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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Review of SftP AAAS Activities
by Various SftP Working Groups
‘Science for the People’ Vol. 8, No. 3, May 1976, p. 18–31
Continuing a six-year tradition, SftP organized activities on a variety of fronts at this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, Feb. 18 – 25. Because of the range of important issues raised, the extensive media coverage, and the participation of many science-related people who are not elite science- “fat cats”, the decision was made (at SftP’s Northeast Regional Conference, Voluntown, Connecticut, in October 1975) to make the AAAS meeting a focus for SftP. The following pages contain diverse descriptions and reports of these AAAS actions, written in some cases by regular activity groups of SftP. The reports are grouped as follows: AAAS sessions arranged by members of SftP; other AAAS sessions, for which preparation and attendance was organized; related activities and events; and two overall assessments of our efforts.
The seven sessions arranged by SftP members in some cases involved preparations and full participation by SftP activity groups; others were largely the work of single persons. The regular sessions which attracted an organized attendance of SftP members and friends were generally prepared for only at the last minute. The first of the two overall assessments is the work of two members of the AAAS Coordinating Committee, the group in Boston which carried the major burden of the planning done. The second assessment presents a different perspective on the objectives and achievements of this year’s activities and comes from a member of the Stony Brook chapter, based on discussion there; it was subsequently read and endorsed by some members of the Boston chapter of SftP.
“GENETICS AND SOCIAL POLICY”
The Genetics and Social Policy Group of SftP organized the XYY campaign at Harvard (see SftP, July 1975, p. 281 and has been an active force in the Recombinant DNA controversy, at the level of both research guidelines and laboratory worker hazards.
Approximately 300- 400 people attended this AAAS-approved session held Sunday afternoon from 3 to 6 PM. The Genetics and Social Policy Group of SftP had met weeks beforehand to determine the structure of this meeting which began with 6 speakers on different aspects of the interaction of genetics research, genetic theory and social policy. The first, Gar Allen,* who teaches biology at Washington University in St. Louis, spoke on the eugenics movement in the U.S. at the turn of the century. 1 Next, Marian Lowe,* who teaches chemistry at Boston University, spoke on the attempts to use biological and genetic research to support the differences in roles between the sexes. Jonathan King,* who teaches biology at MIT, talked on the XYY male, the myth of the criminal chromosome.2 Tabitha Powledge, an associate of the Hastings Institute, spoke on the danger of genetic screening programs being used to discriminate between workers applying for jobs. Maritza Arrastia, coordinator of the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse, discussed programs in New York City and Puerto Rico to sterilize Puerto Ricans and other minority groups and the struggles against these programs. (Thirty-five percent of women of childbearing age in Puerto Rico have been sterilized.) Finally, Kostia Bergman,* who teaches biology at Northeastern University, spoke on the dangers of current research on gene implantation in bacteria, and its possible future use in human genetics.3 Jon Beckwith, who chaired the session, introduced it by showing the links between all of these issues. He described how genetic ideas and programs are used to take society off the hook for a variety of social problems — e.g. labor unrest (eugenics); feminist demands (sex-role research); social misbehavior (the XYY myth); unhealthy working conditions (genetic screening); distribution of wealth and unemployment (sterilization). These ideas were brought up in the talks themselves.
Each speaker took 10-15 minutes and after 1% hours of talks, we broke down into 6 discussion groups, one on each topic. Each group included the speaker and a member of the SftP Genetics group as chairperson. After one hour of small group discussion, the larger group reconvened, heard reports from each of the groups and a general discussion ensued for about ½ hour.
The response to the entire session was uniformly very positive. Members of the audience felt that a reasonably coherent presentation of the uses of genetics for social control was given, and that. the politics of Science for the People (whatever that is) was quite explicit. People appreciated the short presentations and the opportunity to participate in small group discussions. Just structuring the meeting this way makes people more receptive to our ideas.
The small group discussion often focused on points in our analysis which had not been made clear. For instance, many people got the impression that we were anti-science and did not see any benefits to genetics research. Some genetic screeners in the workshop thought we opposed all forms of genetic screening. This should have been made clear at the beginning, since it is a recurrent problem in talking on these issues. However, both in the XYY and the genetics and sex roles workshops many in the group ended up concluding that the research should not be allowed to continue. On the sterilization issue, there was confusion over the issue of “free choice”: Even if women in Puerto Rico are not directly coerced into accepting sterilization, are they really being allowed “free choice?”
The last ½ hour of open discussion was not terribly fruitful. In the future, this portion might be eliminated or organized in a more structured way, with specific questions.
* Members of Science for the People
The AAAS asked members of the panel to hold a press conference on Sunday morning. We chose to focus on 3 issues—1) genetic screening of workers, 2) sterilization abuse and 3) sociobiology and sex roles. About 50 reporters attended and many of their questions seemed to indicate receptivity to our. analysis. The sharpest questions again came on the sterilization issue—i.e. what’s wrong with it if women choose freely. This sharp questioning of Maritza Arrastia also reflected, we felt, a subtle unconscious racism on the part of the press. Maritza was the only minority person, and non-academic, on the panel. In the future, we should make attempts to include more such individuals in press conferences and our sessions. It could be an important part of breaking down the elitist, racist barriers in our society.
Genetics and Social Policy Group
“PRIORITIES IN CANCER RESEARCH: OCCUPATIONAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL CARCINOGENESIS”
For more than eight months we worked to organize a discussion for the AAAS meeting on why the priorities of the so-called “war on cancer” are obviously wrong. The issue is a matter of public record (N.Y. Times, May 27, 1975). More than 70% of national cancer funding, from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), goes into clinical research, and the building of clinical facilities. Yet survival outcomes for more than 80% of cancer cases have not improved since the beginning of the 1950’s (when antibiotics led to improvement of survival from surgery and radiation). In fact, recent studies indicate that the disease models for many types of cancer, which inform therapeutic practice, may be fallacious. Another 20% of research money goes into the viral cancer program where, despite excellent search techniques there is still no evidence of a virus causing human cancer, and in fact, what is known about cancer viruses in animals suggests that the understanding needed for treating these viruses does not yet exist (i.e., they do not work like smallpox or polio virus, and therefore vaccines will probably not be the answer). Only 10% of the NCI budget goes into research on environmental and chemical carcinogenesis. Yet it is this area that society can “treat”. In fact, since cancer is 60-90% caused by the environment, a program which attacks the problem of identifying carcinogens and removing them from the environment, or preventing their introduction, could do more toward solving the cancer problem that any other current effort.
Our session was first organized to explore the above three aspects, but only the environmentalists would come to debate. Some scientists connected with the National Cancer Advisory Board felt that the AAAS was an inappropriate forum to discuss these questions (“they’re only a bunch of informed laymen”), and that the discussion carried elements of assaulting funding for basic molecular biology. We disagree. The assault on funding molecular biology began when Nixon cut money for basic research, and then under pressure, restored some of it for the “war on cancer”. This encouraged molecular biologists to claim they were working toward a “cure” for cancer in order to get their research funded. Many individuals in the scientific community decried this pressure, but there was no organized opposition, and most have had to capitulate and “relate” their work to cancer. This has discouraged work in basic cell physiology which will be essential to understanding the complex problems involved in carcinogenesis and developing a scientific basis for cure.
Our session, which focused on the environmental question, outdrew Margaret Mead. There were more than 500 people packed into space meant for only 100 (the walls were opened up). The AAAS knew in advance that this session would be well attended, but apparently couldn’t find room. Gary Flamm, assistant director of the NCI Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention presented figures claiming that 17% of the NCI budget was spent on environmental cancer. The environmental carcinogenesis subcommittee of the National Cancer Advisory Board, had previously rejected these figures in November. Flamm was nailed by a member of the audience who pointed out that the NCI doesn’t even have a program to screen for carcinogens in drinking water.
Sam Epstein of Case Western Reserve, a leading crusader for Toxic Substances Legislation and an individual who has taken on the petrochemical industry in fighting to ban Dieldrin and other pesticide carcinogens, gave an outstanding overview of the problem, including how many scientists lend themselves to industry by saying we know “too little” to ban something as a human carcinogen.
Nick Ashford, of M.I.T. and author of the book Crisis in the Workplace, said that to have effective cost-benefit approaches to carcinogens, corporations must be made to bear the cost to society of such exposure.
Finally Barry Commoner of Washington University concluded by documenting how the petrochemical industry is really interested only in profits, not in health or useful products. Commoner concluded that he felt only socialism would solve the problem of cancer as a corporate caused disease. Tapes of this session are available.
The session operated under many handicaps (space, chaotic conditions) but the basic weakness was that we didn’t develop a working collective for the session well enough in advance, and thus were stuck with a lecture situation, in which little audience participation was possible. Partly this arose because we had intended this session as a “stalking horse” for our others … i.e., a super-legitimate session. However, it is clear this is a critical issue sharply illustrating how corporate rapaciousness endangers all our lives, and that scientists hide behind science and even use science against regulation of industry.
Politics of Cancer Group
ENERGY AND FOOD PRODUCTION: Contemporary Technology and Alternatives
This symposium attempted to take a hard, critical look at agricultural production, and its use of energy in our own society, as a prototype of a technically and industrially advanced capitalist country. Food and energy have come to be widely recognized in recent years as having unique and fundamental roles in the social, political, and economic relations among people and nations. On their overall abundance or scarcity rests the potential for achieving, on the average, more than a mere subsistence quality of life. Their distribution among people is one of the most meaningful indicators of the degree of equity, or inequity, of a society. As limitations on energy availability develop, the question of how energy is used in food production becomes one of the most urgent subjects for study. The energy costs for producing feed crops, as distinct from food crops, was analyzed, and the comparative costs in energy, labor, and other resources — these latter measured by their money cost — was considered. In viewing contemporary agricultural technology as having been developed for private corporate profit-efficiency and as a consequence suffering certain shortcomings, the obvious question arises as to what kind of technological alternatives, if any, could provide abundant — or at least adequate — food for all the world’s people in an ecologically stable state. The symposium attempted to address this basic question, at least tentatively, and to explore current efforts to develop alternatives to prevailing agricultural technology. More generally, since technology alone cannot solve problems of social inequity, the broader question towards which the symposium aimed is: Towards what kind of society should we strive to achieve humane, rational, healthy, and ecologically sound living for the vast majority of the world’s people?
Introductory Overview: Science for Starvation, George Salzman
Energy in Food (and Feed) Production, David Pimentel Organic versus Conventional Commercial Farms in the Midwest: Comparative Efficiencies, William P. Lockeretz
Ecological, Small-Scale Food Technology, John Todd
Low Energy-Cost Alternative Food Sampler (Vegetarian Luncheon Buffet Extraordinaire), Li-Min Mo
Energy, Money, and Labor Costs of Protein, Bruce M. Hannon Food for Profit? or Nutrition?, Frances M. Lappe Living a Healthy Life: The Human Scale, Scott Nearing Summing Up: Which Way to Go?, George Salzman
Was it a “success”? Was it worth the effort? It’s hard to know the answers to such questions with any certainty. Overall I was left with a very positive feeling, based on a variety of things. One person staffing the Science for the People table in the hotel lobby that day, told me that many people showed up after the session and were interested in knowing more about our organization.
In terms of bringing together people with a very wide spectrum of viewpoints and providing an — admittedly limited — opportunity for exchange and argument, it probably deserves to be called successful. A fair part of the questioning and discussion showed that there were sharp disagreements. Conventional agriculturalists in the audience (none of whom were on the panel) probably felt the session was rigged against them, and they tended to zero in on Bill Lockeretz, John Todd, and Frances Lappe. But the audience was also studded with ecologists and entomologists, who were not so conventional — at least as concerns agriculture — and there were also nutritionists, organic gardeners, third-world scientists, food co-op activists and of course many others to whom none of these labels apply. Oh yes, Science for the People buttons were there in force, too.
In terms of planning other symposia in the future, there were some mistakes we made that could be corrected.
First, the organizational effort was inadequate because initially I planned and arranged the symposium by myself. The Science for the People group that eventually formed and involved itself with the symposium could only meet a few times before the AAAS meetings were upon us.
Second, we did not arrange adequately for continuing contacts with most of the people who attended the session. For many of them it was therefore a ‘one-shot’ contact with our group.
Third, it is my opinion that some members of our group, who were in sharp (and valid) political disagreement with views presented by two of the panelists, assumed a harsh and hostile attitude toward them — as though they were ‘enemies’. I think those two panelists were ‘turned off’ by us, and that that is our political and intellectual loss, because they have useful insights and information that they can contribute to our efforts, if we regard them as friends and potential allies.
Except for these three failures, my impression is that the symposium over-all was good within the limitations of a traditionally conceived and organized format. If we were to do it again, I think that shorter presentations and then breaking down into several discussion groups, as was done in the genetics and social policy symposium (see report elsewhere) would probably be better.
Copies of some of the prepared papers are available from the Food and Nutrition Group, Science for the People, 16 Union Square, Somerville, Mass. 02143.
Food and Nutrition Group
“AN INTRODUCTION TO OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY”
The session on occupational health and safety, planned by a group of people from Science for the People and the Occupational Health and Safety Project of Urban Planning Aid (UPA), was held the morning of Sunday, February 22. The scheduled speakers were Judy dePontbriand, a staff person at UPA; John Froines from the Division of Occupational Health of the Vermont State Health Department; Dave Kotelchuck, a staff person at Health/PAC in New York City; and Tony Mazzochi of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union. Tony Mazzochi, unfortunately, was unable to attend, but Mike Wright of UPA filled in by narrating an excellent slide show on workplace hazards.
Some of the areas covered by the talks were as follows: the lack of university educational programs on occupational health; the possibilities for scientists participating in local committees dealing with occupational hazards in workplaces; the phenomenon of runaway shops in ha7- ardous industries (e.g. asbestos textile manufacturing moving abroad); the myth that “safety pays” (that improved safety means higher profits in the long run and therefore business just needs to be shown what its best interest is); the Vermont OSHA plan with its flexible approach to worker input and the prospect for more stringent standards.
The audience at this session was fairly young, and seemed to be very interested in health and safety from the worker’s perspective. All speakers were well received, judging by the tone and abundance of questions following each talk. About twenty people signed an interest sheet that was passed around, and have since been contacted about our ongoing OHS Group meetings.
The session was criticized for not having more content directly applicable in the lives of the academically oriented people present, e.g. laboratory hazards. Also, some of us felt that, given the extent of participation in the discussion following the talks, it would have been better to break down into smaller groups. Finally, it would have been useful to have had a physician or epidemiologist with occupational health experience on the panel to discuss the medical aspects in more depth. Our group is now in the process of discussing lab hazards and our relationship to lab workers.
Richard Youngstrom, Eric Entemann
Occupational Health and Safety Group
Some of our most exciting activities at the AAAS meetings were the sessions which we “targeted” — writing leaflets to hand out to the audience, asking questions of the speakers, and trying in other ways to challenge the message of the session. Most of the original decisions about which sessions to target were made ahead of time by chapter activity groups after investigation into the background of the speakers, guesses about what they would say, and discussion of what we might have to say in response. It was usually not until the convention started that individuals decided just which sessions they were interested in, and the resulting groups were usually made up of people from several activity groups and several cities. Included here are reports from a few of the target sessions.
“Intelligence and Performance: Newer Conceptualizations and Relevance for Behavioral Measures of Success”
Most of the people targeting this session are members of the Boston Science Teaching Group.
The abstract of this session suggested that the “truth” about intelligence “lies somewhere in between the two extremes” of “uncritical acceptance of the nature of intelligence” and “adversaries who. categorically reject intelligence.” A number of SftP people attended this session and attempted to turn the discussion to questions of the social function of intelligence tests and of the genetics-IQ controversy. However, most of the speakers on the panel attempted to avoid these issues. Klausmeier of Michigan avoided them by renaming intelligence as “concept attainment.” He was able by this ploy to neutralize the issue, at least in his own mind. He talked mainly about an analysis of the stages of learning. Stanley of Johns Hopkins spoke only of child prodigies and the importance of focusing special attention on them. Bane of Wellesley dealt with the statistical correlations between test scores and “success,” finding them useful even though the measuring instruments may be flawed. The one speaker. to openly promulgate the genetic hypothesis for intelligence was Humphries of the University of Illinois. The only speaker to bring up the social and political impact of intelligence testing was Hicks of Howard University, who was the only one on the panel relegated to the position of discussant and the only minority group representative.
The structure of the meeting was typical of regular AAA$ sessions — five mostly long-winded speakers taking up most of the time of the session, with no time allowed for questions between talks. However, SftP people spoke up after each of the first two talks, attempting to open up the discussion and change the direction of the meeting by bringing up the social and political issues around IQ testing. We challenged the neutrality the speakers were attempting to hide behind. The audience seemed startled by this intervention. However, after all the talks were over, most of the questions from the floor, including our own, were critical of positions taken by the panelists. We suspect that these questions may have been partially stimulated by our earlier “disruption,” that we encouraged critical questioning by others who may have been reluctant to do so without us. In front of this questioning Humphries very quickly backed down from his support of the genetic hypothesis, saying we shouldn’t be talking about either genetics or environment. In general, the tone of the session suggested that the proponents of the genetic hypothesis are on the defensive. The actions of many groups, including SftP, which followed the Jensen-Herrnstein theories seemed to have had a significant effect. One of the people in the audience later said to us that he had never seen such critical questioning of speakers as he had at this year’s AAA$. After the session, we sold a number of copies of the new SftP IQ pamphlet.
“The Role of Scientific Societies with Regard to Scientific Freedom and Responsibility”
The Boston Genetics and Social Policy Group, best known for its opposition to the XYY genetic screening study, was joined by several SftP members from other chapters in targeting this session.
The function of this session in the eyes of the AAA$ was to discuss “mechanisms to enable the Association to review specific instances in which scientific freedom is alleged to have been abridged or otherwise endangered, or responsible scientific conduct is alleged to have been violated” (J. Edsall’s report in Science, 16 May 1975). The extremely tedious, formal and long-winded presentations revolved around the question of whether the scientific community can develop “suitable arrangements to ensure that the freedoms enjoyed by and the responsibilities expected of its members are consistent with the high ideals it has set for itself” (AAA$ conference catalog).
Six Science for the People members prepared a leaflet which we handed out to each person at the session. It urged the audience to join us in critically challenging the panelists’ positions and indicated the assumptions underlying the AAA$ statement of the problem. These assumptions were 1) that current research is motivated only by intellectual criteria, and 2) that the protection of scientists’ “freedom” and “responsibility” could conceivably be the domain of professional societies and be determined by their formal decisions.
In general (as expected), the panelists were more concerned with protecting freedom of inquiry than with protecting the public. We brought up the problems of population control and food production; they were defensive when we suggested that there must be some political solutions to these problems. They did show some concern for protecting “whistle blowers” in the scientific community, but Edsall condemned our attack on the XYY research. They suggested that AAA$ ought to act as a clearinghouse for ideas and not as a judicial body. When we asked Edsall if there would be any public representation on the final “judicial” committee, he said, “Oh yes, John Knowles, Earl Warren, and Walter Hickel.”*
We feel that our presence was a successful one. Several people stayed on to talk afterwards and others (including one panelist) came to talk to us at other functions during the week, saying that they were impressed with our discussion. It was clear that many people in the audience, especially women, were relieved to have had our opinions aired.
Genetics and Social Policy Group
* John Edsall is Professor of Biochemistry Emeritus, Harvard University.
John Knowles is President of the Rockefeller Foundation.
Earl Warren was a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He died in 1974.
Walter Hickel is a former Governor of Alaska and a former U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
All of these men served on the AAA$ Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility, which was established in 1970.
Three Sessions on Women in Science
The Women’s Issues Group was formed by people in the Boston chapter one week before the beginning of the AAA$ meetings. We felt that Science for the People could not adequately criticize the class nature of science without considering the role of women. We decided to write a leaflet to hand out at the three AAA$ sessions which focused on women — Great Women in Science. Opportunities for Women in Science and Engineering, and Science Education for Women.
We had a good deal of trouble writing the leaflet, since we found that members of the group had very different ideas on the nature of women’s oppression. Half of us felt that feminism is a viable and important force, in and of itself, that it is only through fighting directly for the rights of women that our role will change. Others in the group argued that women’s oppression should be seen as part of class oppression, that capitalism-imperialism is the basis of sexism, and that women will be liberated when the working class is no longer oppressed. This difference was brought out in our respective attitudes toward the professional women we were addressing. Some of us viewed them as our sisters, people with whom we share common problems; the others viewed them as representatives of the ruling class, and therefore the enemy.
All of us agreed, however, that these sessions were making a mistake by dealing only with helping more women become PhDs, faculty members, and research scientists. This is not a goal with which we disagree, but we wanted to point out that it is a limited goal and that it will more likely succeed if it includes more comprehensive demands for women. The concept of “women in science” should be extended to include lab technicians, clerical workers, and others without whom the professionals could not exist. Our leaflet points out that only when all of these women join together will there be hope of changing the role of women in science.
We handed out about 200 of these leaflets before the sessions started, but got little feedback. One woman did come back to us to ask for ten more, “for the women in my department.”
Our actions at the three sessions were not very successful. First of all, we had been too busy struggling over the content of our leaflet to take time to mobilize other SftP members to come and support us during the sessions. Partly because we were a new group, we didn’t know how to target the meetings very effectively. We tried to ask a few questions, but found it hard to do this without appearing to attack the speakers and belittle their goals, which made them unwilling to listen to us. Some of us were surpised (and a little chagrined at our surprise) that they actually had something to teach us about the history of professional women in science, e.g., how little the statistics have changed in the last fifty years.
Although the goal of these meetings was concerned only with professional women, and although the speakers did not consider how women could benefit from a science which served the people, the sessions were stilr a step ahead of most of the others at the convention. Most of the speakers were women, and the large audiences were made up of people who were concerned with women’s issues. This was a real change from almost all of the other sessions, including some which were sponsored by Science for People. We left these sessions with the feeling that we had used a lot of our energy on internal struggles of the group, and that perhaps some of the rest of it had been misdirected. At the same time, we feel good that because of the AAA$ meetings, we have formed an activity group which is already beginning to help direct the attention of Science for the People towards sexism and women’s issues.
Betsy Walker, Pat Clark
Women’s Issues Group
Teaching of Science-related Social Issues
Recently, members of the Boston Science Teaching and Sociobiology groups have joined forces to criticize the failure of new high school textbooks to deal with the political implications of sociobiology.
Five SftP people attended this session. Two of us passed out a leaflet opposing a high school curriculum which promotes the ideas of sociobiology (Exploring Human Nature, developed with N.S.F. funds by Education Development Center and sociobiologists Irven DeVore and Robert Trivers). The first four talks were rather dry and conventional; we provoked some discussion in the question periods. Peter Dow’s talk on “Education for Survival: Why We Must Teach Evolution in the Schools” was a description of the Exploring Human Nature curriculum. We started a discussion on the determinist ideology in the text, on the non-existence of scientific evidence for it, and on the insidiousness of its “open-ended” approach. Without admitting that there is any controversy over it, the authors lead students to “discover for themselves” a biological explanation for all sorts of human behaviors, from a mother-child bond, to male promiscuity vs. female choosiness, to sex role differences, to children hating spinach and people avoiding open spaces. We related this curriculum to a larger sociobiology movement and to support of the political status quo. After the formal discussion was closed, people stood around to discuss the issues with us, and seemed to appreciate by the end of the session that there was a controversy that they hadn’t considered before.
B. Beckwith, B. Lang
Science Teaching Group
OTHER ACTIVITIES AT THE AAAS
Finally in addition to holding sessions and targeting others, there were a number of additional activities and actions sponsored by Science for the People at AAA$. Three of these are described here, i.e., the literature table, the bus tour, and a meeting on Alternative Technology. Others are described in the two overall assessments of Science for the People’s activities at AAA$. This year our literature table was in a centra/location and, as always, a great many people were introduced to the work of Science for the People through reading our literature and talking to the people working at the table. The bus tour presented the historic and economic roots of the busing crisis in Boston and was well received by those who took the tour. The Alternative Technology meeting was the beginning of a process, now underway, to try to analyze the political aspects of this movement in science and technology. Read on for more details.
The SftP literature table at this year’s AAA$ meeting was located in a strategic area of the Sheraton Hotel, no doubt the result of years of struggle by SftP members at previous meetings. We were allowed one small table near the main stairway linking the two floors where the sessions were held. The table rapidly expanded to four large tables with SftP material, as well as literature from the New England Free Press and 100 Flowers Bookstore.
It was the busiest, most interesting aspect of the conference according to many who were learning about SftP for the first time. What interested these new people was not only the large selection of literature, but also the chance to discuss science and technology related issues with members of SftP from Boston and around the country.
At the “height” of the conference, the literature table was the scene of political theatre portraying the emergence and consequences of agribusiness. There was also a continuous slide show on the economy shown during the first few days of the conference. Close to a thousand magazines and other SftP literature were sold including the newly published “Critique of Sociobiology” pamphlet, and the reissued IQ issue.
The literature table was also valuable as a place where SftP members from different chapters could get to know each other and discuss ways for forming stronger communication links within the organization. Many suggestions were made concerning strategies to build new chapters and organize SftP nationally.
Report on the Activities of the Busing and Racism Group at the AAAS
The Busing and Racism Group feels that its efforts at the AAAS received positive response from participants. There was good exchange among all the people participating and acknowledgement of the seriousness and magnitude of racism, and its use by the segregationist movement (including ROAR, KKK, and Citizens’ Councils) and the movement’s links to the ruling class.
The Busing and Racism Group put on a bus tour to point out and link up the different forces which control people’s lives in Boston. The tour concentrated on pointing out specific schools and their important characteristics, the associated neighborhoods and their relation to the schools, as well as their manipulation by the government to maintain control. Going through South Boston (an all white area) and then on to Dorchester and Jamaica Plain (integrated areas), it was very clear that neighborhood and housing conditions were equally terrible. Both the all- white and the all- black housing projects in these areas were poorly maintained and decrepit. The housing conditions are not a function of the occupants’ race and while people within integrated neighborhoods are fighting for better conditions and better schools, ROAR’s racist leadership is doing nothing toward improving the quality of schools or housing. The histories of different neighborhoods illustrate the intentionally destructive urban development of space for high-rise office buildings to serve the upper class. These policies have resulted in the dislocation of thousands of people who have been forced to accept rapidly deteriorating housing, the destruction of their communities and increased isolation.
Busing is an important means of integration and has been fought for by the Black community for years. However, the ruling class, just as it uses urban renewal to destroy homes and neighborhoods, will use busing against the people in any way it can. It has already done this by busing students from schools that have already been integrated, thus disrupting these schools for no reason, and by supporting the segregationists, who through their racist policies force the whites of South Boston into greater poverty and poorer conditions.
In our forum on the Boston schools, we discussed the role of the segregationist movement, how it divides working people, thus making things worse for all poor people and enabling the rich to have more profits and control. The use of busing was discussed in relation to strengthening the fight for integration and unity among all. This unity would then provide the necessary base for the struggle for better education and working conditions.
We also prepared and distributed a leaflet at Harvard President Derek Bok’s opening lecture at AAAS. The leaflet’s purpose was to bring out the contradictions between Harvard’s good intentions and promotion of science and its ruthless, long- term, well-planned destruction of housing and entire neighborhoods for its own profit.
Another leaflet distributed at several population-related sessions pointed out the fallacy of blaming social problems on overpopulation. By comparing different Boston by the capitalist class. These histories show that urban renewal has been used to destroy integrated neighborhoods, with strong community organizations, to make population densities (industrial European countries having the highest densities), funding sources for population propaganda, and examples of social success as in China, the social problems of countries were seen to be directly related to exploitation of those countries by capitalists of those countries and imperialist interests from abroad. Copies of an updated issue of “Behind the Boston Busing Crisis” are available from the office. (cost 25 cents)
Busing and Racism Group
Alternative Technology Group Meeting
A group of people in Boston who were interested in “alternative technology” had been meeting for a couple of months before the AAAS, mainly in planning an issue of the magazine which would focus on this topic. The AAAS gave us an opportunity to get together with others in SftP from around the country who agreed that SftP should take “alternative technology” more seriously than we had in the past, whether we agreed with it or not. So on Sun., Feb. 22, around 18 people, from Ann Arbor, Seattle, St. Louis, Syracuse, Chicago, Detroit, and Boston, got together to talk.
We decided a number of things: first, that we should organize an official session on alternative technology at the AAAS next year; second, that we would start an informal national newsletter to tie people together; and third, that people were going to help collect material on this subject for publication in SftP magazine.
Beyond these concrete decisions and probably most importantly, there was an excellent discussion in which people tried to formulate what they saw to be the political importance of the alternative technology movement. People were buoyed by discovering others who shared their view that such a movement has political importance. Then began the work of defining issues and differences. For example, is alternative technology to be defined in terms of its size (small-scale), and complexity (low technology), or primarily in terms of the class whose needs it serves? Is the task of SftP to design and build alternative technologies, for this country and/or the Third World, or is it rather to politicize an alternative technology movement that already exists?
Since the AAAS meeting, the Boston group on alternative technology has expanded and is starting a study group. The first issue of the national newsletter has been printed. People who want more information or who want to contribute to the magazine or newsletter should contact us.
Alternative Technology Group
Overall Assessment 1: The AAAS Visits BuyCentennial City
The American Association for the Advancement of Science decided to join the BuyCentennial celebration by holding its annual convention in the city “where it all began.” Last fall, this convention was chosen to be the prime focus of SftP activities for the winter and a coordinating committee was formed to help mobilize the 1..~1apters for the convention, to coordinate their activities, and help SftP use this meeting as a way of building a national organization.
Prior to the AAA$ meeting, the coordinating committee conducted two general SftP meetings in the Boston area. These meetings served to advertise the planned Science for the People presence at the AAA$ meeting and to bring new people into these activities. As a further example of how the coordinating committee helped mobilize people for the convention, it and the magazine committee suggested that the March issue of Science for the People be a special issue geared to the AAA$ meeting and the goal of introducing Science for the People to new people. Articles for the magazine were solicited, written, edited, typeset, laid out, and sent to the printers and back in the office in less than eight (yes 8!) weeks.
SftP’s presence at the AAA$ meeting was marked by a wide range of activities. Many of these followed the examples of previous meetings, though we were generally better organized. Over 15 leaflets were distributed, twelve AAA$ sessions were “targeted”, and our literature table did about $1,000 of business. Some of the activities were new. One was the preparation of six sessions appearing as part of the AAA$ official program. These sessions were well attended, many drawing overflow crowds. We also sponsored several evening sessions designed to introduce SftP and its activities. One was a presentation of the China slide show, another was an open-house for science teachers run by the Science Teaching Group. A bus tour of the real Boston was conducted by the Busing and Racism Group and was well patronized.
The tenor of our presence this year was “toned down” from previous years. Missing was the annual confrontation over the SftP literature table. This year, the correspondence between the AAA$ and SftP throughout the fall and winter, resulted in an awkward but friendly meeting where we discovered that AAA$ was willing to let us set our literature table in a central and prominent spot. Our presence at “targeted” sessions was also thought to be less “disruptive”. The shouting matches between people on the floor wanting to question speakers and the chair which wanted to stop such “disruption” were avoided since most chairpersons followed the suggestions of the AAA$ management on “How to Handle Disruptions” by allowing questions after every speaker.
Although our presence was generally successful, several shortcomings were evident. One was that the coordinating committee often failed to coordinate. Chapters outside Boston, and many activity groups within Boston, were generally uninformed about the discussions and suggestions of the coordinating group.
A particular example of this failure was in the selection of a “theme” for our presence. The coordinating committee suggested that our presence at the AAA$ focus on two themes — revealing the class nature of science, and showing how the current crisis reinforces this class character. These points were never clearly presented to either the activity groups or the general membership. Real discussion on the importance of a theme, its formulation, and its use never took place. Thus, while many people were aware of the theme, few felt comfortable enough with it to make it an effective tool in our work at the convention.
Another problem centered on the roles of leadership and democracy. The coordinating committee was somewhat isolated. SftP general membership was never introduced to its composition or informed of its discussions. (The isolation was somewhat reduced by the inclusion of the Boston area steering committee in the coordinating committee. This connected it to some of the activity groups.) Consequently, decisions made at the AAA$ meeting appeared to be arising from some powerful, central committee held to be above criticism. At the first several days of the AAA$ meeting, this high-handed behavior was the source of conflict and irritation. Since the coordinating committee had decided not to schedule the usual evening planning meeting, it appeared that an attempt was being made to subvert the organization. By Friday evening, the meetings of the coordinating committee were publicly announced, and people from outside the Boston area were encouraged to attend. A general meeting to discuss and criticise our presence at the convention was scheduled for Saturday evening. This meeting was well attended, and helped iron things out.
We learned a lot from our work at the convention. We saw the impact of the whole organization focusing its efforts (or trying to!). But while being well organized is very important, it will only work if everyone knows and chooses the overall strategy and leadership. We also need more education within Science for the People around science and political issues. At the same time, the level of political understanding of the attendees .at the AAA$ meeting was much higher than in previous years. On the last evening, the SftP meeting for new people proposed, wrote, and distributed a petition protesting Rockefeller’s address to the AAA$.
At the AAA$ meeting, we met a lot of people who are interested in working with Science for the People. We have names, chapter contacts, and a national organizing committee. We have activity groups and ideas for new activity groups. It is important that all of us help bring the two together; that we all take part in building a science for the people.
Steve Cavrak, Mike Teel
AAA$ Coordinating Committee
Overall Assessment ll: A Critique of SftP Activities at the Boston AAAS Meeting.
Despite concerns about the elite nature of participants at recent AAA$ meetings and about the dangers of adopting a nonconfrontational, liberal strategy in an effort to appeal to this audience (see for example SftP Vol. VII, No. 2, p. 20.), the consensus in SftP is still that there are many people attending AAA$ sessions who would be receptive to a radical analysis of science-related issues. Not only did we decide once again to participate, but for the first time members of SftP arranged several sessions as part of the official AAA$ program!
As participants in this and past AAA$ actions we wish to urge that we engage in a serious evaluation and self-criticism of our efforts in Boston so that our planning for involvement in future AAA$ (and other large) meetings will be better informed. We offer the following criticisms and suggestions in that spirit.
Planning for the meeting. As usual it seems that this task was left in the hands of a very small group of people who, despite hard work, could not do all that was needed to be done. Pre-meeting publicity was very poor and those of us outside of Boston received very little information either about the SftP sessions or other planned activities. The coordinating committee suffered from the fact that they were working without any clear political organizational guidelines. It seems that they responded to this fact by allowing each SftP AAA$ organizer to do his or her own thing. An alternative would have been to attempt to do some coordination on the basis of our experience at past meetings. (For example there should have been a clear policy with respect to a limit on the length and number of scheduled talks to insure a format that encouraged maximum participation.)
The SftP Table. For the second year in a row we managed to persuade the AAA$ to give us a prime location for our literature and information table. The table was a constant focus of attention — we sold much literature, collected many new names and addresses and publicized our activities. Unfortunately not everyone who staffed the table was well-informed about what was going on. In certain cases some individuals seemed to be pushing their own favorite activity to the exclusion of the other events planned for that day. A bit more organization here, and again some guidelines, could improve the political impact of what is probably our most important activity at such meetings.
Evening SftP Meetings. At previous AAA$ meetings SESPA/SftP held nightly open meetings to criticize the actions we had engaged in and to make final plans for the next day’s events. Frequently these sessions lasted long into the night and were inefficiently organized. Chairpeople permitted repetitious unfocused discussion. Nevertheless, these sessions invariably attracted many prospective new members who could clearly see the difference between the closed “efficient” planning of the AAA$ elite and the political process of open discussion and criticism which characterized SftP.
Unfortunately the coordinating committee made the serious error of abandoning rather than reforming these vital sessions. In the interest of efficiency the format for the one planned open evening get-to-know-us meeting consisted of brief introductory statements by Boston project group representatives followed by announcements of the events for the next day or two which had been decided on at a poorly advertized planning meeting open only to SftP members. Following this, the meeting was divided into discussion groups around topics related to Boston SftP’s present activities. There was no opportunity for criticism or discussion of what we were doing at the AAA$ meeting. By choosing effective chairpeople and carefully planning the agenda a coordinating committee of SftP can do a great deal to make open meetings more effective and less frustrating without sacrificing vital aspects of our political process.
In response to criticism the coordinating committee did call one open evening meeting. Despite the fact that it was not very well publicized, and that it was a Saturday evening, attendance was quite good. The session was well planned and effectively chaired. About SO people including several newcomers spent about two hours in a lively critical discussion. We should recognize that our training in this society has prejudiced us in favor of “efficient” top-down decision making. Unless we learn to value universal involvement in the political process and commit ourselves to accept the responsibility and to learn the discipline necessary to make it work, we are not going to do very much in the effort to build a society in which science can serve the people.
Official SftP Sessions. In terms of choosing significant topics that would attract a sympathetic audience, we were for the most part quite successful. Most of our sessions were well-attended and the rooms that the AAA$ scheduled for us proved to be too small.
Unfortunately it was in these best-advertized and most carefully planned events that our lack of political guidelines was most apparent. A primary aspect of our political attack on the AAA$ over the years has been our attempt to point out through every means from confrontation to counterexample that the typical AAA$ session involving long speeches by “experts” with little opportunity for participation or criticism by the audience is a model for what is wrong with science as it is organized and practiced here. How then can we justify the fact that in at least two instances our own sessions differed only very slightly from this oppressive format? (By contrast, our session “Research for the People” involved very brief introductory talks followed by lively small group discussions and a sum-up of the results of these discussions.)
We must adopt guidelines that will prevent future session planners from doing-their-own-thing. It is surely possible to introduce well-documented factual arguments and direct and focused discussion without relying on long-winded “expert” speakers who would take offence at the requirement that the content and style of their presentation be subject to approval by a SftP session-planning committee.
Press Conference. The SftP press conference, from all reports, suffered seriously from a lack of preplanning. We must be very careful about any official presentation we make to media reporters. If we choose to schedule press conferences in the future, it is essential that they be preceded by serious politically conscious planning.
Target Sessions. As in previous years, several AAA$ sessions were selected each day as targets for political activity. In the past our involvement ranged from orderly participation in the discussion (if there was any) to disruption and attempts (often successful) to reorganize the session. This year, perhaps because of our new role as official participants, we refrained from anything more disruptive than some pointed questioning of speakers. Our effectiveness in this aspect of our activity would have been enormously increased if we had selected the target sessions several weeks in advance. This would have provided the opportunity to do some research on the speakers and decide on appropriate tactics. In general too many sessions were selected and we spread ourselves too thinly.
Sum-up. We think our decision to continue our activity at AAA$ meetings was and is correct. There were many people at this year’s meeting who were willing to listen to what we had to say. However, it is essential if we are to be a progressive political force that we agree on political principles to guide our future actions. This does not mean adopting a sectarian set of abstract principles of unity. It is precisely in the context of our concrete practice — based on past experience — that it is possible to establish principles that we can be guided by and around which we can unite.
Ted Goldfarb, Stony Brook;
Eric Entemann, Bob Shapiro, Boston
>> Back to Vol. 8, No. 3 <<
- G. Allen. History of Eugenics in the Class Struggle. Science for the People, 6, Mar. 1974. Reprinted in IQ: Scientific or Social Controversy? Published by the SftP Group on Genetics and Social Policy. 1976. Available from.SftP, 16 Union Sq., Somerville, MA 02143 for $1.25.
- J. Beckwith and J. King. “The XYY Syndrome: A Dangerous Myth,” New Scientist, Nov. 14, 1974, p. 474. Reprinted in IQ: Scientific or Social Controversy?
- Group on Genetics and Social Policy. Gene Implantation May Be Dangerous to your Health. 1976. Available from SESPA for $0.20.