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

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 9, No. 5, September-October 1977, p. 4

Even though new data on the formidable hazards and questionable efficiency of nuclear power plants continues to appear, the issue of nuclear power may at this point be more political than technical. Technical problems, such as waste disposal and the security of weapons-grade nuclear materials, may even be shown to be insoluble. Despite this, as Barry Commoner points out in his article, the Carter Administration seems deter-mined to lock this country into a nuclear future and to block alternate paths of energy development. These efforts, carried out under a cloak of deceptive, high-sounding political rhetoric and technical jargon, have been largely effective in convincing the American public that its best interests are being served.

Yet, as Commoner points out, this push for nuclear expansion is being carried out mainly to perpetuate the present economic system. Developing the only other viable alternative, solar energy, would threaten the established power structure, by loosening the hold of giant corporations on the economy and our lives. People must find out and struggle for what’s in their best interest—not only freedom from radioactive hazards but the freedom to participate in economic and production decisions, now largely in the hands of owners of capital.

People taking control of the decisions that affect their lives is what socialism is all about—the common ownership and social governance of the means of production. Fighting nuclear power and developing solar energy makes that goal more achievable.

Much has been said and written about recombinant DNA in the last few years. As with nuclear power, a strong temptation exists—especially among the technical community—to focus discussion on whether recombinant DNA is or is not dangerous from a narrowly technical point of view. Seeing the issue as primarily technical, many scientists desire to keep discussion of the dangers and decisions about continuing or halting the research within the scientific establishment. While there are technical issues involved, it seems clear that to expect scientists to forego pursuing a professionally profitable goal just because it is also potentially dangerous is analogous to expecting industries to voluntarily institute expensive pollution controls.

The real issue in the recombinant DNA controversy is not scientific, but political. Who decides what research gets done? In their article, Scott Thacher arid Bob Park report on the development of a movement towards establishing social controls over recombinant DNA technology and, by implication, over scientific work which affects our lives.

In this issue Patty Bronson confronts a relatively new and formidable threat to health, namely, the use of drugs to control children in the classroom. The term MBD (minimal brain dysfunction) has been coined by doctors as a catch-all phrase encompassing a wide range of ‘problematic’ behaviors. It is argued that the presence of these behaviors in young children is symptomatic of an organic disorder. Children exhibiting such symptoms in the classroom may be diagnosed as suffering from MBD (or hyperactivity) and then perhaps treated clinic-ally. In other words, if a child happens to exhibit “general awkwardness, . . . Poor printing, writing or drawing ability, … thumb-sucking, nail-biting, head-banging, … (or) possibly negative and aggressive (attitudes) towards authority,” then s/he runs the risk of being treated with strong, poorly understood, psycho-active drugs.

Whatever legitimate help drug therapy can offer some hyperactive children~ it is certainly unwise to hastily drug unwitting kids when so little is known about the long-term effects of such. a treatment strategy. The term MDB itself is so poorly defined that it really amounts to nothing more than a name serving to mask ignorance. No one can tell precisely why a child is behaving in some particular way, nor does anyone know whether or not it is somehow ‘unhealthy’. There simply is no rigorous understanding of what hyperactivity is, and for that reason one ought to proceed all the more cautiously. Unfortunately, our doctors and school systems seem to be throwing caution to the winds.

>>  Back to Vol. 9, No. 5  <<