International Meeting of Radical Science Journals

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International Meeting of Radical Science Journals

by Bruno Vitale

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 13, No. 5, September-October 1981, p. 36 — 37

Bruno Vitale is a physicist in Naples, Italy. He writes for Sapere, the progressive science journal in Italy. 

The meeting of representatives from the ‘critique of science’ journals–mostly from Europe–is now becoming an Easter tradition (like Easter eggs). This year Sapere (Italy) acted as host at the fourth meeting, which took place in a countryside collective-house (Cooperative Marcella) near Milan. Pino and Teresa De Luca and Sisa Visco-Gilardi opened their home to comrades from Cahiers Galilee (Belgium), Forum (Germany), Naturkampen (Denmark), Revoluon (Holland), (Radical Science Journal (Britain), Science for People (Britain), Science for the People, Shastra Gathi (Kerala, India) and Wechsel Wirkung (Germany). All together 21 comrades attended the meeting, which was preceded by an open Seminar in Milan on the theme: “Science Critique: Social Control and Environmental Control.” 

The journals started meeting four years ago, for a very simple reason: we knew of each other’s existence; we (sometimes) read each other’s issues (when the language was not a barrier) and we were at least in part aware of the similarities and differences in our approaches. However, we knew very little of the reasons, the motivations, and the contexts which made each journal what it was or was trying to be. Even if one allowed for the different political situations in the different countries, it was hard to understand how the different editorial strategies had been defined. We were wondering if we could understand more; and if, by an analysis of the relation between the socio-political context and ‘critique of science’ policies, we could learn how to move slowly toward a common attack on the ways science and technology are being imposed on working people. 

It would be hard to say, four years later, if at least part of this objective has been met. We know each other better, of course; on a personal level–having met several times and having discussed together almost everything; and as journals–having exchanged material, subscriptions, prepublication drafts, etc. But the main questions are still open: why do we do what we are trying to do? Why was a given approach (independent publication/going through a publisher; closed/open collective; centralized/decentralized editorial collectives; inclusion/exclusion of medial and social sciences…) chosen? and What is (if it exists) our common goal? 

Two lines interweave in a complex pattern through all of our writing and acting as (would be) radical scientists: an awareness of the non-neutral character of scientific knowledge and of scientific institutions, of their relevance in the context of capital accumulation and social control, of the power that they give to the ruling classes; and an awareness of the possibility of using, in specific contexts, scientific knowledge as a tool for action in the class struggle against the ruling classes. 

The presence (often not clearly recognized) of these two somewhat contradictory lines has been overshadowing our discussion (to say that the contradiction is dialectical sounds nice but is, as yet, of little help). In practice–in social practice, in our day by day choices, in verifying our models–a more conscious resolution of this contradiction could help radical scientists to find their way towards a more useful political engagement. These two lines are not static: their complex dimensions make them subtle and sometimes cloudy. We tried, this year, to focus them a bit more. 

The first line leads to a clear cut attitude: science is not the answer to the problems of working people. If one tries to go beyond that one asks: should radical scientists leave their laboratories? Do they have a useful role there? Can they oppose from the inside the logic of scientific institutions? Can they act as catalysing factor in bringing social awareness to colleagues? Should they consider blocking, denouncing, and sabatoging the very research their laboratories are engaged in? It is clear that there is no single answer to these problems; but specific answers have to be found for specific situations. This is the only way out of science of despair in which our activity (if limited only to denunciation and protest) would merge and be paralyzed. 

The second line too leads to a clear cut answer: scientific knowledge is sometimes a very concrete and powerful tool for attacking and transforming reality. Only too often the working people are kept in the dark about production processes, environmental damage, and health screenings to which they are exposed. Then again one tries to go beyond that: scientific knowledge is not necessarily that which is looked for and found in the institutional laboratories. It is knowledge on which one can act, and it can be reliable and communally grasped. It should come out of the meeting of the large body of known facts and models with working peoples’ experiences and feelings. How do we find these meeting grounds? How do we become sensitive to the possibility of creating them? This would lead to some sort of science of hope

This year,for the first time, comrades from the U.S. and India attended the meeting and gave new dimensions to it: from inside the most complete expression of imperialist power; from inside the huge contradictions and struggles of (under) developing countries. The theme: science imperialism and dependent countries will stay with us for years to come. 

We have not seen yet the possibility of reaching a common program, or defining a common strategy; and yet most participants continue to feel the need for a common, positive action. We will work towards this goal at the meeting next year, near Milan during the Easter weekend.


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