In 1957, elite panic following the launch of Russia's Sputnik changed the way scientists (especially physicists) operated politically. A cabinet-level presidential science adviser position was created. Assisting him was the President's Science Advisory Committee (psac). For the next sixteen years there existed a small panel with direct access to the president and broad advisory mandates. Presidents received relatively disinterested advice about weapons systems and space and arms races. In 1973, however, after the psac opposed an antiballistic missile (abm) program, it and the science adviser position were abolished by Richard M. Nixon. Only partly reconstituted since, science advisory agencies have been ad hoc and decentralized under the conservative presidents Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and—especially—George W. Bush. As one result, the nation has spent $150 billion in twenty-five years on missile defense systems still not successfully tested under realistic battlefield conditions. Presidents have also dithered about addressing global warming. Following earlier analysts including Bruce L. R. Smith and Gregg Herken, Zuoyue Wang surveys the psac to answer these questions: What shaped relationships between scientists and the state? And, what is the proper role of science in a democratic society? Eight case studies clarify these topics: the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; military missile development; the 1963 nuclear test ban; the Stanford linear accelerator; project Apollo; the psac's response to Rachel Carson's pioneering Silent Spring (1962); the Vietnam War; the abm program; and the supersonic transport aircraft. Wang sees opportunity (in Sputnik), agreement (regarding nuclear arms control), and liberal-to-moderate consensus (regarding containing Communism) as answers to his first question on the relationship between science and the state. Toward answering his second question, he argues that psac's key role was to advise what technology would not do. Such “scientific and technological dissent” is “vital” (p. 317). Otherwise, high technology enthusiasm and gadget worship will land the country in large, avoidable troubles.

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