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Cult of the IrrelevantThe Waning Influence of Social Science on National Security$
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Michael Desch

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691181219

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691181219.001.0001

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World War II

World War II

Social Scientists in the Physicists’ War

(p.42) 3 World War II
Cult of the Irrelevant

Michael C. Desch

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses the role of social science in the war effort. As the Second World War demonstrated, sophisticated social science methods are certainly sometimes applicable to policy. In particular, economists demonstrated that they could employ these tools yet remain directly relevant in some realms. However, the failure of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to employ them successfully on noneconomic issues constitutes a cautionary tale for those who think that discipline ought to serve as a model for the rest of the social sciences. Strikingly, even social scientists themselves who served in government came to realize that disciplinary dynamics worked against policy relevance. Nevertheless, the social sciences' wartime experience had a positive impact on them. This wartime experience had effects across the social sciences, but it was particularly evident in the areas relevant to national security.

Keywords:   social science, Second World War, social science methods, policy relevance, social scientists, Office of Strategic Services

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