Science and Ideology

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In this panel in the Cape Cod Lounge, Katherine Yih, Doug Boucher, and Dick Levins, moderated by Abha Sur, discussed their views on the ideologies and guiding principles of Science for the People as an organization.

 

Katherine Yih was the first to present. Entitled “How do we do ‘science for the people?’,” her talk laid out the guiding principles of the group. Science for the People was not an isolated group, but part of a larger social movement against the war in Vietnam. They’re opposition to the war was not merely on pacifist grounds, but based ideologically on anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, and helping those whose lives and lifestyles were shattered. These ideas, combined with their work in science, led to several overall guiding notions in Science for the People: we live in a class society defined by exploitation and oppression, where science and technology are not politically neutral. Because of that, all science is “class science,” yet science still seeks out objective truths about the universe. Science for the People would oppose those political forces by building what Yih called a “liberatory science,” with strategies including building alliances with other sectors, rejecting social hierarchies, and developing new questions and lines of thought.

 

Doug Boucher provided an example of how the organization pushed back against the established ideology with his discussion of Malthusianism. Malthusianism is the idea that exponential population growth will eventually lead to great crisis as the planet can no longer sustain its population. In the era of Science for the People, this was the conventional wisdom, leading to population controls, anti-immigration laws, and decreases in foreign aid as policy makers feared the collapse. Science for the People stepped into the situation with a multilevel critique of the Malthusian ideas, on both scientific and ethical grounds, in the end shifting conventional wisdom away from Malthusianism.

 

Dick Levins was the last to present. He began by stating his belief that scientists are workers, producing knowledge which can be traded like any other commodity; however, they are different from a laborer in that they have a stake in their own production. To that end, scientists must also be activists: they have the ability to use their science to solve problems in the long term, forgoing a limited, short-term view of the world. Science for the People was aimed at creating activist scientists in order to accomplish that goal.