Occupational Health and the Radical Science Movement

A look back at the archives of Science for the People and its writings on the occupational health and safety movement in the United States.

Gail Robson & Taylor Lampe, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

Science for the People’s publication began in 1969, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (also known as OSHA) passed in the United States in 1970. The radical science movement in the US developed alongside the workers’ movement for occupational health and safety, and these early 20 years of collaboration are documented throughout the pages of the Science for the People magazine.

1980, Vol 12 No. 2

OSHA’s establishment in 1971 marked the first US federal legislative protection for workers’ safety, but many on the Left felt that the regulations were vastly insufficient. As argued in OSHA Inspectors, published in 1975, OSHA was merely “a capitalist reform program administered in the interests of the ruling class”, with no power, including money, staff, or enforcement, to force corporations to take the steps necessary to improve safety and health. In a 1974 speech, Midwest Workers Fight for Health and Safety, Carl Carlson detailed how corporations could work around OSHA to avoid providing protections for their workers. Dave Kotelchuck, in 1972 in Industrial Health and the Chemical Worker, called it a law “overwhelmingly biased in favor of management”.

RAISING LEFT CONSCIOUSNESS

The passing of OSHA, combined with increased workers’ calls for safety, coincided with the New Left’s increasing “desire…to relate to workers”, further claimed Kotelchuck. Although workers and unions had a rich history of organizing around occupational health and job safety, the early 1970’s critiques from the American Left marked the beginning of this issues as a ‘hot topic’ for the Left, he claimed. In his 1972 article, Kotelchuck hypothesized that the delay was influenced by the “tired old American myth” that workers were only concerned with wages and fringe benefits, rather than safety and health conditions. This, of course, was never true. As argued by Kotelchuck’s 1975 article, Asbestos: Science for Sale, workers have always been forced into the impossible choice between their jobs and their health. Many continued to choose work to support their families, at the literal costs of their mental health, physical health, and in many cases, lives, after daily exposure to harmful chemicals and unsafe environments.

Frank Mirer, in a 1972 article titled Occupational Health: Time for Us to Get to Work, indicated that the Left saw this issue as one with the “potential for setting people, [especially industrial workers] into motion in a progressive direction”. Occupational health struggles, Kotelchuck also agreed, could serve as “the seed of worker control over the entire work process… and an important transitional step toward restructuring our society”. It was envisioned, in the face of weak legislative protections, that collaborations between radical scientists, workers, and unions could be used to improve objective working conditions, and also aid the entire Left movement in the process. The workers rights avenues created by OSHA could be strategically employed, as explored in Using OSHA, written by Chip Hughes & Len Stanley in 1977.

1972, Vol 4 No. 6

MOBILIZING SCIENCE WORKERS

Until the Left became more engaged with this specific worker’s fight, as Kotelchuck articulated, “previously, [radical scientists] had been no more aware [of occupational health issues]…than most people of similar middle-class background”. Science for the People membership in the 1970s consisted mostly of educated and technically trained, middle class scientists and engineers working in academia and industry. Many coming out of the American scientific education had little formal training on the socio-economic considerations of their technical work, as explored in a 1977 article Brown Lung Blues by Michael Freemark. In 1971, a union-organized gathering of 50 workers and scientists brought these scientists to a chemical plant, which for most, was the first time they came face-to-face with industrial working conditions. It was written that “the conference was an eye-opener”.

This disconnect, between the class and educational experiences of workers and radical scientists, posed challenges and opportunities going forward. Scientists were clearly, according to Mirer,  “Outside the class or cultural background of the constituency they hope to serve”. They needed to, first and foremost, educate themselves. Few had specific training in occupational health. And many of the professional occupational health workers, like those hired by OSHA, were not primarily interested in the well-being of workers, and were not organizing with SFTP.

SFTP & UNION COLLABORATIONS

The SFTP magazine called for radical scientists to educate themselves, then use their technical skills to address this important issue. Scientists could engage in “service projects in this area” or “technical assistance projects” on top of their paid, daily work. A 1975 introduction to a special issue on Occupational Health and Safety made this statement:

“We are aware that as long as capitalism exists workers will be exploited by those who wish to maximize profits, and workplaces will remain unsafe… We urge more of our readers to… participate in the difficult task of finding ways to employ science to serve the health and safety needs of workers.”

The foundation of this work for radical scientists would come from contacts with local unions and workers, both for educational reasons, and for organizing strategic reasons. Kotelchuck, in his 1972 article, claimed that “companies frown on contact between science workers and production workers” because they wanted to keep workers unaware of their health and safety risks. A pamphlet published in 1974, How to Look at Your Plant, empowered workers to cite violations and take action. Then, in collaboration, scientists could provide workshops on physiology, chemical exposures, and safety protections. They could train workers to perform air and temperature tests, set up health clinics, or perform epidemiological studies if little was known about the exposure. Unions and workers could then use this information, and the small workers’ rights offered through OSHA, to document and hold more management accountable to safety and health violations.

1974, Vol. 6 No. 4

As these alliances turned into more formalized coalitions, the COSH movement, or regional coalitions or committees for occupational safety and health, was born in the US. The primary role of COSH groups were for scientists, labor unions, health, and legal professionals to support worker struggles concerning health and safety issues through technical assistance and empowering forms of education. Organizing for Job Safety by Dan Berman in 1980 detailed the history of the movement starting in 1972; Education and Research in Occupational Health in 1982 described the connections of these groups to academics and scientists; Knowing about workplace risk, by Dorothy Nelkin & Michael Brown in 1984, acknowledged the essential role played by COSH groups in knowledge dissemination and education to workers.

OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH OF WOMEN

A theme that emerged throughout the decades of publishing within the realm of occupational health and safety was a focus on the occupational health of women, and the critique of US policies enacted ostensibly to help women workers. Generally, these policies were not enacted to protect the needs of women themselves, rather they protected, or claimed to protect, their reproductive capacity and the babies they could potentially be carrying. For example, the 1980 article Danger: Women’s Work described factories with high levels of toxic exposure banning women of reproductive age from working there at all, rather than insisting on an environment that was safe for everyone. As a result of these policies, many women felt forced to go through sterilization to keep their jobs.

In 1980, Your Body or Your Job, by John and Barbara Beckwith, argued that sexual harassment in the workplace was an essential occupational health issue, and one neglected by the feminist movement. The term “sexual harassment” itself did not exist until 1975 and at the time of publishing this article, the only legal precedents were at district court levels, including a ruling in 1976 that sexual harassment was violation of title VII sex discrimination clause of Civil Right Act. This article acknowledged that Black women were the most vulnerable to sexual harassment, while simultaneously these women often took on leadership positions on the issue and brought forward the greatest number of lawsuits around the US. The writers called for the struggle against capitalism and patriarchy to carry on side by side, since anti-capitalist work alone would not be sufficient to also tackle patriarchal oppression in the workplace.

1980, Vol. 12 No. 2

WORKER RIGHT-TO-KNOW

Another major advocacy activity by SFTP was for workers’ right to know the hazards of substances with which they were working, and pushing for the enactment of state-level right-to-know legislation. In Knowing about Workplace Risks, Dorothy Nelkin and Michael Brown described the complex barriers preventing workers from information around their own safety, and how some workers effectively obtained information in their own workplaces. Mandy Hawes, in Dying for a Job in 1980 documented trends in chronic Benzene exposure and leukemia and put forward suggestions for organizing by documenting health effects in the workplace, and the protection measures that exist, while calling for hazard evaluations and standard-setting at a federal level along with state-level legislation. Asbestos and the chemical sterilizer DBCP were also key issues in right-to-know advocacy in the 80s, as described in the 1982 articles, Keeping Workers in Line, and Asbestos in the Classroom.

Chris Anne Raymond in the 1984 article, Whose Health and Welfare, critiqued the mainstream press as treating disease revelations “like natural disasters, a sudden and unforeseeable accident, to which the industry and government responded wisely and forthrightly” while in reality these risks were embedded in the system of production, and industry and government had no incentive to protect workers without strong union opposition.

FUTURE DIRECTIONS

Science for the People publications ended in 1989, and since then, many of these themes are ongoing today. Work environments and hazards continue to change as industries and technologies develop, and as the labor movement changes, there is a continued need for sustainable collaborations between radical scientists, workers, and unions. Future articles and publications can further engage with the gendered and racialized aspects of occupational health and safety, and reflect on how the field has changed over the past decades.

Authors: Gail Robson and Taylor Lampe, MPH Students at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

ALL ARTICLES

Vol. 4 No. 3: “Industrial Health and the Chemical Worker” by Dave Kotelchuck (1972)

Vol. 4 No. 6: “Occupational Health: Time for Us to Get to Work” by Frank Mirer (1972)

Vol. 6 No. 4: “Midwest Workers Fight for Health and Safety” (speech 3/16 by Carl Carlson at “Workers’ Forum on Safety and Health” in Chicago, 1974)

Vol. 6 No. 4: “How to Look at Your Plant” (1974)

Vol. 7 No. 5: “About this Issue: Occupational Health and Safety” (1975)

Vol. 7 No. 5: “Asbestos: Science for Sale” by David Kotelchuck (1975)

Vol. 7 No. 5: “OSHA Inspectors” by Anonymous (1975)

Vol. 9 No. 3: “Brown Lung Blues” by Michael Freemark (1977)

Vol. 9 No. 5: “Using OSHA” by Chip Hughes & Len Stanley (1977)

Vol. 12 No. 2: “Dying for a Job” by Mandy Hawes (1980)

Vol. 12 No. 2: “Danger: Women’s Work” by East Bay SFTP (1980)

Vol. 12 No. 4: “Organizing for Job Safety” by Dan Berman (1980)

Vol. 12 No. 4: “Your Body or Your Job” by John Beckwith & Barbara Beckwith (1980)

Vol. 14 No. 1: “Education and Research in Occupational Health” by Luc Desnoyers & Donna Mergler (1982)

Vol. 14 No. 4: “Keeping the Workers in Line” by Heidi Gottfried (1982)

Vol. 14 No. 4: “Asbestos in the Classroom” by Nancy Zimmet (1982)

Vol. 16 No. 1: “Knowing About Workplace Risks: Workers Speak Out About the Safety of Their Jobs” by Dorothy Nelkin & Michael Brown (1984)

Vol. 16 No. 4: “Whose Health and Welfare: The Press and Occupational Health” by Chris Anne Raymond (1984)

Science for the People in support of Microsoft workers’ demand to end contract with ICE

In June, 2018, a wave of tech worker activism grew around the call for several companies, prominently Microsoft, Salesforce, and Amazon, to cancel their contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Their struggle is linked with our mission as Science for the People to fight for equity and justice in our application of science and technology, and as such, several of our chapters organized local actions to offer external support to the tech workers’ efforts. This article offers a brief summary of what happened and informs our next steps in pushing these companies to discontinue support with ICE and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as one step in a broader movement for worker control over the direction of scientific research, innovation, and application.

New York City

Two events were held in New York City: the first was an after-work picket outside Microsoft’s flagship store on June 30, and the second was part of Movimiento Cosecha’s Day of Action against businesses complicit with ICE on July 31. Around 25 people joined at the former event to leaflet, chant and picket to call attention to Microsoft’s support for agencies that were separating families at the border. By July 31, the family separation component of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy was significantly scaled down, but still many children were and continue to be detained away from their families in private prisons that subject them to forced psychotropic drug consumption and sexual abuse–some never to be reunited.
Meanwhile, worker campaigns continued to grow in momentum, leading the immigrant rights’ group Movimiento Cosecha to put out a call for a day of action making clear that #WeWontBeComplicit with companies that support ICE in order to enhance external pressure in tandem with workers’ campaigns. We built off our initial picket by growing a coalition alongside Movimiento Cosecha, the International Socialist Organization, Rise and Resist and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) to organize a march between Microsoft, Salesforce and Amazon downtown with pickets at each location. Outside of Microsoft, tech workers offered their support for our action while finishing their workday.

Outside of the 41 Street Microsoft office as part of the Movimiento Cosecha Day of Action on July 31, 2018
Outside the Bryant Park Salesforce office for the Movimiento Cosecha Day of Action on July 31, 2018

Our movement grew as we marched first to Salesforce, where the Rude Mechanical Orchestra joined to support our chants. On the way to Amazon, we disrupted rush hour foot traffic as by then we were hundreds in size. In the end, six people were arrested outside of Amazon for refusing to allow business as usual while children are imprisoned and tortured in the name of racist immigration policies. Through this action we extended our coalition to include not only scientific workers but also social justice and immigrants rights groups. With continued pressure from both inside and out, we can and will force these companies to #CancelTheContract. And ultimately, we will #AbolishICE.

Atlanta

On Saturday evening, July 14, Science for the People (SftP) Atlanta in coalition with Metro Atlanta DSA rallied its members and allied tech workers in the halls of Lenox Square Mall in front of the Microsoft store in solidarity with migrants and Microsoft workers protesting their company’s contract with ICE.

After SftP and DSA members engaged in one-on-one conversations with Microsoft store employees to inform them about the ongoing petition, explain its demands, and express our organization’s support with the MS workers’ petition, the larger group of activists gathered in front of the store with signs and chants to draw attention to the cause. Flyers with Microsoft workers’ demands and ongoing petitions to end the contract with ICE were passed out to a large crowd that had gathered soon in the hallway around the store. To our surprise, many passerby joined the protest raising their voice in solidarity and chiming into our choir: “No Tech for ICE!”.

Metro Atlanta DSA and Science for the People members with No Tech for ICE signs in front of the Microsoft store at Lenox Square mall.
The protest action at the mall gathered much attention by passerby, many of whom showed interest in the cause and even joined the chants: “What’s disgusting? Family busting! What would be nice? No tech for ICE!” and “No hatred! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here!”

As anticipated, this spectacle was cut short. Police officers from the mall precinct eventually accosted the protesters and hustled the speaker out of the mall as the crowd booed, but they made no arrests. Watch a video recording of the Lenox square mall picket.

As noted also in the report by our allies from the Metro Atlanta DSA, this unfortunately interrupted the team’s plan to observe a moment of silence to reflect on the life of Efrain De La Rosa, who died by suicide the week before the action in ICE custody at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA. Any death in ICE custody is murder, facilitated by Microsoft technology and corporate profiteers. Despite the disrespect shown by Atlanta police, we can take a moment now to express love and solidarity for our Latino brother, Efrain De La Rosa: ¡Presente!

Boston

Coinciding with the Families Belong Together national day of action on June 30, SftP’s Boston chapter organized with Microsoft researchers and the local Solidarity chapter to flyer and make signs outside the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge. Thirty activists then marched to meet the main Families Belong Together event on Boston Common and talk to march participants about the link between tech labor and immigration injustice.

On July 11th Science for the People Boston, Tech Workers Coalition, ACLU Massachusetts, and LOGIC magazine hosted a panel discussion at MIT. Panelists were Sasha Costanza-Chock a scholar, activist, media-maker, and current Associate Professor of Civic Media at MIT; Kade Crockford, the director of the Technology for Liberty program at the ACLU of Massachusetts and MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow; and Valeria Do Vale, the Lead Coordinator at the Student Immigrant Movement and an undergraduate at Northeastern University.

What’s Next?

In early June, Google engineers compelled the company to not renew Project Maven, a contract with the Pentagon using AI to improve drone strike accuracy. The success of their campaign—and recent outrage about human rights abuses by ICE—have inspired similar efforts at Amazon, Microsoft, and, Salesforce.

While these companies have not cancelled their contracts, pressure is growing. Microsoft has released two statements related to their complicity in supporting ICE–the first of which was a direct response to their January blog post proudly proclaiming support for the agency ahead of the outcry over the family separation  policy, and a more recent post largely deflected from the core message of the Microsoft workers’ letters by focusing exclusively on facial recognition technology and the role of government in regulating it–not on the company’s existing ICE contract.

Salesforce also faced immense shame after RAICES, the legal firm responsible for the defense of many detained immigrants, rejected a $250,000 donation from the company while they continue to hold their ICE contract. The letter from RAICES explicitly called on the company to follow its workers’ demands.

Amazon, most shamefully, expressed its pride in serving the police and ICE by providing facial recognition technology. Its workers also face the most severe repression for organizing around this policy and have not gone public with their identities for fear of retaliation. To contextualize what they face, Amazon recently called the police on its own European workers while they were on strike, which led to severe state violence against those workers. Amazon has shown its dedication to profit by any means necessary, but like any historical institution, it is fallible.

That these companies were forced to acknowledge the internal and public outcry around their ICE contracts shows that they feel the pressure. Indeed, workers at several other companies have been successful in calling on their companies to cancel ICE contracts, including the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. For the tech companies we targeted, Science for the People is committed to acting in solidarity with workers at these companies and to building external pressure until they stop supporting ICE and CBP.

Will you join us?

Solidarity Letter: Tech Won’t Build It!

Over the previous months, technology workers have demonstrated remarkable courage and solidarity by raising their voices and organizing to stop the use of their technology to support the malicious operations of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). We salute the organizers of these efforts and seek to offer encouragement, analysis, and continued solidarity in this ongoing struggle.

As reports of family separation, child abuse, racist policing, and inhumane detention by ICE circulated, these workers investigated the contracts between their employers and the agency to understand how technology companies were facilitating these harmful activities. Workers at Microsoft, Amazon, and Salesforce took to action by writing open letters in the press to the executives of these companies asking them to do the right thing and drop multimillion dollar contracts with ICE that provide technological support for the agency. Of particularly alarming concern are the deployment of Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon’s Rekognition platforms for facial recognition and identification to enable ICE to target individuals for detention and deportation.

In response, executives at these companies have taken a predictable route of denying culpability in ICE’s reprehensible and inhumane behavior, with Amazon doubling down on its support of the agency. At present, none of these executives have signaled that they will move to end these contracts or commit their enterprises to humane practices. These executives’ inhumanity is pronounced by their calculated, contradictory behavior regarding immigration, by paying lip-service to supporting immigration reform, while simultaneously profiting from the oppression of immigrants. While these workers appealed to their boss’s humanity, morality, and knowledge of history, the executives in turn demonstrated that they have none. Their power relies on profits taking precedence over all else.

We hope that workers at these companies and beyond understand that their struggle for justice is only beginning and that they do not struggle alone. Science for the People stands in full support of all efforts by technology workers to organize their labor and to demand that their work not be used as tools of oppression.

The capacity of companies to sell products and make profits relies entirely on the labor of the technology workers who create the hardware and software. Whether that labor looks like writing thousands of lines of code, maintaining a clean office space, or building integrated circuits on the assembly line, all of these efforts combine to create the technology that envelopes the modern world. However, the way this technology is deployed and its purpose is presently outside of workers’ control. It does not have to be this way.

The very same labor power used to create this technology can be slowed or withheld entirely to make incontestable demands for justice, born out of solidarity with everyday people. Doing so requires the organization, collective decision-making processes, and legal representation that only building a labor union with rank-and-file leadership can offer. The inspiring actions to get hundreds of technology workers to raise their collective voice against tech-enabled injustice is a crucial step towards building an organized workforce that can win the fight for justice.

For science workers, it is necessary that we watch closely and learn from these pioneering efforts of technology workers, while providing support and showing solidarity for their struggle. As Science for the People has documented extensively, our labor as science workers has been used to enable injustice and create profits from misery throughout history. Our struggle to ensure that science serves the needs of everyday people, rather than supporting the interests of the powerful few, faces similar challenges on the road ahead. Together, we can build our power to win these struggles, and become a strong link in a long-running historical chain of workers striking out against oppression.

Tech won’t build it, and we won’t either.

In solidarity,

Science for the People

Science for Puerto Rico Solidarity Brigade, July 19-29

Science for the People’s Science for Puerto Rico Working Group is leading a solidarity brigade to the island, July 19-29, 2018. While a new hurricane season has begun, Puerto Ricans still face many frontline struggles in infrastructure, food, and housing in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The volunteers in this brigade will contribute to ongoing community projects while cultivating relationships with existing groups, including Casa Pueblo Puerto Rico, to help the people of Puerto Rico build resilient, community-owned infrastructure.

The Science for Puerto Rico brigade will also join Güakiá Colectivo Agroecológico and El Hormiguero in their ongoing work to develop sustainable agriculture and sustainable energy infrastructure, respectively.

Beyond assisting current projects, Science for Puerto Rico will expand our network through participation in meetings with members of the community, local organizations, and international climate justice groups. The brigade will also conduct interviews and dedicated political education events to learn from Puerto Rican community members and activists and find areas where we can continue to contribute beyond our initial July brigade. While we express our solidarity through volunteering, we are also working to expand a sociopolitical analysis of the causes and consequences of the disaster in Puerto Rico.

 

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

Interested in joining the brigade or learning more? Email SfPRManagement@googlegroups.com or Bolivar Aponte-Rolon.

Learn more about the situation in Puerto Rico in Naomi Klein’s article in The Intercept. All royalties from sales of her book, The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists, go to the alliance JunteGente.

There are many local organizations in Puerto Rico that need financial support. Consider donating to Güakiá Colectivo Agroecológico.

The Science for Puerto Rico brigade is possible because volunteers are covering their own airfare and food. You can support Science for the People’s direct action, volunteering, and organizing costs by becoming a patron for just $5 a month.

This Monday, June 25, 3-4 p.m. EDT, join Science for the People and other radical and progressive scientists and activists during the #ScienceRising Twitter Chat: Science Should Support Equity and Justice.

Stay tuned for more updates from Science for Puerto Rico on this site and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Rallying for Science in Atlanta

The following two speeches were presented by members of Science for the People’s Atlanta chapter, Lauren Wiggins and Rebekah Ward, at their local March for Science on April 14, 2018. Click here to see photos and read reports on Science for the People organizing at the March for Science in the U.S. and Mexico.

Lauren Wiggins:

Good Afternoon! My name is Lauren, and I am here representing the Atlanta Chapter of Science for the People at the 2018 Rally for Science and I’m excited to be here with you all today! And today I’m going to talk about climate change, big business, and social justice.

Lauren Wiggins

My first introduction to climate change was in 2014. I was an intern for Greenpeace–you may have heard of it. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the influence they’d had on society since the 1970s, nor was I aware of their current status as the largest global environmental organization. Truth be told, I’d just heard of the idea of climate change a few months prior to getting the internship. I’d heard of climate change from a friend in my junior year of college. I read a few articles, joined a sustainability group, and attended a conference or two on climate science and activism, and at that point I really thought I’d found my passion…but while I was interning at the Greenpeace USA headquarters, I stumbled upon an article about people who are trafficked into forced labor in the fishing industry. I was absolutely blown away, and wondered why this aspect of sustainability wasn’t more widely publicized along with the “save the whales” marketing Greenpeace had used for decades.

But I’m not here to talk about what lead me to my passion, I’m here to open your minds to what wasn’t taught to me as a school-aged child: climate change and social responsibility.

Most of us here have heard plenty about the environmental movement. We all support it and I’m sure I don’t need to stand here and convince you all that climate change is real, but what I will do is convince you that there’s a neglected narrative in the green movement. While we focus on campaigns to save the polar bears, the Sumatran tigers, the green sea turtles and other species that are undoubtedly worth saving: We often leave the most under-resourced and marginalized communities behind in this movement. It always baffles me to see large environmental campaigns driven by the concern of species far outside our own, but when we think about the human beings–you know, our neighbors, our community members, those who look like and reflect us–who in this instance, live less than ten miles from us, we often have no remorse for their circumstances or surroundings, or concern for their well-being.

In the midst of these changes in climate, the world often forgets to acknowledge that those who are producing most of the pollutants that are harmful to our health and our atmosphere are those farthest away from enduring the consequences of climate change. I cannot stress enough that the poor, and people of color, have always been and will continue to be the first affected and worst affected by natural disasters that are fueled by climate change. An example of this has been widely noted with Hurricane Katrina, a tragedy that displaced almost half a million people. I must emphasize that there are powers who are benefitting from these natural disasters. Naomi Klein, a Canadian journalist, author, and social activist, termed this consequence perfectly as “disaster capitalism.” She says, “some stockpile canned goods and water in preparation for major disasters, [while others] stockpile free-market ideas,” such as privatizing public services and corporate buyouts of low-income housing.

So those of us here probably aren’t looking for the next opportunity to build a beachside resort the next time a typhoon hits (which, by the way, is what happened in the Philippines following the Typhoon Haiyan disaster–and if you’ve been following the news, a similar cycle of exploitation is happening in Puerto Rico), but do consider this: When another natural disaster hits our world, the people who possess the means to do so will simply evacuate and reconstruct it without concern for those whose lives have been uprooted and whose families have been torn apart. However, the communities that were disenfranchised way before a disaster comes along will not have that option, and there are capitalists who bank on that occurrence (pun intended).

In one of my favorite books, Warriors of the Rainbow: A Chronicle of the Greenpeace Movement, author Robert Hunter writes, “A small group of people, acting imaginatively and nonviolently, can affect the course of events in our global village.” And this is true! Small groups are the seed of any movement! And if that small group is determined to change society to everyone’s benefit, it can make the largest impact!

I am an activist by trade, and by recreation. I volunteer with a group called Science for the People. We’re a group of scientists who, in 1969, were key in debunking the myths surrounding race and genes. Well-known figures like Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin started our organization! Our pamphlet’s title, “The Dual Nature of Science,” which you can find at our booth is inspired by yet another influential scientist, Richard Levins.

We are revamping Science for the People now, in the 21st century, because we believe that Science IS for the People, not for profit! We believe that Science IS for the People, not for war! We work on demilitarizing science, we work on making science accessible, and we work with communities because science is key for policy-making and transparency!

Science for the People works with the Atlanta community to make sure that our city is fueled by 100% clean energy, as the city council has promised in their recent resolution. Our vision for a 100% clean city, and ultimately a carbon-neutral world, is where clean energy develops alongside increased equity. So I urge you all to join us or join another organization that actively helps with this ambitious plan that can make our future more equitable, more sustainable, and more harmonious!

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “it really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

My life’s work is centered around justice for the environment and primarily the marginalized communities that have been oppressed, exploited, and constantly overlooked by the structures that, if they chose to, could “save” these communities. But I’ve come to a powerful realization in my years of organizing: we can’t wait around for anything to save us. One of my favorite idioms is, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” To be clear, I don’t intend to save the world by myself, nor would I suggest that the task be taken on by a single organization, because history has shown us that no movement reaches success by uniform assembly, but rather a diverse collective of shared power and respected values. We have to work alongside our communities, and at the same time, provide them with the tools and support to liberate themselves, as Science for the People is poised to do in this nation and eventually around the world.

After my first Black Lives Matter action and other environmental justice engagements at the United Nations climate talks, I declared to myself–and now to all of you–that I would spark a fire in each person I have the pleasure of meeting; so I want to spark the fire of empowerment in you, and you, and you…I want you all to join a movement and uplift a cause that is outside of yourself, your culture, and your upbringing. Like I said earlier, we all share this earth, and each of you in this audience possesses an invincible power to change the way humans live in it and among each other.

Thanks for listening, y’all.


Rebekah Ward:

There is a context to the current attack on science, and science education specifically. The first year Congress actually made specific appropriations for science education was 1958, one year after Sputnik was launched. What’s of note here is that it took the Cold War to motivate our government to take science education seriously. Previously, and historically, science had been the domain of the few and privileged. But that began to change during the 1960s and ‘70s as quality science education became much more accessible and new fields opened up prospects of quality jobs. Then, in the 1990s, the U.S. responded to changes in the global economy by moving toward neoliberalism. Briefly defined, this is a structural readjustment in funding that moves toward privatization of public services in order to bolster the free market. Here’s where you begin to see the push to change the nature of education. In grades K through 12, funding was cut and charters and vouchers were incentivized. In the academy, fewer secure well-paying tenure track positions were available. The academy moved toward adjuncts to bear the teaching load and post-doctoral fellows to crank out data. This data was then used to get grants that could pay for the staff that was needed to get more grants.

Rebekah Ward

Fast forward to the 2008 crisis. Governments of the world bailed out the banks, and the source of that money came from the social safety net. Funding for things like unemployment, infrastructure, and education were all cut. This was austerity, and it only accelerated the attacks on quality public education. According to the American Association of University Professors, the share of adjuncts teaching across higher ed has increased 66 percent in the past four decades. Adjuncts now make up 40 percent of the academic labor force at institutions surveyed, more than all other types of faculty combined. This majority of the academic labor force makes an average of around $20,000 a year. This is one of the ways that universities have coped with historic decreases in funding: a supplementary low wage labor force. And K-12 is even worse. The teacher pay penalty is bigger than ever. In 1994, public school teachers’ weekly wages were 1.8 percent lower than those of comparable workers; now it is approaching 20% lower than other workers. Education, including most types of science education, has been systematically devalued.

Locally, we see this play out in the University System of Georgia in several ways. State funding for public two- and four-year colleges is, nation wide, nearly $9 billion below its 2008 level, after adjusting for inflation. These kinds of cuts increase tuition, impact the Hope education tax credit, increase the adjunct to tenure track ratio, and decrease the support staff for students. This trend underlies the recent mergers between campuses. Georgia Perimeter and Georgia State University, along with many other physically proximal colleges and universities in the state, were combined into a single institution. Part of the stated purpose was to “reduce redundancy.” Why have two Human Resources departments, two Financial Aid departments, when you could have one that works twice as hard? Also, there are examples of science faculty in particular, who have been subject to paying for the underfunding of the USG.

At one local college, faculty who teach labs have recently been informed that they must teach an additional class next year for no additional pay. This amounts to around a 20% wage cut. In the labor movement, this is sometimes called a speed up. This allows the institution to hire fewer adjuncts without reducing incoming tuition. The trend is clear: education in general, and science education, with its equipment and reagents costs, in particular, are a target for the ongoing budget cuts.


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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.

Militarism

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.

RECRUITING  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.

1. LISTEN!
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?

2. RESPOND!
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.

3. KEEP TRACK!
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.

PAMPHLET
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

CHANTS
Need a rallying cry? Learn and share these chants!

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

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

 

CHAPTER REPORTS
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 biketoaprotest@gmail.com.

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.

Which Way for Science?

by the Science for the People editorial team

On April 22, 2017, the March for Science will pull several thousands of people into the streets to stand up for science and resist funding cuts proposed by the current US administration. Our organization, Science for the People, sees this development as a mostly positive step in the right direction. The scale of the political and economic crises facing people across the world is enormous and will require mass movements to resist and organize for change. However, we believe there is a need to advance radical solutions to face these crises. As such we have been interested in how the March for Science has developed since its inception around January 25, 2017. Our members have been taking measured approaches to engaging with the March for Science–nationally and locally–with the overall goal of putting forward a politics capable of both taking seriously the multitude of contradictions that define scientific enterprise and accounting for the people affected by and disaffected with the pursuit, uses, and abuses of science.

For radicals and revolutionaries, unearthing and addressing the burning questions of the latent social movement for science is an urgent and primary task:

  • What’s happening to U.S. Science?
  • Who will March for Science? Who will not?
  • What is Science for the People?

What’s Happening to US Science?

Supporting science as a national priority has fallen out of favor with the powers that be, to say the least. The new administration has made it perfectly clear that it intends to incapacitate the agencies and programs that make science happen every day in America–or at least those with missions orthogonal to developing U.S. military or resource extraction technologies. Their budget calls for the evisceration of the Environmental Protection Agency, a double decimation and reorganization for the National Institutes of Health, annihilation of various Department of Energy advanced research programs dedicated to renewable energy and climate, and more. While none of this is set in stone yet, as the budget must pass through the US House and Senate, it remains to be seen just how much the legislature will dispose of what the president proposes. Either way, by a few major lacerations or a thousand tiny cuts, U.S. science is likely to lose a lot of blood.

For mainstream commentators, the the primary victim is US leadership in research, as they see these attacks as tarnishing America‘s reputation for innovation and compromising national security. Concordantly, the tears of patriotism shed for the coming loss of America’s scientific hegemony come with a blurry vision for change: perhaps Congressional bipartisanship and compromise will save us all?

As bad as the current situation is, it’s worth remembering that funding woes for U.S. science are not new. Despite help from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the past near-decade of U.S. fiscal policy shows science losing out in the budgetary fights between the Obama administration’s ambitions for science and the GOP-controlled House of Representatives’ preference for imposing across-the-board austerity. Biomedical research institutions and their workforce have experienced much of the damage, with cuts and inflationary pressure on federal nondefense science and technology spending. It’s not just federal austerity bringing down U.S. science, either, as state cutbacks to public research universities have compounded the downward pressure for funding research and for the costs of providing science education, as the increasing costs of the university are passed on to the students as tuition.

None of this is intended to diminish the gravity of the current situation, but we should understand that what is happening is an increase in the rate of change on the same trajectory. This should prime us to be critical of establishment science organizations claiming to be vehicles of resistance to the current attacks on science. If the strategies and tactics of establishment science organizations were not able to secure the foothold for U.S. science during an administration that has been characterized as being the most friendly to science on record, how are we to expect that they will work under a regime that is decidedly oppositional to science and scientists? Ruthless criticism of the capacity of establishment organizations to make change from science workers themselves is necessary if we wish to move beyond the current, stultifying paradigm of lobbying and “science communications” as being the only legitimate mode of political organizing for science. Neither perfectly crafted explanations of climate change nor new science-friendly PACs offer a way for science to move beyond its designated but diminished roles within increasingly dysfunctional U.S. federal and state governments, into a form that realizes its radical potential to catalyze transformative social and political change.

Which brings us back to the March for Science, its significance in this political moment, the entanglement of reformist and radical forces within the march, and the need for both progressive and radical scientists to strategize about moving forward after the march is over.

Who will March for Science? Who will not?

When the March for Science was announced in late January, the spontaneity and resonance of the call to action was palpable, as tens of thousands of people hopped into social media groups clamoring for details about the march and how they could get involved. No doubt, the magnitude of the organizing task–bringing together potentially hundreds of thousands of people in just over a month’s time to march on Washington, D.C. (the original event was supposed to take place in March)–proved too much for the group of initiators. Soon thereafter, a network of coordinators and communicators tapped into the digital infrastructure to take over the reins for organizing the march. The opacity of the internal organizing processes and leadership structure of the march makes it difficult to assess exactly how the current organizing committee came together. Representatives of the organizing committee have made several thoughtless remarks and strategic missteps that have induced negative feedback toward the organizers, leading to rolling revisions to the statements of principles and recomposition of the organizing body.

Scientists and activists have engaged in heated debate and varied discussions about the March for Science on Facebook and Twitter, stemming from claims by the march’s organizers that the march would be apolitical, nonpartisan, and separate from “identity politics.” For instance, in Memphis, the latest version of the March for Science Diversity and Inclusion Principles caused a split between organizers willing to uphold these principles, and those that were not. “This isn’t about scientists. It’s about science,” claims co-chair and science writer Dr. Caroline Weinberg, a stance March for Science has since changed. Science is inherently political. What is studied, to what end, by whom and under what conditions, are all political questions integral to the very nature of science. By denying this fact, we risk erasing the struggle of scientists of color, women, disabled scientists, and scientists from the LGBTQ community who have had to fight for education, credibility, funding, and job opportunities within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Concordantly, we risk ignoring and diminishing the struggles of scientists who have resisted the use of science for making war, exploitation of workers, the enabling of environmentally destructive resource extraction, and the support of industries that harm people and the planet.

The slow acknowledgement of the political nature of science and the marginalization and exclusion of underrepresented groups from the March for Science, especially scientists of color, unleashed a Twitter storm in the three months leading up to the march. Underrepresented scientists expressed concern about the lack of diversity in the leadership of the March for Science, intersectionality, the hesitancy to reach out to other activist groups (e.g., Black Lives Matter, #NoDAPL, Women’s March), the need for a diversity statement, and accessibility issues. Dr. Stephani Page, a biochemist/biophysicist and creator of #BLACKandSTEM, spearheaded a discussion on diversity on Twitter with the hashtag #marginsci. This thread has helped force the March for Science to reflect on and reconsider their approach to organizing the march. Thanks to #marginsci, the March for Science diversity statement has been through several revisions. The March for Science organizers have also more recently created an anti-harassment policy (due to several racist, sexist, ableist, and homophobic incidents online) and recruited a few scientists of color to assist with the march.

These various stumblings reveal the ugly, longstanding problem with diversity and inclusion in STEM. According to sociologist Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos, who has been following and reporting the actions and discourse of the March for Science, organizers have even perpetuated sexist and racist stereotypes of passivity and potential for violence, respectively, in promoting the march. Female scientists of color have been trolled (i.e., harassed online) for their comments by White and primarily male peers in the science community. In response to #marginsci, the organizers announced two female scientists of color, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Dr. Lydia Villa-Komaroff, as spokespeople for the march. According to critics, the addition of these women seems to be an afterthought to the organizers, who had early on slated celebrity scientist Bill Nye as a march co-chair. Dr. Stephani Page responded to the announcement by stating that despite the fact that she loves Nye, she still thinks that he reinforces the White, male narrative in science. “He is a white male, and in that way he does represent the status quo of science, of what it is to be a scientist,” Page tells Buzzfeed.

We applaud the efforts of activists like Page to push the March for Science to take such steps and consider it their victory that the organizers were made to respond. As of the writing of this statement, it is unknowable how many scientists of color or other individuals from underrepresented groups plan to attend or stay home during the March for Science. But it is clear that many people from marginalized and oppressed communities have been turned off by the messaging and the lack of acknowledgement of their historic struggles within STEM. This negation both whitewashes the impact of science in enabling the oppression and marginalization of these communities, and ignores the contributions of scientists from these communities. For many marginalized scientists, the March for Science appears to be centering the concerns of those who are overrepresented in STEM by focusing on issues of funding and shifting research priorities as the dominant themes of the march, while subsuming the experiences of marginalized scientists to statements of diversity, rather than creating parity for issues that are just as important and longstanding as funding. The attempts made by the organizers of the March for Science to downplay the deeply political nature of contemporary science risk making it a symbolic representation of objectivity and “science for all,” a unifying rallying cry to fight against the “attack on science.” Such failures do not address the systemic racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and classism that still plagues the science community and society more broadly. These are not simply problems of individual morality but rather are complex structural problems and must be addressed as such through organization and demands beyond the calls for objective or diverse science.

In this moment, it is vital that we question who the scientific establishment benefits, oppresses, excludes, and ignores. How can science be more inclusive and equitable to people who identify as being disabled, LGBTQ, of color, and/or female-identifying? How can we enhance science access to local disenfranchised communities (e.g., indigenous, low-income, Black, Latinx) and how can we work with and for those communities? How can science serve humanity and the planet? Is it possible for scientists who desire meaningful social change in our society to put their talents to work for a movement capable of achieving that change, or must “politics” remain split off from their work? Can we ensure the use of evidence-based, ethical decision-making in public policy? As the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) fight have shown us, now is not the time for scientists to sit on the sidelines, claim neutrality or objectivity, and remain silent. Silence amounts to acceptance of the status quo, which could mean life or death for people and the planet.

What is Science for the People?

It is impossible to escape the political implications of scientific work. Particularly since the Sputnik era, the American ruling class–primarily characterized by upper-class, educated, wealthy Whites–has long had a commitment to science based on the belief that science is good for the long-term welfare of American capitalism, exemplified by the rhetoric around the potential STEM workforce shortage and the imperative that the U.S. should reclaim its rightful place as the top nation in STEM. This outlook is shared by the trustees of universities, leading U.S. scientists in the National Academies, government administrators, and private funding agencies. They see this viewpoint as representing a mature social responsibility that is morally superior to the “pure search for truth” attitudes of some scientists, who are tolerated as long as they don’t impede or challenge these economistic aims. With the reemergence of the use of biological concepts of race in genomics research and climate change denial, persistent environmental racism (environmental disasters that disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income residents, like the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and fracking in North Dakota and California), major racial, class, and national health disparities, the role of scientists and science in society needs to be reexamined. Dr. Marc Edward’s, in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education about his and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s investigation that revealed the deliberate inaction of the city and state government to address the lead contamination of Flint’s water supply, shared:

I am very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty. The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We’re all on this hedonistic treadmill—pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index—and the idea of science as a public good is being lost. [emphasis added]

Like Edwards, if the scientific community believes that science truly is a public good, then more scientists need to speak out, organize, and engage, for themselves, with, and for all marginalized and oppressed people. As a society, we need to use science to serve the people, not to turn profits or support private interests. Traditional attempts to reform scientific activity through professional societies and conferences, to disentangle it from its more malevolent and vicious applications, have failed. Actions designed to preserve the moral integrity of individuals without addressing how the institutions of science and the power they embody are complicit in systems of domination have been ineffective. What is needed now is not liberal reform or withdrawal, but a radical shift in the practice of science. Scientific workers must organize amongst themselves and as part of broader struggles to envision and achieve a liberatory science. This will require close attention to the changing nature of scientific work itself. For instance, young scientists, who are increasingly unable to find permanent employment as scientists, especially in the academy with its supposed offer of intellectual independence, will have difficulty changing science in a purely individualist manner.

The March for Science nationally and others globally who have been politically energized by the current state of affairs can learn from the history of radical politics in science. Courageous scientists throughout history have taken on social and political issues above and beyond their disciplinary “expertise.” Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Lewontin, Richard Levins, Jon Beckwith, Stephen Jay Gould, Ruth Hubbard, Hilary Rose, Steven Rose, Christopher Caudwell, Helen Rodriguez-Trias, Connie Redbird Uri, and antebellum scientists of color like James McCune Smith and Martin Delany, are all examples of scientists whose lives, science, and activism were propelled by the understanding that science is deeply political. In the 1970s, radical socialist science movements like Science for the People in the U.S. and British Society for Social Responsibility in Science in the U.K. enabled a renaissance for socially conscious, politically radical critiques and analyses of the entanglement of science with U.S. imperialism and global capitalism. At the 1970 meeting of American Association for the Advancement of Science, members of Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action (a precursor to Science for the People) publicly disrupted a keynote by Glenn Seaborg, then Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, and indicted him for both his role in aiding the development of nuclear weapons and “establishing, organizing, maintaining, and developing institutions of science and government for the effective use of the ruling class.” In the early 1970s, Science for the People’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), designed to aid radical groups with technical needs, helped free medical clinics hosted by the Chicago Black Panther Party break into city electrical power grids to provide free power for the clinics. Journalists for the Science for the People magazine worked to document the negative consequences of environmental exploitation on local populations and the movements of citizens to protect the land against energy and mining corporations (see Kelly Moore’s Disrupting Science and the forthcoming book on SftP for more history). They demonstrated that such environmental catastrophes could not be undone by science alone, but required scientists to unite with citizens organizing for their communities against powerful corporations and lackadaisical regulatory agencies. Yet with the deradicalization of academia and lack of history within science education curriculum, many scientists are unaware of this history, as evidenced by the national March for Science’s blundering statements concerning politics and science.

By reorganizing Science for the People, we aim to revitalize its legacy of documenting the use and abuse of science and to organize scientists to contribute to human liberation and transformative social change. As a coalition of progressive and radical science workers and supporters, Science for the People finds the alternatives of “science for science’s sake” and “science for the progress of capitalism” equally unacceptable. We can no longer stand by as science is used as a means to promote a neoliberal, capitalist agenda that objectifies individuals and communities in pursuit of exploitative and imperialist goals. We also cannot simply engage in scientific pursuits without questioning who the research serves and impacts, how science is directly or indirectly complicit in oppression, and how we can make our work accessible and meaningful to everyone. To uncritically assume that science is progressive is to leave the tools of science in the hands of the powerful. We need to think about scientific work differently: what would science look like if it were with and for the people?

Science for the People must be organized through a grassroots effort that is intersectional, inclusive, democratic, and accessible from its inception. We must be cognizant of how individual experiences of science are shaped by race, gender, class, nationality, and so on and how this, in turn, shapes the questions, assumptions, approaches, and social interactions in science. Rather than hiding behind the pretense of an “apolitical science,” we should acknowledge, reveal, critique, and contest the ways in which power and privilege manifest within the scientific community, scientific practice, and society. Scientists, science educators, science communicators, advocates, and community members should share “ownership” of the movement while elevating and centering the voices of the marginalized and oppressed. This is especially vital if the scientific community intends to (re)establish trust with communities that have often been harmed and traumatized by scientists and scientific research (e.g., indigenous, Black, Latinx, disabled, LGBTQ). We should be inspired by the work of those scientist-activists who have been and continue to engage the scientific community and society in difficult conversations around science, power, privilege, and oppression, such as Dr. Danielle N. Lee, Dr. Jedidah Isler, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and the Scientists Against Fascism, Dr. Raychelle Burks, Dr. Caleph Wilson, Dr. Marc Edwards, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, and Free Radicals.

Anything called Science for the People must directly serve marginalized, exploited, and oppressed persons and strengthen their ability to participate in struggles and achieve liberation for all. Doing this radical political work requires forging connections to community and political organizations where scientific analysis and technical prowess can provide aid in struggle, addressing the “undone science” that has yet to be completed. To accomplish this, it will be necessary to establish within Science for the People a network of scientists organized and capable of collaborating on projects brought forth by social and political organizations seeking assistance and take seriously the process of learning from criticisms and suggestions by others. It also calls for the (re)learning of the history of science with a focus on hidden or untold stories and the creation of decolonized science.

Additionally, we must foster resistance to doing science that can be used as weapons against the people, either in the natural or social sciences, or that aids in the efficiency of the capitalist system to exploit people and the planet for profit. The time has come for a revitalized Science for the People. STEM workers must redirect their capacity away from serving reactionary forces and institutions that uphold the current system, and towards work that saves the planet and serves the people.

The March for Science this weekend is the exciting first step of what we hope will become a mass movement to both defend the necessity of science and to build science that works for all people. We have an opportunity to raise the issues we have discussed with our colleagues and community members while there is heightened visibility and momentum around the power of science to unite and change our world. We present both enthusiasm for and criticism of the March for Science in the spirit of solidarity and construction. As scientists and those who deem science valuable mobilize this weekend we have a chance to think deeply and critically about the root of issues in science research, funding, and impact. Science has the potential to be a force of liberation but is frequently complicit in systems of domination. Let us join with all those engaged in liberatory struggles to build a world where all science is Science for the People.