This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org
About This Issue
In this issue we present two firsthand accounts of the struggle of a group of residents in a working-class area of Cambridge to halt the pollution of their air with styrene, an unpleasantly pungent and hazardous chemical emitted by a nearby factory. Several members of Boston SftP have been directly involved and were able to provide scientific support. We feel that this involvement has been important for SftP because it gave us a chance to learn a lot about community concerns, organizing, and making and changing strategies. We also confronted our own racism and elitism, while at the same time were able to put some of our technical skills to good use. Furthermore, we built or strengthened ties to community organizations where they were previously weak or nonexistent.
The struggle itself—like many of its kind, for example, that around the construction of the MASCO power plant in Boston (see SftP, Vol. 9, No. 2)—is important not just for its short-term specific goal, but also because it reveals that acute problems of daily life are the direct result of a system built on production for profit not people.
What is the direction of US contracepti.on research? Who carries out such research and who makes policy decisions? In the testimony of Judy Norsigian as presented at Congressional hearings, she raises this and other important questions. These are significant inquiries. We feel, however, that the links between the medical establishment, the drug companies and the government need further elucidation so as to expose the true orientation of medical research and its applications. This orientation is quite apparent in present contraception research, which is based on a medical model geared to providing technological services to individuals, when in fact birth control and the population “problem” are essentially social issues.
While we agree with the author that concentrating on barrier methods may represent science in the interests of the people (at least, in the particular case of contraception research), we are skeptical of the strategies suggested here for turning around the direction of US science. In particular, we have little faith in verbal persuasion and logical argument when it comes to congressional committees, and are too aware of the cooptive power of federal funding. A better strategy, we feel, would rely on organizing the people to demand change. This latter strategy has been a major concern of the women’s health movement, which has been an important force in organizing women to bring about change.
The article, “Science for the People: A Ten Year Retrospective,” marks the l0th anniversary of SftP. Given the rapidly changing political climate in the US today, it is an appropriate time to reassess where SftP has been and where we are headed.
The article highlights major activities of SftP over the past 10 years, without attempting to be comprehensive. It also begins to answer the question: “Why has SftP succeeded, or at least survived, as long as it has?” A more complete answer to this question would be of interest to a much broader audience than just SftP members, since there are many valuable political lessons to be learned from an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of our past political practice. We also need to examine the important role that our critique of science and technology under capitalism has played both in attracting people to the organization and in educating the general public.
We hope that the appearance of this article will stimulate a fuller discussion of the history of SftP. We need to learn from our past so that we can achieve a better understanding of where we are at now, and become even more effective over the next ten years.
The piece by Carlos Pereyra is a response to the report of Emilio Daddario, president of the AAAS, on his Dec. 1977 fact-finding trip to Argentina to investigate repression of the scientific community. Daddario’s article glosses over very real problems. Pereyra sent his letter to Science to present aspects of the situation in Argentina that Daddario ignored or rather gave little creedence to; it was not published. This episode reveals the hypocrisy of Science, in one breath both proclaiming support for human rights and covering up violations against one segment of the population that holds different political views. The repression of scientists and intellectuals in Argentina has been well documented (see SftP, July/ August 1977). This coverup is consistent with the US government’s policy of espousing the importance of human rights while at the same time shoring up oppressive governments. We question why Science is contributing to the cover-up by denying that any violations of human rights exist. Perhaps we already know.