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Some Case Studies in Early Field Growth

As part of our research on the history of philanthropy, I (Luke Muehlhauser) investigated several case studies of early field growth, especially those in which philanthropists purposely tried to grow the size and impact of a (typically) young and small field of research or advocacy. As discussed below, my investigations had varying levels of depth.

Those interested in further reading on the cases discussed here can consult the annotated bibliography, which gives brief notes on the sources I found most helpful.

Published: April 2017, Updated: August 2017

My process and key takeaways

To find potential case studies on philanthropic field-building, I surveyed our earlier work on the history of philanthropy,1 skimmed through the many additional case studies collected in The Almanac of American Philanthropy, asked staff for additional suggestions, and drew upon my own knowledge of the history of some fields.

My choices about which case studies to look at more closely were based mostly on some combination of (1) the apparent similarity of the case study to our mid-2016 perception of the state of the nascent field of research addressing potential risks from advanced AI (the current focus area of ours where the relevant fields seem most nascent, and where we’re most likely to apply lessons from this investigation in the short term), and (2) the apparent availability and helpfulness of sources covering the history of the case study.

I read and/or skimmed the sources listed in the annotated bibliography below, taking notes as I went. I then wrote up my impressions (based on these notes) of how the relevant fields developed, what role (if any) philanthropy seemed to play, and anything else I found interesting. After a fairly thorough look at bioethics, I did quicker and more impressionistic investigations and write-ups on a number of other fields.

My key takeaways — both from the case studies I describe below and from some other case studies I studied briefly but do not describe below2 — are:

  • Most of the “obvious” methods for building up a young field have been tried, and those methods often work. For example, when trying to build up a young field of academic research, it often works to fund workshops, conferences, fellowships, courses, professorships, centers, requests for proposals, etc. Or when trying to build up a new advocacy community, it often works to fund student clubs, local gatherings, popular media, etc.
  • Fields vary hugely along several dimensions, including (1) primary sources of funding (e.g. large philanthropists, many small donors, governments, companies), (2) whether engaged philanthropists were “active” or “passive” in their funding strategy, and (3) how much the growth of the field can be attributed to endogenous factors (e.g. explicit movement-building work) vs. exogenous factors (e.g. changing geopolitical conditions).

Besides these major takeaways, I also learned many more specific things about particular fields. For example:

  • The rise of bioethics seems to be a case study in the transfer of authority over a domain (medical ethics) from one group (doctors) to another (bioethicists), in large part due to the first group’s relative neglect of that domain. [More]
  • In the case of cryonics and molecular nanotechnology, plausibly growth-stunting adversarial dynamics arose between advocates of these young fields and the scientists in adjacent fields (cryobiology and chemistry, respectively). These adversarial dynamics seem to have arisen, in part, due to the young fields’ early focus on popular outreach prior to doing much scientific or technical work, and their disparagement of those in adjacent fields. [More]
  • The rise of neoliberalism is a victory for an explicit strategy of decades-long investment in the academic development and intellectual spreading of a particular set of ideas, though this model may not work as well when the ideas themselves don’t happen to benefit a naturally well-resourced set of funders (large corporations and their wealthy owners, as in the case of neoliberalism). [More]
  • A small group of funders of the conservative legal movement managed to critique their own (joint) strategy, change course, and succeed as a result. [More]
  • The rise of the environmental and animal advocacy movements contrast sharply with the cases above, both because they grew mostly via a large network of small funders rather than a small network of large funders, and because many of those movements’ activities do not materially benefit any funder or political actor (e.g. in the case of wilderness preservation or campaigns against factory farming). [More]


Annotated bibliography for this section

How bioethics began

The birth of the field of bioethics, as I understand it, provides an interesting case study in the transfer of authority over a domain (medical ethics) from one group (doctors) to another (bioethicists), in large part due to the first group’s relative neglect of that domain. After consulting a few of the available histories (see below), my impression is that the field developed roughly like this:

  • For many decades, doctors were the presumed authorities on medical ethics, and their approach was fairly pragmatic and utilitarian, i.e. focused on competently and professionally doing what is best for the patient.3
  • Starting in the 1960s, new medical capabilities (e.g. heart transplants) and some medical ethics scandals (e.g. the Tuskegee syphilis experiment) seemed to demand ethical analysis, but for the most part, the professional medical community generally didn’t want to spend its time with such “distractions” from the practice of medicine.4
  • A mix of scholars, often theologians or philosophers,5 began to fill this void by devoting themselves full-time to studying and writing about questions of medical ethics.6 These people began to call themselves “bioethicists.”7
  • Then, when some key government commissions and court cases came about in the 70s and 80s, the bioethicists had done enough work to establish themselves as “the experts” on these topics that they had a large and lasting influence on some important early laws and court decisions concerning various issues in medical ethics.8 Since the medical community had also neglected to develop curricular materials for teaching medical ethics, this void was also filled by texts written by bioethicists rather than by medical professionals, and thus whole generations of medical professionals were trained in the bioethicists’ early approach to medical ethics rather than (say) an approach developed by doctors.9
  • These developments annoyed many medical professionals. In part, this was because they felt that professional medical expertise was necessary (and perhaps sufficient) for thinking through the ethical issues that arise in the practice of medicine. Another source of annoyance may have been that bioethicists of the time tended to be more theological and deontological (i.e. less utilitarian), and more cautious about developing and deploying new medical capabilities, compared to doctors.10
  • The early laws and court decisions related to bioethics continue to have an outsized effect,11 though bioethicists today are probably more diverse than they were in the earliest years of bioethics, and (e.g.) many of them are explicitly utilitarian.

Perhaps the most compelling case for this “bioethics as a response to a vacuum of moral authority” account of the rise of bioethics can be found in Baker (2013), pp. 277-279:

As to the… most intriguing question, “Why was bioethics was born?”… each historian seems to touch on a piece of the answer to the question… Yet none offers a comprehensive answer to the more basic question: Why did American medicine lose jurisdiction over “medical ethics” — a subject who’s very name proclaims it part of medicine’s domain?

…Before turning to this question, it is important to appreciate that none of the factors typically cited as explaining the American origins of bioethics was unique to America… Americans had no monopoly on morally disruptive innovations, and these innovations were as disruptive to medical morality and ethics in Europe and the rest of the world as they were in the United States…

American medical societies adopted something akin to a self-imposed “prohibition” on medical ethics, creating the environment in which a robust alternative, bioethics, developed and was then exported worldwide. More specifically… the [AMA’s] adoption of a laissez-faire approach to medical ethics from 1903 through the 1970s was, in effect, a self-imposed prohibition against making authoritative statements on medical ethics. During this entire period, the AMA characterized its Principles of Medical Ethics as “standards by which a physician may determine the propriety of his conduct,” deeding the prerogative of interpreting professional standards to each individual physician’s personal moral sensibilities. Consequently, just as the U.S. prohibition on alcoholic beverages created a void in the marketplace that was filled by an alternative beverage industry — the colas — so, too, organized medicine’s laissez-faire abandonment of medical ethics created a void in the marketplace of ideas and a vacuum of moral authority. To fill this void, legislators, bureaucrats, the courts, and American society generally sought ideas and invested moral authority elsewhere, ultimately finding it in an oddball collection of lumpen intellentsia [definition: “A section of the intelligentsia regarded as making no useful contribution to society, or as lacking taste, culture, etc.”] who were soon valorized as ethics experts or “bioethicists.”

In Europe, by contrast, organized medicine neither abandoned medical ethics nor abdicated moral authority. Consequently, just as alcoholic and caffeinated beverages retained jurisdiction over social life in European pubs and cafes, rendering soft drinks to the status of second-class beverages, so, too, organized medical and scientific societies (e.g., the British and Dutch medical societies and specialty colleges) retained jurisdiction over medical ethics — relegating aspiring European bioethicists to the status of second-tier authorities. Thus, the Royal Dutch Medical Association… was able to negotiate physician-initiated euthanasia practices with Dutch legal authorities without involving “bioethicists” in any major decision. Similarly, the British National Health Service… was also able to initiate a covert rationing scheme limiting use of dialysis and other expensive technologies to younger patients — effectively resolving the rationing problem created by the Scribner shunt by denying access to the elderly — without annoying discussions or protests from “bioethicists.” Having retained jurisdiction and moral authority over medical ethics, organized medicine in Europe had the prerogative of negotiating with governments to determine the appropriate nature of end-of-life care (euthanasia) or the allocation of scarce resources (age rationing). In America, by contrast, laissez-faire ethics rendered medicine unwilling to express authoritative moral positions and thus unable to negotiate them with the U.S. government. Thus, these issues were negotiated with “outsiders” invited into the once exclusively medical jurisdiction of “medical” ethics; that is, they were negotiated with “bioethicists.” …to deal with American medicine’s abdication from moral authority, American bureaucrats joined with government and private foundations to empower a hodgepodge of ex-theologians, lawyers, philosophers, social scientists, and humanistic nurses, physicians, and researchers to address issues raised by research ethics scandals and by morally disruptive technologies…

This chapter reassembles materials that have, for the most part, been cited in standard histories of bioethics to support a vacuum-of-moral-authority explanation of why Americans invented bioethics. The account places emphasis on the dearth of “ethicists” at the early stages of “ethics regulation”; the ineffectiveness of pre-bioethical self-regulatory efforts; the role of the AMA’s opposition to Medicare, Medicaid, and the racial integration of medicine as a “distraction”; and the extent to which the AMA’s laissez-faire ethics constrained the AMA from responding to moral issues, including the AIDS epidemic.

Baker’s account (pp. 303-305) of bioethicists’ takeover of medical ethics education is similarly compelling:

As late as 1983, “A National Survey of Hospital Ethics Committees,” involving more than 400 hospitals with over 200 beds, found that only 4.3 percent had hospital ethics committees (HECs) and that most of these committees had been formed around 1977, the year after the [Karen] Quinlan [court] decision and the publication of a seminal article about an ethics committee at the Massachusetts General Hospital…

In the absence of leadership from the AMA, which had opposed the very idea of ethics committees, only a few hospitals, mostly in large academic medical centers, had explored the use of ethics committees. Yet the empirical data indicated that committees were effective in ameliorating the moral distress caused by chaotic laissez-faire decision-making procedures. So the President’s Commission encouraged other hospitals to establish HECs [hospital ethics committees] by publishing in its appendix “A Model Bill to Establish Hospital Ethics Committees… Subsequently, just two years later, in 1985, the number of hospitals with HECs had climbed to 60 percent. In 1988, the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations… introduced a standard requiring the hospitals and healthcare institutions that it accredited to have the equivalent of HECs. Today, virtually all American hospitals and healthcare institutions have HECs or their equivalent.

As Jonsen observes, “ethics committees were set an odd task,” for, unlike admissions committees or pathology committees, “they had no well defined task to perform; they were ordered to think about ethics, probably the vaguest and most controversial topics,” without a “touchstone beyond, perhaps, the skimpy code of the AMA.” Compounding the problem, organized medicine’s de-emphasis of medical ethics was reflected in the American medical school curriculum. Thus, in 1972, a survey of 102 American medical schools found that none of the 94 schools responding required medical students to take a course in medical ethics. To reiterate, in 1972, no American medical school offered a required course on medical ethics. [emphasis added] Fifteen medical schools openly admitted to offering no medical ethics instruction whatsoever; fifty-six responded that they touched on the subject in courses in related areas — social medicine, legal medicine, psychiatry — about one-third… gave students the option of taking an elective course on the medical ethics. Thus, in 1972, no American medical school thought medical ethics important enough to be taught to all future physicians.

A decade later, in 1984 — after the advent of bioethics — 84 percent of medical schools required students to take a course in medical ethics or bioethics during their first two years of instruction. In 1998, the American Association of Medical Colleges… adopted as a learning goal for all accredited medical schools “knowledge of the theories and principles that govern ethical decision-making and of the major ethical dilemmas in medicine…” A survey a decade after that, in 2008, reported that “in compliance with the [AAMC learning objectives] all 59 medical schools in the dataset required coursework in bioethics”…

The use of the term “bioethics” rather than “medical ethics” in the 2008 survey is revealing; so, too, is AAMC’s reference to “principles” and genetics in its 1998 statement of learning goals. During the era when medical schools [did not require] instruction in medical ethics, no market for medical ethics textbooks existed, and so none was published. Thus, when American medical colleges began to require instruction in the subject, instructors found Beauchamp and Childress’s Principles of Biomedical Ethics available to fill the void, and, thus, bioethical discourse and principles naturally came to occupy the space in the medical school curriculum previously taught under the rubric “medical ethics.” In consequence, the founding generation of ethics committee members and successive generations of medical students learned to talk and think in terms of bioethical principles — autonomy, justice, nonmaleficence, and beneficence — rather than in the in terms of the AMA’s Principles or other traditional discourses of medical ethics.

Of course, my summary here is a gross oversimplification of a complicated historical development.12 Moreover, it might be substantially wrong: certainly, not every bioethicist is likely to agree with my summary, and my impressions come only from reading or skimming a few of the major published histories of bioethics and drawing my own tentative conclusions.

The role of philanthropy

The birth of bioethics was substantially funded by philanthropists, among other sources (notably, the National Endowment for the Humanities).13 For example:

  • The Rockefeller Foundation provided substantial initial funding for the Hastings Center, the first major institute focused on bioethics. As the Hastings Center grew during the 1970s, it continued to be substantially funded by philanthropists.14 Among other early activities, the Hastings Center hired some staff researchers, organized workshops, created a visiting scholars program, and created The Hastings Center Report, which soon became the leading journal in the field.15
  • The Kennedy Foundation funded the 1971 creation of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, the second major bioethics institute.16 Within 3 years, the Kennedy Institute grew to 20 full-time scholars and 55 graduate students. Among other things, the Institute built a large research library on bioethics, organized lectures and symposia and classes, produced TV programs on bioethics, edited an encyclopedia and bibliography of bioethics, and more.17 Early hires at the Kennedy Institute authored the Belmont Report and the Principles of Biomedical Ethics, two of the most influential documents in the history of the field.18
  • The Kennedy Foundation also funded, for example, a 1972 medical ethics program at Harvard’s School of Public Health, and (in 1973) “the first full-fledged medical school program in medical ethics” at the University of Wisconsin.19
  • The Russell Sage Foundation provided substantial initial funding for the Society for Health and Human Values, another early bioethics institute (albeit less influential than the Hastings Center and the Kennedy Institute).20

In general, it seems to me that philanthropists and other early funders of bioethics did most of “the obvious things” one might do to build up a new field, and they “got lucky” in what a revolutionary impact those early efforts had (see previous section). As far as I can tell, for $10-$20M in funding from the late 1960s through the 1970s, these funders likely played a major role in completely revolutionizing the field of medical ethics. (Whether this revolution was a positive or negative development overall has been debated, and there is room to debate how important philanthropy was to it, but the revolution’s impact is not debatable.)

What was the counterfactual difference made by philanthropy in this case? The sense I got from my readings is that the field would have grown much more slowly if not for the early philanthropic funders, but it’s hard to know for sure.

To what degree were bioethics’ early philanthropic funders “passive” vs. “active” (see this blog post)? Unfortunately, I didn’t learn much about this from my readings, but one could learn about this by talking to the early funders and grantees, as many of them are still alive.

Case studies I investigated less thoroughly

I looked at several other case studies of field building, but I investigated them less thoroughly than I investigated the case of bioethics. Below, I summarize my impressions about these other case studies, based on the sources listed in the annotated bibliography. To save time, I (mostly) do not cite or quote the specific sources for my impressions (like I did in the above section on bioethics). Compared to my impressions about bioethics, my impressions about the case studies covered below are even more likely to be mistaken.

Failure modes in cryonics and molecular nanotechnology

Annotated bibliographies for this section: cryonics, nanotechnology

Two fields I studied — cryonics and molecular nanotechnology — saw especially slow, anemic field growth. Since they also exhibited some of the same apparent “failure modes,” I’ll discuss them together.

Cryonics refers to the “low-temperature preservation… of people who cannot be sustained by contemporary medicine, with the hope that resuscitation and restoration to full health may be possible in the far future” via distant medical advances.21 Since the practice began in the 1960s, only about 250 people have been cryopreserved by companies such as Alcor.22 To this day, cryonics is not part of normal medical practice, it is regarded with great skepticism by the mainstream scientific community, and it has not been graced with much funding or scientific attention.

Molecular nanotechnology (MNT) is a proposed technology involving very small, mobile “assemblers” which can bond atoms to each other with great precision, and thereby “build almost anything that the laws of nature allow to exist.”23 Despite steady advocacy by small numbers of people since the mid-1980s, MNT still has not attracted significant funding or scientific attention, and when President George W. Bush created the National Nanotechnology Initiative in 2003, the creator of the field (Eric Drexler) largely was excluded, and his ideas about MNT were sidelined in favor of more feasible work in chemistry and materials science,24 which constitutes most of what is called “nanotechnology” today.

Why have these fields failed to grow much over the course of several decades? Perhaps their slow growth is entirely explained by the questionable feasibility of their foundational claims (about resuscitation and molecular assemblers). However, when learning about the history of cryonics and MNT (for sources, see below25), I encountered several additional potentially growth-stunting features they had in common, which may have also had a negative effect on each field’s prospects for early growth. I briefly make the case for this possibility below, but I am very uncertain about whether the factors I describe actually had much (counterfactual) effect on the growth of either field.

First, early advocates of cryonics and MNT focused on writings and media aimed at a broad popular audience, before they did much technical, scientific work. These advocates successfully garnered substantial media attention, and this seems to have irritated the most relevant established scientific communities (cryobiology and chemistry, respectively), both because many of the established scientists felt that something with no compelling scientific backing was getting more attention than their own “real” work, and because some of them (inaccurately) suspected that media attention for cryonics and MNT had translated into substantial (but unwarranted) funding for both fields.

Second, early advocates of cryonics and MNT spoke and wrote in a way that was critical and dismissive toward the most relevant mainstream scientific fields, and this contributed further to tensions between advocates of cryonics and MNT and the established scientific communities from which they could have most naturally recruited scientific talent and research funding.

Third, and perhaps largely as a result of these first two issues, these “neighboring” established scientific communities (of cryobiologists and chemists) engaged in substantial “boundary work” to keep advocates of cryonics and MNT excluded. For example, in the case of cryonics: according to an historical account by a cryonicist26 (who may of course be biased), established cryobiologists organized to repeatedly label cryonicists as frauds until cryonicists threatened a lawsuit; they passed over cryonics-associated cryobiologists for promotions within the professional societies, or asked them to resign from those societies, and they also blocked cryonicists from obtaining new society memberships via amendments to the bylaws; they threatened to boycott the only supplier of storage vessels suitable for cryonics, forcing cryonicists to build their own storage vessels; they wrote a letter to the California Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers urging them to investigate cryonicists and shut them down; and so on.

Throughout all this, the fields of cryonics and MNT were kept afloat (largely by philanthropists), and they’ve had some scientific and advocacy successes, but in general they grew more slowly than many other fields.

Again, I stress that these are merely my rough impressions upon consulting a variety of sources, and even if my impressions are right, it’s not clear whether these “failure modes” had much counterfactual impact on either field.


Annotated bibliography for this section

Neoliberalism refers to an intellectual movement which, starting in the 1930s, sought to revive and update a variety of ideas related to 19th century economic liberalism in the face of competition from rival approaches that placed greater emphasis on central planning, such as communism or Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Neoliberals typically advocate free trade, deregulation, privatization, monetarism, individual liberty, and limited government, and is associated with the writings and policies of Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and many others.

Simplifying greatly, one might say that neoliberalism began as a small gathering of “underdog” intellectuals in 1938, but by 1980 had become the dominant economic worldview in the U.S. and the U.K., along with several other countries. It remains a leading economic ideology today, especially in the United States. For good or ill (I take no position on that here), neoliberalism is one of the most successful intellectual movements of the 20th century.

How did neoliberalism succeed? One common story goes something like this:

  • In 1938, 26 scholars and thinkers — several of them future early leaders in neoliberalism — gathered to discuss a recent book by Walter Lippmann. They discussed how to develop a “third way” between 19th century laissez-faire liberalism and socialism (both of which the participants saw as problematic), and Alexander Rüstow coined the term “neoliberalism” for this project. They started an organization to promote their ideas. Its work was interrupted by World War II, but nevertheless it inspired Hayek to create the Mont Pèlerin Society in 1947.
  • Hayek published The Road to Serfdom in 1944, which focused on the moral case for an updated form of laissez-faire economic liberalism. In 1945, an abridged version was published in Reader’s Digest, and reached a much wider audience.
  • Around this time, Hayek developed and argued for a particular strategy for disseminating neoliberal ideas. His strategy focused on the long-term cultivation of neoliberal-friendly academics and “intellectuals” (think tank analysts, journalists, entrepreneurs, etc.) rather than short-term political aims, and encouraged utopian thinking about what neoliberal ideas could accomplish. Through the later Mont Pèlerin Society and other venues, Hayek convinced many neoliberal thinkers and funders to pursue this strategy.
  • Though the mid-40s through the 60s was arguably the zenith of New Deal progressivism, British social democracy, and neo-Keynesianism, the neoliberal movement cohered during this time and developed its ideas, so that it was poised to have an impact if the right opportunities came along.
  • In the 1970s, stagflation struck and the Bretton Woods monetary system collapsed, events which many interpreted as symptoms of a failure of Keynesianism. By this time, neoliberalism was a ready alternative, and it had gained many adherents among academics, intellectuals, and policy-makers. A rapid series of neoliberal victories followed: the “Chicago Boys” remade the Chilean economy according to neoliberal ideas and prompted several other Latin American countries to follow their example, Paul Volcker was made Chairman of the Fed in the U.S., Thatcher and Reagan were elected as heads of state in the U.K. and the U.S., and Hayek and Friedman won Nobel prizes.
  • Since then, neoliberalism has continued to be a highly influential (and perhaps “dominant”) politico-economic ideology. Though neoliberalism is often blamed for the 2008 financial crisis, no competing system was poised to take its place, so neoliberalism continues to be hugely influential.

How accurate is this story? To find out, I consulted several histories of neoliberalism, from authors both supportive and critical of the movement and its ideas (see below). From skimming these histories, my current impressions are that:

  • The basic story presented above seems roughly accurate, though it leaves out some important factors (see below), and it may overplay just how dominant neoliberal ideas really are (e.g. see Ben-Ami 2015).
  • Of course, the story above greatly oversimplifies the history, but it also under-emphasizes the very large role played by sheer luck, as emphasized by e.g. Jones (2012).
  • Most important of all, the story above under-emphasizes the role of big business. Indeed, the single biggest reason for neoliberalism’s success may be that neoliberal policy recommendations can be expected to disproportionately benefit (and flatter) big business and wealthy individuals, who of course are in an unusually good position to advance the spread of neoliberal ideas and policies, and have done so quite aggressively since especially the 1970s, both directly and through their charitable foundations. (E.g. see Harvey 2005; Kotz 2015; Skocpol & Hertel-Fernandez 2016.)

If this last point is right, then the neoliberal playbook (for growing a field) might not work as well if it is applied to other nascent intellectual movements, assuming those other movements are not built on ideas that happen to predictably benefit a constituency as well-resourced and powerful as the constituency most predictably benefited by neoliberal ideas.

The conservative legal movement

Annotated bibliography for this section

Teles’ history

The definitive account of the conservative legal movement (CLM) — including law and economics — is Steven Teles’ The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement (2008). Teles’ basic account is as follows:

  • The 1930s-60s saw the gradual development of the “liberal legal network” (LLN), the “collection of individuals and organizations in the legal profession, law schools, and public interest law groups that formed… the ‘support structure’ for the rights revolution… [and which thereafter] protected and extended liberal accomplishments in the law, even when the electoral coalition that had originally supported them began to wither.” Some key factors in this development were:
    • The New Deal created an explosion in demand for (and supply of) liberal-leaning lawyers, who soon flooded government agencies and (often after extensive government service) private law firms, law school faculties, civil rights organizations (e.g. the NAACP and the ACLU), and, a bit later, the American Bar Association (ABA).
    • In the 1950s, the Ford Foundation began to spend large sums on liberal-leaning legal organizations (e.g. the National Legal Aid Association) and on liberal-leaning programs (e.g. fellowships) at leading law schools.27
    • Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) mandated that the state provide counsel for defendants who cannot afford to hire their own counsel, thus greatly expanding the provision of legal aid which, for various reasons, tends to attract (and subsidize the career development of) left-leaning lawyers.
    • Law students of the revolutionary 1960s demanded that their education be more relevant to the cause of social justice, contributing (e.g.) to a great expansion in legal clinics which, for a variety of reasons, have typically had caseloads that “have included little to please modern conservatives, and provided a significant source of free labor, training, and recruitment for the [left-leaning] public interest law movement.”
    • More generally, liberal ideology enjoyed something of a “moral monopoly” (especially e.g. in the 1960s), such that the dominant picture of a morally praiseworthy intellectual or lawyer was that of a left-leaning intellectual or lawyer engaged in left-leaning causes.
    • There were other factors, but I don’t survey them here; the rise of the LLN could be its own case study.
  • Despite the general dominance of the LLN up through the 1980s, law and economics was an early success story for the CLM. (Though many of the subfield’s practitioners lean left and/or have been motivated by a non-ideological desire to make law more empirical, the subfield nevertheless leans right.)
    • Law and economics got its start at Chicago University in the 1940s and 50s, largely via some early neoliberal scholars and some others heavily influenced by them. In some cases, the connection was quite direct: e.g. one of the founders of law and economics, Aaron Director, was brought to Chicago via funding from the Volker Fund arranged by Hayek himself.
    • Once the subfield had enough momentum to “get off the ground,” there was abundant low-hanging fruit to pick. After all, the economic analysis of law is quite a “natural” and important idea. Douglas Baird, who eventually became dean of the University of Chicago Law School, recalled that:

      …people like Posner would come in and spend six weeks studying family law, and they’d write a couple of articles explaining why everything everyone was saying in family law was 100 percent wrong. And then the replies would be, “No, we were only 80 percent wrong.” And Posner never got things exactly right, but he always turned everything upside down, and people talked about law differently… doing great work was easy… I used to say that this was just like knocking over Coke bottles with a baseball bat… You could just go in and write something revolutionary and go in tomorrow and write another article. I remember writing articles where the time between getting the idea and getting it accepted from a major law review was four days. [When I took a look at bankruptcy law] I got tenure by saying, “Jeez, a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow.” You got tenure for that! The reality is that there was just an open field begging for people to do great work.

    • Much of the field’s early success owes itself to the academic entrepreneurship and fundraising persistence of a single person: Henry Manne. Manne organized, and raised funding for, (1) a highly influential program of multi-week seminars providing economics training to law professors, (2) the first law-school center for law and economics (initially at Miami, then moved to Emory and eventually George Mason University), (3) an economics training program for federal judges, (4) a fellowships program (the Olin Fellows) supporting economics students to obtain a law degree, (5) a variety of topical conferences that boosted concentrated economic analysis of particular legal topics and helped those interested in law and economics to network with each other, (6) a program of seminars training economists in the law, (7) the first law school (George Mason) whose curriculum was focused on law and economics, and more. Not all Manne’s efforts were successful, but several of them were extremely successful. For example, 16 of the 33 Olin fellows got positions in academia (mostly in law schools), and by 1990, 40% of federal judges had attended one of Manne’s law and economics training seminars, including Supreme Court justices Ginsburg and Thomas, plus 67 judges in the federal courts of appeals.
    • As a result of these and other developments, law and economics was “becoming part of the mainstream of academic law” by the 1980s, but it was not yet institutionalized beyond a few schools. Inspired by Manne’s law and economics center in Miami, the John M. Olin Foundation began in the early 80s to fund programs (and sometimes entire centers) at the country’s elite law schools. Once law and economics was established at (e.g.) Chicago, Yale, and Harvard, this created pressure for other schools to “keep up with the Joneses.” Olin-funded programs and centers soon followed at Penn, Stanford, Berkeley, Virginia, Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, and Toronto — all between 1986-1989. From 1985-1989, the Olin Foundation and other conservative foundations contributed (at least) $4.45 million (over $9 million in 2017 dollars) to build up law and economics. The Olin Foundation continued to lead philanthropic funding for law and economics for more than a decade.
    • Teles sums up: “measured in terms of the penetration of its adherents in the legal academy, law and economics is the most successful intellectual movement in the law of the past thirty years, having rapidly moved from insurgency to hegemony.”
  • Other conservative efforts to counter-mobilize against this growing dominance of the LLN initially fared much worse than law and economics did. For example:
    • Initial conservative public interest law firms were organized geographically, which caused several problems. First, they specialized in geographic regions, rather than specializing in issues or ideological principles. Second, geographic specialization naturally led to close ties with local businessmen, but those businessmen generally abandoned their declared conservative principles any time they conflicted with their bottom line, for example when various forms of state activism would privilege their own businesses. Third, the locus of political power had transitioned from the states to the national stage.
    • Initial conservative counter-mobilization to to LLN was generally reactive. Thus, conservatives were in many cases able to slow down the advance of liberal causes, but they had not yet developed much of a detailed, positive, ideological agenda to push through.
  • Eventually, the rest of the CLM learned from its early mistakes and began to experience large successes akin to those seen in law and economics.
    • Many of the CLM’s early mistakes (outside law and economics) were diagnosed in a report prepared in 1980 by Michael Horowitz for the Scaife Foundation, which was subsequently distributed to many conservative donors and activists. Horowitz argued, among other things, that (1) the CLM needed to improve its moral reputation and its moral narrative, so that young lawyers could see that “one can be caring, moral, intellectual… while at the same time being radically opposed to the stale views of the left,” that (2) the CLM needed to be organized by functions and issues rather than by region, that (3) most of the CLM needed to be located near Washington D.C., that (4) the CLM needed to become less dependent on businesses, which undermined its ideological coherence and its ability to seize the moral high ground, that (5) the CLM needed to compete with the LLN at the university, not at the corporation, that (6) the CLM needed to focus on the long-term intellectual struggle rather than on short term gains and easily measurable but ineffective activities such as amicus briefs.
    • The “Horowitz Report,” along with some lesser-known reports which came to similar conclusions, convinced many conservative foundations to change their strategy. They pulled back funding for the activities the Horowitz Report criticized, and by the 90s had shifted their funding to organizations implementing the strategies Horowitz recommended, for example the Federalist Society (see below) and a second generation of conservative public-interest law firms whose approaches were informed by the Horowitz Report (see below).
    • Alienated from their (mostly liberal) law schools, conservative legal students organized the Federalist Society in the early 80s. The Society organizes conferences, talks, debates, student groups, and other activities. According to Teles, its functional role is fourfold:

      First, it engages in recruitment of law students and practicing attorneys who can identify with and participate in the [CLM]. Second, it invests in the human capital of members through frequent debates, which acquaint them with conservative legal ideas and heighten their intellectual self-confidence, and through their participation in its student, lawyer, and practice groups, which provide leadership experience. Third, the Society produces cultural capital, in that its activities facilitate the orderly development of conservative legal ideas and their injection into the legal mainstream, reducing the stigma associated with those ideas in institutions that produce and transmit professional distinction. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the Society is a producer of social capital in the form of [social] networks that develop as by-products of Society activities. In the absence of an organization like the Federalist Society, these movement public goods would be produced in a haphazard, uncoordinated, and redundant fashion, if produced at all. Organizational entrepreneurs would have seen their transaction costs escalate significantly, to the point where some activities would not have been worth pursuing.

      I won’t try to list the Federalist Society’s many successes and impacts here; suffice it to say that it is widely regarded — by conservatives and liberals alike — to have had a massive positive impact on the rise of the CLM.

    • A second generation of conservative public-interest law firms, informed by the Horowitz Report (or by similar findings by others), saw greater success than the first generation. For example, “since their founding in 1991 and 1989, respectively, both the Institute for Justice and the Center for Individual Rights have established impressive track records of placing [and sometimes winning] significant cases before the Supreme Court… Despite the millions of dollars that conservative patrons invested in first-generation firms, none of them came close to this record of winning important, precedent-setting cases.”


If Teles’ account is roughly correct, what lessons can be learned from the rise of the CLM? Teles’ takeaways are:

The most serious mistake those seeking to learn from legal conservatives could make would be to create carbon copies of conservatives’ organizational apparatus, mimicking rather than learning. The most successful conservative projects, such as the Federalist Society, were adaptations to specific weaknesses of the conservative movement and responses to the character of liberal entrenchment… The success of the Federalist Society, however, does not mean that it can be cloned, for actors today face a very different set of challenges than conservatives did…

That does not mean that there are no lessons of general applicability from the conservative organizational mobilization in the law. The first is the need for honesty. Conservatives were willing to face, at times brutally, the ideational and organizational weaknesses of the movement. The Horowitz Report, for example, was a major turning point for conservatives because it laid bare the manifest inadequacies of the movement, criticizing almost the entirety of the conservative infrastructure in the law…

The conservative experience also suggests that little significant change is likely to come from existing organizations or leaders… Change came instead from new organizations, and their predecessors only changed much later, if at all.

The history of the conservative legal movement suggests that successful political patrons engage in spread betting combined with feedback and learning, rather than expecting too much from grand planning. Conservatives’ learning and feedback did not, however, involve using narrow, technical forms of evaluation. Conservative patrons were willing to accept fairly diffuse, hard-to-measure goals with long-term payoffs when they had faith in the individuals behind the projects. This goes against the grain of much of contemporary philanthropy, which emphasizes rigorous, usually quantitative, evaluative measurement. Conservative patrons were typically quite close to the entrepreneurs they funded and depended on their own subjective evaluation of both a given entrepreneur’s effectiveness and the information that flowed through trusted movement networks— rather than on “objective” measures of outcomes. Where goals such as transforming the climate of opinion are concerned, this form of subjective evaluation may be more effective than seemingly precise measures that often leave out the most important, albeit difficult-to-measure, outcomes.

Legal conservatives did not achieve as much as they have simply by more effectively packaging or marketing their ideas. Instead, conservatives became more effective by challenging, and ultimately changing, their ideas. Decades of debate in Federalist Society conferences and within the network of conservative scholars led to jettisoning the concepts of judicial restraint and strict constructionism, and then original intent, before finally settling (at least provisionally) on “original meaning.” …The conservative legal movement took ideas very seriously, and its patrons invested significant resources in serious, first-order discussion of fundamental commitments with little if any short-term payoffs. While many contemporary liberals seem obsessed with creating their own think tanks to allow for “instant response,” conservatives recognized the need to go back to “first things.”

…Perhaps one of the most common mistakes that have been made by those who have attempted to learn from the conservative legal movement has been the tendency to confuse direct organizational goals and the desired by-products of activities with other ends. The Manne programs in the 1970s and 1980s and the lectures and conventions of the Federalist Society, for example, contributed mightily to the development of academic and professional networks. These networks spurred intellectual productivity, improved the information that conservatives could access in government, and assisted in identifying ideological sympathizers when staffing the federal judiciary and administrative agencies. As important as these outputs were, however, they were by-products, or external benefits, of activities and organizations that worked because they were not aimed directly at these goals. Professors and judges attended Manne’s seminars because they were deeply intellectually stimulating, and, despite the unquestioned presence of opportunists within its ranks, such stimulation remains the main force drawing lawyers and law students to Federalist Society meetings.

The final lesson to be drawn from the conservative legal experience …[is this]: In the short term, politics is, in fact, a world of constraints, but to agents willing to wait for effects that may not emerge for decades, the world is rich with opportunity. Activists would do well to learn from, and act upon, these examples of long-term effects.

After reading Teles’ book, I consulted a few other sources (see below). In general, they seem to agree with Teles’ basic account. Moreover, my subjective impression of Teles’ book was that it is an unusually impressive piece of historical scholarship. Indeed, of the >50 book-length histories I read or skimmed for this project, it might be the most impressive. For these reasons, I think Teles’ basic account of the history of the CLM, and what lessons can most reasonably be drawn from it, are a reasonable best guess for what an outsider like myself should think, given that I wanted to invest <10 hours studying the history of the field.

The role of philanthropy

Funding for the CLM seems to have come from a mix of philanthropic and corporate sources, with the ratio between the two changing over time, and the role of corporate funding seemingly larger than has been the case for the LLN. It has also been fairly concentrated, relative to e.g. the funding for environmentalism.

Funding for the CLM has also been a mix of “passive” and “active” funding (see this blog post). For example, much of the funding that Henry Manne raised was passive, but this sometimes led to later active funding — most notably with the Olin Foundation. The Olin Foundation learned about law and economics from Henry Manne, did some reading about it, and then became by far the field’s largest funder for multiple decades, and became very active and strategic in its approach, eventually coordinating its spending with other major philanthropists to maximize their collective impact.28 Certainly, the foundations influenced by the Horowitz Report pursued an active and strategic funding approach during certain periods.

American geriatrics and the John A. Hartford Foundation

Annotated bibliography for this section

By the early 1980s, geriatric medicine had developed into a medical specialty with its own journals, textbooks, and professional societies, but it was still fairly small (in the U.S.) relative to the size of the aging “baby boomer” generation. Recognizing this, the John A. Hartford Foundation decided to pull out of other areas and focus almost exclusively on building up the field of geriatrics.

The Hartford Foundation launched an ambitious program that funded geriatrics training and research among medical doctors, nurses, and social workers. This included funding for new centers, doctoral candidates and post-doctoral researchers, training for practitioners and for the trainers themselves, geriatrics research, curriculum development, awards, and the direct improvement of health care services available to the elderly. The Foundation also worked with grantees to get licensing agencies to include geriatric questions on medical licensing exams, which created additional incentive for educational institutions to improve their coverage of geriatrics.

As of 2012, the Hartford Foundation had made 560 geriatrics-related grants, worth $451 million, and it is widely regarded as one of the most important actors in growing the field of geriatrics in the United States, perhaps second only to the Veterans Administration.29 There is little doubt that American geriatrics would have grown much more slowly without the Hartford Foundation.

Overall, my sense of the Hartford Foundation’s geriatrics efforts — from the few sources I consulted; see below — is that they funded most of the things one would “naturally” be tempted to fund when trying to quickly scale up a field like geriatrics, and many of the things they funded worked quite well, and some of the things they funded had disappointing results, and in general their strategy made sense at a high level and basically “worked,” though it’s somewhat hard to judge the “efficiency” of the money spent. In all these senses, the Hartford Foundation’s geriatrics work is a prototypical example of what I observed when studying several other cases of early field growth (that I don’t summarize here).

American environmentalism

Annotated bibliography for this section

As most histories tell the story (see below), the modern American environmental movement coalesced, in the 1960s and 70s, from a variety of old and new concerns and activities — especially, from the conservation movement and anti-pollution activism, but also from newer concerns such as fear of nuclear contamination and resource depletion.

Despite these earlier sources, it seems fair to say that environmental concern and activism “exploded” in the 60s and 70s. For example:

  • Opinion polls show a dramatic rise in concern for the environment in the last 1960s. E.g. in a Gallup poll of which national problems should receive more government attention, the percentage of respondents selecting “reducing pollution of air and water” rose from 17% to 53% during 1965-1970, and its rank among the 17% who selected it in 1965 was 9th (of 10) whereas its rank among the 53% who selected it in 1970 was 2nd.30
  • “In 1969… only two full-time lobbyists served the environmental movement. By 1975, the [leading] twelve organizations… employed 40 lobbyists; a decade later the number of environmental lobbyists had swelled to 88…”31
  • Environmental concerns were barely “on the radar” in America in 1960, but by 1970 public interest had swelled such that the inaugural Earth Day (Apr. 22, 1970) involved 20 million participants (10% of the nation) at ~12,000 locally-organized events across the country — much larger than any nationwide event from the civil rights or anti-war activities of the time.32
  • There were a few important cases of environmental legislation before 1960, but most of the key American environmental legislation was passed in the 60s and 70s: the Clean Water Act (1960), the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963), the Wilderness Act (1964), the Water Quality Act (1965), the Solid Waste Disposal Act (1965), the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970), the Water Pollution Control Act (1972), the Endangered Species Act (1973), the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976), and especially the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, 1969), among others. The Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970.
  • About half of the 30 leading national environmental organizations studied in Bosso (2005) were founded between 1967 and 1973.
  • Of the 5 largest environmental organizations in existence in 1950, 3 experienced explosive membership growth during the 60s and 70s (one other stayed steady, and another grew modestly). Between 1960 and 1985, the Wilderness Society grew from 10,000 to 52,000 members (5x), the National Audubon Society grew from 32,000 to 400,000 members (12.5x), and the Sierra Club grew from 16,500 to 246,000 members (15x).33

What role did philanthropy play? According to Bosso (2005), “Foundations provided critical seed capital to virtually every organization created during environmentalism’s formative years in the 1960s and early 1970s, and several depended heavily on foundation support until they were compelled to diversify…”34 Philanthropists also funded several other landmark environmental activities, for example Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. That said, the formation and early growth of the environmental movement seems to have been more grassroots-driven than philanthropist-driven, at least relative to most of the other case studies I looked at (including those not discussed here). For example, major philanthropists seem to have assisted a negligible portion of the ~12,000 local events that comprised the first Earth Day, and the largest and most influential environmental organizations get most of their support individuals and small-scale philanthropists rather than from major foundations. (The opposite is true for, say, neoliberalism and American geriatrics, which have been mostly funded by a relatively small number of actors.)

As a result, the success of the environmental movement seems unlikely to be explained by any particular “strategy” executed by a small number of actors (as is the case for neoliberalism, American geriatrics, and several other cases). Environmentalism mostly doesn’t seem to be a case of “one or more major philanthropists wanted to grow the field, so they funded most of the things one would ‘naturally’ fund to grow a field of this sort, and those things often but not always worked.” There was some of that, but less than in the case of (say) neoliberalism or American geriatrics.

In other words, the success of environmentalism seems to have been relatively “organic” and even accidental. This seems largely true for the sudden growth of environmental concern in the United States, but it also seems true about many of environmentalism’s specific accomplishments.

For example, consider what is in retrospect (and by its own lights) one of the movement’s greatest successes: NEPA’s requirement that all executive federal agencies perform environmental assessments in advance of major projects and, if warranted by the project, prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). NEPA itself was the work of senator Henry Jackson, a long-time conservationist who came up with the bill in 1968. The major environmental organizations appear to have played basically no role in its development or passage, and they didn’t seem to think it was a big deal even immediately after it passed. NEPA’s language about environmental impact statements was quite vague, and nearly didn’t make the final version of the bill. Environmentalists eventually noticed that the bill implied they could sue agencies when they failed to produce EISs or when the EISs they did produce were deemed (by environmentalists) to be inaccurate or insufficient. Then, in another stroke of luck for environmentalists, the initial precedent-setting court rulings tended to interpret NEPA’s vague language about EISs to be very broadly applicable, to include both direct and indirect impacts, and in general to require fairly extensive research into potential environmental impacts. Since then, NEPA-enabled lawsuits have been one of the environmental movement’s most important tools in their fight for environmental protection.35

The success of the environmental movement contrasts with the success of neoliberalism is another way. Whereas much of neoliberalism’s success may be explained by the fact that neoliberal policies disproportionately benefit big businesses and their wealthy owners, who have been in a position to provide neoliberalism with massive funding, it is difficult to tell a similar story about environmentalism. If anything, environmentalist activities tend to obstruct the projects of big businesses and their wealthy owners. Indeed, the benefits of environmentalist activities tend to be quite diffuse, uncertain, and geographically and temporally distant. Moreover, some environmentalist activities have virtually no (material) benefits to any political actors, as they are instead aimed at benefiting animals and ecosystems. Given this, the success of environmentalism is especially surprising, in a way that (e.g.) the success of neoliberalism is perhaps not as surprising.

Animal advocacy

Annotated bibliography for this section

Advocacy and activism on behalf of the welfare, rights, and interests of non-human animals — what I’ll call “animal advocacy” — has ancient roots in a variety of religious and philosophical traditions. Here, I focus instead on the “modern” animal advocacy movement that arose in Europe and the United States during the 19th century, with a special focus on farm animal welfare advocacy in the United States since the 1950s. (Farm animal welfare is a focus area of ours.)

I consulted several sources on the history of animal advocacy (see below); my impressions are below.

Before 1950

  • As far as I know, no organization specifically aimed at protecting or promoting animal welfare existed in any country before the 1800s,36 though there were occasional writings published, and laws passed, against animal cruelty.
  • In 1809, a Society for the Suppression and Prevention of Wanton Cruelty to Animals was founded in Liverpool, but it didn’t last long. In 1824, Reverend Arthur Broome created (in London) the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which in 1840 was granted royal status by Queen Victoria and was thus renamed the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Besides Broome, other founding members included William Wilberforce (also a prominent advocate for abolition and children’s welfare) and Richard Martin (who had helped pass the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act in 1822). The RSPCA directly inspired the creation of many similar groups in other areas, including in Northern Ireland (1836), Scotland (1839), Ireland (1840), the United States (1866), New Zealand (1882), Australia (1871), and Hong Kong (1903).
  • In its early days, the RSCPA focused on the treatment of draft and working animals (including e.g. horses pulling carriages and animals induced to fight for public entertainment), but also engaged in some advocacy on behalf of farm animals, and against animal experiments (vivisection).
  • Inspired by the RSPCA, diplomat Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in New York in 1866, which initially focused on the welfare of working horses and livestock.
  • In 1877, 27 animal welfare groups from around the U.S. were invited to a meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, to discuss the mistreatment of farm animals during their transport across the U.S., and these groups combined to from the International Humane Association, later renamed the American Humane Association (AHA). One of the AHA’s first activities was to help enforce an 1873 law preventing animals from being transported for longer than 28 hours without being given 5 hours of rest. Strong enforcement was maintained for a few decades, but then declined.
  • Around the world, the animal advocacy movement went into decline during the first half of the 20th century — no doubt in part due to the interruptions of two world wars — though of course animal advocates continued to win some victories during this period.

In general, why did the organized animal advocacy movement arise in the 19th century? Given what I’ve read, Ryder (1998)’s answer to this question seems like a reasonable guess (pp. 25-26):

After the Reformation in northern Europe the monasteries declined and good works became increasingly secularized. Rich patrons, often in partnership with the Church, set up schools and other institutions to help the poor and needy… In the late eighteenth century, philanthropic reform flourished in Britain, and a number of new humane organizations were founded, notably the Royal Humane Society in 1774. Criticisms of the slave trade increased, voiced often by the very same poets and essayists who were to attack cruelty to animals… The concern for the suffering of nonhumans was often expressed by leading philanthropists, although it was usually expressed a little later in their careers than was their [concern] for humans. Similarly, the foundation of [the RSPCA] in 1824 was some forty or fifty years after structurally equivalent bodies had been first set up for the purposes of human welfare. Throughout the nineteenth century, humane foundations proliferated; it is wrong, therefore, to assume that the animal welfare movement was anything but a part of this general compassionate movement. To argue that it was the increasing urbanization of the period that gave people a more humane view of animals is to ignore the synchronously increasing concern for the well-being of their own species. Far more convincing, surely, is the view that the new general affluence of the period allowed compassionate people to institutionalize their concerns generally and make them effective. The increasing democracy of this period, too, meant that during the nineteenth century politicians also became involved in the reform movements, motivated sometimes by a sense of Christian duty, sometimes by simple compassion and sometimes by more political considerations.

After 1950

  • Christine Stevens founded the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) in 1951, and launched its legislative division — the Society for Animal Protective Legislation (SAPL) — in 1954. These organizations initially focused on animal experimentation, but later broadened their activities. They helped pass the Humane Slaughter Act in 1958, and later helped pass other legislation such as the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act. In 2006, AWI launched the Animal Welfare Approved standards program.
  • In 1954, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) split off from the AHA. HSUS also helped to pass the Humane Slaughter Act, among many other activities.
  • Factory farming was invented in the 1920 but its popularity grew slowly. In 1964, Ruth Harrison published (in the U.K.) the first major exposé on factory farming, Animal Machines. The resulting public outrage led to a commission on the topic headed by zoology professor Roger Brambell. The commission eventually released the “Brambell Report,” which recommended various regulations to protect animal welfare, and proposed the influential “Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare”: (1) freedom from hunger or thirst, (2) freedom from discomfort, (3) freedom from pain, injury, or disease, (4) freedom to express most normal behavior, and (5) freedom from fear and distress.
  • Philosopher Peter Singer read Animal Machines, and in 1973 wrote a book review of a collection of essays by Harrison and others on animal welfare issues. Singer expanded the ideas in that review into a book published in 1975, Animal Liberation. This book is plausibly the most influential document in modern animal advocacy. It has sold millions of copies, and multiple sources I consulted suggested that most animal activists seem to own a copy. When Open Philanthropy Project Program Officer Lewis Bollard asked ~40 current leaders in the animal welfare movement what had originally influenced them to become involved, more than half of respondents mentioned Animal Liberation specifically.37
  • In New York, Henry Spira encountered Singer’s work and founded Animal Rights International (ARI) in 1974. Initially, ARI focused on opposing animal testing, launching highly successful campaigns against the American Museum of Natural History (which was experimenting on cats) and Revlon (for its testing of cosmetic products on animals). In the 1990s, Spira shifted his focus to factory farming, so that he could have an impact on larger numbers of animals.
  • In 1972, Ronnie Lee founded the Animal Liberation Front in Britain, a radical coalition of activists who engage in (often illegal) direct action on behalf of animal rights, for example by removing animals from farms and research laboratories, and by destroying facilities.
  • In 1980, Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA initially focused on animal testing and veganism, but in the 1990s shifted more attention to farm animal welfare. PETA has also conducted undercover investigations, and courted celebrity promotion of veganism.
  • In the 1990s, Spira and PETA collaborated on a campaign against McDonald’s, which resulted in the first major commitments brought by corporate campaigns. Burger King and several other fast food companies soon made similar commitments, which were guided by a 1996 survey of slaughterhouses conducted by Temple Grandin for the USDA. Grandin “recommended design changes for slaughterhouses and stricter inspection stipulations; e.g., finding more than 1% of cattle to be conscious when hoisted up for slaughter (“sensible on the rail”) would be grounds for automatic failure, and companies (e.g. McDonald’s) would stop buying from that farm. This resulted in a very rapid shift (within roughly a year) from a high proportion of animals being incorrectly stunned and slaughtered to general compliance with the 1% regulation. These reforms affected cattle and pig slaughterhouses…”38
  • In 2000, in part due to campaigns against corporations, several major fast food companies began to require larger cages for egg-laying hens, and called for an end to forced starvation molting.
  • In 2008, an undercover investigation by HSUS captured video of inhumane treatment of “spent” dairy cows at a Hallmark/Westland slaughterhouse. This footage may have gotten more prominent media coverage than any previous undercover investigations. The USDA ruled that Hallmark/Westland had violated its regulations, the plant was closed, and the largest meat recall in U.S. history was launched. Hallmark/Westland was also sued by multiple parties, and went out of business. After this, USDA enforcement actions jumped from about 5/year to 100/year.
  • HSUS and other organized led some ballot measure campaigns from the 80s onward, but these didn’t focus much on farm animal welfare until the 2000s. In 2008, a ballot measure in California (Prop 2) banning gestation crates and veal crates passed. Prop 2 was also designed to ban battery cages, though this ultimately failed because regulators interpreted it to allow for larger battery cages. Nonetheless, this success had substantial flow-though effects. For example, HSUS next announced its intention to introduce a similar ballot measure in Michigan, and to avoid a costly campaign, Michigan agricultural producers instead lobbied the state to ban battery cages and gestation crates, but on a more lenient timeline than a ballot measure would likely have allowed. HSUS then announced a similar ballot measure in Colorado, prompting the pork industry to lobby the state for a ban on gestation crates. HSUS’s subsequent announcement of plans for a similar ballot measure in Ohio led to a compromise, as the agriculture industry agreed to a ban on gestation crates and veal crates but only put a moratorium on building new battery cages.
  • In the late 2000s, in response to a variety of pressures, several U.S. meat producers began to pledge to phase out gestation crates and, a bit later, battery cages.
  • In Europe, some countries have banned veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages, and many countries have other animal welfare-related regulations. Compared to the United States, relatively more of these developments might have been the work of technocratic officials rather than the work of organized advocacy groups. Of course, many victories in the space continue to be largely the work of Europe’s leading advocacy groups, for example the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), Eurogroup for Animals,
  • Outside the U.S. and Europe, there has been relatively little organized animal welfare work until the last decade or so.


Most animal welfare organizations in history seem to have relied on the support of members and relatively small donors. In other words, animal advocacy has been a mostly grassroots movement. As far as I can tell, large philanthropists have entered the space only recently, including The Price is Right host Bob Barker and others. Some of these philanthropists seem to be engaged in active and strategic field-building.39

Annotated bibliography of the key sources I consulted


  • Baker, Before Bioethics (2013). The last chapter is perhaps the best short “explanatory” history of bioethics available. The other chapters mostly cover the period before the time of “bioethics.”
  • Rothman, Strangers at the Bedside (1991). The first book-length history of the field, by a professional historian, and probably the one to read if you want to read only one book on the history of bioethics. Focuses on how new medical technologies and several research scandals affected the relations between patients and doctors, creating demand for external oversight of the medical community.
  • Jonsen, The Birth of Bioethics (1998). Another decent book-length history of the field, by one of the co-authors of the Belmont Report. Slightly less of a “story” than Rothman’s account; more like a long list of who did and said what, and when — a format that has some advantages, but might be less engaging to read than Rothman’s history.
  • Callahan, “The Hastings Center and the Early Years of Bioethics” (1999). A short history of the founding and early years of the Hastings Center, by its first president.
  • Beauchamp, “The Origins, Goals, and Core Commitments of the Belmont Report and Principles of Biomedical Ethics” (2003). The inside story of how two foundational documents of the field were produced, written by those documents’ primary author. Corrects some errors in other accounts.
  • Fox & Swazey, Observing Bioethics (2008). The first chapter is a short history of American bioethics, and the other chapters examine a variety of specific events or issues in the history of the field. For example, there’s a chapter on the gala inauguration of the Kennedy Institute, another on how the media reacted to Dolly the cloned sheep, and two others on bioethics in France and Pakistan.
  • Stevens, Bioethics in America (2000). Stevens, a sociologist, sees bioethics as part of the social critique of science arising in the 1960s. Less detailed and comprehensive than Rothman’s or Jonsen’s histories.
  • Evans, The History and Future of Bioethics (2011). Evans, a sociologist, examines the struggle between different factions of bioethics for jurisdictional authority over medical ethics.
  • Koch, Thieves of Virtue (2012). Contains a few chapters on the history of bioethics, written by a critic of the field (or at least, a critic of the specific way it developed).
  • Baker et al. (eds.), The American Medical Ethics Revolution (1999). A collection of chapters about the history of American medical ethics before (or beyond) bioethics, but with some commentary on the field of bioethics along the way (see the index).


Molecular nanotechnology

  • Drexler, Radical Abundance (2013). Chapters 2-3 tell some of the history of molecular nanotechnology (MNT), from the perspective of the person most responsible for launching the field.
  • Regis, Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition (1990), Nano (1995), and “The incredible shrinking man” (2004). The first is a popular science book covering some of the history of MNT alongside other subjects; the second is devoted entirely to the history of MNT. The third is a short profile of K. Eric Drexler, and how he came to be sidelined from the field he had created, or at least by the field it had become.
  • McCray, The Visioneers (2012). A combined history of people working toward space colonization and MNT.
  • Wikipedia, “History of nanotechnology.”
  • Edwards, The Nanotech Pioneers: Where Are They Taking Us? (2006). Includes sections with short bios of some of the key people (Feynman, Drexler, Merkle, Kurzweil, etc.), and some other sections telling how some MNT-related scientific developments came about (electron microscopes, STMs, buckyballs, carbon nanotubes, etc.). Also includes a chapter on some funders of MNT-related work, and another chapter on the history of safety concerns about MNT.
  • Berube, Nano-Hype (2006). Covers much of the history of MNT from the perspective of hype and counter-hype.
  • Selin, “Expectations and the Emergence of Nanotechnology” (2007). A short history of MNT and nanotechnology, and how the expectations and definitions for each have shifted over time.
  • Milburn, Nanovision (2008). Covers much of the history of MNT, from the perspective of its relations to both science and science fiction.
  • Toumey, “Tracing and Disputing the Story of Nanotechnology” (2010). Very short history of nanotechnology, including MNT, and why people’s stories about the origins of the field might differ somewhat.
  • Mody, Instrumental Community (2011). A sociologist’s ethnography of the small community of people working in nanotechnology with scanning-tunneling microscopes and related tools. Chapter 6 discusses Drexler and MNT at some length.


  • Jones, Masters of the Universe (2012). Possibly the most helpful single-volume history of neoliberalism up to ~1985, plus a special chapter on neoliberalism in housing policy up to 2000.
  • Jackson, “At the Origins of Neo-Liberalism” (2010), “The think-tank archipelago” (2012), and “Currents of Neo-Liberalism” (2016). To my untrained eye, Jackson’s work seems to be some of the most “careful” historical analysis of the history of neoliberalism. The first article argues that many early neoliberals thought their enemy was not the welfare state by socialist central planning, thought substantial regulation and redistribution were essential to the maintaining a free society, and were wary of 19th-century liberalism and capitalism. The second article focuses on British neoliberal think tanks and their influence on the media and politicians (primarily Thatcher). The third article distinguishes different flavors of neoliberalism, and discusses how they have diverged and mixed in the history British intellectual thought.
  • Vaughan, “What the EA community can learn from the rise of the neoliberals” (2016). Very brief history of neoliberalism, plus some points about strategy largely borrowed from Alkire & Ritchie (see below). Early discussions of this article are what brought neoliberalism to my attention as a promising case study.
  • Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands (2009). Tells the story of neoliberalism as a corporate reaction against the New Deal, focusing on the efforts of less-discussed figures such as W.C. Mullendore, Leonard Read, and Jasper Crane.
  • Cockett, Thinking the Unthinkable (1994). A history of the rise of neoliberalism in Britain, focused on the activities of the academics and think tanks.
  • Yergin & Stanislaw, The Commanding Heights (1998). A truly global history of the rise of neoliberalism, and market-oriented thinking more generally. Includes chapters on China, India, Latin America, etc.
  • Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005). A detailed history of neoliberalism written by one of its critics. Harvey’s history perceives neoliberalism as a political project of the corporate class.
  • Beder, Free Market Missionaries (2006). Focuses on corporate efforts to advocate neoliberal values and ideas.
  • Steger & Roy, Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction (2010). Very short history of neoliberal policies and politicians around the world, almost entirely focused on the period after 1980.
  • Burgin, The Great Persuasion (2012). Mostly focused on the activities of the Mont Pèlerin Society in the mid-20th century.
  • Kotz, The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (2015). Tells the story of neoliberalism in the United States from the perspective of capital accumulation theory, and argues that the 2008 financial crisis was a of consequence U.S.-style neoliberalism.
  • Mirowski & Plehwe (eds.), The Road from Mont Pèlerin (2009). A collection of essays on specific issues or episodes in the history of neoliberalism. For example there are chapters on the rise of neoliberalism in Britain, France, Germany, and Chicago; there are chapters on neoliberal arguments with trade unions and corporations; and chapters on neoliberal mobilization in Latin America.
  • Aligica & Evans, The Neoliberal Revolution in Eastern Europe (2009). Focuses on the spread of neoliberal ideas to Eastern Europe.
  • Alkire & Ritchie, “Winning Ideas: Lessons from Free Market Economics” (2007). A brief attempt to identify the “strategic levers that underlay the success of free market economists in promoting their approach.”
  • Djelic, “Spreading Ideas to Change the World” (2014). Working draft of a short history of neoliberal think tanks; forthcoming as “Building an architecture for political influence” in Garsten & Sörbom (2017).
  • Blyth, Great Transformations (2002). Part III examines the rise of neoliberalism in the United States and Sweden, through the lens of Karl Polanyi’s theories about institutional change.
  • Hohle, Race and the Origins of American Neoliberalism (2015). Hohle, a critic of neoliberalism, argues that the black civil rights movement “inadvertently created the conditions that made the neoliberal turn in America possible,” and that the “politics of neoliberalism is built on race rather than class.”
  • Howard & King, The Rise of Neoliberalism in Advanced Capitalist Economies (2008). Explains the rise of neoliberalism through the lens of historical materialism (a type of Marxist analysis).
  • Klein, The Shock Doctrine (2007). Argues that neoliberals have deliberately exploited national crises to push through largely unwanted neoliberal policies while citizens are too distracted by the ongoing crisis to mount an effective resistance.
  • Springer et al., Handbook of Neoliberalism (2016). Includes several chapters on various aspects of the history of neoliberalism.
  • Blundell, Sons of Wichita (2014). Chapter 6 is a profile of Charles Koch's efforts to spread neoliberalism. (Koch is one of neoliberalism's largest funders of the past few decades.)
  • Skocpol & Hertel-Fernandez, "The Koch Network and the Rightward Shift in U.S. Politics” (2016). Another analysis of the role of the Koch brothers in funding neoliberalism.
  • Davies, “Neoliberalism: A Bibliographic Review” (2014). A review of major works on different pieces of the history of neoliberalism.

Conservative legal movement

American geriatrics

American environmentalism

Animal advocacy


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Alkire & Ritchie (2007)Source (archive)
Alm (1988)Source (archive)
American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, ASBH HistorySource (archive)
Andrews (2006)Source (archive)
Animal Welfare ApprovedSource (archive)
Avery & McLaughlin (2013)Source (archive)
Baker (2013)Source (archive)
Baker et al. (1999)Source (archive)
Beauchamp (2003)Source (archive)
Beder (2006)Source (archive)
Beers (2006)Source (archive)
Ben-Ami 2015Source
Berube (2006)Source (archive)
Bioethics Research Library, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown UniversitySource (archive)
Blosh (2012)Source (archive)
Blundell (2007)Source (archive)
Blyth (2002)Source (archive)
Bosso (2005)Source (archive)
Brown (1974)Source (archive)
Brulle & Jenkins (2005)Source
Brulle et al. (2004)Source
Burgin (2012)Source (archive)
Callahan (1999)Source (archive)
Chemical and Engineering News, “Bioethics center: an idea whose time had come”Source (archive)
Cherry (2016)Source
Cockett (1994)Source (archive)
Davies (2014)Source (archive)
Davis (2016)Source (archive)
de Wolf & Bridge, Preserving Minds, Saving LivesPreserving Minds, Saving LivesSource (archive)
Decker (2016)Source (archive)
Djelic (2014)Source (archive)
Drexler (1986)Source (archive)
Drexler (2013)Source (archive)
Dreyfus & Ingram (1976)Source (archive)
Dunlap (1991)Source (archive)
Dunlap & Mertig (1992)Source
Edwards (2006)Source (archive)
Evans (2011)Source (archive)
Fagin et al. (2008)Source (archive)
Finsen & Finsen (1994)Source (archive)
Flippen (2000)Source (archive)
Fox & Swazey (2008)Source (archive)
Garsten & Sörbom (2017)Source (archive)
Georgetown University, “Kennedy Foundation gives $1,350,000 to establish institute for bioethics at Georgetown University”Source (archive)
Georgetown University, “Project on Bioethics in American Society Interview with Tom L. Beauchamp”Source (archive)
Gordon (2012)Source (archive)
Gottlieb (2005)Source (archive)
Guither (1998)Source (archive)
Harvey (2005)Source (archive)
Hays (1987)Source (archive)
Hays (2000)Source (archive)
Hohle (2015)Source (archive)
Hollis-Brusky (2015)Source (archive)
Howard & King (2008)Source (archive)
Irving (2000)Source (archive)
Jackson (2010)Source (archive)
Jackson (2012)Source
Jackson (2016)Source (archive)
Jacobson (1984)Source (archive)
James F. Childress, Undergraduate Bioethics Program, University of VirginiaSource (archive)
Jasper & Nelkin (1992)Source
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Jonsen (1998)Source (archive)
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Kean (1998)Source (archive)
Kershner (2011)Source (archive)
Klein (2007)Source (archive)
Kline (2011)Source (archive)
Koch (2012)Source (archive)
Kotz (2015)Source (archive)
Lear (1997)Source (archive)
Luther (2005)Source (archive)
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Mann (2009)Source (archive)
McCray (2012)Source (archive)
Merchant (2002)Source (archive)
Michigan State University, Twenty Eight Hour LawSource (archive)
Milburn (2008)Source (archive)
Miller (2005)Source (archive)
Mirowski & Plehwe (2009)Source (archive)
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Mody (2011)Source (archive)
Moen (2015)Source (archive)
Montrie (2011)Source (archive)
Morley (2004)Source (archive)
Moss (1961)Source (archive)
Mulley (2012)Source (archive)
Neas (2001)Source (archive)
Newkirk (2000)Source
Our non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Lewis Bollard, February 23, 2017Source
Our non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Norman Volk, April 1, 2016Source
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Phelps (2007)Source (archive)
Phillips-Fein (2009)Source (archive)
Potential case studies in early field growthSource
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Regenstreif et al. (2004)Source (archive)
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Rothman (1991)Source (archive)
Rothman (1998)Source (archive)
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Vaughan (2016)Source (archive)
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Wikipedia, American Civil Liberties UnionSource (archive)
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Wikipedia, Animal Liberation FrontSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Animal Welfare Act of 1966Source (archive)
Wikipedia, Animal Welfare InstituteSource (archive)
Wikipedia, BioethicsSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Bob BarkerSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Boundary-workSource (archive)
Wikipedia, California Proposition 2 (2008)Source (archive)
Wikipedia, Chicago BoysSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Colloque Walter LippmannSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Compassion in World FarmingSource (archive)
Wikipedia, CryonicsSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Economic liberalismSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Endangered Species Act of 1973Source (archive)
Wikipedia, Environmental impact statementSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Eurogroup for AnimalsSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Federalist SocietySource (archive)
Wikipedia, GeriatricsSource (archive)
Wikipedia, History of nanotechnologySource (archive)
Wikipedia, Humane Slaughter ActSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Intensive animal farmingSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Kennedy Institute of EthicsSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Law and economicsSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Legal clinicSource (archive)
Wikipedia, National Association for the Advancement of Colored PeopleSource (archive)
Wikipedia, National Endowment for the HumanitiesSource (archive)
Wikipedia, National Environmental Policy ActSource (archive)
Wikipedia, National Nanotechnology InitiativeSource (archive)
Wikipedia, NeoliberalismSource (archive)
Wikipedia, New DealSource (archive)
Wikipedia, People for the Ethical Treatment of AnimalsSource (archive)
Wikipedia, Public interest lawSource (archive)
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  • 1. See especially the spreadsheet of case studies from The Foundation: A Great American Secret linked from “Philanthropy’s Success Stories” and Ben Soskis’ extended bibliography of documents related to the history of philanthropy.

  • 2. My final list of potential case studies is available in this spreadsheet.

  • 3. For example, Jonsen (1998) describes medical ethics before the dawn of “bioethics” as roughly synonymous with “competently and professionally doing what is best for the patient,” without much attention paid to the concerns that would later dominate bioethics, such as autonomy or the boundaries of “human nature”:

    Picture a country doctor trudging through a field under a stormy sky. Black bag in hand, his body droops in weariness and his face is marked with worry about the little girl whose serious injury he has been summoned to treat. This cover shot for a 1948 Life photoessay, “Country Doctor,” “created an earnest, empathetic portrait of an American folk hero.” Dr. Ernest Ceriani, the story’s Colorado country doctor… was part of a profession held in high esteem. Dr. Ceriani was a competent physician: he could diagnose and offer good advice about many illnesses. He could even treat a few of them. He could set a fracture and suture a wound. But beyond these skills, his earnestness and empathy won him respect. He was on call twenty-four hours a day. When called, he responded; when he undertook care, he stayed to the end. He was gentle but firm, honest but discreet, a thoroughly trustworthy confidante. He expended energy and time, often compensated only with gratitude. He practiced alone, his medical judgment unfettered by any supervisor. The doctor’s ethics, even more than his power to cure, made him, if not an American folk hero, at least a paradigm of moral probity.

    This was one portrait of the American doctor at the end of the first half of this century. The aura of moral probity surrounded not only the country doctor but also the Park Avenue specialist and the medical school professor…

    Dr. Ceriani probably did not think much about “medical ethics.” He may have recited the Hippocratic Oath at his graduation… Although its actual words may have faded from memory, he probably believed that the Oath imposed upon him certain firm duties: he was to heal, not harm; if asked to extinguish life, either at its beginning or at its end, he must refuse; he must keep the strictest confidence. If he attended his county medical society meeting, he heard the AMA’s [American Medical Association’s] indictment of prepaid group practices cropping up here and there as unethical, because their arrangements compromised the physician’s judgment about what was best for the patient. He would have also learned that the proposals for compulsory health insurance surfacing in a few state legislatures were equally unethical, because government would dictate the conditions for care…

    …For doctors like Ernest Ceriani, medical ethics was incarnate in their behavior and character and in the social arrangements that sustained the solidarity, respectability, and educated competence of the profession. There were ethical battles to be fought, such as those against quackery, but there were few ethical dilemmas about the doctor’s duties. As late as 1966, a series of editorials commenting on the AMA Principles of Medical Ethics contains no hint of moral perplexity…

    The expansive [1847 code of ethics produced by the American Medical Association] was revised under the new name, Principles of Medical Ethics, in 1903 and again in 1912, each time becoming briefer and less rhetorical. In 1957, a major revision cut the Principles down to ten terse statements that in form were reminiscent of the biblical decalogue (these were reduced again in 1966 to seven principles). Stated in very general terms, the Principles urge physicians to respect the rights of their patients, to keep up their skills, to accept the discipline of the profession, to consult when necessary, to keep confidences, and to be good citizens. They also forbid physicians to practice in circumstances where their independent medical judgment might be restricted or to obtain professional income other than remuneration for services. Ethics becomes almost synonymous with rules for professional cohesion and respectability.

  • 4. For example, Callahan (1999) describes the founding of one of the early centers for bioethics, the Hastings Center, as a product of “increased public scrutiny of medicine and its practices,” “the concern about the moral problems being generated by technological developments,” plus a personal reason.

    Like most histories of bioethics, Jonsen (1998), ch. 1 identifies the 1960s as an especially pivotal decade:

    Even though medical ethics, bioethics’ predecessor, was shaken by notable and notorious events, it was a slow accumulation of concerns about the ambiguity of scientific progress that turned the old medical ethics into the new paths of bioethics. Contributors to scientific progress began to express their concerns during the 1960s, in occasional writings and at professional meetings and public conferences. They worried that the old tradition of medical ethics was too frail to meet the ethical challenges posed by the new science and medicine.

    [Before the dawn of bioethics, there were] ethical battles to be fought, such as those against quackery, but there were few ethical dilemmas about the doctor’s duties. As late as 1966, a series of editorials commenting on the AMA Principles of Medical Ethics contains no hint of moral perplexity… Yet, by the end of the 1960s, this optimism about the lucidity and sufficiency of the old ethics had begun to waver…

    Those misgivings anticipated bioethics and the bioethics that soon appeared was a “new ethic,” a break from the old medical ethics…

    The 1950s reveled in the progress of medicine and these medical advances were seen as undiluted goods. As the 1960s dawned, this unalloyed optimism began to falter and qualms began to tweak the conscience of those who were responsible for the advances in medicine and science…

    During the 1960s, a few leading medical scientists… aired their qualms of conscience at unprecedented conferences, ruminating before their colleagues and even lay audiences about the social and ethical problems involved in medical and scientific progress. Although their consciences were not as tortured as those of many atomic scientists who had seen their theories used to incinerate 100,000 people, the biomedical scientists nonetheless initiated serious dialogue about their work…

    Baker (2013), pp. 274-275, also suggests the mid-1960s as the dawn of bioethics, even though the key transformations to medical decision-making happened in the following decade:

    To date, five English-language monographs have been published on the history of bioethics: David Rothman’s Strangers at the Bedside (1991), Albert Jonsen’s The Birth of Bioethics (1998), Tina Stevens’s Bioethics in America (2000), Renée Fox and Judith Swazey’s Observing Bioethics (2008), and John Evans’ The History and Future of Bioethics (2012). All five accounts are in substantial agreement about the What, When, Where, Who, and How bioethics was conceived and born… On the basic question of “what happened” and “when,” they concur with Rothman’s aptly titled history: what happened was that a group of strangers to medicine — bureaucrats, ex-theologians, lawyers, legislators, philosophers, and social scientists — transformed medical decision making. Where and when this occurred was in America, in the 1970s. They have somewhat less agreement on how this happened, but all concur that the climate of ideas and the institutional changes that gave bioethicists entrée into the closed world of medicine occurred in the mid-1960s, well before the advent of bioethicists themselves.

    For more on the role of “morally disruptive technologies” in the birth of bioethics, see Baker (2013), pp. 299-303.

    For more on how the professional medical community saw detailed ethical analysis as a “distraction,” see the quotes from Baker (2013) in the main text, and also pp. 316-317 from that book.

  • 5. According to several accounts, theologians had an outsized early impact on the field of bioethics. For example, Jonsen (1998), ch. 2, writes:

    The scientists who gathered at the conferences of the early 1960s confessed their concerns about the problems raised by the new medicine and biology, and they often called those problems “ethical.” …When scholars from the classical disciplines of theology and philosophy joined those early conversations, they brought a sharper concept of ethics… the critical, analytic study of the norms for human behavior. These professional students of ethics molded these conversations into a shape designed by their disciplines, their traditions, and their personalities. The bioethics that began to appear during the 1970s, while generated by the new medicine and science encountering human values and customs, was their creation. Theologians were the first to appear on the scene.

    However, the theologians’ influence on the field waned over time, relative to the (secular) philosophers. E.g. Callahan (1999) writes:

    As the [Hastings] Center developed during its early years, a number of events were taking place in the field of bioethics to raise the latter’s stature and increase its influence. In the summer of 1974, the philosopher Samuel Gorovitz organized a conference at Haverford College that brought together a large number of philosophers drawn to the field. Until that time, the major figures from ethics tended to have a religious and theological background. The entrance of the philosophers radically tilted the field in a secular direction. This shift was not simply because most of the philosophers were not religious, but more tellingly because they had little use for the theologians and their style of ethical discourse, which they labeled vague, fuzzy, and latently sectarian, not up to the rigorous standards of a more public role for bioethics. After the mid-1970s, I had a constant struggle (which never really ended) to get the philosophers among our fellows even to tolerate theologians at our project meetings: “what’s the point?” they said.

    …What might be called the secularization of the field was given an even sharper nudge by the establishment of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects in 1974, in great part because of the interest of Senator Walter Mondale, one of our first fellows… Although the ethical problems of human subjects research provided the main impetus for the Commission, its work gave bioethics considerable visibility and placed a premium on developing the language and way of thinking about bioethics that would carry weight in the public sphere. It was the secular philosophers together with the lawyers in the field who provided those ingredients. The theologians continued to be read for a time, but their influence gradually diminished. The Belmont Report, a product of the work of the National Commission (1979), helped to advance the moral theory that became known as principlism, which in turn was further advanced by the work of Tom Beauchamp and James Childress (1979) in their influential book Principles of Biomedical Ethics, now in its fourth edition…

    Social scientists were sometimes involved in the early days of bioethics, though my impression is that they were “on the sidelines” to some degree, and in fact often resented the encroachment on “their domain” by the theologians and philosophers of the “bioethics” community. For example, Callahan (1999) writes:

    The relationship [between bioethics and] the social sciences has always been somewhat troubled. On the one hand, many in bioethics feel that there has been a kind of [resentment] toward bioethics among medically-oriented social scientists: a feeling perhaps that bioethics has displaced them a bit on medical faculties, or that bioethicists do not take their insights and methods seriously enough, or do not take the trouble to understand the value of social science perspectives for ethics. And it has been true that those in bioethics have not exactly rushed to the social sciences as part of their effort to understand ethical problems and their social setting (in great part because the reigning analytical style of moral philosophy is not much interested in that). Under the influence of philosophy, there has been at least a latent view that, since an “ought” cannot be derived from an “is,” social science knowledge cannot in the end be decisive for the making of moral judgments. That may be true, if “decisive” is the key word, but that does not preclude many other instructive insights the social sciences can offer before reaching that point.

  • 6. Much of the early full-time work devoted to bioethical issues was conducted by the full-time staff or visiting fellows of the early bioethics centers. Jonsen (1998) describes the 1960s as “the decade of conferences” (p. 13), and suggests that the trend toward more full-time engagement with bioethical issues accelerated with the creation of the first bioethics centers circa 1970 (pp. 19-20):

    By the end of the [1960s], a small library of conference proceedings and collections of essays existed. James Gustafson, in reviewing the volume from the Reed College Symposium, noted that medical ethics was being discussed at many meetings. “Such conferences,” he wrote, “and the papers that are published from them are important at this stage of the discussion… But one hopes we can move beyond the conference procedure to a more disciplined, careful, long range way of working in which areas of disagreement can not only be defined, but in part at least overcome. What is needed, it seems to me, is interdisciplinary work within universities or centers that have personnel and resources for the arduous tasks of intensive and long-term work.”

    As the 1960s ceded to the 1970s, Gustafson’s hope began to be realized. Conferences continued, but from this time on their results were less ephemeral. The free-floating bioethical concern that the conferences had inspired began to coalesce into pieces of scholarly analysis. The discourse of the conferences was now fitted into a general framework of research fostered by several new permanent centers: the Institute of Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences (The Hastings Center) and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. A third organization, The Society for Health and Human Values, also encouraged interdisciplinary activity. These organizations were the culmination of the decade of conferences: they gave permanent homes to the discourse of bioethical concern.

  • 7. For one account of how the term “bioethics” came to be used, see Jonsen (1998), pp. 26-27.

  • 8. This part of the history is especially well-covered in published histories of bioethics, though it is difficult to succinctly excerpt. See e.g. Jonsen (1998), ch. 4; Rothman (1991), chs. 9 and 11; Stevens (2000), ch. 4.
  • 9. See the quote about medical ethics education from Baker (2013), in the main text.

  • 10. For example, according to Jonsen (1998), ch. 4, the scientists and medical professionals who testified at the early bioethics hearings organized by Senator Walter Mondale tended to downplay the need for much additional ethical analysis of medical advances, and expressed concern that people outside the medical profession might pronounce on matters of medical ethics:

    A constellation of scientists appeared before the [Mondale-organized] committee. All of them praised the biomedical advances that disquieted Senator Mondale. Most witnesses were willing to admit that the advances did have some troubling aspects, but suggested that those aspects were often exaggerated. They supported the idea of a commission, but each scientist issued caveats. Transplant surgeon Adrian Kantrowitz felt that the ethical issues of transplantation did not differ from other ethical problems encountered in medical practice. If a commission were established, “physicians should predominate in its membership.” …Stanford University transplant surgeon Norman Shumway felt that a commission would educate the public about advances but did not believe that selection of patients or determination of death posed serious problems. Biochemist Arthur Kornberg supported a commission because it would signal to the public that research was a sound investment, but he, too, was reluctant to admit that there were many real problems… … Mondale remarked that Dr. Kornberg seemed reluctant “to have persons other than the people in your laboratory look at the social implications.”

    …The scientists who spoke in the next session were overtly hostile to Mondale’s proposal. The one witness most in the spotlight at the time, South African heart transplant surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard… opened his testimony boldly: “If you mean by commission that you should have a qualified group of doctors belonging to the institution where the transplant is done, then I have nothing further to say… But if you are trying to set up a commission which is different, I must say that you are seeing ghosts where there are no ghosts. If I am in competition with my colleagues of this country, which I am not, and were I completely selfish, then I would welcome such a commission, because it would put the doctors who embark on this type of treatment so far behind me, and hamper the doctors so much that I will go so far ahead that they will never catch up with me.” He denied that anything was new about the issues doctors faced. When Senator Ribicoff suggested that what was new was the public paying the costs, Barnard responded sharply, “Who pays the costs of war? The public! Who decides where the general should attack? The public? The public is not qualified to make the decision. The general makes the decision. He is qualified to spend the public’s money the best way he thinks fit.” The committee would be “an insult to your doctors.”

    Barnard was followed by his mentor and the mentor of many surgeons, the revered Owen Wangensteen… Dr. Wangensteen was even more skeptical than his pupil. He reminded his listeners that many controversies had raged over new developments that are now mundane: “When looked at in prospect, there is often a frenzied, frantic, even maniacal pitch of reaction… If we are to retain a place of eminence in medicine, let us take care not to shackle the investigator with unnecessary strictures, which will dry up untapped resources of creativity.” When Mondale asked whether non-physicians might offer valuable insights, Wangensteen replied, “If you are thinking of theologians, lawyers, philosophers and others to give some direction… I cannot see how they could help… the fellow who holds the apple can peel it best.”

    …another of Barnard’s teachers, Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, said, “Decisions regarding transplantation are better left to those who are doing the work rather than to self-appointed critics who are better versed in the art of criticism than in the field under study…” Dr. Edwards told the senators that legislation would hamper progress. Ethical problems, if there were any, should be dealt with by “such highly qualified groups as the American Hospital Association Committee on Ethics.”

    …Senator Mondale persisted… [and the] skepticism also persisted. At the hearings on [Mondale’s] reintroduced resolution… Dr. Merlin Duval was the naysayer…: “we are taking the position at this time that legislation is not necessary.” Mondale commented with exasperation, “all we are proposing here is to create a measly little study commission to look at some very profound issues… I sense an almost psychopathic objection to the public process, a fear that if the public gets involved, it is going to be anti-science, hostile and unsupportive.” The Senator would not give up, reintroducing his legislation in 1973, when it passed as S.J. 71, calling for the establishment of an Advisory Commission on Health Science and Society to perform “a comprehensive study of the ethical, social and legal implications of advances in biomedical research and technology.”

    For more on the ethical approaches of early bioethicists, and how they differed from that of typical doctors of the time, see e.g. Jonsen (1998), pp. 327-338, Baker (2013), pp. 288-299, and the following passage (p. 51) from Rothman (1991):

    The twenty years between the close of World War II and the appearance of Henry Beecher’s exposé [on abuses in human experimentation, published in 1966] witnessed an extraordinary expansion of human experimentation in medical research. Long after peace returned, many of the investigators continued to follow wartime rules. Utilitarian justifications that had flourished under conditions of combat and conscription persisted, and principles of consent and voluntary participation were often disregarded. This was, to borrow a phrase from American political history, the Gilded Age of research, the triumph of laissez-faire in the laboratory.

    Baker (2013), pp. 285-286, has more on medical professionals’ resistance to “outsider” ethical analysis:

    Within professional communities, the concept of a peer [in the context of “peer review”] tends to be narrowly defined… not surprisingly, when healthcare and research institutions and laboratories set up their IACUCs and IRBs in response to the regulatory mandates of the 1960s, they staffed them with fellow professionals. The very idea of incorporating ethics experts, nonresearchers, into the review of research was rejected as insulting. Standard histories of bioethics illustrate this reaction by citing testimony at a 1968 U.S. Senate hearing conducted by Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale (1977–1981)… Mondale discussed the idea of a national committee on ethics and medicine with various researchers, including South African cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard (1992–2001).

    Barnard, who had just performed the first successful human-to-human heart transplant, was, at that moment, the most famous surgeon in the world. He responded to Mondale’s questions about an interdisciplinary ethics oversight committee [with] outrage:

    If we [in South Africa] could have done this [heart transplant] without a commission to give us guidance—do you feel it is necessary in this country to have some commission to guide your doctors and your scientists? I feel that if you do this, it would be an insult to your doctors and what is more it would put progress back a lot.

    Barnard’s teacher, Owen Wangensteen (1898–1981)… reiterated Barnard’s views. Medical innovation, Wangensteen feared, could be “mangled by well-intentioned but meddlesome intruders.” “I would urge you,” he continued, “with all the strength I can to leave this subject to conscionable people in the profession who are struggling valiantly to advance medicine.” When Mondale probed whether “non-doctors, persons not in the medical profession… could bring… useful insights, or do you think it ought to be left exclusively to the medical profession?,” Wangensteen replied that ethical advice should be the sole prerogative of medical professionals. “The fellow who holds the apple can peel it best… If you are thinking of theologians, lawyers, and philosophers and others… I cannot see how they could help. I would leave these decisions to responsible people doing the work.” The reaction of twentieth-century surgeons… was that one should be accountable only to peers: only researchers should review researchers. Intruding so-called ethics experts into such reviews was insulting and irresponsible.

    Another example of this sort of critique can be found in Tom Koch’s Thieves Of Virtue: When Bioethics Stole Medicine (2012). From the preface:

    Bioethics set up the medically untrained, philosophical adept as the adjudicator of clinical choices and the social organization that determined their boundaries. From the start those adepts were distanced from the bedside and the complexities of care.

    Since the 1960s, bioethicists have sought to displace a traditional ethic of medicine that, age to age and culture to culture, was the bedrock of medical practice and research until bioethicists decided it was not. This was necessary, bioethicists claimed, because the older ethics’ inherent paternalism was inimical to contemporary notions of individual liberty. And, too, the advance of radical new medical technologies required a means of address beyond that of the older ethic. The new, philosophically grounded ethic would enlarge the range of “virtuous actions,” providing a definition of morally right goods and values in a manner permitting their application to questions of medical practice and research. Those goods were to be revealed through a specific methodology and an associated set of essential values grounded in the work of Enlightenment philosophers. This approach would permit philosophers-cum-ethicists to critique the old ethic and direct medical practice and research to the eventual benefit of all.

    [Bioethics] assumes dilemmas of care and noncare can be narrowly defined and then easily resolved within the existing paradigm. I argue bioethics’ artificial and narrow system of ethical thinking imposes an artificial simplicity upon issues that are inherently complex. The result, I argue, too often results in a disservice to many people, and especially to those most fragile and at risk. This does not mean there are no answers. The answers to complex problems will not be found, however, in a reflexive reliance on simplistic arguments, definitions, or principles.

    Rothman (1991), p. 4, adds:

    in the debates over ruling medicine, the great majority of physicians who went on record, including the whistle-blowers, were deeply troubled about a loss of doctors’ authority at the bedside and the expanded prerogatives of outsiders. The changes that came to medicine generally came over the strenuous objections of doctors, giving the entire process an adversarial quality.

  • 11. See e.g. Jonsen (1998), ch. 4; Baker (2013), pp. 287-296.

  • 12. For example:

    • Medical ethics before bioethics was obviously not entirely “pragmatic” and “utilitarian.” See e.g. Jonsen (1998)’s comments on Chauncey Leake (pp. 9-10).
    • Early bioethics was very interdisciplinary, and thus not limited to theologians and philosophers. See e.g. Jonsen (1998), p. 84.
    • Historians tell many different (but overlapping) histories of the birth of bioethics. Chapter 1 of Fox & Swazey (2008) organizes these accounts into X different types of “origin stories”: (1) technology-driven accounts, (2) issues-driven accounts, (3) events-driven accounts, (4) organizational and linguistic accounts, and (5) gradual, multi-causal accounts. According to Fox & Swazey, Eric Juengst once compiled (for teaching purposes) a different taxonomy of accounts of the birth of bioethics: (1) “a response to biomedicine’s technological explosion,” (2) “a response to a radical cultural pluralism,” (3) a “proactive social movement within the health care system,” (4) a “proactive attempt to anticipate the social future,” and (5) “bioethics as a continuous development” that “really started with Hippocrates…”

  • 13. For example, Fox & Swazey (2008), ch. 1, write:

    It is highly likely… that bioethics would have been stillborn without the funding from private foundations and federal agencies that made possible the various study groups, programs, and centers that marked the new field’s emergence. Grants from the NIH supported the Boston University Law-Medicine Institute’s study of ethical and legal issues in clinical investigation, and the American Academy of Arts and Science’s working party on human experimentation. Harvard’s Program on Technology and Society, and the work of its biomedical sciences group, was supported by funds from I.B.M. The Kennedy Foundation provided support for the establishment of the Kennedy Institute for Human Reproduction and Bioethics at Georgetown, the ethics program at the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Program in Medical Ethics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine. The development of the Society for Health and Human Values was supported by the United Ministries for Higher Education and the Danforth Foundation, and the Society’s Institute on Human Values in Medicine and its fellowship program were funded by NEH.

    The NEH proved to be a major supporter of bioethics in its early years. Along with funds from the Exxon Education Foundation, for example, an NEH grant to Case Western launched Gorovitz’s project on moral problems in medicine, and the agency also was among the supporters of the Hastings Center in its early years. The Rockefeller Brothers Foundation provided a grant enabling Gorovitz to set up the Council on Philosophical Studies’ Institute on Moral Problems in Medicine— more familiarly known as the Haverford Summer Institute—and grants from the Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation provided major underpinnings for Hastings. The fledgling center also benefited from the financial support of one of its “first benefactors,” John D. Rockefeller III, and from his advice to Callahan and Gaylin when they were organizing Hastings that “we would be foolish to become part of a university and to take on all of the problems that doing so would entail” (Callahan 1999a: 57).

    See also the details in footnote 34 from that chapter:

    To our knowledge, there are no research-based data that would permit a comparative analysis of the sources of, and shifts in, funding for bioethics over the course of its history in the United States, or of the bioethically relevant areas that have been supported. The sources that need to be studied are federal agencies, primarily the National Institutes of Health, broken down into its constituent parts; the National Library of Medicine; the National Science Foundation; private foundations; and, in more recent years, corporations, particularly those involved in areas such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and genetic engineering.

    One piece of datum in our files was a 1999 listing from the Foundation Center of grants in the area of bioethics (including medical ethics and science ethics as search terms) by the leading 1,000 foundations in the United States, ranked by endowment, for the four-year period 1995–1998. Roughly 5 percent of these foundations made bioethics grants during this period, and of these, only a few made multiple grants. The top three foundations based on number of grants funded were the Greenwall Foundation (which has been the only foundation with bioethics as a specific program area), the Ford Foundation (predominantly in the areas of reproductive health and technologies), and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Most grants fell into the area of program development, with support for conferences and seminars a distant second. The fewest awards were made for research. (When “research” is cited as the major type of support, however, it often is not clear how it is being defined.)

    A foundation official with whom we talked in 1999 hypothesized that there were several reasons why foundations generally had not been supportive of funding bioethics. One reason, he speculated, was “concern about the sensitive nature of projects” (e.g., those involving controversial areas such as assisted suicide, neonatology, and nonbeating heart organ donors) that might “cause problems” if a foundation’s support for work on such topics attracted media attention. Although this individual did not think that bioethics per se would become more fundable in the near future, he did express his opinion that there was a growing interest in policy aspects of biomedicine and health care that might result in a greater readiness to consider ethics as a project component.

    Information such as the foregoing, while of some interest, highlights the need for more in-depth data that would permit a thorough analysis of funding patterns over time.

    Gordon (2012) adds:

    In the early years, the bioethics programs were mainly funded by foundations such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Ford Foundation and others, as well as by donations from individuals such as the Kennedy family.

  • 14. Irving (2000) says: “In 1969, Willard Gaylin and Daniel Callahan… founded the Hastings Center, funded primarily by the individuals John D. Rockefeller III and Elizabeth Dollard, as well as by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Rockefeller Foundation.”

    Callahan (1999) adds:

    As time went on, it became easier to raise money for the Center, particularly from the large national foundations. The Commonwealth Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the New York Foundation became active supporters, while the various Rockefeller Foundations continued the support that had been there from the beginning. It might be noted parenthetically that none of those foundations regularly continued to provide bioethics grants after the 1980s, to us or to anyone else. Bioethics came and went as agenda items for them.

  • 15. See Callahan (1999), including this passage:

    Perhaps the most astounding part of the early years of the Hastings Center was the rapidity with which it grew and with which the field of bioethics caught on. We had expected to have, at most, a staff of four or five when the Center reached full strength and a budget of less than $500,000 a year. By the end of the 1970s, our staff had reached 15 and our budget was nearing $1 million. That early staff included Arthur Caplan, Ruth Macklin, and Thomas Murray, all of whom, along with Robert Veatch, became leaders of other bioethics centers. Our summer workshops in the 1970s provided a large number of people with their first systematic introduction to bioethics. The Hastings Center Report had established itself as the leading journal in the field, as had IRB: A Review of Human Subjects Research (still the only journal devoted to that topic). Our assorted research projects led to a large number of books and articles, which we like to think made a serious contribution to the field and to public policy. The field of bioethics blossomed and grew, picked up by the media, adopted by medical and nursing schools, pursued even at the undergraduate level where courses in bioethics proved to be immensely popular with students.

  • 16. See the Georgetown press release regarding the initial funding for the Kennedy Institute.

  • 17. See the article “Bioethics center: an idea whose time had come” (1974) in Chemical and Engineering News, and the early issues of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Newsletter.

  • 18. The main author of the Belmont Report (1978) was Tom Beauchamp, who, in a 2000 interview, remembered starting at the Kennedy Institute in 1973 or 1974:

    …one thing led to another and eventually Andre [Hellegers, the founder of the Kennedy Institute] offered me an office at the [Kennedy] Institute… So in 1973 or 1974 I did take him up on his offer. I didn’t leave my [philosophy] department office [at Georgetown University] but took a second office over there and then eventually the Institute gave me all of the kinds of things that you would like to have in the way of backup support in a university, a secretary and research assistants and all that kind of thing. It didn’t make sense really to stay in the Philosophy Department office and at that point I more or less made the transfer.

    Beauchamp co-authored Principles of Biomedical Ethics (1985) with Jim Childress, who was also a professor at the Kennedy Institute (according to his current faculty page at the University of Virginia) during much of its writing in the mid-late 1970s.

    Beauchamp (2003) clarifies:

    During the summer and the latter half of 1975, Jim Childress and I lectured on and began to write the chapters of what would later be titled Principles of Biomedical Ethics. We worked steadily on this project throughout 1976. On December 22 of that year, I agreed to join the staff of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. My first and only major assignment was to write… The Belmont Report.

    There has been some confusion as to the historical origins of and connection between Belmont and Principles. Virtually all published commentary on this history has assumed that Belmont preceded and provided the abstract framework for Principles. Such speculation about origins fails to appreciate that both works were written simultaneously, the one inevitably influencing the other.

  • 19. Fox & Swazey (2008), ch. 1:

    With funding from the Kennedy Foundation, Harvard’s School of Public Health began a small program in medical ethics in 1972, with a course co-taught by William Curran, Arthur Dyck, and Stanley Reiser. The next year, in 1973, the first full-fledged medical school program in medical ethics began at the University of Wisconsin, directed by pediatrician Norman Fost. Health lawyer John Robertson also joined the program in 1973, and a third faculty member, philosopher Daniel Wikler, was hired in 1975 with funding for the position provided by a development grant from the Kennedy Foundation…

  • 20. Irving (2000) says: “Discussions by the Committee on Medical Ethics and Theology of the United Ministries in Education (a collaboration of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches) initiated in 1965 eventually led to the Society of Health and Human Values in 1970. It was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities… and the Russell Sage Foundation. The Society soon established its Institute on Human Values in Medicine…”

    In 1998, the Society for Health and Human Values merged with two other organizations to form the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH). The ASBH History page says:

    The Society for Health and Human Values (SHHV) was officially established in 1969 as a membership organization for persons committed to human values in medicine. SHHV is a professional organization whose primary objective was to encourage and promote informed concern for human values as an essential, explicit dimension of education for health professionals. To accomplish this objective, the Society sought, through a variety of endeavors: to facilitate communication and cooperation among professionals from diverse disciplines who share such an objective; to support critical and scholarly efforts to develop knowledge, concepts and programs dealing with the relation of human values to education for the health professional. The SHHV archives were transferred to the Moody Medical Library in February 1998.

  • 21. Wikipedia.

  • 22. Moen (2015).

  • 23. Drexler (1986), ch. 1:

    These second-generation nanomachines… will do all that proteins can do, and more… They will be able to bond atoms together in virtually any stable pattern, adding a few at a time to the surface of a workpiece until a complex structure is complete. Think of such nanomachines as assemblers.

    Because assemblers will let us place atoms in almost any reasonable arrangement…, they will let us build almost anything that the laws of nature allow to exist. In particular, they will let us build almost anything we can design - including more assemblers.

    See also our brief discussion of nanotechnology-related terminology in our cause report on Risks from Atomically Precise Manufacturing.

  • 24. E.g. see Regis (2004):

    …there have always been scientists who considered [Eric] Drexler part of the lunatic fringe. Six months before the NanoSummit, his critics landed what may be a decisive one-two punch. On December 1, the technical journal Chemical and Engineering News published a series of letters between Drexler and [Nobel laureate Richard] Smalley in which the Nobelist made his position clear: Molecular assembly is impossible…

    It was a public takedown from the man fast replacing Drexler as nano’s leading light. But Smalley wasn’t done. In remarks so overheated that they bordered on bizarre, he accused Drexler of terrorizing the world with the prospect that self-reproducing assemblers might escape the lab and devour everything in their path, turning the Earth into an inert, undifferentiated blob of gray goo.

    The second blow to Drexler came only two days later, when President Bush signed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, allocating $3.7 billion for molecular-scale R&D. In the months leading up to the signing, the bill had promised to catapult Drexler’s agenda to the forefront of the nation’s scientific priorities. But in the end, no money was earmarked for molecular manufacturing. Instead, the funds were largely allocated to projects using variations on conventional chemistry to develop novel materials “with new combinations of characteristics, such as, but not limited to, strength, toughness, density, conductivity, flame resistance, and membrane separation characteristics.”

    With these two events, Drexler suddenly found himself marginalized in the very field he had inspired.

  • 25. In the case of MNT, I have also benefited from conversations I’ve had with some of the field’s earliest advocates over the past several years. Unfortunately, I do not have publishable notes from these conversations.

  • 26. Most of this is described in (cryonicist) Mike Darwin’s article “Cold War,” reprinted in de Wolf & Bridge’s Preserving Minds, Saving Lives.

  • 27. For example, Teles writes that “The Center for Law in the Public Interest, Public Advocates, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Citizens Communications Center, Georgetown Institute for Public Interest Representation, League of Women Voters Education Fund, Education Law Center, International Project, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Native American Rights Fund, and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project all started with Ford Foundation funding.”

  • 28. See Southworth (2008), p. 24.

  • 29. See e.g. Malphurs & Striano (2001).

  • 30. Dunlap (1991).

  • 31. Mitchell et al. (1991).

  • 32. The 20 million figure is somewhat suspect: I’ve seen it given in numerous histories, but couldn’t easily locate an original source. But even if the number is exaggerated by (say) 3x, Earth Day was still a truly massive event.

  • 33. Bosso (2005), ch. 3.

  • 34. Page 112.

  • 35. E.g. see Dreyfus & Ingram (1976); Alm (1988); Luther (2005); Kershner (2011).

  • 36. Moss (1961), p. 20.

  • 37. See notes from my conversation with Lewis Bollard.

  • 38. See notes from my conversation with Lewis Bollard.

  • 39. See notes from my conversation with Lewis Bollard.