jump to navigation

Did scientist-critics invent operational research? April 30, 2013

Posted by Will Thomas in British Science-Society Critiques, Operations Research.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Science in War (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1940)

In my last post, one of the things I discussed was how mid-20th-century British critics held that a widespread misunderstanding of the nature of science and its relationship with society was a root cause of a national failure to alleviate social and economic ills, and a cause of national decline more generally.  This diagnosis conveniently cast the critic as just the sort of person who could show the way toward a more prosperous and harmonious society.

Such narratives become more credible if a history of prior critical successes can be constructed.  As I argue in my work on the history of operational research (OR) and scientific advice, critics understood the development of OR during World War II to be just such a success, helping to forge newly close and constructive relations between scientific researchers and military officers.  There is no question that key critics of science-society relations—particularly physicist Patrick Blackett—were important figures in OR.  But, the question of the extent to which critics were responsible for OR is actually a challenging interpretive matter with which I have now struggled for a dozen years, since my undergraduate senior thesis.

The urbane zoologist Solly Zuckerman (1904-1993)—who later became the British government’s first chief scientific adviser, from 1964 to 1971—suggested in his 1978 memoir, From Apes to Warlords, that Tots and Quots, the prestigious dining club that he convened, and which counted a number of scientist-critics among its members, was a major force for reforming relations between science, state, and society, including through the development of OR (370-371, my emphasis):

(more…)

Let’s Talk about Farm Amalgamation May 21, 2012

Posted by Will Thomas in Technocracy in the UK.
Tags: , , , , ,
4 comments

National Archives of the UK, MAF 142/457

In the early 1960s, British civil servants secretly contemplated how to rid the nation’s agricultural economy of inefficient, small-scale farmers.  Or, at least, that was how it might look if their deliberations became public before they had formulated any actual policy.  In reality, they were slowly and cautiously formulating a response to pressures being put on small farmers by market conditions.  Here are a few illustrative figures on farm sizes in Britain by size, adapted from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food’s (MAFF) A Century of Agricultural Statistics (1968):

(more…)

The Agricultural Improvement Council for England and Wales, 1941-1962 February 6, 2011

Posted by Will Thomas in Technocracy in the UK.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
4 comments

From time to time, as part of my survey of expertise in the British state project, I will post here some raw research results until the time arises when I can create a more permanent home for them.  Recently I have been looking at the Agricultural Improvement Council (AIC) for England and Wales.  This post contains a complete list of AIC members, and some background information, which I have assembled from archival files and do not believe to be readily accessible elsewhere.

(more…)