Science and technology have transformed the way in which we approach some of the biggest issues we face in today’s world, including that of national security. Technological advancements in recent decades have undoubtedly shaped our approaches to war, particularly with regards to the means of warfare. Spears, bows and arrows have been replaced with atomic bombs, nuclear weapons and missiles thereby revolutionizing the concept of war. However, the often overlooked aspect of this transformation is its impacts on the field of science itself. The demand for more advanced war equipment and tighter national security has shifted the rhetoric of the scientific field, providing it with a newfound sense of purpose and identity.

With the technological power and capability that exists in today’s world, the threat to global security is continually on the rise. This threat has motivated many nations, like the United States, to continue investing millions of dollars directly in the hands of scientists to push the development of advanced war technology as a means of tightening their own national security. An increased emphasis on warfare, combined with increased funding for research, has provided scientists with a greater sense of motivation and curiosity to direct their efforts towards war-related research. Thus, many scientists shifted their focus from that of a wider discipline to a more concentrated discipline that serves a widely-recognized and praised goal of ensuring national security. Historian Paul Forman points to one specific example of this shift in paradigm, arguing that the demand for development of warfare technology during the Cold War caused physicists to “lose control of their discipline” (21). Naomi Oreskes elaborates on Forman’s statement in Science and Technology in the Global Cold War, writing, “The physics that they now found themselves doing—was focused in areas that had not previously been viewed as priorities by physicists, but were priorities for their military patrons” (21). In essence, Forman argued that the war changed scientific priorities and the scientific culture in many ways.

It is important to consider the implications and long-term consequences of such a shift in culture. One major concern is that a heavy public focus on the development of warfare technology restricts scientists from exploring other topics within their own field and shifts their focus away from personal interests. With immense public appraisal and approval for their work in the efforts towards ensuring national security, scientists may find themselves easily losing sight of their other priorities and research efforts that are equally as important. While wars have put the field of science in the spotlight and emphasized its relevance in society, it is important that scientists do not get caught up in the buzz and chaos that is often driven by public response to national issues such as wars. Instead, they should take a comprehensive and all-inclusive approach to their research, ensuring that in every case, their efforts are working towards the ultimate goal: the betterment of humanity as a whole.

References:

Naomi Oreskes and John Krige (eds.), Science and Technology in the Global Cold War. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014.