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CANCELLED: Joanna Radin, Yale University

Monday, March 16, 2020 at 3:30pm

Morrill Hall, 423
Cornell University Dept, 159 Central Avenue, Morrill Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-4701, USA

Michael Crichton, Popular Fiction, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science

ABSTRACT: The year is 1964. The threat of a Soviet nuclear attack threatens American soil, recently exposed as toxic from the wanton application of pesticides. The place is the offices of the Crimson, the daily student newspaper of Harvard University which, along with its neighbor, MIT, is a central node in the military-academic-industrial complex that is contributing to the scaling up of science. The protagonist is a college senior and Crimson editor who is about to graduate with a degree in anthropology. J. Michael Crichton has spent the previous four years at the center of the military-academic-industrial complex establishing a new beat for the Crimson: science as a subject of cultural criticism. In this talk, I argue that the influence of Crichton, who is perhaps best known for inaugurating a genre of popular fiction known as the technothriller, must be understood in terms of longer-standing efforts rooted in Cambridge, MA to establish the appropriate role of science in society. His contributions to the Harvard Crimson serve as an important archive for both the history of public understanding of science in Cold War America and the early history of STS.

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