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Isis. 2002 Jun;93(2):183-205.

Germs in space. Joshua Lederberg, exobiology, and the public imagination, 1958-1964.

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  • Rutgers University Press, 100 Joyce Kilmer Avenue, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854, USA. audraw@rci.rutgers.edu

Abstract

Under the leadership of Joshua Lederberg, some American biologists and chemists proposed exobiology as the most legitimate program for space research. These scientists used the fear of contamination--of earth and other planets--as a central argument for funding "nonpolitical," "scientifically valid" experiments in extraterrestrial life detection. Exobiology's resemblance to popular science fiction narratives presented a significant challenge to its advocates' scientific authority. Its most practical applications, moreover, bore an unseemly resemblance to the United States Army's research on biological weapons. At the same time that exobiologists wanted to use the media to attract support for their program, they had to monitor their statements carefully in order to maintain their view of exobiology as a peaceful, scientifically valid research program. In examining how exobiology's creators positioned their work in comparison to other space sciences as well as science fiction, this case study highlights how cultural and political imperatives entered science through practice and narrative during the Cold War.

PMID:
12198792
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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