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Corporate Connections of Notable Scientists
by New York City SftP
Science for the People’s approach to the AAAS meetings this year was considerably more restrained than in previous years. Preliminary planning emphasized visibility rather than confrontation and we organized to maintain a viable SftP presence rather than an active engagement with the AAAS hierarchy or the AAAS membership. In this we were greatly influenced by the experience of Berkeley SftP last year at the AAAS in San Francisco. The Berkeley Chapter was lied to, harassed, and threatened with arrest in their attempt to simply maintain a literature table. Their subsequent evaluation of the action was that the AAAS membership was largely unreachable at this point because budget cuts meant that only established figures could now afford to travel to the meeting and they concluded that a large organizing effort was no longer worthwhile, given AAAS harassment as well.
Our experience in New York City was far more positive and we recommend that reasonable effort be put into next year’s AAAS meeting in Boston. We maintained a literature table in an excellent location in the Hotel Americana, Monday through Friday, from 9–6 PM. The AAAS was highly conciliatory towards us and the meeting director, Arthur Herschman, was solicitous and polite throughout the meeting. A preliminary telephone conversation with Herschman in Washington had not been as friendly, but he was willing to give us space that he assured us would be satisfactory. This proved to be the case. We interpret the AAAS stance as a desire to avoid unpleasant publicity at this point. Whether the same policy will prevail next year remains to be seen.
Since we were prepared for harassment, eight of us showed up Monday morning to protect the table. We liberated a platform from a storeroom and set up the literature. We were then approached by Herschman and the hotel custodial staff and were requested to accept three large tables, table cloths and chairs to make our display look more presentable. We accepted their chairs and tables and proceeded to sell $200.00 worth of literature, closing at 6 PM to drink and talk with a few conference-goers who came by. The rest of the week went much the same way. We had four to eight SftP people behind the table instead of the usual two, and this made for a lively, enjoyable atmosphere. Many conference registrants were interested in speaking to us about Science for the People and about seventy-five signed a mailing list. By Friday we had sold over $600.00 worth of literature. Representatives from New York City, Stony Brook and Boston SftP chapters participated, and a New York based demographers’ group, Emerging Population Alter natives (EMPA) shared the table with us, as did a member of the Committee for Social Responsibility in Engineering (CSRE). We sold Health PAC and New England Free Press literature, as well as our own.
Our actions differed from previous years’ in that we did not intervene actively in the sessions. Although there were many opportunities to do this, we had not prepared sufficiently to do more than ask general questions which were often easily evaded.
The AAAS meeting was covered by WBAI, the listener-sponsored radio station in New York City. We were completely unprepared for this, but assumed that WBAI, as a station known for left sympathies and for giving air time to radicals, would automatically consult with us about the coverage. This did occur to a significant extent, but not without some heated arguments and misunderstandings about issues such as whether WBAI should give air time to AAAS officials like Roger Revelle and how much time Science for the People should have. As the week progressed, the WBAI crew became considerably more sympathetic toward SftP, the more they saw of the AAAS meeting. As WBAI reported Lindsey Auden put it, “Why, this is nothing more than an industry trade show.”
Science for the People participation in the WBAI coverage consisted of Ted Goldfarb (Stony Brook) speaking about the role of the AAAS (Sunday night), Jon Beckwith and Steve Chorover, both from Boston, discussing the XYY situation and scientific neutrality (Monday night), (See SftP, Vol. VI, no. 4), Rich Rosen (NYC) speaking on energy on Tuesday and Maurice Bazin and Sam Anderson, both from N.Y., on Third World Science, on Thursday evening. Dick Leigh, Joe Schwartz and Paula Woletz, all of N.Y., presented a summary and analysis of the entire meeting on Sunday afternoon. The Bazin-Anderson session included a militant confrontation with Roger Revelle, the retiring AAAS president and a leader in the promotion of population explosion ideology. The confrontation was somewhat scary and exhilarating since it was the first time that an AAAS bigwig had been cornered without a podium or large lecture hall for protection.
Our evaluation of this year’s activities is overall a positive one. We missed opportunities in sessions, but to fully exploit them would have required more time and effort in organizing than seemed appropriate. The scheduled Beckwith, Chorover and Schreier session on “Health Policy and Social Control” was especially successful, suggesting that we should try to schedule whole sessions at the next AAAS meeting, on subjects like science teaching, scientific professionalism, occupational health research, third world science, or science, technology and underdevelopment. The literature sales raised needed money and the WBAI coverage showed the usefulness of movement-type media coverage.
We recommend that we plan for a fairly active participation at next year’s meeting in Boston, including an attempt to reserve time on the official program.