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Science and Technology in the Global Cold War$
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Naomi Oreskes and John Krige

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780262027953

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262027953.001.0001

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Science in the Origins of the Cold War

Science in the Origins of the Cold War

(p.10) (p.11) 1 Science in the Origins of the Cold War
Science and Technology in the Global Cold War

Naomi Oreskes

The MIT Press

Political historians and historians of science have tried to evaluate the role and significance of science in the origins and prosecution of the Cold War. The introductory chapter reviews the work of leading Cold War actors and historians in their attempts to evaluate the significance of science in the origins and maintenance of the Cold War, and the attempts of historians of science to evaluate the role of the Cold War in the development of late 20th century sciences and the militarily-relevant technologies derived from and related to them. Most historians agree that science became central to the Cold War, because it was scientists who continued to develop the technical information that made it possible to deliver and detect the unique weapons defined the Cold War threat to human survival. This central fact that helps to explain why not only the US and the USSR, but also China and Europe, focused substantial resources into scientific and technological research. But what impact did this expansion of state support have on science and technology? Much prior work has suffered from what I label the “miasma” problem: that Cold war politics and culture are invoked as a relevant background, but the pertinence of that background remains vague. The challenge of contemporary Cold War historiography, I argue, is to better understand the Cold war as a driving force in the development of science and technology in the second half of the 20th century. Put another way, what is the point of placing scientific and technical knowledge into its full historical context if that context does not help to explain how and why that knowledge was produced?

Keywords:   Cold War, Science, Technology, George Orwell, PMS Blackett, John Gaddis, Walter LaFeber, Forman-Kevles debate, Miasma, Causation

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