The Scientist as Expert: Fritz Haber and German Chemical Warfare during the First World War and Beyond
During the First World War, scientists, that is persons who produce new scientific knowledge, increasingly turned into experts, meaning persons who reproduce extant knowledge thus making it accessible to non-scientist ‘clients’. The deepest conviction of Fritz Haber, Nobel laureate in chemistry in 1918, was his faith in science and technological progress. The paper will interpret Haber as personification of an early German expert culture. Acting as a personal mediator and organiser, he committed politicians, generals, industrial leaders and scientists to collaborate in developing the newest processes for the mass production of war chemicals and the building of large-scale industries. In the same spirit, he brought gas warfare into operation and developed the first weapons of mass extermination. He did so by using a conglomerate similar to what we now call ‘big science’. Here, in close contact to “big industry”, traditional science was transformed into a new type of modern research. Blurring the borderlines between the military and civilian spheres, Fritz Haber also gives an early example of the set of problems we now call “dual use”. He initiated modern pest control by toxic substances, thus taking advantage of the military development for civilian purposes, but also vice versa: During the Weimar Republic, he used pest control as a disguise for illegal military research. Emerging under the stress of military victory or defeat, the ambivalence of scientific expertise would remain as the permanent inheritance of the First World War.