Leschi, Third Floor 02 Nov 2018 Organized Session
Physical Sciences 09:00 - 11:45

‘Scientific internationalism’ in the ideals and practices of the physical sciences has become a crucial object of analysis to better understand the history of Cold War science. While the number of international scientific collaborations experienced a dramatic growth from the end of World War II onward, the character and finalities of these collaborations changed substantially and overlapped diplomatic activities that were implicitly or explicitly reflecting the changing political circumstances in which they developed. In particular, while before the Cold War scientists could promote international work without necessarily taking into account the geopolitical landscape, during the Cold War this became an inescapable referent.

The panel offers a platform to investigate the multiple forms that ‘scientific internationalism’ assumed by focusing on the scientific activities of international organizations of different kinds. The speakers present case studies concerning the diplomatic implications of scientific collaborative efforts during the Cold War and beyond: from the changing role of international cooperation in astronomy to the search for ways to boost the scientific unions’ neutrality and collaboration across political divides to the scientific and political agendas of physical societies and multilateral defense alliances.

Co-organized by Roberto Lalli (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin) and Simone Turchetti (CHSTM, University of Manchester)

Co-sponsored by the HSS Physical Sciences Forum and the DHST Historical Commission on Science, Technology and Diplomacy

The Most Universal Science? The International Astronomical Union and the Imagined Past of Astronomy
09:00 - 09:30

Astronomers like to present their discipline as the oldest science as well as the most international one. Who cares about earthly borders when contemplating the great beyond? Astronomers have claimed that their science has never been affected by worldly politics, even while recognizing the enormous impact of, say, the Cold War on astronomy. These claims have rightly been critically assessed by historians. Still, we should take them seriously, because the imagined past of astronomy is a core part of its disciplinary identity.

I will investigate astronomy’s internationalist self-image in the context of the history of the International Astronomical Union, founded in 1919 to promote international cooperation. Ever since, the IAU has struggled to find ways to fulfil this task while staying out of politics. In practice, most international collaboration in astronomy was shaped by mission-oriented organizations that aimed to build joint instruments, for example ESO and space agencies such as NASA. 

After the end of the Cold War, the way the IAU represented the international astronomical community changed. At the same time, several developments forced the organization to engage more actively with the outside world, most notably the public outcry over the ‘demotion’ of Pluto to the status of dwarf planet. The IAU started to focus on outreach and popularization, under the banner of ‘Astronomy for Development’. This was a new and more active take on scientific internationalism.

Attempting Neutrality: IUPAC, IUPAP, and the Resolution of a Cold War Scientific Controversy
09:30 - 10:00

Beginning in the 1950s, two laboratories – one in the United States and one in the Soviet Union – engaged in the synthesis of elements with an atomic number greater than 100 (a third laboratory, in West Germany, began production in the 1980s).  Each relied on different methods for synthesis and detection of atoms of these elements which resulted in competing discovery claims, and sometimes competing element names.  These controversies were often acrimonious and occasionally spilled over into the general scientific community.  Both sides appealed to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the body with control over the naming of new elements, to settle the matter.  In the 1970s, the IUPAC approached the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) about forming a so-called joint neutral group to study the problem and suggest a solution.  This group was far from neutral and failed to even meet, much less come up with a solution.  In the 1980s, the IUPAP decided to take matters into their own hands and create a new group with the IUPAC to end to discovery controversies.  The IUPAP was very aware of the need “to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest,” and attempted to form as neutral a group as possible.  This paper will examine the joint attempts at neutrality by two international scientific organizations in the resolution of an interdisciplinary Cold War controversy.

Europe by Design: The Foundation of the European Physical Society during the Cold War
10:00 - 10:30

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of a critical turning point in history with long-lasting impacts on the cultural, social and political spheres of human life. Amidst the social and political unrest across the globe, on September 26th sixty-two physicists gathered at CERN to found the European Physical Society. Among these, there were the official representatives of the national physics societies of seventeen countries of both East and West Europe who signed the constitution in spite of the political divides of the Cold War. According to the main proponent of the society, Italian physicist Gilberto Bernadini, the success of the initiative was the realization of a “dream”: the institutional formation of a single European physics community, which was a representation of a culturally unified European “nation.”

This paper analyzes the foundation of the society by addressing the question of which kind of scientific internationalism the main actors were actualizing in the design and, eventually successful, realization of this idea. It will be shown that political motivations, and the notion of scientific internationalism itself, were deeply intertwined with socio-professional interests of a specific community, mostly related to the CERN environment. While the actors stressed the political character of the initiative, a major rationale for the creation of the EPS was in fact the need to solve specific issues concerning the publication venues as well as the future possibilities of cooperation and education of European physicists who still felt disadvantaged with respect to their colleagues working in the US.

Greening the Alliance: Towards a History of NATO's Transatlantic Science Diplomacy
10:30 - 11:00

The last two centuries have seen an unprecedented growth of international collaborative enterprises in science and those scholars who have looked at these historical developments have emphasized their merits, especially in terms of connecting local centres of knowledge production and propelling greater circulation globally. Meanwhile, the notion of ‘science diplomacy’ has gained traction among scholars and practitioners too, especially to underscore that these exercises have been equally important to improving international relations. Yet we lack still of a convincing historical narrative capable of displaying an articulation of science diplomacy processes across centuries. What kind of stories can be told that connect scientific collaborations with international relations? 

This paper offers a contribution to the development of a narrative by focussing on collaborative exercises promoted by the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the context of the Cold War, and especially between the late 1950s and the 1980s. Drawing on the history of the alliance’s Science Committee, it aims to show that it would be wrong to consider the promotion of collaborative science at NATO simply as an addition to its political and military histories. This promotion represented as a form of ‘backchannel’ or ‘track-two’ diplomacy that was in fact decisive to restore a dialogue and evade existing issues between otherwise quarrelling allies. Indeed, the paper shows that it was the conversation on priorities and transitions in the sponsorship of scientific enterprises that typified cyclical processes of rejuvenation needed to keep the alliance together.

Independent scholar
Descartes Centre, Utrecht University
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
CHSTM, University of Manchester
CHSTM, University of Manchester
Harvard University
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin


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