“What is needed now is not liberal reform or withdrawal, but a radical attack, a strategy of opposition. Scientific workers must develop ways to put their skills at the service of the people and against the oppressors.” (Zimmerman, et al. 1972).
Following the 2014 conference, “Science for the People: The 1970s and Today,” Sigrid Schmalzer, Daniel Chard
, and Alyssa Botelho
, edited a volume of the Science for the People (SftP) movement, curating numerous documents from the group that are as relevant today as when they were published several decades ago. Science for the People: Documents from America’s Movement of Radical Scientists
(University of Massachusetts Press, 2018) encapsulates the diverse themes, research, and actions of the movement, which included chapters across the US at one time. Emerging from the radical political culture of the 1960s, and predecessor group, Scientists for Social and Political Action, SftP challenged the value-neutrality of science and technology, and instead sought to democratize science by engaging with other political movements and conducting research with non-experts. While much scientific research continues to be funded by the state or by corporations, SftP provided grassroots scientific and technological assistance and education in a multitude of settings. Just to take a few examples from the volume, these efforts included research for social movements, providing electrical power for a Black Panther free medical clinic, promoting the farming technique of intercropping, as well as distributing resources, literature and education to countries such as Vietnam and Nicaragua. The direction of assistance between SftP and other groups was rarely one-sided, as SftP members absorbed knowledge from other movements and places, as documented in the China: Science Walks on Two Legs
selection, wherein several SftP members visited China and learned about some of the traditional science and peasant research conducted in the nation. In addition, through working groups and publications, SftP critiqued racist and sexist science, reductionist biology, nuclear power, weapons research, commercial agriculture, US imperialism, and much more. As their many articles and actions show, SftP did more than just critique mainstream science, they attempted to provide alternatives. Finally, SftP had a formative and lasting effect on Science and Technology Studies through its various studies on the social embeddedness of science and its political uses.
Since the 2014 conference, Science for the People has been revitalized through new efforts. Check out https://scienceforthepeople.org/
to see continued and original projects.
Chad J. Valasek is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology & Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego. His research interests includes the history of the human sciences, the influence of the behavioral sciences on medical practice and health policy, and political activism around science and the arts. Follow him on Twitter @chadjvalasek.