Thursday, December 5, 2013

science LOST world war two...

'What ?! Don't be foolish : if historians of all stripes agree on one thing, it is that 'science' won WWII - the freedom-loving Allies simply had better 'science' then did the dictators of the Axis.'

I doubt that all historians think that way.

 I am fairly sure that British historian David Edgerton hardly agrees that mere science , rather than an extraordinary advantage held by the Allies in terms of population, territory and resources, 'won the day' (albeit six long years after the war began).

What I think best describes WWII is that all sides constantly expected one thing to happen, based on their scientific beliefs, and over and over another unexpected thing actually happened.

Let us look at the mid term American elections for what I mean : if ,when asked 'who won' I said 'the politicians' , you'd think me very rude indeed.

'Yes, yes, but who won :  Republicans or Democrats ?'

We expect conflicts , with winners and losers , in almost every aspect of human life - but not in science.

Everything that happened scientifically in the war is simply credited to 'science' , with no sense of the possibility of scientific winners and losers or of scientific conflicts.

1940's Allied plans for precision bombing with the Norden bombsight and the 1945 Allied atomic fire bombing all of civilian Hiroshima merely to burn down its naval base are in 100% opposition to each other - scientifically - but they get rolled up together as just two of the many scientific triumphs of WWII.

Wartime penicillin was delayed for decades by the Allied scientific elites' determination to first make it as highly profitable patentable synthetic penicillin.

But when this failed and the underdog natural penicillin proved the real winner, the academic history of penicillin elided synthetic penicillin from our memory banks, like a Stalinist commissar vanished from a group photo.

Reading the published histories of penicillin, one might think that the OSRD proponents of synthetic penicillin (and the steadfast opponents of the OPRD's natural crude penicillin) had been ardent champions of the natural method all along.

Here are two rival Washington bureaucracies , competing. No surprise surely, but because they are scientific bureaucrats , conflict is denied by science-cheerleading historians and the great triumph of the tiny OPRD is transferred to the mighty OSRD, by implication.

So if the story of wartime penicillin's fierce internecine war is ever to be told, a political scientist, not a medical scientist, is the best person for the job....

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