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Red information scientist: the information career of J.D. Bernal

Dave Muddiman (School of Information Management, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 1 August 2003


John Desmond Bernal (1901‐1970) was one of the most eminent scientists of his generation; he also became, in mid‐twentieth century Britain, an important political figure – the leading public spokesperson of “red” science. One remarkable but hitherto underexplored aspect of his career is a lifelong interest in scientific communication, documentation and information science. Utilising records in the Bernal archive in Cambridge, UK, this paper assesses Bernal's information career. It explores Bernal's initial interest in scientific documentation in the 1930s and examines his blueprint for the reform of scientific communication in Britain, advanced in Bernal's 1939 work, The Social Function of Science. It details his subsequent role, in 1945‐1949, as figurehead of a co‐ordinated but unsuccessful left‐wing campaign to establish an Institute of Scientific Information in Britain. It analyses Bernal's later theoretical papers in information science, and describes his support, in the 1950s and 1960s, for an emerging information profession. Bernal, it concludes, can justifiably be regarded as a major influence on twentieth century information science, above all because of his pioneering focus on the social dimensions of the discipline.



Muddiman, D. (2003), "Red information scientist: the information career of J.D. Bernal", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 59 No. 4, pp. 387-409.




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