By building the nuclear bomb, physicists brought scientific discovery into contact
with technological invention and thereby transgressed the bounds of scientific purity.
Attempting to shape the postwar implications of their invention, the physicists themselves
entered the political realm to advocate the need for international unification, atomic
control, and a ban on war. The physicists acknowledged that science would play a more
central role in the structure of society, and many decided that the culture of science had
to make accommodating changes by taking responsibility for the practical results of
laboratory exploration. The physicists' political arguments, however, were rooted in the
ethos of science and therefore inapplicable to national governance and international
diplomacy. Furthermore, the physicists' attempt to "scientize" politics invited the
reciprocal action wherein science was "politicized": military-political administrators
regimented, funded, and directed "free" scientific exploration. Manhattan Project
physicists were made suspects of indiscretion because the scientific tenets of
internationalism and free exchange of information seemed disloyal in the 1940s.
The unprecedented case of the Manhattan Project physicists' political activity before
Hiroshima highlights both the capacity of scientists to assume social responsibility for
science and the limitations of their profession in the political realm. In doing so, it
explains how the notion of scientific purity was transformed, how the practice of
physicists has changed over time, and where these two elements may go in the future.
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