Monday, August 18, 2008

Scientists as Spies?

Following my other story covering the attempt by the Pentagon to utilize anthropologists and other social scientists in the military and intelligence agencies' "war on terror," I found this interesting quote from the great anthropologist pioneer, Franz Boas. The impetus for Boas's condemnation came from a scandal involving four U.S. anthropologists who utilized their professional positions as anthropologists to spy for the United States during World War I. The response of the American Anthropological Association to Boas's 1919 letter to The Nation? It censured him and forced him off the governing council.
Sir: In his war address to Congress, President Wilson dealt at great length on the theory that only autocracies maintain spies; that these are not needed in democracies. At the time that the President made this statement, the Government of the United States had in its employ spies of unknown number. I am not concerned here with the familiar discrepancies between the President’s words and the actual facts, although we may perhaps have to accept his statement as meaning correctly that we live under an autocracy; that our democracy is a fiction. The point against which I wish to enter a vigorous protest is that a number of men who follow science as their profession, men whom I refuse to designate any longer as scientists, have prostituted science by using it as a cover for their activities as spies.

–- Franz Boas, “Scientists as Spies,” The Nation, December 20, 1919.

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