The influence of Science —The Endless Frontier stems largely from its timing, coming at the tail end of a war in which science-based technology had been crucial. The development of the atomic bomb, radar and penicillin meant that Bush’s declaration that “scientific progress is essential” to public welfare found a receptive audience. Bush also adopted innovative language that capitalized on this new-found government credulity.During the fall I'll complete a much more in depth piece on the history of US (and to some degree also UK) science policy in the first half of the last century, with a particular focus on the role of "basic research" as a political symbol. Among the interesting issues I'll explore in greater depth than I was able to in the Nature piece is the catalytic role played by Henry A. Wallace and his son Henry C. Wallace (pictured above on the cover of Time) in the establishment of the science policies which guide research to this day.
In particular, he broadened the meaning of the phrase ‘basic research’. In using it to refer simultaneously to the demands of policymakers for practical innovation and to the interests of scientists in curiosity-driven enquiry, he satisfied both sectors.
Bush was selected by his friend and neighbour Vice-President Wallace to draft Science — The Endless Frontier. As director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Bush had credibility and good connections within both the science and policy camps. This meant that when the report was released — less than two weeks before the Hiroshima atomic bomb was detonated — it was well positioned to influence. When Wallace’s political fortunes fell, leadership in science policy completed its switch from the agriculturists to the physicists, and the language of science policy changed too.
The role of the Wallaces in the evolution of science policy seems to have been mostly overlooked, perhaps as a consequence of the younger Wallace's fall from political grace in the 1940s, which itself is a very interesting story. I'll have more on such things in coming months. Meantime, you can read my Nature essay here and in you are not a subscriber it is here in PDF on my personal page as well.