Bureaucratic reformism and the cults of Sir Henry Tizard and operational research
in Scientific governance in Britain, 1914–79
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Although devices such as radar figure prominently in histories of science in World War II Britain, attention has also been paid to the organisation of science and its ‘coordination’ with the war effort. The apparent importance of this subject owes much to the emphasis placed on it by a handful of prominent scientists who advocated reforms in the wartime bureaucracy. Their advocacy led to the creation of new technical coordinating committees, new scientific advisory posts, and new ‘operational research’ groups. These were important developments. However, led by physiologist and member of Parliament A. V. Hill, reformists also connected their proposals to larger narratives about Britain’s incapacity to exploit ‘science’ properly. Such narratives lent the proposals a sense of urgency, but also concealed the finer rationales that made reformists’ successful proposals appealing to figures in the military and government. The narratives also made important advisory figures, most notably Sir Henry Tizard, into icons, and created a sense that operational research was an important turning point in overarching relations between science and the state. Subsequently, as historian David Edgerton has argued, figures such as C. P. Snow seized on these narratives in developing a historiography of science-state-society relations that doubled as a platform for policy advocacy. This chapter argues that systematic empirical research will be needed to produce new pictures that capture events external to established narratives, and that place the events featured in those narratives in proper perspective.


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