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Science With a Social Conscience

LABORATORY Scientists as Political Activists in 1930s America. Peter J. Kuznick. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1987. 363 pp. $29.95. Science faced calamity on several fronts during the 1930s, and this fine book by Peter J. Kuznick, assistant professor of history at The American University, tells how American scientists responded. Scientists, he writes, entered the decade with “a peculiar sort of hubris.” They were elitist, politically conservative or uninvolved, an

Kenneth Foster

LABORATORY

Scientists as Political Activists in
1930s America. Peter J. Kuznick. The
University of Chicago Press, Chicago,
1987. 363 pp. $29.95.

Science faced calamity on several fronts during the 1930s, and this fine book by Peter J. Kuznick, assistant professor of history at The American University, tells how American scientists responded.

Scientists, he writes, entered the decade with “a peculiar sort of hubris.” They were elitist, politically conservative or uninvolved, and had a “Panglossian optimism” about the social benefits of science.
The Depression changed all that. Scientists faced unemployment in their own ranks and a public backlash for creating “technological unemployment” in the masses. Funds for science declined as industries retrenched. Despite lobbying by scientific leaders, the Roosevelt administration gave low priority to science, concentrating its efforts instead on creating jobs and raising farm prices.

During this period, Kuznick argues, scientists developed a social vision that gradually became politicized. Professional...

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