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 email@example.com
About This Issue
It is often asked in Science for the People whether it is possible to do science for the people now or whether it will only be possible to do so after society has been radically transformed. SftP has published articles on doing science for the people, but only in countries with socialist governments and with very different material conditions from the U.S., e.g. Tanzania, Mozambique and China. The Amsterdam Science Shop article in this issue tells of trying to do science for the people under conditions very much like those in the United States. In this article. the authors describe a program at the University of Amsterdam in which university students and staff work on research projects at the behest of trade unions, environmental groups and other progressive organizations.
It is possible to imagine a program like the Amsterdam Science Shop being set up at an American university. Such a program could apply scientific knowledge and skills to community problems and help educate science workers about the effects of their work. Would this be a useful strategy for progressive science workers? One problem is that it might make dealing with scientific issues seem even more the prerogative of scientists. Could such a model be constructed which doesn’t maintain and solidify the distance between “expert scientists” and “ordinary people”? Another problem with this model is its potential for defusing and misdirecting social anger and frustration without provoking real change. Such questions are at the root of working for social change and although this article may not answer them. it does provide a concrete example, relevant to people who work in science, and hopefully it will serve to stimulate discussion.
A variety of articles in SftP have dealt with the issue of radical versus reformist change. In practice, radicals must often decide whether to settle for short-term benefits of reformist action within the existing system or to struggle for more fundamental radical change. The article by Susan Bell on the Pelvic Exam Teaching Program illustrates how one group of feminists resolved this question. Although not everyone may agree with the specific decisions they reached, their story does provide an important example of how one group used their political theory to analyze their political practice.
In her photoessay Nancy Edwards shares with us some of her impressions of the life of factory workers in Zhuzhou. The photographs are complemented by personal observations and background information.
A theme common to many SftP articles has been that ‘institutions reflect the broader economic and social relationships found in society. Thus, to defend the prevailing social order each social institution must be defended as “the best way possible” and the forces of propaganda are marshalled to accomplish this. If we are to convince people that change is not only necessary, but also possible, we must combat this propaganda machine.
We can do so by critically analyzing existing social institutions, by examining existing alternative institutions, and by constructing models of better institutions. It is to the second approach that we turn in publishing Judy Spelman and Marc Snyder’s article on health care in Mozambique. In this article we get a rare glimpse into how a country in political transition is attempting to construct a new health care system consistent with its socialist principles as well as with improved health care for its populace. Although the Mozambican experience is not completely transferrable to the U.S. context, the study of their efforts should help us to formulate new choices within our own health care system.