Science and THE MAN in the Americas

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Science and THE MAN in the Americas

by AAAS/Mexico City Project

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 5, No. 4, July 1973, p. 17 – 23

The AAAS is planning a Mexico City meeting, June 20–July 4, under the title “Science and Man in the Americas” This article will try to better explain the context of the meeting and show how “the man” (meaning the system, the ruling class, the bosses, etc.) will be using the occasion.

Today there exists a great multiplicity of U.S. technological aid programs for Latin America. No pretense has even been made that they are charity; rather, it is clear that they are designed to serve the interests of large corporate enterprise, and that such interests lie in the promotion of economic growth within the capitalist system of private investment. Within this system, science and technology have been used to exploit the natural and human resources of Latin America and to maintain the stability required for continued economic growth. But is growth within this system compatible with real social and political development? Consider the following:

… All the evidence suggests that foreign private investment (1) exacerbates inequalities by helping to form and to support a set of foreign and domestic privileged elites within a country; (2) inhibits the development of an indigenous sociocultural unity by absorbing a country into the world-wide capitalist system; (3) aggravates the destructive impact of modernization on community values by promoting an overwhelmingly individualistic ethic; and (4) concentrates substantial decision-making power in a few private hands, many of them foreign. 1

It is within the context of this system of private investment and the capitalist forms of development, within the context of the main political and economic forces in Latin America, that we must view the function of science and technology. And it is within the context of the function of science and technology that the AAAS Mexico City meeting becomes understandable. The theme of the AAAS Mexico City meeting, “Science and Man in the Americas,” is suitably innocuous and gives no clue as to why at this time the AAAS is holding this meeting in Latin America. We might well ask whether, in fact, it is part of a larger picture, a more extensive expansion of U.S. science and technology into Latin America. In the last few years, in the councils of government, around the conference tables of the multi-national organizations (UN, World Bank, etc.), in the ivy-covered halls of academia, and in the offices of the multi-national corporations, an increased emphasis is being placed on the importance of science and technology in (mis)development. The catchphrase often heard is “technology transfer.”

Technology transfer in this context means the exportation of U.S. technology to the Third World. While it is an understatement to say this is not a new phenomenon, there is apparently a different emphasis emerging. In the past, private investments were made in Third World countries with little regard for anything but return on capital investment. Great effort was required to contain the inevitable social reaction to the intense exploitation. It thus was necessary, as part of counterinsurgency planning, for the U.S. to recruit social scientists to study foreign cultures and Third World societies.

Now, in addition to the heavy emphasis on counterinsurgency, a new effort appears to be directed toward investing capital in ways which still generate high returns, but which are designed to minimize their disruptive social impact. Consequently we find social scientists setting up study programs on the social impact of technology and on various other aspects of technology transfer. Take for example a recent $900,000 grant from the Agency for International Development to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the title “Adaptation of Industrial and Public Works Technology to the Condition of the Developing Countries”. In the introductory paragraph of the contract we are informed that:

The only process that can bring about that secularly continuing significant rate of increase in real income per capita which we term ‘economic development’ is progressive and continuing technical advance. Thus, economic development is virtually by definition a process of technical change. Our understanding of this process is, however, inadequate in ways that are relevant to those inside and outside the developing countries who seek to promote orderly and effective growth. (Emphasis ours)2

Here the ideology of capitalist development is all-pervasive, and the political stance unquestionably on the side of the status quo. It is thus clear in whose intersts and for what purposes this study is being funded.

Another new grant to MIT, this one from the Ford Foundation to MIT’s Center for International Studies (part of the Harvard-MIT counterinsurgency think tank), is for $400,000 and will be spent, in large part, on the development of programs concerning the “International Impact of Technology”, “Population and Migration”, and “Technology and Development” — all aimed at the Third World.3 Similar kinds of studies are being developed at Berkeley and Harvard and in Latin American studies centers across the U.S.

Also, in the last couple of years a strong emphasis on science and technology has been reflected in the concerns of the multinational organizations. Large numbers of studies on technology transfer and indigenous technological development appear in the recent publications of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB or IDB), Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (UNFAO), International Labor Organization (ILO), Organization of American States (OAS), the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and others. In addition the U.N. has recently formulated a World Plan of Action for the Application of Science and Technology to Development, and even more recently (May, 1972) the OAS has held an important conference on the Application of Science and Technology to Latin American Development. What is the significance of all this activity? We must keep in mind that U.S. capital overwhelmingly dominates all of these organizations as well as the individual countries themselves (although nationalistic expressions are often tolerated). Within this context, development means misdevelopment, and technology is synonymous with capital investment. During the years of the Alliance for Profit4 through military and economic pressures, through educational and exchange programs, through foreign “aid”, the U.S. has driven most of the governments of Latin America to accept the capitalist model of growth. While technology transfer is in actuality a prescription for increased resource and market control in the hands of multinational finance groups, it is advertized as the cure-all for the poverty of the Third World. Like all drug advertising, the propaganda is clever and deceptive.

Viewed against this background, the AAAS meeting is a very important event. It will provide official AAAS support for the recent surge of activity toward science and technology for the economic misdevelopment, and U.S. control, of Latin American (African and Asian) countries. The principal tenets of underlying ideology are, (1) that science is politically neutral and (2), that in science and technology lie the solutions to the world’s problems. We can be sure that the Mexico meeting of the the AAAS will once again serve the system very well.

Enter the Mexico City Meeting

In September 1971 the AAAS announced plans to hold its 1973 annual meeting in Mexico City. We will consider, in what follows, how well these plans fit into recent trends emphasizing the importance of science and technology for misdevelopment.

The AAAS is the main outlet for propaganda about how science and technology ‘serve’ the needs of the people, how scientists are concerned with social problems, and doing the research to resolve them. The importance of the AAAS in this regard comes in terms of its uniqueness in the U.S. among all the scientific and professional organizations, as the main purveyor of the ideology of U.S. science under capitalism. Science and technology for misdevelopment will be portrayed, at the Mexico meeting, as science and technology for human welfare. Thus as announced in an editorial in Science, the journal of the AAAS, the objective of the Mexico meeting

will be to present to a professional and a lay audience aspects of science that profoundly influence the development and well-being of all people in the Americas… The board of directors of the AAAS feels strongly that the Mexican meeting, emphasizing those activities which further the public understanding of science throughout the hemisphere, is consonant with the fundamental aims of the Association. It is to be hoped that the knowledge exchanged, when applied to human affairs, can play an important part in the future of the whole American continent.5

While the rhetoric is one of human welfare, the sessions and symposia are devoted to rationalizing and justifying the existing system by formulating new instruments of social control, by presenting—before the AAAS membership—goverment, industry, and foundation officials, and other apologists for the oppressive institutions of U.S. society, and by failing to analyze and understand the fundamental reasons for the oppression of people. Thus the AAAS does more than simply whitewash science—it actually reinforces and perpetuates the existing political system.

In 1952 the AAAS added to its stated purposes efforts “to improve the effectiveness of science in the promotion of human welfare.” Finally, in 1958 a Committe on Science in the Promotion of Human Welfare (CSPHW) was set up. This committee has done nothing in its 14 years of existence but sponsor a few irrelevant symposia. In 1970, of a total expenditure of $5 million, the AAAS reported an expenditure of zero dollars (0.00%) for Promotion of Human Welfare (or anything resembling that).

Before delving directly into the contents of the program for the Mexico City meeting, let us indicate more clearly the political position of the AAAS with respect to Latin America. The following editorial in Science, by the editor, Philip Abelson, leaves little doubt:

The most dynamic country in South America today is Brazil. During the past several years, its gross national product has been growing at the rate of about 9 percent; in 1971, it grew 11 percent, and talk of the “miracle of Brazil” has begun. On the average, Brazil is not nearly as advanced or as literate as Argentina. In the torrid, dry, northeast region of the country, some 30 million people live in poverty; about half of them have a yearly cash income of less than $50. It is in the southern, more temperate region that industry is booming. Production of steel is increasing rapidly and is projected to reach 8 million tons in 1975. Brazil has begun to export motor vehicles. Last year, several million dollars’ worth of precision parts for aircraft were exported to the United States.

One of the largest Brazilian efforts has been in education. Resources devoted to education have doubled during the last 5 years. During the past 8 to 10 years, the number of students receiving higher education has increased by 500 percent. The tradition of education for the few has been abandoned.

Brazilians have a flair. The great wholesale food distribution center in Sao Paulo is unsurpassed in convenience, size, and cleanliness. It makes comparable centers in the United States look anachronistic and grubby. Similarly, their huge international exhibit hall outclasses most of ours. The big shocker is the new capital, Brasilia. Its construction in the midst of nowhere has opened up a vast region. Its architecture and the city plan are highly imaginative and striking.

By reason of Brazil’s geography, the present dynamism of the country could have profound consequences on the rest of South America. Brazil borders every country of the continent except Chile and Ecuador, and its neighbors are highly  sensitive to the changes that are occurring. To varying degrees, they are apprehensive and envious of the Portuguese-speaking giant. But they are more likely to look to Brazil as an example than to the United States.6

Is this the same Brazil denounced world-wide for its political persecutions and savage torture of political prisoners? the same Brazil which wages a campaign of genocide against the impoverished Indians of the Northeast? the same Brazil which hosts the disease-ridden and impoverished slums of Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo, among the world’s worst? the same Brazil in which power and wealth are being grabbed by a small ruling elite? the same Brazil which has cleaned its universities of political freedom and imposed on them a reign of terror? What arrogance can regard as “flair” the enslavement of the Brazilian people to produce the aristocratic opulence of Brazilia? This editorial is a flagrant assault on the aspirations of the Latin American people, a statement which can only be representative of those for whom oppression of the people means the guarantee of class privilege. U.S. President Nixon, speaking on the occasion of a visit from the Brazilian President Medici, said “As Brazil goes, so goes the rest of Latin America.” (As Nixon goes, so goes the AAAS).

The alliance of the AAAS with reactionary forces is not always so blatant. Often it is simply a matter of repeating the prevailing ideology. For example, in the following editorial it argues that for Latin Americans to fulfill their aspirations they must be careful not to place restrictions on foreign capital:

If the Latin American countries are to make substantial progress toward fulfillment of their aspirations, they must succeed in bringing to bear on the task much larger intellectual and other resources than have heretofore been employed.

One method is to utilize outside resources: for example, the transfer of technology through foreign investment. The CACTAL (Conference on the Application of Science and Technology to Latin American Development) report seems to restrict that avenue, for it recommends restrictions on the operations of foreign firms that those firms would be reluctant to accept.

The Latin American countries might try to utilize some of the bounteous resources of scientists and engineers in developed countries. This would require an unprecedented degree of cooperation on the part of the Latin Americans and a willingness to provide conditions that would permit effective tackling of problems. (Emphasis ours)7


Walter Berl

  • meeting editor, AAAS

William Bevan

  • executive director, AAAS

Harrison Brown

  • chairman of the board, Federated Development Co.
  • dir. Block Drug Co. Verde Exploration (with operations in Latin America), AmericanInvestors Co., etc.
  • member, Department of State Advisory Committee on Private Enterprise in Foreign Aid, 1964-65
  • trustee, Miltre Corp. (weapons developer), Riverside Research Institute and Hudson Institute (military think tanks)
  • member, Council on Foreign Relations (see box)
  • member, Executive Committee, AAAS

Caryl Haskins

  • former member President’s Scientific Advisory Committee
  • director, E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co.
  • trustee of Rand Corp. (miitary think tank)
  • member, bd. of directors, Population Countil (see discussion of population control)
  • promoter of cultural and scientific imperialism (see book The Scientific Revolution and World Politics), and of ruling class ideology (see book Of Societies and Men)

Howard O. McMahon

  • president, A.D. Little Inc. (see box on right)

Glenn T. Seaborg

  • former chairman, Atomic Energy Commission
  • former member, President’s Scientifc Advisory Committee
  • member, Council on Foreign Relations (see box)
  • president, AAAS

Athelstan Spilhaus

  • former president, AAAS
  • Scientists for Nixon

The political position of the AAAS is clarified even further by the affiliations of the people it has selected for the Advisory Committee of the Mexico City meeting. Except for a few Association functionaries, the committee is composed almost entirely of individuals affiliated with ruling class institutions, the government, and corporate enterprise (see above). In some cases they even have direct interests in investment in Latin America.

The Meeting

We have now set the stage for discussing the AAAS Mexico meeting. Seen in the context of the role played by science and technology in Latin America, this meeting is not simply an innocent gathering of scientists. Rather, it is meant to be an important instrument for the extension of U.S. science and technology into Latin America, in the service of U.S. imperial interests. The AAAS Advisory Committee, itself representing such interests, has prepared a program well geared to meeting the needs of U.S. capital investment, while ignoring the often-expressed needs of the Latin American people.

Official host of the meeting and working with the AAAS in the planning is Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), a recently formed committee of the Mexican Government which has broad coordinating responsibilities in scientific and technological affairs, It would be a mistake to suppose that this committee, or the Mexican Government for that matter, represents the interests of the Mexican people, any more than the AAAS or the U.S. Government serves the American people. It is merely part of the Latin American oligarchy allied with U.S. economic power, which has adopted capitalist forms of misdevelopment for Mexico. Since 1940, for example, the Mexican government has opened the doors to U.S. investment, and has used its police and military power to maintain social stability, most notably in the case of the 1968 massacre in which several hundred political demonstrators were slaughtered just prior to the 1968 Olympic games.

The Mexico meeting has ten central themes, roughly divided into two categories: those directly concerned with science and technology for misdevelopment, and those concerned with the infrastructure of social and ideological control required for popular acceptance of exploitation. What can we expect the focus for each of these themes to be?

The themes in the first category all have an underlying misdevelopment scheme: “The Sea and Its Resources”—to promote Latin American cooperation with U.S. plans to extract the internationally-owned wealth of the sea; “Deserts and Arid Lands” —to explore irrigation and other schemes for making these regions produce for U.S. capital (as with wheat and cotton in Mexico); “Nutrition and New Food Technology” — to further develop agribusiness in Latin America, especially through Green Revolution technology (never mind food for the hungry); “Non-Nuclear Energy for Development”  — to explore new ideas in the development of oil resources and off-shore drilling for private interests; and “Earth Sciences for Development” — to emphasize the need for long-range U.S. planning of its consumption of Latin American resources.

The other category, oriented toward social control, is more subtle in nature, more ideological’ in content. For example, “Science, Development, and Human Values” will try to assess the impacts of U.S. investment on Latin American society in order to rationalize further investment—rather than to question the basic nature of the capitalist development scheme. “Problems of Population” is to obscure the nature of the social and political system and the oppression it engenders by focusing on population growth as the key problem of Latin America. “Opportunities in Education” is to help develop a technical support structure needed for U.S. misdevelopment schemes. “Ecology and the Deterioration of the Environment” is to cloud the political issues by focussing on the nature of air and garbage in the urban centers in Latin America without discussing either the conscious exportation of pollution from the U.S. or the reasons for the poverty and privation of those who live in the squalor of urban slums. In all these cases the existing political and economic relations are not challenged. Science and technology are portrayed as politically neutral instruments of growth and “development”. Acceptance of the U.S.’s anti-human forms of development, and perpetuating them under the guise of scientific neutrality, is the destructive use of science as cultural imperialism.

These comments on the Mexico meeting are not merely conjecture. The past history of the AAAS, the affiliations of the AAAS Advisory Committee, the way in which this meeting has been planned and organized all ensure that there will be no meaningful approach to the every-day problems that plague the Latin American people.

The meeting program thus constitutes a broad survey of “problems” of imperialist development, but this is not to say that many of the topics would not have a legitimate place at a conference where the interests of working people were primary. Clearly nutrition, resource development or earthquake prediction are relevant and important when the emphasis is right. For example, if earthquake study results in better housing for the “masses” and improved zoning in the development of cities, from the viewpoint of the urban majority, then the topic is legitimate. If, however, it means the zoning of safer neighborhoods for the rich, less vulnerable Holiday Inns and high rise luxury apartment buildings, then this is the technology of imperialism.

The evidence we’ve seen indicates that the AAAS and CONACYT have engineered the program so as to insure that those who represent the scientific elite, government agencies, industry, and private foundations will dominate the meeting. As usual, the AAAS issued no call for papers or proposals for this meeting, but rather selected various groups and individuals to participate. The program makes pretty clear who was on the AAAS’ list—representatives from the Ford Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, A.D. Little Co., Harvard Business School, the World Bank, and even Coca Cola. In Mexico. as well, the scientific, educational, and governmental elite were chosen as organizers for the various symposia. They in turn, have organized symposia meant to further their own positions and established interests—the unrestricted growth of the present forms of science and technology.

By restricting the meeting in this way to only the established elite, the AAAS and CONACYT have insured that younger American scientists, especially those who are critical, will have almost no opportunity to participate. Those who have expressed opposition to the present forms of scientific (and economic development have been essentially excluded from the meeting. A noteworthy example is the group of Third World scientists who participated in the December 1971 Philadelphia AAAS meeting and who as a result issued a strong anti-imperialist statement. Those participating in that group, including about 20 Latin American scientists, have not been invited back to the Mexico meeting. Furthermore, while it is claimed that half the participants will be from Latin America, to date there are no Cubans involved. The Mexico meeting is meant to be a gathering of those who have benefitted from the present system and who seek to perpetuate it.

The political motive and impact of the meeting can be seen more clearly by considering the two most sensitive areas of the program: the parts on technological development and population control. In both cases the U.S. program arrangers are drawn from the foreign office of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Harrison Brown, co-arranger of the theme on Science, Development and Human Values, is the foreign sectetary of the NAS; and Roger Revelle, co-arranger of the theme on Population Control, is the past chairman of the NAS Board on Science and Technology for International Development. Funded almost entirely by U.S. AID, the foreign office of the NAS and this Board in particular carry out studies and programs connected with AID’s. goals (as explained in Por Que) of promoting U.S. economic interests in the Third World.

The nature of the foreign office of the NAS is revealed by the four individuals who dominate it—Brown, Revelle, Carl Djerassi, and Bruce Old. Brown has been the NAS foreign sectetary for over ten years and has been an advocate of population control and industrial resource development planning for U.S. capital (see Por Que, p. 26). Revelle, currently chairman of the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on the Role of Science and Technology in International Development in the 1970’s, is also head of the Harvard Center for Population Studies, funded by the Ford Foundation, and has recently chaired an extensive AID-funded NAS study on Third World population control. Djerassi, presently chairman of the Board on Science and Technology for International Development, and a Director of the Syntex Corporation, is an ardent advocate of capitalist expansion in Latin America (Syntex manufactures pharmaceuticals, including birth control pills, in Latin America, and has conducted abusive birth control experiments on Mexican-American women). Djerassi is also chairman of the NAS-Brazil bilateral chemistry project (instituted on behalf of the right wing Brazilian government). Old is interested in technology transfer activities; he is foreign sectetary of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and currently senior vice president of A.D. Little Co., which has extensive interest in Third World capitalist development schemes (see Por Que, p. 26). These are the individuals who oversee the activities of the NAS foreign office and who cooperate with AID to aid in the exploitation of the Third World.

Their political perspective is strongly reflected in the Mexico meeting. The population control theme (arranged by Revelle) is a good case in point. According to Walter Bed, U.S. meeting editor, the Mexican planners were originally opposed to making population control a major theme of the Mexico meeting. But the U.S. put on the pressure, and CONACYT finally capitulated (Revelle is president-elect of the AAAS). Revelle, it should be remembered, recently chaired the NAS study, Rapid Population Growth: Consequences and Policy Implications. The report, naturally enough stresses the importance of population control in Latin America and emphasizes the need for capitalist development programs.8 That the U.S. should consider the population control theme an essential part of the Mexico meeting is not surprising, in view of the large scale AID and Rockefeller Foundation birth control programs in Latin America (the latter is providing financial support for the Mexico meeting). Included also in the Mexico meeting will be a three and one half day symposium on family planning being arranged by a representative of the Federacion Internacional de Planificacion Familiar (International Planned Parenthood) and which is described in a AAAS working document as follows:

The purpose of this symposium is to promote family planning in Mexico and Latin America. The anticipated problems that will arise from this relatively new socio-medical concept will be examined and discussed. There will be an exhibit and panel discussions of interest to the general public. The greater portion of the program will be of a high technical level, and will be particularly directed towards doctors, social scientists, biologists, and students of these disciplines.9

As we described in Por Que, these are the types of conferences used to sell to Latin American people the idea that their growing numbers is their main problem-not the maldistribution of resources, wealth, and power.

To analyze in detail every symposium in the Mexico meeting would be a very large undertaking—there are ten central themes and some 29 or so other sessions. But in view of the heavy control exercised in planning the meeting, it would be surprising if the other symposia took political positions far different from those quite obvious in the case of population control. In addition, we are struck by the conspicuous absence of sessions of obvious importance. For example, where are the sessions on military and and counterinsurgency technology, on the problems of brain-drain and underutilization of talent in Latin America, on the domination of U.S. science in all the laboratories and classrooms of Latin America, on the diverse forms of cultural imperialism perpetuated by U.S. science and technology, on the question of housing and urban slums and the quality of life engendered by these environmental conditions, on finding a form of cooperation between scientists in the U.S. and Latin America which is non-exploitative and free of U.S. domination? Such sessions are nowhere to be found.

The Mexico meeting will not deal meaningfully with the difficult problems facing the people of Latin America with respect to the proper use of science and technology. Rather this meeting will be a continuation of the existing scientific and technological relationships between the advanced capitalist countries, notably the U.S., and the Third World. All the evidence we’ve seen suggests that the meeting will be an opportunity for the scientific jet-set of both the U.S. and Latin America to perpetuate the uncritical and mechanical way in which they serve the cause of U.S. economic and cultural expansion into Latin America. Thus the Mexico meeting is part of an attempt to advance yet one more stage in the conquest of Latin America. In the past, new conquerors invoking new gods and bearing trinkets landed on Latin American soil to plunder these lands. Now we see a new breed, with a new god, this time bearing pills and seeds and lightning in their grasp.

That the imperialistic nature of the Mexico meeting will not be missed by people in Latin America is understood by CONACYT and the AAAS. Will dissent be stifled in Mexico as it was recently in Washington when the AAAS arrested eight people for distibuting literature critical of established science and the system it serves? While students and others will be allowed into the Mexico Meeting ($2 charge for students, $25 for everyone else), it is the “opinion” of Walter Bed (U.S. meeting editor and chairman) that literature will have to remain outside. This would mean that critiques or other written expressions of opposition will be stifled. If the AAAS and CONACYT were serious about the desire to deal with important issues rather than simply propagandise, how could they justify such a repressive posture? Hopefully some of their propaganda can be counteracted and a far-reaching alliance of scientists can be formed to aid in the struggle for liberation of the people of the Americas.10


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  1. Tom Weisskopf, The Harvard Independent, Nov. 1969, quoted in The Cambridge Project Social Science for Social Control, Judy Kauffman et al., eds., Cambridge, 1969.
  2. Quoted in Action Latin America, vol.l, no.2, January 1972.
  3. MIT Tech Talk, Nov.8, 1972, p.18.
  4. *officially known as the “Alliance for Progress”, the Kennedy plan of the ’60s aimed at preventing more “Cuban” revolutions in Latin America.
  5. Science, vol. 174, no. 4009, Nov. 5, 1971, p. 549.
  6. Science, vol. 176, no. 4039, Jun. 9, 1972, p.1077.
  7. Science, vol. 178, no. 4056, Oct.6, 1972, p.13.
  8. The report is being translated into Spanish by the NAS!
  9. from AAAS working document dated Dec. 15, 1972, p.11.
  10. Archive Editor’s note: the following note was included in the original text, but not referenced to in the body of the article — Resources for the Future is a “non-profit” corporation funded as a joint endeavor by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and is engaged in research and planning for resource “development”, land management, pollution control and other related areas. RfF has a special Latin American Program which has produced a detailed study of Natural Resources in Latin America, studies of agricultural productivity, etc. In 1970, RfF worked jointly with the Rand Corporation on Middle East Studies and the World Bank on misdeveloping the Lower Mekong River.