, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 315-352

“Strictly for the Birds”: Science, the Military and the Smithsonian's Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, 1963–1970

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Between 1963 and 1970, the Smithsonian Institution held a grant from the US Army to observe migratory patterns of pelagic birds in the Central Pacific. For six years, the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program (POBSP) collected a vast amount of data from a quarter of the globe little known to science, and difficult for civilians to access. Its reports were (and remain) of great value to science. In 1969, however, the Program became embroiled in controversy. Some alleged that the Smithsonian, by accepting the military's coin, had violated its own rules governing the receipt of government funds and the publication of research. Recent investigations have pointed to a number of unexplained relationships between the POBSP and the Army, during a period of intense activity in chemical and biological weapons testing. The controversy marked a watershed in Smithsonian-military relations. As yet, its history is incomplete. What is known, however, suggests that the POBSP involved a highly problematic mésalliance between science and secrecy during the height of the Cold War. Its gradual unfolding prompts questions of contemporary relevance that await contemporary answers.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.