15 January 2012

"Shaping Biology": Notes to Toby A. Appel's Excellent Book

Toby A. Appel, Shaping Biology: The National Science Foundation and American Biological Research, 1945-1975 (Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).

Toby A. Appel's study of American biological research and the National Science Foundation is an excellent institutional history. As I was reading it, I took fairly extensive notes from the work. These may well interest regular readers. Where appropriate, I provide a bit of context. Certain themes struck me as particularly salient for understanding the history of neurobiology and neuroscience.

Alan T. Waterman became the first director of the National Science Foundation in 1951.

"Waterman and the biologists he brought with him in 1951-52 from the Office of Naval Research to NSF formed a coherent vision of NSF's role in funding science, and biology in particular. NSF was to be the federal government's chief patron for basic research in biology, the only agency to fund the entire spectrum of biology - from molecules to natural history museums." (p. 1)

Despite the enormous importance of government funding for the patronage of science, few historians have actually analyzed the shape of science that emerged in consequence of this new structural transformation.

"This book therefore enters a vast and relatively uncharted territory, while at the same time building upon a growing literature on patronage of biology by the private foundations in the prewar period." (p. 2)

A number of assumptions characterized early NSF policy towards biology.

"The ideals concerning NSF support of biology as they were articulated in the early 1950s rested on a number of assumptions, some characteristic of NSF and some particular to biology. Primary among them was that biology would be justified and supported as a basic science, independent of any particular application. While other agencies would support basic research in the areas of their missions, NSF would be responsible for basic biology as a whole. Pluralism of funding agencies was beneficial because it provided the scientist with choices and made it less likely that politics would prevail over meritocracy." (p. 2)

A second assumption was merit:-

"In biology, this came to mean supporting the best biology wherever located, though it was understood that the best biology was most often undertaken by men located in a small number of leading research universities." (p. 3)

The third tenet...

"...grants should supplement the university's commitment to research as one of its ongoing functions." (p. 3)

The NSF founders saw their role as bringing a necessary unification to biology.

"Since program officers were scientists by training, many of them on a year's leave from academia, it was assumed that the interests of staff, advisers, and grantees would largely coincide." (p. 3)

The notion of unification would become a significant obstacle in the later years. (As a side note, this issue of unification was also a stumbling block to the Royal Society of Medicine in Britain. These issues might also contrast with Paul Forman's work. We ought to think more about the relationship between the ideal of keeping medicine whole, and the ideal of unifying science.)

"...the NSF's idealistic goals of establishing a community of purpose among staff and grantees and of further the unity of biology were both seriously challenged in the 1960s and 1970s. Biology is not and never has been a single discipline, but rather a heterogeneous and overlapping group of disciplines. The mergers and realignments of departments on campuses in the 1960s and the shift of NSF priorities towards funding ecology led to serious discord between the staff and their advisers from various areas of biology." (p. 6)

How has this monograph limited its areas of focus?

"The book will focus on four areas: molecular biology; plant biology; systematic biology; and ecology, especially biological oceanography, tropical biology, and ecosystem ecology. These were chosen because their relation to NSF shifted significantly and in contrasting ways from the 1950s to the mid-1970s." (p. 7)

This book concludes in 1975 when the Division of Biological and Medical Sciences was fundamentally reorganized. 

"Biology's history at NSF (after 1975) was to be linked for the next fifteen years with the social sciences. To pursue the history further would require delving into the tangled politics of federal funding of the social sciences, as well as the problematic response of NSF to the rise of commercial biotechnology - both large subjects more suitable for another book." (p. 7)

Biology and the "Endless Frontier" - our story begins.

"World War II, as is well known, marked a watershed in the organization of American science. Before the war, the federal government had support science in its own bureaus, but federal support of academic science was limited. In the 1920s and 1930s, America's major research universities had become dependent on the great private philanthropic foundations, a source of funding that dwindled during the depression years." (p. 9)

World War II and "Big Science" - I'm not entirely sure I agree with this received assessment (see this essay).

"As biologists in the 1940s recognized, World War II was predominantly a physicists' war and not a biologists' war. Physicists basked in public appreciation of such contributions as radar, the proximity fuse, and the atomic bomb. Medical scientists, too, won praise for achievements including the miraculous bactericide penicillin, DDT, preservation of blood plasma, improved treatment of malaria, and the new devices allowing pilots to fly at high altitudes without few of blackout. But a number of biologists felt left out of the war effort, omitted from policy-making positions and given little credit for what they regarded as their contributions to war research." (I can't help but editorialize a little here. This has nothing to do with the book at hand: but why do we accept this story? If we admit that biology was not uniform and was many disciplines, and if we look at who was involved in organizing pre-War and post-War science, and the interests of the NRC and the RF, then surely this "physics was everything" story is exaggerated. It is the kind of illusion that comes from liking militarism to the disregard of peace by penicillin. How many movies have we had about the bomb? How undramatic by comparison is the story of how British, Canadian, and American scientists making a magic bullet that saved millions of lives. And how we ignore all of those physiologists and biologists who made that happen.)

The origins of the NSF are fairly well documented. 

"Vannevar Bush's landmark prospectus on postwar science policy, Science - The Endless Frontier, released in July 1945, called for support of basic research in the sciences, as well as military and medical research, by a single new agency, a National Research Foundation, which by its very name evoked its private predecessors." (p. 10)

Biology before 1945

"But universities enjoyed almost no government aid for biological research except for USDA block grants, which, since the Hatch Act of 1887, funded work at agricultural experiment stations associated with land grant universities.... Except for work in the agricultural sciences, life scientists in academia before 1940 depended primarily on their own institutions for the resources to conduct research." (p. 11)

Private philanthropy was therefore very important.

"Of particular importance to the life sciences were the [Rockefeller Foundation's] prestigious postdoctoral fellowships, begun in 1919 and broadened to include biology after 1923, which enabled young investigators to travel and continue their research. RF fellowships supported some one thousand biologists, both American and European, from 1923-1953." (pp. 11-12)

The RF's biology division was headed by Warren Weaver.

"Weaver believed that a "new biology," ultimately beneficial to social needs, would emerge from projects entailing the transfer of concepts and techniques from physics, chemistry, and mathematics to biology. Weaver's individual project grants supported biologists in such areas as cell biology, genetics, biochemistry, biophysics, embryology, endocrinology, and microbiology. He funded work on such instruments and techniques as X-ray crystallography, the use of isotopes, the ultra-centrifuge, and the electrophoresis apparatus." (p. 12)

The RF was elitist.

"It deliberately focused on only a small number of the "best" scientists, among them such notables as Thomas Hunt Morgan, H. J. Muller, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Joshua Lederberg, George Beadle, and E. L. Tatum in genetics, and E. J. Cohn, Joseph Fruton, Carl F. Cori. Fritz Lipmann, Erwin Chargraff and Linus Pauling in biochemistry." (p. 12)

How much did the RF commit?

"Between 1933 and 1953, the RF's Division of Natural Sciences spent some $24 million on biological sciences in the United States, a sum soon dwarfed by federal research funding." (p. 12).

A new model of funding emerges...

"An alternative model for funding research in the life sciences emerged during World War II with the creation of the Committee on Medical Research (CMR) of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), an agency set up to organize civilian science for the war effort. President Roosevelt appointed as its director Vannevar Bush, an engineer trained at Tufts, Harvard, and MIT, who came to the nation's capital in 1939 to head the Carnegie Institution of Washington." (p. 13)

Government bio-medical research in during the War....

"...the chief source of funding for wartime medical projects in academia was the OSRD's Committee on Medical Research (CMR). Formed in 1941 by the same Executive Order that established OSRD, the CMR consisted of seven members: four presidentially appointed civilian scientists and one representative each from the Army, the Navy, and the PHS. Chaired by Alfred Newton Richards [usually went by A. N. Richards in press], a pharmacologist [Detlev Bronk friend] and vice-president for medical affairs at the University of Pennsylvania." (p. 13)

CMR support a lot of valuable research.

"Research supported included work on infectious and tropical diseases, nutrition, psychiatry, shock, control of wound infections, sulfa drugs and penicillin, malaria therapy, insecticides and rodenticides, and aviation physiology." (p. 13-14)

CMR did not really support biological research....[cf with Paul Forman]

"Biologists, however - as opposed to medical researchers - felt left out of OSRD and of war research in general. That they did so is related to the ambiguous nature of "biology" in this period. Central to understanding biology's relation to the federal patron is the heterogeneous nature of the life sciences. From the beginnings of the era of professionalization of American science in the 1880s and 1890s, biology had been divided into separate sciences, primarily botany and zoology." (p. 14)

Other biological specialties....

"Another significant group of "biological" disciplines - anatomy, physiology, biochemistry - were located almost exclusively in medical schools. They had their own departments, doctoral programs, societies, and journals; they scarcely interacted with botany and zoology." (p. 14)

And thus...

"Biology was thus not a unified discipline, but rather a heterogeneous collection of overlapping specialties." (p. 14)

By the 1940s the barriers among all of these disparate fields were breaking down.

"New areas of biology such as cell biology, biochemical genetics, and biophysics blurred older disciplinary distinctions. In 1946, physiologists who looked for general laws of functional biology not limited to organ physiology of vertebrate animals founded the Society of General Physiologists." (p. 16)

And biologists were feeling a bit ignored.

"...contributions that were biological in nature, such as penicillin, DDT, and improved hybrid crops, had been credited to medicine or chemistry. To make matters worse, many drafted biologists were not give the opportunity to use their expertise to aid in victory [in WWII]." (p. 17).

One biologists pointed out grimly....

"If World War II had not been a biologist's war...through the exploitation of biological warfare, World War III might well be." (p. 17)

According the biologists began to reorganize [note that Detlev Bronk was involved in this reorganization.]

[Robert F] Griggs [Chairman of the NRC Division of Biology and Agriculture] wrote in 1946, contributions that were biological in nature, such as penicillin, DDT, and improved hybrid crops, had been credited to medicine or chemistry. To make matters worse, many drafter biologists were not give the opportunity to use their expertise to aid in victory. He complained that at the same time that biological work had been assigned to physicians and chemists, bacteriologists were given kitchen duty. Biology was too important..." (p. 17)

"...Griggs and and Detlev Bronk, new president of the Academy, arranged in February 1948 to establish AIBS [American Institute of Biological Sciences], under the aegis of the NRC Division of Biology and Agriculture. Once in operation, with an initial membership of twelve biological societies, the AIBS acted as a focal point for support of biology in the proposed NSF." (p. 18)

Vannevar Bush Science - The Endless Frontier elaborated a rationale for federal support of academic science that emphasized basic research.

"Despite the report's emphasis on basic research, Bush had no intention of separating basic research from its practical applications. The National Research Foundation, as Bush envisioned it, was to encompass both basic and applied research mutually supporting each other, including coordinated work on medical, military, and industrial problems in the public interest. Convinced by his OSRD experience that a large portion of military research should remain under civilian initiative and control, Bush proposed that the foundation include a Division of National Defense. And, despite the doubts of his own medical advisers, who wanted a separate agency, Bush recommended a Division of Medical Research." (p. 19)

Biologists felt that Bush had downplayed the significance of biology. As Robert Grigg's recalled:

"Biologists of every kind were astonished that the public-spirited framers of a national science bill could be so blind to the Nation's need for biological research." (p. 21)

Biology was represented by a particular conservative faction.

"Articulate spokesman for the Bush position included CMR chair, A. N. Richards; Holmer W. Smith, a renal physiologist at New York University and principal author of the Palmer Report; Detlev W. Bronk, then director of the Johnson Foundation for Medical Physics at the University of Pennsylvania; and Lewis weed, who chaired the NRC Division of Medical Science." (p. 21)

The NSF action of 1945 did not pass but there were other government patrons for biology.

"For biology, the Atomic Energy Commission, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Institutes of Health emerged as competitors to a future NSF. These three agencies altered the perception among government officials and scientists of NSF's role in the life sciences." (p. 24)

Among these the Office of Naval Research (ONR) emerged as the biggest competitor when the NSF was finally established. (Note that Lewis Weed was involved in this story.)

"Intended as a stand-in for a national science foundation or not, ONR carved out its own niche as a patron of science and soon became a competitor. ONR leaders let it be known early that they had no intention of stepping aside for NSF. In fact, ONR deliberately sought during the legislative debate over NSF to limit the new agency's activities, campaigning from 1947 on for the removal of NSF's Division of National Defense. By December 1950 both Warren Weaver and Vannevar Bush were displeased with ONR ambitions. Both had strongly approved of ONR filling a vital gap, but they had assumed that once NSF was in place, the Navy would transfer all or most of its basic research to the new agency. Weaver recorded that he was "disturbed...that the ONR has gradually but steadily receded from that position," now seeming to have "reached the extreme point where they do not think they ought to give up anything to a National Science Foundation." (p. 28).

And thus a debate about the role of the NSF and explanation for why it never reached the scale of for example the NIH.

"The years 1945-50 altered the future of NSF support of biology and medicine in another important way. During the interval precedents were set for organizing a federal grants program. Had NSF appeared in 1945 or 1946, it might have adopted procedures similar to NIH, where outside committees of scientists determined funding priorities. Instead the Foundation of 1950 modeled itself after the more flexible ONR, where staff prominent in policy-making, a precedent that became the strength of NSF's program in biology and medicine." (p. 37)

Biology was always a priority of the NSF. The first director, Alan Waterman, left a large footprint.

"Waterman set the tone for the agency, first by his relaxed and open style of leadership and second by his importation of ONR concepts and procedures as well as personnel. Had either Bronk or Hastings been chosen, NSF would probably have become a very different institution; the National Academy of Sciences might have played a far more active role in making policy, and peer review would doubtless have been more directly controlled by outside scientists as it was in the NIH." (p. 42-43).

The NSF's role in regards to medical research was highly complicated.

[The NSF Act of 1950 included the mission to advance health] "Yet by 1950, the National Institutes of Health had come to dominate medical research and was highly suspicious of any new agency that might limit its continued growth. What NSF's role in medical research would be and how it would define basic research in medicine, as distinguished from basic research in biology, were open questions." (p. 47)

The Biological and Medical Sciences Division (BMS) of NSF was organized differently.

One of the hall marks of BMS was its organization. It was not organized along traditional disciplinary lines like the programs of other agencies, but according to an innovative functional scheme decided upon during the summer of 1952. In May 1952 the staff was already considering a functional division but still planning a more traditional organization. For the biological sciences, Field initially projected eight programs in "disciplinary areas": systematic biology, genetics, biochemistry, microbiology, experimental botany, experimental zoology, physiology, and experimental psychology. For the medical sciences, he proposed four programs: anatomy, medical physiology, medical biochemistry, and related therapeutic areas. Field selected disciplinary labels, he said, "because it seems likely that both the public and non biological scientists will understand such labels better than more functional ones." (p. 63)

The mark of the NSF's biology division was its inter-disciplinarity (Shades of Paul Forman's thesis here): 

"The functional program designations allowed NSF to cut across traditional divisions of the life sciences. Except for psychobiology, which was limited to animals, each of the functional programs could encompass research in botany, zoology, microbiology, or the biomedical sciences. Most radical was the discarding of the boundary between botany and zoology... To Waterman, an advantage of the functional scheme was "that interdisciplinary relationships in the life science may be more easily handled from both an administrative and a scientific information point of view." (p. 64) 

The most challenging programs was regulatory biology because it entailed so much.

"Genetic biology, closer to a discipline than most of the categories, had yet to be transformed by the molecular revolution." (p. 65)

In a great chart (Table 3.1) the research and related activities between 1951 and 1976 are summarized. The upshot:

"BMS patronage of biology in the first decade illustrates three tensions that had beset NSF throughout its history: (1) funding the best science versus improving the nation's science infrastructure more broadly by wider distribution of support, (2) supporting merit-based individual project grants versus providing a variety of modes of support, including departmental and institutional awards, which were more subject to political considerations, and (3) claiming jurisdiction for BMS of all aspects of research and research training in biology..." (p. 69-70)

In general the NSF was a male dominated place in its early years, biology inclusive.

"Early program directors, with one exception, were male and, also with one exception, from Ph.D.-granting universities or museums." (p. 75)

What was the best science?

"The backbone of NSF support of biology was the investigator-initiated "project grant" for carrying out specified research. Each year the number of grants increased; by 1961, BMS was making about a thousand a year. Awards varied greatly in amount and duration." (p. 77)

There were geographic tensions in the picture too for the national agency.

"The NSF Act had directed the agency to avoid "undue concentration of funds" yet everybody realized that NSF practice further contributed to the concentration of resources in a relatively small number of states and institutions" (p. 81).

The NSF administrators also liked to fund facilities & equipment.

"In 1955, the division awarded its first electron microscope, to the Department of Bacteriology at Indiana University. From 1957 on, BMS grants purchased a number of electron microscopes and such other instruments as an analytical ultracentrifuge, an infrared spectrophotometer, a Mass spectrometer, and an amino acid analyzer" (p. 87).

"Big science" formed an important backdrop to these priorities.

"In 1957, BMS received a budget line item of $1 million for facilities which was, in effect, a compensation to biologists for the "big science" facilities NSF was building for the physical sciences..." (p. 90)

BMS also funded education research.

"Some of the earliest and least controversial of BMS education awards went to marine laboratories and inland field stations. Such institutions, Lawrence Blinks wrote, were "the equivalent of observatories, cyclotrons, atomic piles, computers, and such large facilities needed by the physical sciences." In contrast to investigator-initiated research grants, those to biological stations, begun in 1952, were "block grants" for support of graduate students and independent investigators.... Among other educational projects BMS supported were several sponsored by the American Physiological Society, one of the few biological societies of the 1950s to have a paid executive secretary backing an ambitious education committee." (p. 93)

As NSF grew in size, scale, and ambition, it encountered predictable administrative problems - topics originally under BMS jurisdiction went elsewhere, and:-

[people] "complained vehemently against NSF's tendency to establish new offices with "increasingly specialized functions" that bore "little or no relation to substantive content." (p. 99)

The big picture then:-

"The opportunities and limitations of the biological program at NSF can only be understood within the context of a complex institutional environment. NSF and BMS made their decisions within a framework of other federal agencies and private institutions in Washington, most notably the Bureau of the Budget, the White House, the US Congress, competing federal funding agencies, and the National Academy of Sciences. NSF was only one of several agencies supporting biology in the 1950s; it was never the largest and after 1959, its share of funding continued to decline as that of NIH continued to grow. Other agencies not only provided models for emulation or criticism but also increasingly challenged NSF's ability to function effectively as a patron of biology." (p. 100)

That pluralism characterized federal support for US science.

"Scientists, for their part, preferred this looseness, because it meant more funding choices and fewer opportunities for federal control of science." (p. 101)

Lobbying Congress was challenging for this reason. The need for translation.

"[Alan] Water was perhaps the federal government's most eloquent spokesman for basic research. Yet, ever the realist, he recognized as early as 1951 that "support of very fundamental science with no reference to its possible application would probably result in an ever diminishing budget." (p. 103)

Cold war rhetoric proved useful for convincing congress of the need.

"The relevance of basic research to maintaining America's lead in the Cold War competition with the Soviet Union for scientific hegemony became NSF's strongest selling point. Well before the Sputnik crisis, Foundation representatives alluded to Russia's scientific grown as an argument for garnering more support. "There is every reason to believe that the USSR has already surpassed us in the production of engineers and is on the way to doing so in the production of scientists," Waterman told the House subcommittee in early 1955. (p. 104).

Other contributions to knowledge proved useful too.

[Waterman] "highlighted Stanley L Miller's experiments at the University of Chicago on the production of amino acids by discharging lightning in a simulated primitive atmosphere of water vapor, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen. A Fortune magazine article had listed this work as one of ten major discoveries in basic research in the past year [1956].... In another 1956 example, NSF staff reported that Wolf Vishniac at Yale had succeeded in creating a "cell-free" laboratory model of significant features of the process of photosynthesis. After noting new lines of investigation in photosynthesis that the research opened, the staff offered a highly speculative state on future applications: "It is now possible to visualize production line or continuous flow processes in which high energy materials useful for food and fuel are created through the action of sunlight." (p. 104-105)

But notice that the ends did not typically matter.

"If, however, a congressman asked what NSF was doing about a particular problem, Waterman was at a loss, since NSF research support was not organized to that end." (p. 105)

The problem of democratic politics was always large and threatening to the NSF mission.

"By 1960, if not earlier, members of Congress began inquiring about grants that later became known as "target titles" - projects that, on the basis of their titles, various muckrakers could exhibit to the public as a waste of taxpayers' money." (107)

NSF also never succeeded really in centralizing basic research. Certainly science policy did not help them much.

"Listed first among NSF's functions in the act of 1950 was "to develop and encourage the pursuit of a national policy for the promotion of basic research and education in the sciences." (p. 110)

But NSF could not afford to anger its larger competitors. So they initiated surveys of various science disciplines, such as physiology (p. 111)

"The American Physiological Society proposed to investigate all aspects of "physiology": research trends and support of research; recruitment and motivation of physiologists, career paths and career satisfaction; teaching at the high school, college and graduate levels; the role of publications and societies in the profession; and public attitudes towards "physiology". ... The resulting volume...published in 1958 with an additional NSF award, contained an impressive amount of data, a large part of it based on a questionnaire answered by over four thousand "physiologists". While the survey committee members were disposed to take broad view of physiology, Lou Levin, the contract administrator, encouraged them to encompass all the physiology in his Regulatory Biology Program. Not only were invertebrate physiologists included in the survey, but also plant and bacterial physiologists." (p. 111)

Psychology soon followed....

"The Survey of the Physiological Sciences was soon followed by the even more elaborate Study of the Development and Status of Psychology. In October 1952 NSF approved a contract with the American Psychological Association (APA) giving them $40000 for the first year of the study. Wilson, who was a member and former assistant executive secretary of the APA, managed the project for NSF. Here again, the impetus for the survey came from the disciplinary society, and the chief concern was not financial resources but a postwar identity crisis. Before the war, psychology and the APA were predominantly academic, but World War II had given a tremendous boost to applied human psychology, especially to the practice of clinical psychology. In the postwar decade, experimental psychology, the academic wing of the field, was beginning to feel overshadowed by the clinical practice wing, both of which were represented in the APA. Moreover, academic psychologists debated whether psychology was a legitimate science and whether it had any unifying principles amidst the welter of conflicting theories. The reports resulting from the two-part survey were written primarily from an academic point of view." (p. 113)

Also - (likely explains why Starke Hathaway was included):-

"'Project B,' based on surveys of psychologists, dealt with such matters as training and employment of psychologists, factors motivating students to enter psychology, and factors influencing research eminence. Its outcome, a single volume, America's Psychologists was edited by Kenneth Clark of the University of Minnesota." (p. 113)

But largely scientists opposed such surveys:-

"A deeper issue was that even seemingly harmless scientist-directed surveys raised the specter of central control of science." (p. 114)

NSF took a particularly brave stance on the question of loyalty during the McCarthy Era.

"Although members of Congress had raised security issues since the debate over the founding of NSF, by late 1953 and early 1954 McCarthyism and the investigation of Communist infiltration into academia had reached a peak. A number of professors lost their jobs because congressional investigating committees found them to be disloyal or simply because they took the Fifth Amendment when questioned." (p. 117)

BMS' position was awesome:

"BMS's protest in this climate of fear and suspicion was modest but highly significant. When HEW Secretary Hobby announced in a press release that the Public Health Service would terminate grants of scientists suspected of disloyalty, BMS deliberately funded blacklisted biologists and urged the NSF to establish a general policy opposing security checks of grantees. By its eventual action on behalf of scientific autonomy, NSF created considerable good will among biologists and scientists generally.... Bill Consolazio goaded NSF into taking a public stand on the issue of scientific freedom." (p. 118)

The times grew grimmer.

"By the spring of 1954 the situated had worsened as rumors circulated of NIH's termination of grants of biologists, several of them of eminent stature. As a result of resolutions by the American Society of Biological Chemists and the American Physiological Society, Detlev Bronk, president of the National Academy of Sciences (and also chairman of the NSB), wrote to Secretary Hobby to request a clear statement of HEW policy. Hobby replied, in a letter subsequently released to the press, that HEW did not require security checks but when "information of a substantial nature reflecting on the loyalty of an individual is brought to our attention, it becomes our duty to give it most serious consideration. In those instances where it is established to the satisfaction of this Department that the individual has engaged or is engaging in subversive activities or that there is serious question of his loyalty to the United States, it is the practice of the Department to deny support." (p. 119)

Dealing with the NRC's Biology Council concerned BMS staff, who were "jealous" of rivals.

"While supporting some NRC activities, the BMS staff, especially Wilson and Consolazio, were wary of Weiss and Bronk and what they saw as NRC pretensions. In Wilson's opinion, the National Science Board, which he generally faulted for conservatism, was dominated by the "National Academy clique." Wilson recalled Bronk as a good chairman of the NSB but too ready to use the Academy as the instrument for carrying out NSF objectives. He thought the NRC staff "would have liked very much that all the money be funneled over through the Academy and then the Academy run the program." But NSF's biologists "weren't about to do that, because, as I say, the ONR background gave all of us in Bio a feeling of great independence and great nonlimiations." (p. 122)

Warren Weaver, at the RF, shared the NSF's apprehensions about the National Academy of Sciences and the NRC.

"It is at least in my judgment, questionable whether science should be 'run' by any one special committee even of scientists," he wrote to Weiss. But more significant to Weaver was the fact that Weiss's advisory committees would compete with those of the various federal agencies, especially NSF. (p.124)

Why NSF was supported:-

"The most cogent argument for raising NSF's overall budget, the Cold War and the shortage of "scientific manpower," was perceived as more applicable to the physical sciences and engineering than to biology." (p. 127)

NSF also struggled to find advocates, even with biologists:-

"Unlike NIH, USDA, or AEC, NSF lacked a vocal public constituency for funding biology.... Biologists seemed especially resistant to any centralized planning." (p. 128)

NSF struggled with its many competitors. 

"The following year [1952] [Lou Levin] reported that "almost every agency is actively and eagerly sponsoring basic research in areas such as enzymology, endocrinology, microbial metabolism, protein structure, photosynthesis, etc." though the linking of such research to the missions of ONR, the Atomic Energy Commission, or NIH was "often very tenuous and only pertinent when an extremely long range viewpoint is taken." (p. 130)

It was unclear, in fact, how much biology NSF was supporting.

"When the Soviet Union launched its first satellite in 1957, John Wilson hoped BMS might take an important role in funding research in space biology. In his annual report for 1958, he predicted: "In the area of program content, probably the most dramatic development will be the role of biological research in relation to space exploration." The following year, he still expected that despite the activity of the Defense Department and the newly created NASA, the new interest in basic research in space biology would be reflected in the 1960 programs of BMS." (p. 132)

NSF contends with the USDA

"Early on, H Burr Steinback, assistant director for BMS, saw poor liaison with USDA as a serious problem and a missed opportunity. Her urged NSF to reach out to both agriculture and clinical medicine and strongly recommended that special liaison personnel be hired. Steinback told Waterman that although NSF did not contemplate a major program in either agriculture or medicine, it seemed "obvious" that "a healthy development of national science policy must take into account relationships between such areas as botany, zoology, physiology, etc., and the applied areas of crop management, animal breeding, disease control, and public health." (p. 133)

NSF's other large rival was the Atomic Energy Commission.

"Through its Division of Biology and Medical Sciences, AEC funded biological research in the AEC-sponsored national laboratories (especially Brookhaven, Oak Ridge, Hanford, and the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory) as well as the work of individual investigators at universities. AEC contracts were awarded through program directors who, like NSF counterparts, were responsible for the final selection of projects." (p. 135)
Where did NSF feel the AEC rivalry the most?

"NSF staff felt AEC competition most keenly in the area of genetics....One of the AEC's largest biological programs was that carried out through the National Academy of Sciences' Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, established in 1947, to investigate the long-term effects on the Japanese population of the nuclear explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.... At issue in this and other AEC-supported research was the question of whether - as Nobel prize-winning geneticist Hermann H Muller believed - radiation from nuclear testing would increase peoples' "genetic load" of harmful mutations and lead to degeneration of the human species." (p. 136)
By the end of the 1950s, the National Institutes of Health had become the largest source of federal support for biologists and NSF's chief competitor. 

"A critic of the Wooldridge report, Joseph D Cooper, writing a detailed analysis in Science, charged that NIH was becoming more of a "science agency" then a "health agency".... Though some scientists might agree in principle, it was clear that in practical terms the tremendous growth of many areas of biological sciences in the 1950s and 1960s vitally depended on NIH's superior ability to link biological research to the politically popular imperative of conquering diseases. Few wished to quarrel with success." (p. 142)
One of the largest problems before NSF was the question of how much basic research they were patronizing and the definition of basic research. 

""Basic research" is a problematic term. Is if defined by the subject matter itself, by the investigator's motive in undertaking the research, or by the agency's motive in support it? NSF representatives insisted on a tripartite distinction between basic research, applied research, and development. Basic research, according to NSF, was "that type of research which is directed toward the increase of knowledge in science." Applied research was that "directed toward the practical application of "science" while development was "systematic use of scientific knowledge directed toward the production of useful materials, devices, systems, or processes other than design and production engineering." (p. 142)
Definitions were inter-agency confusing. 

"Even more open to ambiguity and political manipulation was each agency's breakdown of research in the life sciences into biological, medical, and agricultural sciences. It is clear from the published data that NSF and NIH used very different practical definitions of "biological" and "medical". According to the NSF definitions, medical sciences were "those sciences which, apart from the clinical aspects of professional medicine, are concerned primarily with the utilization of scientific principles in understanding diseases and in maintaining and improving health." (p. 143)

Because of these differences:-

"While NSF had an important but not dominant role in funding basic research in biology, the exact measure of that role is elusive." (p. 147)

What was clear was that the NIH dominated life sciences funding by 1960.

"...NSF officials subscribed to a fixed set of assumptions. First, NSF was the only agency to fund basic research for its own sake. Despite evidence to the contrary, NSF officials affirmed publicly that other agencies funded basic research only in the areas of their missions. Second, NSF must fund all areas of basic science regardless of other agencies' program emphases. Third, the availability of more than one federal patron benefited science by protecting the autonomy of the individual scientists. It would be dangerous for the progress of science if one agency were to acquire a monopoly over the funding of any area of science." (p. 153) 

NSF's second decade was quite a bit different from its first.

"It was also a time when older fields of biology clashed with the new specialties in academia, as departmental structures in the biological sciences were overhauled, and within BMS, as funding priorities among biological fields shifted. While molecular biologists won Nobel prizes for cracking the genetic code, ecologists took the limelight by the end of the decade by promising to alleviate the widely perceived environmental crisis. Then at the end of the 1960s, in the midst of the escalating war in Vietnam, the monumental growth of postwar federal science funding came to an end, creating chaos on campuses and within BMS." (p. 154)
Big science had created stress fractures between government and universities.

"The vastly greater scale of science after Sputnik created strains in the university-government relationship that were widely debated through the decade. While prewar and postwar university administrators had welcomed grants from private foundations and the federal government as supplements to university support of research, by 1960, they had come to expect and depend upon federal funding. They claimed, with justification, that they could not afford to subsidize the costs of greatly expanded federal research on campuses and called for full reimbursement of sponsored research through the higher overhead allowances and the payment of faculty salaries for the time spent on research." (p. 155)

A more bureaucratic order came into being as the world - thus although the 1960s was viewed as a golden age for science funding:

"Looking back, scientists and historians have viewed the 1960s as a golden age of science funding. At the time, participants did no see it that way. Some wistfully looked back to an earlier period when expectations and resources were in better balance." (p. 159)

Though the program budgets increased in the 1960s, the costs of research rose more, and universities also began demanding that salaries be included in the support, and NSF fell under increased pressure to widen the geographic thrust of its funding.

"Nsf was only one of a number of private and federal agencies pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into "upgrading" science activities at universities. NSF's program was preceded by the Ford Foundation's "challenge" grants, which served as a partial model, and by NASA's Sustaining University Program." (p. 175)

All of this funding, created a partial crisis:

"One result of all of these awards was a substantial increase in the numbers of faculty and graduate students in biology. The sudden halting of this heady expansion of biology at the end of the decade led to a crisis on campuses and in BMS." (p. 177)

Big Science attitudes and seeking became commonplace.

"Recent historians of sciecne have preferred to characterize big science not just by size of instruments or cost but by the hierarchical organization of scientific labor, multidisciplinary teams, and coalition-building necessary to convince sponsors to fund the project." (p. 178)

From the BMS's perspective, this meant:-

"...BMS favored enterprises that served a regional or national rather than a local function. Those requiring the cooperation of various biologists or serving more than one discipline or institution stood a higher chance of being supported than a single-university venture. Some large museums and other forms of non-university-affiliated institutions referred to themselves as national facilities, hoping thereby to obtain long-term operational support. Private laboratories like the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, or the Naples Zoological Station, where investigators from all over the globe converged to carry on summer research, did in fact operate like national laboratories." (p. 181)

Variations on "big science" included "phytotrons", controlled environment facilities, big ships (e.g. the Alpha Helix), large laboratories, inland field stations, and tropical biology field stations, but:-

"Probably the end of the "Golden Age"would have doomed this grandiose plan [creation of a Tropical Marine Science Centre in Puerto Rico] in any event, but the national laboratory also foundered on the rock of dissension. Although tropical biologists were in accord with the need for expanded facilities for research and training, they could not agree upon where they should be located and who should manage them. The Smithsonian interested promoted development of tropical biology facilities in Panama; OTS wanted a national laboratory in Costa Rica; the University of Miami and Florida congressional delegation felt that their Marine Science Center would serve as the basis for expanded facilities; and the University of Hawaii and several other university interests also felt threatened byt he prospect of a large AUI-managed laboratory." (p. 203)

"But a national biological laboratory, whether floating on the sea or affixed to the ground proved elusive. One may hazard several reasons this was so. Most obvious is that the heterogeneity and fragmentation of biology. Biologists saw facilities that would benefit areas of biology other than their own as an expensive misuse of funds. Molecular biologists in particular opposed NSF's trend to fund big biology projects..." (p. 205)


"In the 1960s, through its Special Facilities and Special Programs, BMS played a significant role in building up biological oceanography, marine biological laboratories, inland field stations, and tropical biology. Organizations that it helped to found and new laboratories that it helped to build are lasting legacies of the period. But without the support of the NSF hierarchy and the consensus of communities of biologists, all attempts at "national biological facilities" were ultimately short-lived. Biology functioned very differently from physics, astronomy, or meteorology." (p. 206)

In short, by the mid-1960s Biology was a divided field.
"In his 1962 and 1964 BMS annual reports, Harve Carlson turned in his concluded "Prospectus" to the current intellectual and institutional strife among biologists. Like many others, Carlson framed the "breach" as between those who favored extension versus those who resisted the new ideas and techniques stemming from a "revolution" in molecular biology. He wrote of the "competition" in academic institutions between "proponents of the new and the old, of the molecular approach versus the classical approach, of the lab biologist versus the field biology. In one school, one side dominates; in another the other side dominates. Good people are forced to leave or retire early in order that sweeping innovations may be made." (p. 207)
Old disciplinary boundaries began to break down:-
"Journal articles aired such qeustions as "Are botany and zoology departments passe?" "Is classical biology especially taxonomy dead?" and "Have biologists turned aside from still fruitful methods in order to get on the molecular bandwagon." (p. 207)

The institutional order hindered the new realities:-

"Though [Harve] Carlson admitted the brashness of some molecular biologists, he favored speeding the application of molecular techniques to all areas of biology." (p. 208)

The age of molecular biology had begun:=

"Over the next dozen years [from the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953], the various forms of ribonucleic acid (RNA), the translation of information from DNA to RNA, the mechanisms of protein synthesis, the existence of and deciphering of a linera, triplet code, and the mechanisms of gene regulartion." (p. 209)


"Molecular biology had become - as biologists of less favored areas pointed out - a "glamour field" of biology." ( p. 209)

Some saw molecular biology in quite novel terms:

"According to section head Eugene Hess, molecular biology was not a discipline but rather a level of organization or approach to the study of life." (p. 210)

Indeed they supported molecular biology in many ways:

"Melvin Calvin won the 1961 Nobel prize in chemistry for his elucidation of the pat of carbon in photosynthesis. This achievement, based on using carbon-14 as a tracer, grew out of E. O. Lawrence's cyclotron research at Berkeley. Long supported by the Atomic Energy Commission, Calvin's reseach group formed a part of the Lawrence Berkeley Laborator, on of AEC's national laboratories. In FY 1961, NSF contributed $627500 to construct a new laboratory building on the Berkeley campus for Calvin's Bio-Organic Group. The Laboratory of Chemical Biodynamics, dedicated in 1964, was separate from the departmental structure at Berkeley and thus eligible for BMS special facilities funding. Unique in design, the round structure featured open workspaces in order to eoucrage interdisciplinary collaboration. Research activities included studies of photosynthesis, the chemical origin of life, neurochemistry, radiation chemistry, and pharmacology." (p. 214)

Molecular biologists were fairly snobbish too:-

"BMS program directors, who had to contend with somewhat disdainful colleagues in molecular biology (not to mention the physical sciences), encouraged experimentation with new forms of taxonomic analysis. Although they continued to support checklists, inventories, and monographs on plans and animals based on classic morphological methods, they liked to boast of a panoply of modern methods for determining evolutionary relationships, such as employing computers, electron microscopes, behavioral studies, ecological relationships, population biology, serology, electrophoresis, comparsion of nucleic acids, and other biochemical techniques." (pp. 218-219)

Other groups of biologists felt defensive:

"Despite the ready availability of grants, botanists - and plant scientists generally - felt on the defensive in the postwar era. Even in the 1950s, they worried about the growing number of introductory biology courses replacing introductory botany and zoology. The new courses, they claimed, more often than not emphasized zoology at the expense of botany. The mergers of academic departments in the 1960s, which resulted in, for example, the lost of the formerly strong botany department at Yale, were a heavy blow for many botanists. Everyone agreed that botany as a separate area of university study was declining, but there was much contention over what to do about it. Some suggested a change of name to "plant science," "plant biology," "phytology," since "botany" recalled the stereotypes of "pressing and drying and naming flowers." (p. 224)

With the NSF budget flat in 1968, many began to wonder about NSF priorities.

"Part of the problem, NSF biologists, molecular and genetic biologists in particular, realized, was attributable to NIH support of biology. NSF's emphasis on field biology had been justified in part because NIH was not funding it to the same extent as laboratory biology. In the large sphere, the favoritism shown the physical sciences and engineering had, in turns, been justified in part because NIH poured large sums into the biological sciences." (p. 233)

From 1968 to 1975 US science policy changed

"The years 1968-75 were a time of rapid change and turmoil. The post-Sputnik consensus regarding the role of basic science in society had broken down, and the steady expansion of support for research and for science education had come to a halt. The war in Vietnam, the end to atumatic deferment of graduate students from military service, and campus unrest, along with social and environmental concerns, engendered a vocal antiscience sentiment and public pressure for scientists to work on "problems of society". With the advent of the Nixon administration in 1969, it became clear that the Foundation would undergo major shifts of policy." (p. 236)

One big program was the Human Cell Biology initiative:-

"[Herman] Lewis became convinced that a "big biology" approach could garner more funds for genetics. Thus, he and the panel proposed to generate a politically salable interdisciplinary program capitalizing on the recent progress in molecular genetics." (p. 256)

Another big program was neurobiology:

"Herman Lewis, predicting that "neurobiology will probably occupy the position in the last half of this decade that molecular biology has had during the first half," first proposed a neurobiology program in 1965. He felt NSF could play an important role in getting this new discipline off the ground "through staff and advisory panels who are experts in this field." Other program directors, including David Tyler and Psychobiology Program Director John F. Hall, disagreed. Tyler argued that BMS already covered this research and that establishing new programs in faddish areas (which would take certain types of proposals away from existing programs) might work to disadvantage by attracting "fund-chasing entrepreneurs" or setting up a "cult of high priests who tend to evaluate proposals not on the basis of whether good experimental procedures are proposed, but whether they meet current fashions and cotnain the popular catch words." (p. 255)

The professionalization of neuroscience:

"A few years later, despite the funding slump, conditions had become much more favorable for a new program. In 1969, the field had further coalesced through the creation of the Society for Neuroscience." (p. 255)

And the patron followed:

"BMS inaugurated its Neurobiology Program, directed by James H. Brown, in 1971, spending in its first years some $4.5 million. Neurobiology acquired proposals from several other BMS programs, especially psychobiology and regulatory biology, and such longtime Foundation grantees as Gunther Stent (who had just shifted to invertebrate neurobiology), Theodore Bullock, C A G Wiersma, Antonie van Harreveld, and Rita Levi-Montalcini. It contributed to Frank O. Schmitt's Neuroscience Research Program at MIT, which organized a set of workshops that synthesized the field by producing bulletins and an especially effective series of handbooks thad served as the first textbooks of neuroscience. In addition to funding many leading neurobiologists as individuals, the program also assisted several team projects through long-term coherent-area grants such as one given to William F. Battig and fiver senior colleagues at the University of Colorado to study cognitive factors in human learning and memory." (p. 256)

NSF influence in neurobiology in the 1970s was "in disproportion to the dollars."

"BMS attempted to obtain large budgets for neurobiology and psychobiology by a divisional emphasis on "learning and memory". Brown argued: "There is probably no area which so completely permeates and influences the diverse aspects of our complex society as does the topic of learning. We are constantly learning, in shcool, at work, at home, and in our social relationships." Through recent advances in molecular biology, progress was being made in understanding the physiological mechanisms of learning, memory, and forgetting. With coherent-area grants Brown hoped to support "centers" that would serve as a "badly need bridge between the large and growing body of basic research data on learning and the various educational problems that our society faces." (p. 256)

Despite such initiatives, many held that the NSF had become political in the Nixon era.

"The seeming politicization of NSF patronage of biology in the early 1970s strained and brought to a head friction within BMS and between BMS and the scientific community. Moreover, with increased compeition for funding regular programs in all the sciences, NIH became a problem in a way that it had not been before. At the same time, social and political groups calling for more openness and fairness in NSF operations led to administrative overhauls in BMS and in NSF generally. Many of the assumptions that had guided NSF patronage of biology in the 1950s and 1960s were not longer valid by 1975." (p. 268)

The Division of Biological and Medical Sciences was disbanded in 1975.

"The distinction between basic and applied research, which NSF had long depended upon, had become increasingly murky. Retrospective studies of the genesis of technological breakthroughs, such as the military's Project Hindsight reported in 1966, showed that practical achievements did not always depend on prior basic research but often rested on prior technology."  (276)

Gender and race became issues that could not be ignored.

"The issue of women and minorities came before the BMS Advisory Committee for the first time in 1971, one of many manifestations at this time of the growing women's movement in science and engineering. In the same year, a group of feminist scientists founded Association for Women in Science, an organization dedicated to promoting the interests of women scientists. When confronted, the BMS advisory committee was unwilling to admit a problem. That carefuly worded minutes state: "The general sense of the discussion was that, while maintaing particular sensitivity to the need not to discriminate against minority groups or women, the prime consideration should continue to be competence to discharge the required advisory functions." No woman or African America was ever appointed to this committee in its twenty years of existence." (p. 271)

In 1975, NSF began to reorganize.

"In the reorganization, biology became part of the new Biological, Behavioral and Social Sciences Directorate. "Medical" was absent from the title; many thought the term should have been removed long ago." (p. 275)

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