Tag Archives: Cold War

New in Isis: Cybernetics and Chinese Linguistics; Constructing “Gifted” Students Post-Brown v. Board

The September 2017 issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, is now online. Two articles in this issue may be of especial interest to AHP readers: one documenting the relationship between cybernetics and modern Chinese linguists and the other exploring the construction of “gifted” and “academically talented” students in the context of efforts to desegregate schools following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. Full details follow below.

“From Modernizing the Chinese Language to Information Science: Chao Yuen Ren’s Route to Cybernetics,” by Chen-Pang Yeang. Abstract:

As one of the most famous Chinese intellectuals of the twentieth century, Chao Yuen Ren is known primarily for his founding of modern Chinese linguistics. This essay examines a less familiar part of his career: cybernetics. When he taught at Berkeley in 1947, he read Norbert Wiener’s book manuscript and gravitated toward the subject. His participation in the 1953 Macy Conference marked the beginning of his decades-long work that used the concepts of feedback and information to understand language in general and Chinese in particular. This essay argues that Chao’s exploration of cybernetics was influenced not only by the rise of information science in the midcentury United States but also by the movement to modernize the Chinese language two decades earlier. His phonetic research for dialect surveys, involvement in language reform, and appropriation of structuralism when he worked in China in the 1920s and 1930s shaped his cybernetic interpretations of language in the 1950s and 1960s. This article enriches the current historiography of information science, which stresses disunity and internationalism, by showing how an East Asian context affected an aspect of the early development of cybernetics. It also demonstrates the value of an immigrant scientist’s intellectual biography for studies of transnational science.

“A “Precious Minority”: Constructing the “Gifted” and “Academically Talented” Student in the Era of Brown v. Board of Education and the National Defense Education Act,” by Jim Wynter Porter. Abstract: Continue reading New in Isis: Cybernetics and Chinese Linguistics; Constructing “Gifted” Students Post-Brown v. Board

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New HoP: Sandor Rado on Bisexuality, Psych and Social Engineering in 20th c. America, & Behavior Therapy in France

Sandor Rado

The August 2017 issue of History of Psychology is now available. Articles in this issue discuss psychoanalyst Sandor Rado’s influential views on bisexuality, American attitudes toward psychology, technology, and social engineering in the 20th century, and the difficult reception of behavior therapy in France. Full details below.

“Sandor Rado, American psychoanalysis, and the question of bisexuality,” by Tontonoz, Matthew. Abstract:

The Hungarian-born physician and psychoanalyst Sandor Rado (1890–1972), who practiced for most of his career in the United States, played a central role in shaping American psychoanalysts’ views toward homosexuality. Historians have pointed to Rado’s rejection of Freud’s notion of constitutional bisexuality as the key theoretical maneuver that both pathologized homosexuality and inspired an optimistic approach to its treatment. Yet scholarly analysis of the arguments that Rado made for his rejection of bisexuality is lacking. This article seeks to provide that analysis, by carefully reviewing and evaluating Rado’s arguments by the standards of his own day. Because one of Rado’s main arguments is that bisexuality is an outdated concept according to modern biology, I consider what contemporary biologists had to say on the topic. The work of behavioral endocrinologist Frank Beach (1911–1988) is important in this context and receives significant attention here. Rado ultimately distanced himself from Beach’s behavioral endocrinology, appealing instead to evolutionary discourse to buttress his claim that homosexuality is pathological. This tactic allowed him to refashion psychoanalysis into a moralistic discipline, one with closer ties to a medical school.

“B. F. Skinner and technology’s nation: Technocracy, social engineering, and the good life in 20th-century America,” by Rutherford, Alexandra. Abstract: Continue reading New HoP: Sandor Rado on Bisexuality, Psych and Social Engineering in 20th c. America, & Behavior Therapy in France

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Special Issue of HHS: “Social and Human Sciences across the Iron Curtain”

The  October/December 2016 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. This special issue on “Social and Human Sciences across the Iron Curtain” is guest edited by Olessia Kirtchik and Ivan Boldyrev. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“On (im)permeabilities: Social and human sciences on both sides of the ‘Iron Curtain’,” by Ivan Boldyrev and Olessia Kirtchik. The abstract reads,

While the history of Cold War social and human sciences has become an immensely productive line of inquiry and has generated some exciting research, a lot remains still to be done in studying more deeply the known stories, venturing into the unknown ones and, in particular, looking in greater detail at the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain. In our expository introduction to this special issue, we demonstrate how its articles enhance our understanding of the postwar social and human sciences. The special issue invites us to rethink the role of the local intellectual and disciplinary contexts in the postwar cultures of knowledge; to pay more attention to the networks and institutions that fostered communication across the Iron Curtain; to trace various asymmetries at work in the divided academic world and the ambiguous status of many actors who enable the East–West contacts despite the general hostility and ideological cleavages; and finally to arrive at a more differentiated and complex view of the whole intellectual landscape in the history of social and human sciences opening up once all the Cold War protagonists, including the countries of the eastern bloc, are subject to a detailed study. This project, we believe, is worthwhile not just for the sake of historical accuracy but also for understanding and changing the societies we live in, which are often still contaminated by the maladies of the Cold War.

“After Nikolai Bukharin: History of science and cultural hegemony at the threshold of the Cold War era,” by Pietro D. Omodeo. The abstract reads, Continue reading Special Issue of HHS: “Social and Human Sciences across the Iron Curtain”

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Michael Pettit on “Deflating Cold War Rationality”

In a recently published essay review in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A Michael Pettit (above) explores some of the recent work on Cold War rationality. The essay centres on a review of the volume How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality – written collaboratively by Paul Erickson, Judy L. Klein, Lorraine Daston, Rebecca Lemov, Thomas Sturm, and Michael D. Gordin – in order to explore the broader recent historiography of Cold War social science. Pettit’s argues “that by focusing rather narrowing on intellectuals in their immediate in- stitutions the recent historiography, including the book under consideration, is inadequate for accomplishing its aim of properly situating the Cold War social sciences.” The full essay review can be found(behind a paywall) here.

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3 year Post-Doctoral Fellowship with Hidden Persuaders

The Wellcome Trust funded ‘Hidden Persuaders? Brainwashing, Culture, Clinical Knowledge and the Cold War Human Sciences, c. 1950-1990’ has announced a new 3-year post-doctoral fellowship. Applications for the position are due April 13th and interviews will take place April 28th. The project, lead by historian Daniel Pick, investigates how

The reputations of the ‘psy’ professions – and the status of their ideas – were altered by controversies, myths and testimonies about ‘brainwashing’ in its various guises during the Cold War. Our project uncovers new source materials and promotes original analyses of the involvement (real and perceived) of clinicians in brainwashing and its cognate practices of interrogation, psychological warfare, subliminal advertisement, and therapeutic experimentation. We consider what ethical guidelines and safeguards, past or present, have been formulated to deal with the dangers of mind control so powerfully articulated during the Cold War.

By exploring these historical debates over mind control and their continuing legacies for psy expertise, Hidden Persuaders offers timely historical analysis of continuing present-day controversies. The language of ‘brainwashing’ continues to influence, in diverse and unexpected ways, present understanding of the relationship between the individual and the state; the nature of the therapeutic encounter between patient and psy-professional; and the borderlands between education, persuasion and indoctrination.

Full details about the post-doctoral fellowship:

The new post-doctoral fellow will work closely with the Hidden Persuaders team to produce original research, organise academic conferences and public events, and also assist with various other outputs in the form of edited volumes, film, web resources and more. The post-doc will join our growing network of historians and practitioners of psychoanalysis, psychiatry and psychology, and should focus his/her research contributions on one or more distinct strands of the Hidden Persuaders project.

We would welcome applications from academics with prior knowledge of the history of psychoanalysis, psychiatry and/or psychology. Some previous familiarity with post-war political and/or cultural history would also be an asset. A working knowledge of one or more European languages other than English, e.g., Russian, German, Spanish or French would be useful, as would facility in one or more Asian languages (Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Khmer or Malay). The ability and willingness of the appointee to travel and work for several weeks at a stretch in overseas archives (as required) is essential, as part of the post-doctoral fellow’s task will be to gather and analyse data on perceptions and use of psychological warfare and indoctrination in various Cold War campaigns overseas.

The closing date for completed applications is midnight on Wednesday 13 April 2016.

Interviews will be held on Thursday 28 April 2016.

For further information, please consult the job announcement on Birkbeck’s website.

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History of Workplace Motivation on the “Hidden Persuaders” Blog

The “Hidden Persuaders” blog recently posted a piece by Kira Lussier on the history of motivation in the workplace. In “Motivated or Manipulated? Ernest Dichter and David McClelland at Work” Lussier notes, there is

…a long history of concern with the relationship between employees’ psychological states and the success of the company, or even the economy, as a whole. Focusing on motivation raises questions about the role of psychological expertise in shaping our understanding of the self in corporate culture; and how the line between motivation and manipulation has been negotiated and challenged in the last fifty years. My dissertation research addresses these questions, focusing on the history of psychological techniques in late twentieth-century American businesses. Historians of psychology have traced the rise of psychological expertise in Cold War America, showing how psychologists framed a whole host of social concerns, from class relations to workplace morale, as psychological problems. Their accounts examine the ways that psychologists have been caught up in structures of power, particularly government and military contracts during the Cold War [2]. Many post-war psychologists turned to corporate America to market their expertise, following in a long line of business-oriented applied psychologists, starting with Hugo Munsterberg in the early twentieth century [3].

The full post can be read online here.

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History and the Hoffman Report: A Round-Up

Chances are you, like us, have been following the fall out from the American Psychological Association’s Hoffman Report, which details how the organization colluded with the United States government to ensure psychologists remained part of its torture program. While there are a ton of opinion pieces floating around in the wake of the report, we thought we’d highlight a few pieces that take a particularly historical view on the current situation.

Over on the Hidden Persuaders blog, part of a project on Cold War era brainwashing efforts, Marcia Holmes has written “What we’re reading now: The APA report.” Holmes details the events leading up to the Hoffman Report and situates psychology’s involvement in torture in relation to the emergence of “operational psychology.” The fundamental tension between “operational psychology” and ethics, Holmes argues, may never be resolved. Read the full piece online here.

BBC Radio program Witness has produced an episode on “CIA Mind Control Experiments” in the 1950s. While this piece is not directly about the Hoffman Report, it documents  the long history of relations between psychology and the CIA:

In the 1950s the CIA started attempting to brainwash psychiatric patients. They wanted to develop methods which could be used against enemies in the Cold War. Hear from one man whose father was experimented on in a Canadian psychiatric hospital.

The full 10-minute episode can be heard online here.

Finally historian Laura Stark, writing in Inside Higher Ed, explains “Why Ethics Codes Fail.” Stark, having previously written about the first ethics code adopted by the APA in 1973, argues that,

The APA’s current ethics mess is a problem inherent to its method of setting professional ethics policy and a problem that faces professional organizations more broadly. Professions’ codes of ethics are made to seem anonymous, dropped into the world by some higher moral authority. But ethics codes have authors. In the long term, the APA’s problems will not be solved by repeating the same process that empowers a select elite to write ethics policy, then removes their connection to it.

All ethics codes have authors who work to erase the appearance of their influence. Personal interests are inevitable, if not unmanageable, and it may be best for the APA — and other professional groups — to keep the link between an ethics policy and its authors. Take a new lesson from the Hippocratic oath by observing its name. The APA should make its ethics policies like most other papers that scientists write: give the code of ethics a byline.

Read the full piece online here.

If there are other historically focused responses to the Hoffman Report that we’ve missed please feel free to add them in the comments!

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New JHBS: The Visual Cliff, POW Stress, Models of Addiction, & More

The Spring 2015 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are articles on the forgotten animals of the visual cliff experiment, stress research and the POW experience, the use of animal models in addiction research, and more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The visual cliff’s forgotten menagerie: Rats, goats, babies, and myth-making in the history of psychology,” by Elissa N. Rodkey. The abstract reads,

Eleanor Gibson and Richard Walk’s famous visual cliff experiment is one of psychology’s classic studies, included in most introductory textbooks. Yet the famous version which centers on babies is actually a simplification, the result of disciplinary myth-making. In fact the visual cliff’s first subjects were rats, and a wide range of animals were tested on the cliff, including chicks, turtles, lambs, kid goats, pigs, kittens, dogs, and monkeys. The visual cliff experiment was more accurately a series of experiments, employing varying methods and a changing apparatus, modified to test different species. This paper focuses on the initial, nonhuman subjects of the visual cliff, resituating the study in its original experimental logic, connecting it to the history of comparative psychology, Gibson’s interest in comparative psychology, as well as gender-based discrimination. Recovering the visual cliff’s forgotten menagerie helps to counter the romanticization of experimentation by focusing on the role of extrascientific factors, chance, complexity, and uncertainty in the experimental process.

“Understanding the POW Experience: Stress research and the implementation of the 1955 U.S. Armed Forces code of conduct,” by Robert Genter. The abstract reads, Continue reading New JHBS: The Visual Cliff, POW Stress, Models of Addiction, & More

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JHBS Special Issue: “The Social Sciences in a Cross-Disciplinary Age”

The winter 2015 issue of Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is a special issue dedicated to “The Social Sciences in a Cross-Disciplinary Age.” Guest edited by Philippe Fontaine (left), the articles in this issue explore facets of interdisciplinarity in the social sciences post-1945. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Introduction: The Social Sciences in a Cross-Disciplinary Age,” by Philippe Fontaine. The abstract reads,

As studies of the history of social science since 1945 have multiplied over the past decade and a half, it has not been unusual for commentators to present cross-disciplinary ventures as a byproduct of the disciplinary system and to contrast the stability of disciplines with the highs and lows of interdisciplinary relationships. In contrast, this special issue takes the view that cross-disciplinary ventures should be considered not so much as efforts to loosen up the disciplinary yoke, but as an alternative form of production and dissemination of social scientific knowledge. Paradoxically, the relationship between cross-disciplinary ventures and the disciplinary system appears as one of complementarity and not of dependence. The essays in the special issue provide examples of ways to reconsider what can be called the interdisciplinary chaos.

“Mnemonic Multiples: The Case of the Columbia Panel Studies,” by Jefferson D. Pooley. The abstract reads, Continue reading JHBS Special Issue: “The Social Sciences in a Cross-Disciplinary Age”

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Dec. 1st Talk! BPS History of Psych Disciplines Seminar Series

The British Psychological Society’History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, has announced the next talk as part of its autumn BPS History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series. On December 1st, Marcia Holmes of Birkbeck College will be speaking on “Performing Proficiency: Psychological Experiments on Man-Machine Systems in the United States, 1950-1965.” Full details follow below.

The British Psychological Society History of Psychology Centre in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines

Location: UCL Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, London WC1E 7JG
Time: 6pm-7.30pm

Monday 1 December

Dr Marcia Holmes (Birkbeck College), “Performing Proficiency: Psychological Experiments on Man-Machine Systems in the United States, 1950-1965”

Historians have traced American psychology’s ‘Cognitive Revolution’ – and its defining metaphor of the mind as information processor – to World War II, when the American and British militaries employed experimental psychologists to improve servicemen’s proficiency in operating the war’s complex electronics for communication, command and control. Yet the problem of matching men’s abilities to the design of machines not only encouraged the theorisation of cognition and information processing, it also motivated a new field of applied experimental psychological research, now known as human factors engineering. During the early years of the Cold War, this field of psychological engineering pioneered an elaborate form of behavioural experiment called ‘man–machine systems simulation.’ In this talk I will argue that interpreting these man–machine systems simulations through a cognitive or cybernetic lens, as some historians have done, misses their more direct, contemporary significance. For the psychologists conducting the experiments, these simulations performed the possibility of maintaining liberal-democratic sociability within the Cold War’s regimented networks of military command and control. Recognising the performative aspects of man–machine systems simulations, I argue, sheds new light on the political and epistemological stakes of the Cognitive Revolution in psychology.

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