Science and ideology: The case of physics in Nazi Germany


Science is not «above» politics and ethics: it is intrinsically political, and constantly raises ethical dilemmas. The consequences of evading such issues were made particularly clear in the actions of scientists working in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s. The accusation in 2006 that Dutch physicist Peter Debye was an opportunist who colluded with the Nazis reopened the debate about the conduct of physicists at that time. Here I consider what those events can tell us about the relationship of science and politics today. I argue that an insistence that science is an abstract, apolitical inquiry into nature is a myth that can leave it morally compromised and vulnerable to political manipulation.


Nazism; German physics; science and politics; Peter Debye

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