Square Scientists and the Excluded Middle

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Abstract

The historiography on American science and technology in the 1970s is still small, yet there are already three distinct strands of work: studies of countercultural scientists, portrayed as enacting or advocating ‘groovy’ research; studies of the politically polarized debate pitting conservative and libertarian ‘cornucopianists’ against environmentalists and modelers forecasting resource scarcity; and studies of the early commercialization of technoscience (e.g., biotechnology) that took off in the 1980s. Left out,I argue, are a class of ‘square scientists’ with little sympathy for the counterculture, and yet open to (even eager for) a new kind of science oriented to the same problems activists said they wanted science to solve: pollution, mass transit, housing, biomedicine, disability technologies, pedagogical machines,etc. Square scientists at places like NASA and Texas Instruments adapted military-industrial-academic templates to a wide variety of socially ‘relevant’ topics in the 1970s. Yet square scientists still looked to the military-industrial complex for allies, rather than to countercultural colleagues. This potential middle ground remained excluded – contributing, in large part, to the failure of schemes to reorient US R&D to civilian social problems, and to the invisibility of the squares in today’s historical accounts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-71
Number of pages14
JournalCentaurus
Volume59
Issue number1-2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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