Mark Solovey, "Social Science for What? Battles over Public Funding for the 'Other Sciences' at the National Science Foundation" (MIT Press, 2020)


This is part two of a two part interview.

Mark Solovey’s Social Science for What? is essential reading for anyone in either the history of science policy or the history of the social sciences in the United States. The book is not, as the subtitle might imply, merely an institutional history of the social sciences at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). Rather, Solovey’s follow-up to his 2013 book, ‘Shaky Foundations: The Politics-Patronage-Social Science Nexus in Cold War America’, is a commanding explanation of certain characteristics of academic social science as commonly practiced in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century.

— Audra J. Wolfe, PhD. history and sociology of science, in ISIS Vol. 113, No. 2, June 2022

In our first episode, Professor Solovey shared some of the political and legislative history establishing the National Science Foundation; heated controversy over the social sciences that undermined the effort to include them in the initial legislation for the new science agency; how they nevertheless became included on a small and cautious basis grounded in a scientistic strategy; and some of the landmark developments, controversies, and interesting individuals involved from roughly the mid-1940s to the late 1960s. This included Senator Harris's remarkable legislative proposal in the mid-to-late 1960s to establish a separate national social science foundation.

This second part of the interview opens with the late 1960s' controversy over Project Camelot and draws on Mark’s 2001 journal article in the Social Studies of Science, titled ‘Project Camelot and the 1960s Epistemological Revolution: Rethinking the Politics–Patronage–Social Science Nexus’ - which remains the professor’s most often cited scholarly article. We then move up through the dark days of the Reagan years, along the way discussing key figures, from David Stockman to Talcott Parsons, Clifford Geertz, Thomas Kuhn, Milton Friedman, and Richard Atkinson, the emergence and impact of the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), alternatives to the scientistic strategy, and persistent challenges faced by the social sciences at the levels of institutional representation, leadership and funding constraints relative to the natural sciences - all of which continue to the present day.

We end with Professor Solovey’s call for reviving the idea of a new federal agency for the social sciences, a National Social Science Foundation, as first introduced by Senator Harris of Oklahoma, and finally, with some book recommendations.

An open access edition of Social Science for What?: Battles over Public Funding for the "Other Sciences' at the National Science Foundation (MIT Press, 2020) was made possible by generous funding from the MIT Libraries.

Mark Solovey is professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. His research focuses on the development of the social sciences in the United States, and especially the controversies regarding the scientific identity of the social sciences, private and public funding for them, and public policy implications of social science expertise. He has written and co-edited a number of books related to the Cold War and social science history.

Keith Krueger lectures in the SILC Business School at Shanghai University.

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