Conferences, lecture tours, exchange programs, textbook translations, and science clubs promoted the idea that science functions best without government oversight. More than a vague postwar ideology, this was official U.S. policy, both at home and abroad. Of course, in reality, U.S. investments in applied R&D, particularly for military applications, dwarfed funding for basic research by several orders of magnitude, but this fact did not deter American science attachés, State Department science advisors, embassy officials, and other low-level diplomats from actively promoting a vision of science that stressed independent, undirected scientific research.
But with the end of the Cold War, scientific self-governance no longer packs the same ideological punch. Appeals to scientific freedom are comfortable and familiar, but they’re not going to save the NSF.