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New Left Review I/16, July-August 1962

Peter Russell

The Social Control of Science

Perhaps the measure of the current importance of science is the amount of space devoted to it in the Sunday papers. On that basis, it grades somewhere between holiday travel and fashion, a considerable improvement on any status it might have had only a few years back. Science and scientists are news, in a way they were not in even the recent past. Heroic days of research passed whilst the scientist was still an unknown, innocent figureā€”a cross between an Oxford don and the Toytown inventor. Now, the cult of personality builds up for us pictures in the newspapers of powerful, shadowy figures to whose tune the politicians dance. Disarmament negotiations halt whilst experts disagree; government scientists advise, and the Cabinet acts; avuncular professors flit across the television screen, and Britain will enter the space race. Names evoke faint responses only: Penny, Cockcroft, Zuckerman, Teller, Wiesner, Lysenko. These men make decisions that affect us all. They speak in the name of science, and their words become gospel: only an expert can disagree with an expert.

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