Wolfe’s new book, Freedom’s Laboratory, frontally addresses questions of what science is, how it is best done, and how it (and scientists themselves) might be strategically deployed to advance national interests. As suggested by its subtitle — The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science — after World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a global free-for-all to win hearts, minds, and markets. This extended to 'science.' Americans exerted their minds and money to distinguish a 'good' American science from its communist — and, therefore, by definition compromised — counterpart ... As Wolfe convincingly argues, these efforts were based from the outset in a questionable assumption: that American science, perhaps like America itself, was exceptional in being inherently apolitical ... Wolfe offers a damning critique of attempts to use science to promote internationalism and an American-inflected idea of freedom.
In this engaging and dense study of the politics of science in the Cold War era, historian Wolfe examines a puzzling paradox: In an era of McCarthy-ite redbaiting and witch-hunting, how could scientists with leftist affiliations keep on working on classified projects related to that struggle against the Communist bloc? ... A strong contribution to the history of modern science.
Historian Wolfe offers a thoughtful, thoroughly researched history of how the American government employed science and scientists to improve world opinion of liberal democracy during the Cold War. She writes informatively about the political events and issues that influenced American policymakers, among them the 1957 Soviet launch of Sputnik and the debate over atomic weapons proliferation. Wolfe also focuses on how, as the Cold War progressed, the CIA, in service to using the American scientific community as a weapon of propaganda, became increasingly involved in influencing or controlling the exchange of scientific information between scientists in the U.S. and its allies ... Although Wolfe’s topic is narrow, readers with an interest in the conjunction of science and politics will find her book an informative one.