This article uses the voluminous public discourse around Rachel Carson and her controversial bestseller Silent Spring to explore Americans' views on science and scientists. Carson provides a particularly interesting case study because of intense and public debates over whether she was a scientist at all, and therefore whether her book should be granted legitimacy as science. Her career defied easy classification, as she acted variously as writer, activist, and environmentalist in addition to scientist. Defending her work as legitimate science, which many though not all commentators did, therefore became an act of defining what both science and scientists could and should be. This article traces the variety of nonscientific images and narratives readers and writers assigned to Carson, such as "reluctant crusader" and "scientist-poet." It argues that nonscientific attributes were central to legitimating her as both admirable person and admirable scientist. It explores how debates over Silent Spring can be usefully read as debates over the desirability of putatively nonscientific attributes in the professional work of a scientist. And it examines the nature of Carson's very democratized image for changing notions of science and scientists in 1960s United States politics and culture.
- © 2010 by The Regents of the University of California