The atomic bomb and the lie detector?

lie_detector.JPGatom-8.jpgIn an article in the last issue of Isis (vol. 98, no. 1), Ken Alder argues for a deep connection between what he sees as two protoypically American coldwar “gadgets”: the atomic bomb and the lie detector. The unlikely pairing is spelled out somewhat in the abstract:

This essay pairs two prototypically American technological objects of the mid-twentieth century: the atomic bomb and the lie detector. Although the former has been touted as the supreme achievement of modern technoscience, and the latter dismissed as a placebo device, the two “gadgets” actually performed in analogous fashion. Indeed, the essay suggests that these technologies are best understood not in terms of narrow functionality but in terms of their performancemdashakin to that of Frankenstein’s monstermdashin the domains of justice, popular culture, and geopolitics. Specifically, it argues that the mutually supportive roles played by the two objects underscore the ways in which the theater of deterrence sustained American sovereignty during the era of the Cold War.


About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.