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 email@example.com
Laboratory! A SftP Play
by The Fuming Hoods (Boston SftP’s political theater group)
‘Science for the People’ Vol. 9, No. 6, November-December 1977, p. 19–24
Laboratory! was collectively written by several members of Boston SftP’s political theater group, the Fuming Hoods. This play, while not the most detailed theoretical political argument, has proved to be an entertaining method of communicating basic ideas of “science for the people.” Over the past several months, the Hoods have been entertaining and educating both members of SftP and people outside the organization with this play and other skits on nutrition, occupational health and safety, agribusiness, political economy and nuclear energy. People are encouraged to use this script to perform Laboratory!, adapting it to their own purposes. The Editorial Committee also encourages people to submit more material like this—fiction, poetry, theatre, art—to the magazine. For more information about the Hoods, scripts, bookings, etc, please contact the Boston SftP office.
Action takes place at Arthur D. Bigg Laboratories, a scientific research and consulting firm.
Management people: MGR—Manager who develops management decisions (male)
PR —Public relations V.P. who presents management decisions to employees and stockholders (male)
BIGG —Mr. Bigg himself, principal stockholder and Chairman of the Board of Arthur D. Bigg Laboratories, Inc. (Overwhelming but silent personality) (male)
D -Dishwasher, lab worker employed to clean and maintain glassware. She suggests first good project and her political consciousness is quickly raised (female).
LW —Lab worker who makes comments indicating cyn1c1sm. Consciousness raised slowly (male)
TECH —Technician and organizer (female) SCI—Scientist who heads lab group. He quickly joins protest, but has elitist tendencies with which rest of group has to contend (male).
- Presentation to employees of call for research proposals
- Workers’ discussion, good proposals suggested
- Management chooses a proposal
- Presentation of choice to employees and stockholders
- Workers’ consciousness is raised
- Management response: review organizing, choose alternate project 8. Workers realize need for larger organization
Scene-Lunch in lab at Arthur D. Bigg. L Wand TECH are seated at table. D is washing glassware at side of stage behind L W. SCI enters with PR.
SCI: Can I have your attention? Sorry I have to break into your free period, but it’s the only time you’re allowed together. We have a guest from upstairs who’s come to read you an important announcement. I’d like to present Dan Fronkelsnortz. Dan …
PR: Thank you. I have the pleasure of announcing that …
Arthur D. Bigg, inventor of Captain Cardboard Cereal and Talcum Seltzer Menthol, who developed the oil slick eater for Accidental Petroleum, whose sociologists proved that sickle cell anemia is a communist plot, along with the hammerhead shark, takes this opportunity to call for research proposals.
In appreciation of outstanding achievement, we invite those in our employ to further contribute to the progress of science by bringing the latest advances in technology within grasp of the common man. The Bigg Foundation will itself sponsor the chosen research project.
Relatives and employees of the Arthur D. Bigg Corporation, the Bigg Foundation, and Global Advertising are all eligible to enter. Void where prohibited.
PR: Thank you, gentlemen.
(PR leaves, escorted by SCI)
Scene—Same as scene I.
TECH: (To LW) Wow! That’s the first time I’ve ever heard them call for proposals.
LW: Me too, and I’ve been working here for ten years. I wonder what’s up.
D: (Who has been washing glassware quietly at side of stage) Where do these research projects we work on usually come from?
LW: Oh, hi Ruth. I didn’t see you come in.
TECH: Well, whenever a big corporation like Talcum Seltzer or General Swill wants to solve a problem or develop a new product they come to Arthur D. Bigg. They never do any of that stuff themselves.
D: I don’t blame them! I wish there was some place we could go. I got pissed this morning. Mr. Scientist blamed me for dirty glassware. But it’s the distilled water rinse that runs through this machine. The pipes are bad. But he won’t listen; he doesn’t even know my name …
LW: Well, Mr. Bigg is asking for proposals. Maybe we could figure out a natural water purification process which …
D: Sure, but he wasn’t asking me. What do I know about science —nothing; what has he taught me—nothing.
TECH: Well, we can submit a proposal. We work here too. What if we ask Scott; he knows a lot and maybe he could help us design it. It could be designed so each house could have clean water without adding chemicals. It would be a lot cheaper if it works.
SCI: (Entering) I’ve got it, folks! I think we can really win Mr. Bigg’s contest. Why don’t we design a solar energy panel which could generate enough heat to beat Gas and Electric increases.
TECH: Well, wait a minute. Ruth was just complaining about the lousy water in this lab, so we were talking about working on a water purification process which would also help everyone. But we can’t do it alone. Do you think you could help us with the specifications?
SCI: OK, sure. But I can’t do mine alone either …
D: Look—I like both ideas. Why don’t we do them together. Bent, you work with me first and Kathy and Scott could start on the panel. At this rate we could have them both out in a few weeks.
(All exit, talking animatedly)
Scene—Boardroom of Arthur D. Bigg. Bigg enters,followed by MGR and PR. All sit at table: Bigg with back to audience, M GR and PR at sides of table, so they can address BIGG and audience simultaneously)
MGR: (With a pile of proposals) Mr. Bigg, today we will select from this pile of proposals the one which will best serve the needs of Arthur D. Bigg, Incorporated. As you well know, our company, as a result of our past successes, has accumulated a large amount of capital, which needs to be invested in a profitable enterprise.
PR: (Grabbing a proposal) The Osmotic Water Purifier is very impressive. With the increasing water shortages the market should be large. But, the theoretical studies show that it can· only be built as large units and would therefore tend to become a regulated public utility.
The studies also suggest that the units would be very durable and therefore offer no hope of continuing sales.
MGR: The solar heating units have a similar problem in that even though the initial market would be large, the continuing sales would tend to be low because of the durability of the units. The nuclear-powered cigarette filter, on the other hand, has definite advantages in that smokers will buy a new one with each cigarette.
PR: Yes. It can also be promoted as a cure for cancer, that is, A Public Health Benefit.
MGR: After the development we’ll have no more expenses, but will collect a profit for each cigarette sold. There’s also a very good chance that we can get contracts from municipal sanitation departments to handle the special disposal problems which will be created by the radioactivity of the filters.
BIGG: (Getting up) Then it’s settled. The nuclear-powered cigarette filter will be developed and promoted as the next cure for cancer. (Strikes fist on table)
Scene —PR is giving a flip-chart presentation to a combined employee, stockholder meeting. Actors, except for SCI, melt into audience, which forms the audience for the presentation.
PR: (First page of flip chart saying “Arthur D. Bigg Laboratories”) Good morning, gentlemen.
PR: And secretaries.
PR: Today I have the despicable honor of announcing to this joint employee, stockholder meeting the winner of the Arthur D. Bigg Research Grant.
PR: Thank you. Now, in the interest of the pursuit of science in the interest of you, the citizens out there, Mr. and Mrs. America, Arthur D. Bigg, Incorporated has endowed a grant for the pursuit of scientific research leading to the development of—
(Flips to page containing: NUKE World’s First Nuclear-Powered FilterTipped Cigarette)
PR: The World’s First Nuclear Powered Filter-Tipped Cigarette’
(Flips to LARK diagram of “Ordinary Cigarelle”)
PR: That’s right! No longer will the world be confined to the primitive ordinary filter cigarette.
(Flips to LARK diagram, entitled “Coal Cigarelle”)
PR: Or even the more advanced coal cigarette. No! Ladies and gentlemen, Arthur D. Bigg Laboratories presents …
(Flips to elaborate diagram of nuclear powered filter cigarelle)
PR: The World’s First Nuclear powered Filter Cigarette!
PR: Yes, the cigarette filter complete with nuclear reactor, micro-computer, high-speed subterfuge, selective irradiation and baffle system!
The cigarette filter able to use gamma radiation to break up the tars of cigarette smoke just like gamma radiation breaks down lung tissue’ The best hope since they banned Recombinant DNA! The cure for cancer within our lifetimes!
PR: But, you say, will people use it? They’ll eat it up. Just look at this advertising campaign Selma Brothers of Global Advertising has sketched out for us. It’s got everything. Technical appeal. (Points to diagram described above.)
PR: Sex appeal. (Flips to drawing of a woman smoking seductively, with a small mushroom cloud coming from end of cigarelle)
PR: And charisma. (Flips to drawing of a Volkswagen smoking, with mushroom cloud)
PR: And think of the macho value! (Flips to drawing of motorcyclist about to jump canyon, smoking with mushroom cloud) Who would be caught dead offering a coal cigarette to a woman when the other men are packing Nukes? Why, this will be the biggest thing to hit smoking since Benson and Hedges went metric!
PR: You laugh, but you’ll only be smiling when you see these figures compiled by our consulting economist, Kostia Living.
(Flips to pie chart, showing a lillie more than one-third for Arthur D. Bigg, the rest marked Cancer Society and D.O.D.
PR: While the Bigg Foundation will remain the principal investor and retains control, the National Cancer Society has agreed to make substantial contributions toward the development of a safer cigarette. And, of course, the Department of Defense is interested in military applications.
(Flips to investment-return chart, showing an exponential decrease in investment megabucks-per-year, corresponding increase for profits)
PR: And this speaks for itself. Are there any questions?
TECH: What’s that line going down?
PR: That’s expenses. The line going up is profits.
(D raises hand)
D: Who’s going to clean up this world when your butts are through with it?
PR: (Smile fades, shakes finger in warning) Seeing as there are no further questions, I bid you good morning.
Scene —Workers are returning to lab following presentation. SCI, having been unable to attend, is already there.
D: Oh no!
SCI: What! What happened to our ideas?
D: Who said they would listen to us?!
LW: What bull shit!
SCI: (Realizing) Oh damn! My water purifier is down the drain! All those non-company hours, my time …
LW: Your purifier! We all worked it out together! How do you think we feel? We didn’t even have a chance.
D: But why, why did they decide on the nuclear-powered filter for a cigarette? It’s bad enough we lost, but this is awful.
TECH: Because our ideas were too good. They didn’t involve disposable throwaway parts and mushrooming profits.
LW: What do you mean?
TECH: All we’ll get is the fallout. Who benefits from our research? Not us! Not the people! Take cancer, for example.
D: You take it. I don’t want it.
LW: lsn ‘t most cancer caused by pollution and chemical additives and stuff like that?
D: And places where you work.
TECH: Yeah. If they really wanted to prevent cancer they could clean up the pollution and workplaces. But then business would not be business. You know, most science work is done to make more money for the companies that sponsor us. They’ve got to get us to invent new things for them to sell. And then they have Charlie upstairs writing jingles to convince us that we need to buy them.
LW: Boy, I hope Starkist catches up with that guy.
TECH: And they keep us so busy arguing amongst ourselves that we don’t even see it until it’s too late. If we had been organized, we could have stopped it.
SCI: We have to stop it!
LW: What is to be done?
TECH: Look, we can’t talk here. Let’s meet at my house.
Scene—TECH’s kitchen table.
D: How can you stand living so close to the plant?
TECH: Beats commuting.
SCI: I think our project was terrific—a tremendous plan. It could have helped millions of …
D: Does it make millions?
SCI: Well … no.
LW: It’s no good. We can’t fight them with ideas alone.
SCI: What do you mean?
D: Don’t you see the way they operate? An idea has to have clout behind it. Money is one kind of clout. That’s the kind they prefer. But there are other kinds—public opinion, for one. or if we could get everyone in the lab to refuse to work on it. That would be another kind they couldn’t ignore.
LW: We’ll get fired first.
D: Sure. That’s why we need to reach every person in this plant. If we all demand an end to the project, they can’t fire all of us.
TECH: We’ve got to get more people involved. We’ve got to tell people what’s going on here.
SCI: Yeah, let’s hold a press conference and write articles for the paper.
LW: I can see the headline now: NUKE CIGS CAUSE WORKER FALLOUT.
SCI: Jesus Christ!
TECH: How about a demonstration? With the support of more people we could show Mr. Bigg where we stand.
SCI: I have access to a Xerox machine for a leaflet.
LW: Wow! Maybe we could get on the radio.
D: Wait a minute. Is anybody taking minutes?
(Pause, everyone looks at everybody else)
TECH: C’mon folks. Look: Press conferences, papers, newsletters, work meetings, won’t amount to anything unless we’re organized. We need to mount a campaign to reach people about this, both inside the plant and out.
LW: Yeah, let’s build a phone bush with contacts in every department.
TECH: Think big. How ’bout a phone tree?
LW: O.K. I’ll start on it.
D: I’ll start on a leaflet leading to a demonstration. Let’s convince the public that there is something they can do, should do.
TECH: If this gets big enough, we could seriously think about stopping the work. We could win.
D: O.K. Let’s meet tomorrow at lunch. Everybody bring their contact sheets.
LW: That’s too soon. I can’t have mine ready by then. How about Thursday?
SCI: Thursday? I’ve got a meeting … (All exit, talking animatedly)
TECH: How about Friday? D: That’s no good. How about Thursday morning? (Ad librium)
Scene —Management demonstration going on office with outside (off stage)
PR: (Looks out window) Look at them -picketing our own plant! We’ve been betrayed by our own people. It’s undemocratic! Socialism, plain and menthol!
MGR: We can’t fire them all.
PR: (Glancing out at demo) And with the uproar in the damn media, we can’t even move to Georgia.
BIGG: What! The employees don’t run this place!
(Slams fist on table)
MGR: The nuclear cigarette filter is clearly impossible. How about liquid sodium heat exchangers for breeder reactors?
PR: Sure! The blending of nuclear power and genetics! We might be able to sell nuclear science from the top down. With the new energy crisis they’ll never be able to stop that!
MGR: They stopped the nuclear cigarette. We can’t let them get us again. We should tell the union that stopping the Nuke cigarette cost them hundreds of jobs. Any other protests will cost more jobs.
BIGG: That’s right. One more protest and your jobs will be the first to go.
(Slams fist on table. Leaves, followed by cringing MGR and PR)
Scene—Workers are entering lab.
SCI: They’ve dropped the cigarette filter!
D: Wow! I hope I don’t step on it!
LW: Yeah, but have you heard what they’ve replaced it with? We’re gonna start working on breeder reactors!
SCI: Oh, no! Those nuclear waste problems are almost as bad as the ones from the cigarettes.
D: Shit. Every time we stop a project they’re gonna start another one that’s worse. (Sarcastically) We’ve come a long way, Baby.
TECH: Look, let’s not get discouraged. We’ve accomplished a lot. We organized the whole plant. L W: But one plant does not a garden make.
D: Boy, that was poor. It could qualify for Federal Matching Funds.
TECH: As long as they—the Funds -control science and technology, there’ll be no end to this garbage. SCI: But maybe something can grow from this compost.
TECH: As long as there’s a difference between the Mr. Bigg’s who make the decisions and us who do the work, our ideas will never be heard, let alone acted on.
D: Since when do scientists and managers listen to me, a dishwasher, and a woman?
LW: Discrimination is their way of dividing us. We all have to work together.
SCI: We started doing that here and look where it got us —from the frying pan into the reactor.
TECH: That’s why we need to grow, and join up with those who really have the power to change things —working people.
SCI: But workers don’t know about scientific issues.
LW: True, but they are affected by them every day. They affect all of us.
TECH: Which is why we need to make the connection clear between why those who control science and technology don’t care about the needs of people, and why those needs are never met.
D: Besides, we found out from the cigarette protest that people don’t have to understand all the technical stuff to be able to decide if something is good or bad.
LW: Maybe we could help people find out those things that they do need to know to get some control over what’s happening.
D: That sounds like real science science for the people.
SCI: (Rummaging through a pile of papers and finding a SftP magazine) I just remembered … I picked up this magazine at the Boston AAAS meeting. It talks about some of the things we’re trying to do.
D: Can I have a look at it? Aren’t these the people who are doing that stuff on recombinant DNA?
TECH: Yeah, and they managed to stop the XYY research.
LW: How can they help us?
D: Maybe we can work together to get more people involved.
TECH: And build a national movement.
SCI: National? Intergalactic! I have access to a radio telescope.
D: Well, I have access to a radial tire. Let’s drive over to McSoyburger’s and talk this over. It’s quitting time. (All exit, talking animatedly)
LW: This could really be something.
SCI: Let’s call them tomorrow.