Ithiel de Sola Pool

757  words
posted:  august  16,  1997

The profile that follows is a condensed version of the entry on Ithiel de Sola Pool that will appear in the first edition of American National Biography, forthcoming from the Oxford University Press. It was written by Lloyd Etheredge, whose essay on Pool's intellectual legacy appears on our articles page.

  Ithiel de Sola Pool (October 26, 1917 - March 11, 1984), a pioneer in the development of social science, was the son of Rabbi David de Sola Pool (Heidelberg, Ph.D.), an Englishman who was the spiritual leader of the Sephardic Congregation in New York City; and Tamar Hirshenson (Hunter, the Sorbonne), the Palestinian born-daughter of a rabbi.

Pool was educated at Fieldston, an Ethical Culture School in New York City and the University of Chicago (BA, 1938; MA, 1939; Ph.D., 1952), in the era of Robert Maynard Hutchins, the pioneering educator who was president of the University of Chicago from 1929-1945 when it was the birthplace of American social science.

During World War II he joined two of his teachers, Harold Lasswell and Nathan Leites, in Washington, D.C., in a major research project on Nazi and Communist propaganda. His primary academic appointments were at Stanford University and MIT, where he spent 30 years, having initially joined the new MIT Center for International Studies to direct a research program on the effects of communication technology on global politics.

Pool's early reputation was established by his work on the rhetorical symbols of democracy, research that was grounded in the analysis of political speeches by leaders in democracies and in totalitarian states. This early interest in the nature and influence of political discourse ramified widely as his career advanced, but his core interest in communications and political culture remained constant.

His later work contributed to almost every field in political science. For example: Bauer, Pool, and Dexter's American Business and Public Policy: The Politics of Foreign Trade (1963) has remained a standard case study of Congress and public policy. Pool's personal experience of psychoanalysis strengthened his interest in depth psychology, whose principles underlie his work in political psychology, such as "Newsmen's Fantasies, Audiences, and Newswriting" (1959). There is a key psychological dimension as well to his influential essay, "Deterrence as an Influence Process" (1969), regarded as a prophetic argument in the Harvard-MIT arms control community.

The Handbook of Communication (ed., 1973) defined the scope of the field and included a significant chapter of his own on Public Opinion. His standing as a leading authority on the social and political impact of communications technology was fortified and extended with such publications as Forecasting the Telephone(1983)) and Communication Flows: A Census of Japan and the US (1984), co-written with Roger Hurwitz and Hiroshe Inose. This last book was an early attempt to define and then to measure rigorously the now widely-recognized trend toward a global information society.

As this last title suggests, Pool was interested in the quantitative analysis of communications and helped to develop mathematical and computer models for studying political behavior. One of his essays, "The Kaiser, the Tsar, and the Computer" (1965), was based on the first computer simulation of decision making and perception in international crises.

Pool was the founding chairman of the MIT Political Science Department and the founder of the MIT Communications Forum. Under his leadership political science at MIT emerged as a major discipline, and Pool and his colleagues were frequent advisers to the U.S. and other governments.

Pool's life expressed, in many forms, a commitment to human freedom. As a young man, at Chicago, he was a campus leader and passionate Trotskyite. With others of his generation he became disenchanted with revolutionary politics, coming to believe that revolutionary leaders often manipulated idealistic symbols and images to establish restrictive regimes. He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and advised the US government during the Cold War in several capacities. Before his early death from cancer, Pool led a successful fight to defend academic freedom against government efforts to require prior review of research involving human subjects.

Pool believed that the classics of social and political thought did not sufficiently recognize the importance of communications and technological change. In his signature work, a synthesis of many of the themes that had defined his career, Pool offered a wide-ranging map of this emerging territory. Technologies of Freedom (1983) is still a defining study of communications and human freedom, both a history of older systems of communication and a visionary account of the ways in which emerging digital technologies might transform social and political life.


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zachary  strider  mcgregor-dorsey