"Science the Unifier": Scientific Universalism and international Politics, 1899-1945

Geert Somsen, Historian of science at the University of Maastricht

03/28/2018 | 3:45 PM

Abstract: Statements about the universal character of science are usually also statements about international politics. When Robert Merton proclaimed "universalism" as a "norm of science", in 1942, he also made clear that America's enemies violated that norm. Proper science was on the Allied side. In this paper I follow universalist pronouncements such as Merton's and scrutinize their geopolitical connotations. I interpret these expressions in the light of contemporary political internationalisms, which used images of science to bolster their claims, Some of this thinking would play a role in the design of international institutions, such as UNESCO and the league of Nations.

My larger claim is that while the rethotic about universalism may have had little bearing on scientific practice itself, it did form an important part of the way science was perceived and given meaning in wider culture - sometimes with far-reaching consequences.

Commentator: Ronald Kroeze's (Vrije Universiteit) research focuses on the history of governance, politcal corruption and anticorruption as well as on the history of management and leadership in politics and businees in the Netherlands and Europe in the modern era