The Dual Nature of Science

Why do we “March for Science”? A central impulse is to fight the exercise of power for private gain at the expense of broad interest; oil companies ought not determine the quality of climate science!

However, if we generalize this impulse we risk making science into a neutral counter-power to be deployed merely through Evidence-Based Policy. But defense of science is not enough. We need to transform the role of science in our world.

Science for the People engages with what ecologist Richard Levins called the dual nature of science. That is science as “an episode in the growth of human knowledge in general, and as the class-, gender-, and culture-bound product of Euro-North American capitalism in particular.” Levins noted that two common reactions to the intersection of science and politics, scientism (the ideology that science is always correct and just) and antiscience, fail to grasp this dual nature:

Both scientism and modem antiscience are one-sided. This is not the same as “extreme,” the ultimate reproach of liberal criticism. “Extreme” implies as its preferred opposite “moderate,” a solution with the implication that the truth is a little bit of this and a little bit of that, or “not all black or white, but some shade of grey,” an optimal middle ground defined by the extremes that are rejected.”

Both scientism and antiscience fail to address the real challenges facing scientists, society, and the planet today. A few examples show that a sensitivity to the dual nature of science is the necessary backbone of our movement.


Science tends to satisfy capitalism’s need to constantly innovate in the pursuit of profit, and as a result becomes the center of a misleading progressivist ideology. But progress for whom? More than half of American government science funding is channeled through the military. The invasion and occupation of Iraq killed over half a million Iraqis and cost $2.3 trillion. The total budget of the National Institutes of Health over the same period was about $225 billion. The US spent ten times more killing over 500,000 people than it did on research to improve healthcare!

Reproductive Justice

Science is often integrated into profoundly anti-democratic policy. Writing in Science for the People magazine in 1977, Linda Gordon noted that the birth control movement started with an emphasis on women’s liberation, but the entry of doctors and other professionals infused the movement with elitist values such as population control, often due to openly eugenicist views. The fight for reproductive justice continues today. Black women die at a rate four times higher than white women in childbirth and abortion access has been declining for decades. Our movement must not repeat these errors of technocracy and elitism, but must join broad democratic struggles.

Eugenics and Biological Determinism

Too often, scientific acceptance promotes injustice. The Eugenics Movement reached mainstream scientific status in the early 20th century (with many universities hosting Eugenics Departments), justifying tens of thousands of sterilizations of black, poor, and disabled people up through the 1960s.

Ideas that later are deemed reprehensible can exist as accepted science for decades; this happens even today. Eugenics is a cruder version of the general science of biological determinism–the justification of social violence and inequity through their naturalization as biologically inevitable–which is alive and well.

How should scientists organize politically?

The discrediting of biological determinism was the joint victory of the women’s movement, the Black freedom struggle, and the radical science movement. Radical scientists contributed by publicly exposing ideological motivations through careful, sustained, confrontational argument. And the fight continues. So long as structural injustices persist, so too will their naturalization, from Charles Murray’s “color-blind” notion of biological class, to James Damore’s claims that women are underrepresented in tech because they are innately inept.

Science is not an abstraction removed from society. Science is produced by our labor. But the conditions of this production and the use of science are controlled by the wealthy and powerful. We must fight for a science that serves all people, organizing wherever science is produced or applied alongside all those fighting for justice.

Against any tendency to antiscience, we should remember: knowledge is won with our labor and can be used to advance common goals. Against any tendency to scientism: our movement lives and dies with the broader left; technical knowledge alone never delivers justice.

This essay was written by NYC chapter member Conor Dempsey as part of our March for Science organizing. Find more M4S materials here.

Help support Science for the People’s mission and the relaunch of our publication in the coming months. Become a Patreon patron today.


March for Science 2018 Organizing Resources

Around the country, Science for the People’s revitalized and growing chapters are organizing to represent a radical, political perspective at the second annual March for Science on Saturday, April 14, 2018.

To help SftP and those looking to join our mission engage with the March on a local and national level, we’ve compiled some materials you can print and share at the March.

Organizing conversations are more structured than regular conversations. Identify the goal of your organizing and build the conversation around that goal: Are you attempting to get people to join SftP? To disseminate information? To build connections with other scientists who are politically engaged? To politically educate scientists who are engaged but still developing? Build the conversation around the specific thing you are “asking” from the person you’re speaking to.

Introduce yourself, but focus on active listening more than talking.
Why is the person you’re speaking to at March for Science?
What are their interests and concerns?

More than likely, some part of the conversation will resonate with your own interests or with something that SftP is concerned with. That’s the time when you should talk–to offer a perspective that complements or pushes forward what the other person is expressing.

Sign people up for something and give them a way to engage with you or the group in the future. Newsletter subscription is ideal; SftP is also on Twitter and Facebook.

Looking to recruit new members to your local chapter? Print out copies of the new Science for the People pamphlet, “The Dual Nature of Science,” to hand out at the March.
For print
For displaying online

You can also read the essay here.








SftP members brought forward a resolution to frame Science for the People’s participation in the march.  Read it here.

Print and use this form to stay in touch with new contacts.

Need a rallying cry? Learn and share these chants!

Science for the people, not for profit
Science for the people, not for war

Download, print, or paint your SftP banner using these designs from NYC chapter member Matteo Farinella.


Please share your chapter’s participation for the March for Science! Are you recruiting new members? Raising awareness of a certain issue? What do you think is crucial for SftP to organize around? Tell us your thoughts in this quick form.

Tweet and share your experience at the March for Science and use the hashtag #ScienceForThePeople.


Science for the People: Geoengineering Publication Call for Articles

Geoengineering refers to “the deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system with the aim of affecting adverse global warming.” Contemporary examples are numerous, and include solar radiation management, carbon capture and storage, cloud-seeding, planting millions of acres of monoculture crops such as eucalyptus trees.  

Members of the recently reinvigorated Science for the People have been following the debate in left circles on geoengineering and have determined that aggregating a collection of articles on the subject- which will form a stand-alone publication to be issued in advance of the formal re-launch of the new Science for the People magazine- would create an excellent resource for the left. While conversations about the efficacy of geoengineering have been occurring for quite some time, we see the current controversy and expanded discussions as stemming from the Summer 2017, Issue 26 “Earth, Wind, and Fire” issue of Jacobin magazine, which included contributions by Peter Frase (“By Any Means Necessary”)and Leigh Philips & Michal Rozworski (“Planning the Good Anthropocene”). There have been many published responses to these articles, including Ian Angus’s “Memo to Jacobin: Ecomodernism is not Ecosocialism” , John Bellamy Foster in the Monthly Review, and Stefania Barca and Aaron Vansintjan in Entitle Blog on the Jacobin issue, amongst others. (Additional recent articles related to the geoengineering discussion can be provided upon request.)

Science for the People hopes to contribute to this debate by providing a collection of articles that those on the left considering the subject can turn to in order to gain a better understanding of the concept of geoengineering and of the political and technical issues at hand. We also hope to examine the technical merits of technical solutions to climate change recently proposed by bourgeois researchers and the left; expand discussions of geoengineering to include history, international contributions, and labor; and most importantly, politicize the conversation and examine the relationship between science, technology, and society. We assume that our readership is not necessarily entrenched in discussions about geoengineering, and are attempting to present material that is accessible to that audience.

We are actively seeking written contributions to this collection, and are hoping to obtain articles that include the following topics:

  • Political and technical analyses of one or multiple of the dominant geo-engineering proposals (Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), Solar radiation management (SRM) etc). What is it? Is it viable? Is it viable within the context of the society we live in? What would its impacts be? This should focus on solutions that have some basis in reality and not the myriad futurist “pie in the sky” ideas such as presented in Jacobin, though a broader critique of “pie in the sky” ideas could be helpful.
  • History of geoengineering and related technologies, relation to military research and development, relationship to capitalism.
  • Analysis of the politics of geoengineering broadly. Who are the dominant players in pushing these solutions and what are their interests? What is the role of the UN, EU, industrial, financial, and fossil fuel interests?
  • Review of existing literature on geoengineering (which could be tied to any of the other listed topics), cultural criticism.
  • Legal and geopolitical frameworks for geoengineering initiatives. Who is authorized to do mass geo-engineering experiments? And at what risk to the environment or other populations (and which populations)? What protections are there against the military applications of these technologies? The global legal framework is stacked in favor of the same actors who brought the climate crisis—is international law an adequate mediator of such experimentation? Could it be?
  • What is the alternative to technical answers to the climate crisis? What are the political and social solutions? What is the role of labor and movements? What is the path forward from here? How do we make the larger case that geoengineering is a technical solution to a political problem?

In the interest of full editorial transparency, the reader should know that the majority- though not all- of the editorial collective responsible for this compilation holds opinions ranging from ‘deeply suspicious of’ to ‘militantly opposed to’ the family of climate stabilizing proposals commonly known as ‘geoengineering’. Rather than various technological innovations, Science for the People believes our focus should be on social and political transformation to revolutionize how and for whom energy is produced and used.  On the other hand, a small number of members are of the opinion that all research should be on the table to give technological innovation a complementary role to the urgent transition to renewable energy and reduced emissions, and we are open to reviewing proposals for contributions that skew more towards this end.

We are currently soliciting abstracts for articles to be included in a publication slated for release in late June. We are reaching out to more authors than we will be able to publish, but welcome all submissions in order to help us publish a comprehensive analysis of the implications and problems of geoengineering and alternative solutions.

Science for the People is a volunteer-run organization that is in the beginning stages of planning a publication relaunch in the coming year, and at this time we cannot pay writers. Support for our mission from writers is critical to launching a successful publication and we thank you for considering donating to this effort.

DEADLINE: Please submit abstracts (150 words or less) to Andrea Hektor, editorial collective lead, by Thursday, April 19. Submissions may be sent via email to

We are open to feedback on this suggested approach, in addition to feedback on the requested article topics.

In Solidarity,

Science for the People, Geoengineering Publication Editorial Collective

Towards a Technology for the People

A look back at the archives of Science for the People and thoughts on carrying forward a new Technology for the People movement today

Contrary to commonly held belief, science and technology are not the neutral application and advancement of knowledge and technical capabilities. They are political, primarily designed and developed for the benefit of a society’s ruling class. Powerful military weaponry, advanced surveillance capabilities, job-eliminating automation, increased job precarity through Uber and the like—these are not natural and inevitable progressions of technology, but an intentional program set forth by the class that funds and directs it.

This political analysis of technology is one of the many significant contributions that Science for the People (SftP) made in its original publication run during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Of course, technology has advanced substantially since that time: the smartphones in our pockets today are many times more powerful than the room-sized supercomputers that existed then. But many of the political questions that we face today around technology are largely the same as they were then.

Science for the People laid a strong ideological foundation providing structural critiques around the impacts of automation on workers’ struggles, the lack of diversity in STEM, the increased capacities of the state to conduct surveillance and repress dissidents, the development of AI and its relation to the military, and contributed many other political analyses that we can and should build off of in our struggles today.

Below is a small selection and summary of these contributions from the latter half of SftP’s original iteration, paired with commentary about their connections to debates happening today, and followed by thoughts on where to take our movement going forward.

Vol. 13, No. 1: “Technology and Productivity” by Peter Downs (Jan./Feb. 1981)

Debates on the significance of increased factory productivity for manufacturing workers through new technology are not new. This piece analyzes the impact of numerical control technology on the metal machining industry and its workers, detailing the changes that were made to workplace configurations and the de-skilling of workers, with a focus on the ramifications for workplace struggles.

Vol. 13, No. 3: “Workers Face Off Automation” by Working Women—National Association of Office Workers (May/June 1981)

Also well documented is the question of what advancements in computers and automation mean for office workers. This piece, written by Working Women, describes the automation trends in the clerical industry at the time. It explains how these developments could lead to work becoming less tedious and more creative, but because technology is controlled by management and not workers, they will instead be used to eliminate jobs, decrease wages, and make work even more of a repetitive bore. The piece also details the disproportional impact these trends would have on women workers, who made up the majority of the clerical workforce—and what it would take for them to resist. William F. Laughlin, vice president of IBM, certainly understood whose side he was on when he said, “People will adapt nicely to office systems if their arms are broken, and we’re in the twisting stage now.”

Vol. 13, No. 6: Special Issue: “Wrestling with Automation” (Nov./Dec. 1981)

This issue was entirely dedicated to the threats of automation and general workplace computerization to unions and the working class. Science for the People argued that the union establishment’s steadfast focus on the bread-and-butter issues of pay, benefits, and job security led to them paying little to no attention to the growth of these technological threats. The issue contains articles on topics ranging from adoption of computers at the Pentagon, to union responses to automation, to the computerization of mailing lists at several Left publications (a fancy new development at the time). As the introduction to the issue stated:

Machines are designed and built with particular purposes in mind. As long as the profit motive defines social benefit instead of equality and improved working conditions, science and technology will continue to benefit only the few economically advantaged instead of the mass of working people. We feel that the crucial issue of control of workplace computerization is vitally interrelated with all the rest of today’s major labor issues.

Vol. 14, No. 4: “Pink Collar Automation” by Heidi Gottfried (Jul./Aug. 1982)

This issue, which analyzed the numerous intersections of gender and science, contains an article describing how the introduction of new technologies frequently occurs simultaneously with both the degradation and the feminization of work. The introduction of the typewriter, for example, coincided with reduced prestige for clerical work and the work being shifted from men to women. The article further examines how technological advancement has led to an increased ability to supervise every detail of an employee’s work and mandate speed-ups. The piece ends on a positive note with something that is also increasingly true today—heightened efficiency means that each worker can actually have more leverage in the production process, and that a small but organized group of workers can seriously disrupt it. The author referenced a recent event in which 5,000 computer operators in Britain went on strike, paralyzing all financial transactions in the country, forcing Margaret Thatcher herself to settle with them. This is an important lesson to keep in mind today in not just technology work but logistics, distribution, and other fields as well.

Vol. 15, No. 1: “New Directions in Science Education” by Nancy Lowry and Ann Woodhull (Jan./Feb. 1983)

The lack of diversity in STEM continues to be a major issue today, and one that is gaining increasing attention. This article explores the challenges women face when pursuing studies in science and solutions implemented at Hampshire College that, if widely adopted, could make the learning environment far more supportive. The authors argue that it will take, among other things, a critical mass of women in teaching, a revised attitude toward what and how we teach, and a critical analysis of the greater structures that the field of science operates in. We still have a long way to go before we’ve made not just tech, but all of STEM, a diverse, inclusive, and egalitarian environment—and one that could benefit all, not just those directly involved in it.

Vol. 15, No. 2: “Computerized Big Brother” by Marion Butner (Mar./Apr. 1983)

The extent of the mass surveillance apparatus that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 shocked the world. But the rapid adoption by states of advanced computing technologies to monitor, analyze, and oppress their citizenry is far from new. This piece dives into the construction of the surveillance state in West Germany, ostensibly used to prevent terrorism (sound familiar?) but in fact used to suppress all dissent within society—and especially among the Left. Just as was reflected in Snowden’s revelations, private corporations were more than willing to assist. As with technological automation, some of the algorithms pioneered to analyze behavior could instead be used for good if they were responsive to the masses instead of the ruling class. Rather than looking at a person’s education level, income, and neighborhood to determine if they need to be surveilled and controlled due to their increased likelihood of committing crimes, we could use the results from these algorithms to help analyze and alleviate the root problems that actually cause crime to occur.

Vol. 16, No. 5: “Reading on Artificial Intelligence” by Daniel Gordon (Sep./Oct. 1984)

Tesla co-founder Elon Musk calls artificial intelligence humanity’s greatest existential threat. In this article, the author reviews a handful of AI books, exploring questions such as what it means to have most AI research paid for by the military and the social implications as AI approaches the simulation of human intelligence. The article concludes that “The human use of increasingly human computers demands neither Luddism nor uncritical zeal, but rather detailed knowledge, a careful program, and a long struggle.” Elon Musk fears what it means for AI to take control of itself, while the rest of us fear something much more present—what it means for AI to be controlled by billionaires like him.

Vol. 18, No. 1: “Automation Madness” by David Noble (Jan./Feb. 1986)

Why does the ruling class always seem to be the primary beneficiary of technological progress? Many people, including tech workers themselves, believe that the perspective of those who guide technological development is in fact an objective perspective, and not one rooted in the ruling class’s desire for technology that extends or is otherwise compatible with their power. As the author states, “The viability of a design is not simply a technical or even an economic evaluation, but rather a political one.” New technology is typically designed to be authoritarian rather than democratic. And those who believe that the market will sort out these issues will be disappointed to learn that this Darwinian idea is yet another ideological camouflage for political power. We must understand this in order to organize for the power we need to place technological development into the hands of the people.

Moving Forward

The core arguments put forward by Science for the People are still applicable today, with any differences mainly being in degree rather than in kind. We must carry these arguments forward and build upon them for a new generation of scientists, tech workers, and activists.

Of course, there are many new technological developments and debates that a revitalized Science for the People should engage in. We have seen massive growth in the technology industry’s role in society, with companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon becoming the most powerful corporations in the world. Edward Snowden revealed how technology corporations and the US government have created a terrifyingly advanced and wide-reaching surveillance state. Big data and its algorithms have an increasingly unaccountable influence on society. Net neutrality, one of the very few meaningful checks on the power of internet service providers, is well on its way to being dismantled. Economic control is no longer the only way to wage “war by other means”, as we see the normalization of cyberwarfare between nations. Jobs are being lost, de-skilled, and made more precarious through automation and the “Uber-ification” of large segments of the workforce.

At the same time, we are seeing growing radicalization and resistance in the technological sphere. Since Trump’s election many have woken up to what it means for a few technology companies to exert massive and totally unchecked control over our lives. There is a burgeoning demand for internet infrastructure to be municipally owned. Activists in New York City recently won a limited victory in making the algorithms used by municipal agencies more transparent and accountable. The billionaire founder and CEO of Uber was forced out due to public backlash over the company’s misogynistic workplace culture. And we are beginning to see rumblings of a movement to organize tech workers.

Perceptions of and debates on technology are beginning to move again into the political terrain where they belong. The time is ripe for a new movement for a Technology for the People to contribute to this radicalization and the struggles that will continue to emerge.