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Grubbing for Money

Peter Neushul

Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion. Daniel S. Greenberg. x + 530 pp. University of Chicago Press, 2001. $35.

Daniel S. Greenberg, science journalist and former news editor for Science magazine, is best known as the author of The Politics of Pure Science, a critical history of U.S. science policy focusing on the glory years of World War II and the emergence of government-funded "big science" during the 1950s and '60s. In Science, Money, and Politics, he resumes that chronicle, examining the politics and finance of science from the 1970s through the Clinton administration, with ample attention also paid to Vannevar Bush and the World War II generation of science policy makers.

Greenberg recounts amusingly the tendency of science advocates making funding campaign speeches to reminisce about a "golden age" of science during which there was plenty of money for research. In 1991, for example, Nobelist Leon Lederman, as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, argued that "our current capability for research is only about one-third what it was in the late 1960s?a golden age whose achievements the nation is still profiting from." Greenberg debunks these "legends of bygone riches" with a careful analysis of scientific expenditures during the postwar era, revealing that science funding increased every year from 1953 to 1998; the numbers are detailed in a useful appendix.

Another timeworn fundraising technique is to warn against a Ph.D. shortage, particularly vis-à-vis the number of scientists in the Soviet Union, an approach often used during the Cold War. Greenberg observes that this successful gambit led to a glut of U.S. scientists who now spend years working as poorly paid postdocs, many never obtaining permanent jobs at universities. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the National Science Foundation (NSF) became embroiled in controversy when a dubious study encouraged by Director Eric Bloch predicted that the "baby bust" would result in a "shortfall" in the number of bachelor's degrees in science and engineering. Controversy over whether the shortfall constituted an actual shortage attracted the attention of Congress and led to embarrassing hearings. But the flow of postdocs was unstemmed; they continue to perform the "stoop labor" of science.

Greenberg maintains that on only one occasion did scientists become involved in national electoral politics on a large scale?during the presidential campaign of 1964. An elite panel of scientists with Washington connections who were participating in a widely broadcast radio roundtable vilified candidate Barry Goldwater for his attitude toward nuclear arms. George Kistiakowsky, a former Manhattan Project participant, described him as "outside the mainstream of responsible American thinking and... clearly unqualified to be trusted with the great powers of the Presidency." According to Greenberg, this episode later contributed to Richard Nixon's decision to dismantle the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), a policy advisory group formed during the Eisenhower administration. Interestingly, science nonetheless flourished under Nixon. With no sustained influence in electoral politics, science has since then relied heavily on professional lobbyists (rather than science advisers) to sustain the uninterrupted flow of billions of government dollars.

For me, Greenberg's interviews with NSF directors, presidential science advisers and other "on tap" scientists were the most interesting part of the narrative. Included is a fascinating anecdote from George (Jay) Keyworth, Ronald Reagan's first science and technology adviser. When he learned that Reagan was about to publicly endorse the Strategic Defense Initiative, Keyworth, despite his astonishment, loyally backed the president in the face of vehement opposition from scientists. Secretary of State George Schultz, who had also been kept out of the loop about the impending announcement, blasted Keyworth "for encouraging the president on his utopian notion. 'You're a lunatic,' he bellowed." Keyworth told Greenberg, "'I think he really meant that President Reagan was a lunatic, and he wasn't going to call President Reagan a lunatic.'"

Greenberg's analysis of U.S. science policy during the past 30 years is thorough, with one exception: Before embarking on a highly detailed review of NSF and National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding, he acknowledges the importance of military funding, but he never returns to the subject. In the immediate postwar era, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) funded the bulk of basic scientific research in the nation. Throughout the remainder of the century, the ONR and the Department of Defense (DOD) supplied significantly more funding for research than did NSF and NIH. Greenberg should have included an analysis of the influence of this military spending and of the far-reaching implications of the Mansfield Amendment to the Defense Procurement Authorization Act of 1970, which required that the DOD support only basic research with "a direct and apparent relationship to a specific military function or operation." Instead, he goes on for chapters about failed attempts to teach the general public about science, a topic far less pertinent to an understanding of U.S. science policy.

An entire chapter is devoted to debunking the myth that Vannevar Bush was, through his report Science, The Endless Frontier, "the architect of America's postwar rise to world leadership in science." Greenberg's analysis here is correct, but he gives short shrift to Bush's major contribution, linking science and government while head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II. A civilian agency that managed much wartime research, it was abolished in 1947 but ceased to exist in name only: Military funding of science flourished throughout the remainder of the 20th century, supporting a wealth of research and development that in some instances led to astounding technologies.

Greenberg does a good job of covering NSF, NIH, NASA, the National Academy of Sciences, Congressional pork and the many ways in which science garnered government sustenance in the postwar era. Explaining how billions of dollars in government support were generated?despite science's varying degrees of success and scientists' liberal leanings and lack of sustained political influence?is no small achievement.?Peter Neushul, History, University of California, Santa Barbara

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