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Commoner, Barry (b. 1917)

Michael Egan


The biologist Barry Commoner was instrumental in the creation of the science information movement, a practice that sought to relay key scientific findings into a vernacular, accessible language so that the public could be involved in science policy decisions that influenced their health and welfare. The science information movement transformed the relationship between science and the public and played a critical role in reshaping American environmentalism after World War II. Commoner's stalwart criticism of industrial production practices also helped to highlight the hazards associated with the petrochemical industry. Commoner was born May 28, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York to Russian immigrant Jews. He took an early interest in biology and continued his studies at Columbia University. At Columbia in the 1930s, Commoner immersed himself in biology and in radical politics, reading Friedrich Engels and J. D. Bernal. After service in the US Navy during World War II, Commoner took a position in the botany department at Washington University in St. Louis. Central to Commoner's activism was the belief that citizens needed better access to scientific information and that scientists had a social responsibility to provide it. The danger, as he saw it, was that too often scientific expertise was called upon to make political decisions. While scientists possessed a technical knowledge that was ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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