About This Issue

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

About This Issue

by Editorial Collective

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 8, No. 1, Janurary 1976, p. 3 & 38

In this issue the Editorial Committee embarks on a new direction. For the first time in our history, guidelines for the magazine have been established. At the Northeast Regional Conference in October (see conference report, page 25), four guidelines were passed:

  1. SftP magazine should deal with issues of science and technology in a radical manner rather than presenting general Leftist issues and analysis.
  2. The magazine should not be exclusively an organizing device. Since the magazine would aim at a broad readership, it would have to be less polemical and more readable by the general public than it is at present.
  3. SftP should be the magazine of a mass organization, whose objective is to raise the political consciousness and participation of its readership.
  4. The Magazine Coordinating Committee should investigate how the magazine can also become an instrument for building chapters and activities and report their results in the Internal Discussion Bulletin.

Although not everyone at the conference and on the Editorial Committee agreed with the guidelines, everyone on the Committee feels that it is a step forward to have general direction given by the organization to the magazine. In putting together this issue, we have interpreted the guidelines and used them in our selection and editing of articles. In order for us to better apply the guidelines, though, we welcome comments and criticism from the readership.

Persons considering submitting articles for publication are encouraged to keep these guidelines in mind. Also, we would like to suggest that people who are planning to write something send us an outline of their article so that some agreement can be reached in advance concerning whether the material falls within the current guidelines.

In keeping with SftP’s general goal of building a mass organization of radical science-related people, the North-east Regional Conference voted to focus the energy of the organization on the upcoming meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston in February, 1976. The AAAS is the largest professional association in science and performs a variety of roles in integrating science into the established order. These range from special features in the mass media, Congressional science advisory programs and regional seminars in fashionable research, to the publishing of books, tapes and, of course, Science magazine. The officials of the AAAS are part and parcel of the science establishment, representing academia, government and industry. The political orientation of Association activities ranges from moderate liberal to mainstream reactionary. However the general membership of the AAAS numbers over one hundred thousand and constitutes a diverse grouping of science workers: researchers, students, technicians and teachers, in all areas of both the natural and social sciences, “pure” and “applied.”

AAAS meetings are an annual event where the more elite members of big science, and others, come to display their latest wares, reflecting recent years’ research fund-ing (which many of them are responsible for allocating). The topics also reflect priorities in current social policy and are presented with emphasis on public information and the mass media. The technical options posed in many areas of social policy are presented as objective, neutral science. This is the main focus of SftP: showing that science is a political force serving those who rule; that the questions asked, directions suggested and solutions sought reflect overtly, or subtly, the dominance of the ruling class.

Past SftP activities (and other developments) have had significant impact on the drift of the AAAS political climate. During the peak of the Vietnam War, the AAAS passed a resolution condemning Nixon’s bombing of Hanoi, an unprecedented, “political” act. The policy role of science “experts” in areas such as education are propagandized with more caution and reserve than in the past. But equally important, SftP has met many friends, supporters and participants at AAAS meetings. One of the ways that science and the AAAS are biased is in what is left out. SftP’s contribution this year includes a number of sessions arranged by members of SftP, two of which pinpoint gross omissions from the rest of the pro-gram: a session on occupational health and one on the politics of cancer research priorities. These two areas are probably among the most acute examples of how big science does not serve the people, and provide an opportunity for SftP to specify positive alternatives as well as negative criticism of establishment science.

In a class society, the class that rules develops and relies on technical knowledge via numerous pathways. Private consulting by university faculty is one avenue which is less well known. These academics help the ruling class maintain control not only by giving specific technical assistance to advance the goals of corporations and government agencies but also by helping disseminate the ideology needed for the present system to continue. The article on consulting provides some detailed information on consulting practices and further, lays out a program addressing this issue. One benefit of this kind of program would be an addition to the political education of students and faculty about not only the university, but the real world outside. Consulting is particularly vulnerable to exposure since much of it is highly confidential, even to the point of the subject and the sponsor-client.

At the beginning of October, 1975, the Ann Arbor Science for the People held a conference to confront the issue of biological determinism. With the capitalist system increasingly under attack, this old ideology is being pushed again and again to defend and promote the contradictions in the status quo. Whether the issue is the women’s movement, third world and nationalist struggles, environmental issues or allocation or resources, ideologues have found ‘scientific proof’ to support the continued oppression and exploitation of people, re-sources and nature. The report from the Ann Arbor conference illustrates the breadth of this ideology.

In addition to this report, there is an article in this issue that describes in some detail one example of this ideology of scientific determinism. In “Hardin’s Lifeboat Adrift” the author examines Garret Hardin’s theory of the inevitability and desireability of a class-biased distribution of resources. From discussing this article in the editorial collective, it seemed to us that there were certain implications of this theory that should be examined in more detail. As the article points out, the ethical consequence of Hardin’s theory is to ‘let them starve.’ If the present distribution of resources is to con-tinue, the only solution to the scarcity of resources faced by most of the people in the world is Hardin’s non-solution. But Hardin isn’t saying that we should pull out of the third world and developing nations and leave them alone. Many of those countries would probably be better off without our ‘help’ since ‘our help’ usually consists of multi-national corporations (protected by the U.S. government) draining those countries of their resources while selling them worthless consumer goods. What Hardin is saying is—leave the corporations alone, leave us (the ruling class) alone, stop making us feel guilty with all of this talk about starvation—and leave the rest of the world with business as usual.

This article also brought out again the question as to how the left should respond to this sort of pseudo-scientific defense. It is often argued that the lack of real scientific justification for these theories is enough to insure that they will not be accepted as valid explanations. But have theories like Jensen’s been effectively countered by that tactic alone? Is it enough to just challenge the results? Or should we also challenge . the assumptions, the bias inherent in the questions?

Finally there are two articles dealing with attempts to organize scientific and technical workers. Scientific and technical workers, especially those designated as professionals, have traditionally enjoyed a degree of privileged and autonomy unknown to other workers. Many of these people are now realizing, however, that their privileged status is far from inviolable. As the economy worsens and as the results of scientific research become a commodity to be bought and sold, along with the labor that produces it, scientific and technical workers are being faced with lay-offs, speed-ups, lower real incomes, fewer benefits, and less and less of the intellectual autonomy they’d come to expect. The articles by Strom and Gilbert and Weinrub describe attempts to organize scientific and technical workers around some of these issues. They illustrate problems that arise as a result of individualistic styles of work, other problems that can be traced back to the ambiguous position of many scientific workers vis a vis the managers. There are some lessons that can be learned from these articles that should help in developing more effective strategies in the future. From the Gilbert and Weinrub article we can see again the need to work collectively, to do preliminary work on a small scale that allows the development of a long range strategy and concrete demands that will gain the support of the workers. We can see that the process of building a movement calls for protracted struggle, not just spontaneous actions, collective actions rather than individual ones.

These articles also illustrate the need for a better understanding of the class positions of the scientific and technical strata. Are the staff scientists at the National Laboratories part of the working class? What are the demands that they are making? Are these progressive demands or are they organizing to protect their privileges? We need to learn how to work among members of the scientific and technical strata, to put forward progressive demands, demands that can be linked up with the demands of the working class. Though not necessarily part of the working class, scientific and technical workers can play a part as allies in the struggle. To do that we must evaluate and learn from actions of this sort so that we can begin to develop more effective long range strategies.

>>  Back to Vol. 8, No. 1  <<