A Call to AAAS Actions

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 sftp.publishing@gmail.com

Call to AAAS1 Actions

By the Editorial Collective

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 5, No. 1, January 1973, p. 24-25

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Not a strikingly original thought, of course, but one suggested by the AAAS meeting this December in Washintgon and its significance for SESPA/Science for the People. Our experience over the last several years tells us that the majority of scientists who attend the AAAS meeting and partake in its sessions are motivated by deeply felt social concerns. They see the genocide in Indochina, environmental destruction, and massive social unrest as clear indicators of social decay, and true to a tradition in science which goes back to the 17th century, they want to apply their knowledge and expertise to the improvement of human welfare—in this case to the resolution of the present social problems.

But the question for us all is how such good intentions can be translated into action. For it is in action, in day to day practice, where we observe whether these good intensions don’t in fact become self defeating. Why is it that the work of well meaning scientists and technologists has in many cases served only to worsen social conditions? Why does social alienation mount with the ever increasing technological advance of our society?

Simply this: that the energy of most scientists is directed towards strengthening the archaic, dehumanizing system in which we live. The endeavor of scientists to be socially productive has been within the context of a socially unproductive (read oppressive) political and economic system. The well intentioned attempts on the part of scientists to deal with social problems is nearly always within an ideological framework bound to frustrate such efforts.

Of course these rather general statements must be clarified and expanded upon, and that’s our job as radical scientists. We have to examine in detail the nature of the system and how it affects people’s lives. We must explain its imperative for expansion and consumption of resources, its need for a hierarchical and oppressive class structure, its systematic dehumanization of men and women through the productive relations of capitalism, its institutional forms of violence and destruction.

And as radical scientists our job also is to understand our own role in the perpetuation of that system. Not only in the direct sense of how our technological achievements are the tools for its maintenance, but also in how the structure and ideology of science itself serve to perpetuate the present social and economic order. How the specialization and professionalism within science lead to fragmented and myopic thinking. How the competition and hierarchy reinforce individualism and non-collective attitudes. How the myth of scientific neutrality makes scientists the unwitting instruments of political power. How the technocratic mentality (that of scientific, nonpolitical decision making) is at best undemocratic and at worst fascistic. How the propagation of elitism and elitist attitudes serve only to deny the people power over their own lives. How the philosophy and methodology of a positivistic science, when applied to the social sciences, means only social manipulation and control.

While each of these points requires careful elaboration, it is sufficient for us now simply to realize that in their totality they amount to the critical re-examination of the premises of society and the premises of science. Those who fail to make this critical re-examination serve only to strengthen the present destructive social order. In their practice, they thus make science a tool of the status quo, in direct opposition to the many peoples struggling for their liberation. Good intentions serve reactionary ends.

This brings us back to the AAAS meeting. While the actions of SESPA/Science for the People at the Washington meeting have many purposes, one of them should be to bring (by our own exemplary actions) the concerned and well intentioned scientists there over to a more radical perspective. Our most important activity in this regard is to raise fundamental and probing questions within the AAAS sessions, and in so doing, bring to light the basic political issues involved in the present practice of science. We must thus demonstrate the critical attitudes we want to impart to others. Of course, to vigorously challenge ideas and ideology often requires that the very structure of the meeting or its sessions also be challenged. Part of the political message is the search for democratic, participatory forms to replace the elitist, authoritarian structures which pervade the AAAS meeting (and society as a whole).

This somewhat abstract discussion is made more concrete in the descriptions and analyses of past AAAS actions which appear in past SESPA/Science for the People publications (SESPA News, vol II, no.1; Science for the People, vol III, no. 1, Feb 1971; vol IV, no. 2, March 1972). What emerges from past experience is that preparation and planning–with of course an added touch of on-the-spot spontaneity–is what made actions successful. Thus with an eye towards preparation for the coming AAAS meeting, let’s look briefly at the preliminary program recently published in Science magazine.

As always the AAAS meeting program appears on the surface to deal with the important issues of science, society, and social needs. But what are the symposia really all about?

Turning on With Science: Educational Programs for Minorities
Affirmative Action Programs—Their Impact on Women Today
Women and Ethnic Minorities in Science and Technology: The Role of Professional Societies 

In these sessions the status of minorities will be dealt with in a way which suggests that the problems of racial minorities and women are amenable to solution within the present context. Will these sessions consider how and why racism and sexism have become institutionalized, or to what extent the present programs are mere tokenism? Note that there are no AAAS sessions which present a critique of the work of the well known scientist-apologists of racism—the Jensens, Shockleys, Hernsteins, Moynihans–nor are there sessions which analyse the role science has played in perpetuating the ideology of inferiority.

Educational Achievement and Social lndicators
Methods of Social Indicator Analysis
Is Social Experimentation a Practical Way to Develop Social Programs?

The term “social indicator” appearing in these titles is used by social scientists who want to quantify social data for use in social planning. This is the rage today in social science because it supposedly provides a rational basis for the control and manipulation of society from the top (through federal social programs). The scientific and humanistic paucity of this whole technique should be seen as part of a broader critique of the methodology and goals of the present form of social science. Such a critique does not appear in the AAAS sessions where social planner technocrats merely try to improve upon their methods and technique.

Conceptions and Alleviations of Aggression and Violence
Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues of Behavior Control
The Future of Collective Violence: Societal and International Perspectives
Prison Research
Crime Prevention—Heredity and Environment Revisited

Many scientists unfortunately don’t recognize violence in this society as arising out of fundamental class conflicts or as being conditioned by the hostile social environment fostered by competition, financial insecurity, and other institutionalized forms. Rather, it is for them a psychological disposition of individuals, perhaps even of genetic origin! When “conflict resolution” is not achieved through social planning, recourse is made to modern forms of behavior control, drugs, or psychosurgery. Many scientists are also busy at work developing other tools of social control such as police weapons technology for crime prevention and surveillance techniques for political intimidation. All of these techniques are political tools. They aim at preserving the status quo, that is, the very precondition for violence. Where in the AAAS meeting do we find the analysis of institutionalized forms of violence—the Indochina war, malnutrition and disease, suicide, death and maiming from industrial hazards?

Rational Use of Scientific and Technical Manpower
Institutions for the Application of Science to Social Needs
Research Applied to National Needs
The Stimulation and Control of Technology by Government
Public Policy and Social Science

Sessions such as these make for good propaganda about the scientific establishment’s response to social needs. But nowhere do they deal with people’s need to be liberated from alienating work and alienating life. Rather they deal with “national needs” like health of the economy or national defense. Thus national use of “manpower” and government control are simply ways of extending and strengthening the present social and economic system. This conception of needs must be challenged and shown to serve ruling class interests. When it comes to the more material human needs, say for a good diet, health care, and housing, we must point out the essential political conditions which create such unmet needs. Malnutrition in this country is not due to low food production, but to a system of distribution based on profit. Where in the AAAS meeting are scientists analysing why there exists such privation amidst such productivity and such waste? And how can such disparities be removed?

Man Against Machine: Anti-Technological Sentiments and Movements in History
Science and the New Challenges to Rationality

These sessions are a reaction to the growing anti-science and anti-technological attitudes in our society. Rather than recognize the serious anti-social functions of current science its practitioners here simply label the critics as irrational. What would be more important and useful would be to bring out the rational political basis for the challenge to present forms of science and technology.

The above comments are necessarily tentative in that they are based only on the limited information in the preliminary program and on past experience with AAAS material. But the program’s emphasis on social planning and social control is quite clear and consistent with trends over the past few years. The reaction to growing social unrest is not to change, but rather to rationalize the system. Also notable in the program is the absence of sessions dealing with military technology and the automated air-war, use of captive populations for experimentation, analysis of the effects of U.S. scientific and technological programs on the peoples of the exploited countries, studies of the causes of the high technological unemployment rate, or anything critical of scientific practice.

Thus the AAAS meeting is not simply a gathering of well-intentioned scientists. It is an important scientific and ideological tool for preserving the status quo. It serves to obscure the essential political relations of science while perpetuating the elitist, technocratic attitudes which have characterized the scientific community. As a whole, the AAAS meeting is a reactionary element in opposition to the struggle to liberate science for the people. If SESPA/Science for the People is to be a progressive force in that struggle, we must develop our own and other people’s understanding of what positive action we as scientists, technicians, teachers, engineers, and other technological workers can take. That’s what the AAAS actions are all about.

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  1. American Association for the Advancement of Science