The Struggle Over Politicized Scientific Facts in a Post-Truth Age: The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Altercations with Presidential Science Advisors, 1969-2008

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Abstract Summary
Who defines the terms of American public discussion over science issues such as nuclear policy, healthcare, and climate change? Exploring the conflicts between presidential Science Advisors and the Union of Concerned Scientists between 1969 and 2008 provides a window into this question. During the Nixon administration, the president’s Science Advisor shifted from serving as a technical expert in the executive branch to working primarily as a public relations spokesman, bolstering the president’s credibility as an objective scientific voice in the public eye. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a group of researchers, emerged in 1969 at MIT to protest the militaristic policies of the Nixon administration and criticized Science Advisor Lee Dubridge. The UCS was a continuous thorn in the side of subsequent presidential administrations and competed with the Science Advisor to set the terms of public debates over science. Historians have not fully explored the role of Science Advisors and the Union of Concerned Scientists since the Nixon administration and instead have focused largely on the role of Science Advisors in the early Cold War period. Drawing on archival material from five different repositories, this flashtalk will explore three specific instances of conflict between the Union of Concerned Scientists and the presidential Science Advisor in the Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush administrations over nuclear policy, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and climate change respectively. I argue that Science Advisors and the UCS have competed to shape public language and priorities for science in the past fifty years.
Abstract ID :
HSS971
Submission Type
Abstract Topic
Chronological Classification :
20th century, late

Associated Sessions

Princeton University

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