brings to light the incessant wrestling between political outsiders hoping to influence U.S. foreign policy and the government determined to resist challenges to its authority. The book sheds light on a number of overlooked influential and politically active scientists, and shows that the government achieved its Cold War “consensus” only by the manufacture of consent and the active opposition to powerful dissenters. Finally, it explains how scientists’ participation in politics led to a disconnect between scientists and the public that still exists today. Containing Science will appeal to anyone interested in the intersection of science, politics, and Cold War foreign relations.

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