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Science In A Better World
S cience refers to an accumulated body of information about the components of the cosmos and to testable claims or theories about how those components interact, as well as to the processes by which we add to our information, claims, and theories, reject them as false, or determine that they are possibly or even likely true.
My personal knowledge that the grass I see from my window is green is not science. Experiences per se are not science, nor are perceptions, though both can be valid and important. It isn’t by way of science that we know what love is or that we are experiencing pain or pleasure. Science doesn’t teach us how to talk or what to say in most situations or how to add or multiply numbers. Most of life, in fact, including even most information discovery and communication, occurs without doing science, being ratified by science, or denying, defying, crucifying, or deifying science.
And yet, most knowing and thinking, and especially most predicting or explaining, is much like science, even if it is not science per se. What distinguishes what we do every day from what we call science is more a difference of degree than a difference of kind. Perceiving is perceiving. Claiming is claiming. Respecting evidence is respecting evidence. What distinguishes scientists doing these things in labs and libraries is their personal and collective discipline.
Science doesn’t add new claims about the properties of reality’s components to its piles of information and its theories, nor does it assert the truth or falsity of any part of that pile, without diverse groups of people reproducing supporting evidence and verifying claims under very exacting conditions of careful collection, categorization, and calculation. Nor does science advance without reasons to believe that what is added to the scientific pile has significant implications vis a vis the pile’s overall character, history, and development.
What is most happily added to science’s knowledge pile is checkable evidence or testable claims or new paths connecting disparate parts that verify or refute previously in doubt parts of the pile or that add new non-redundant terrain to the pile, in turn giving hope of providing new vistas for further exploration.
If we look in the sky and say the moon circles the earth, it is an observation, yes, but it is not yet science. If we detail the motions of the moon and provide strong evidence for our claims about its circling the earth that is reproducible and testable by others, we are getting close to serious science, or even contributing to it. If we pose a theory about what is happening with the moon, and we then test our theory’s predictions to see if they are ever falsified or especially if they predict new outcomes that are surprising to us, then we are certainly doing science.
Webster’s Dictionary defines science as “the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines science as “a branch of study which is concerned with a body of demonstrated truths or observed facts, systematically classified by being brought under general laws, and which includes trustworthy methods for the discovery of new truths within its own domain.” Seventy-two Nobel Laureates agreed on the following definition: “Science is devoted to formulating and testing naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. It is a process for systematically collecting and recording data about the physical world, then categorizing and studying the collected data in an effort to infer the principles of nature that best explain the observed phenomena.”
Richard Feynman, one of the foremost physicists of the 20th century, pithily sums up the whole picture: “During the Middle Ages there were all kinds of crazy ideas, such as that a piece of rhinoceros horn would increase potency. Then a method was discovered for separating the ideas— which was to try one to see if it worked, and if it didn’t work, to eliminate it. This method became organized, of course, into science.”
W e can say with confidence that the type of economy a society has can affect science by affecting the information that is collected and the claims about it that are explored, the means and procedures utilized in the collection and exploration, and who is in position to participate in these processes or, for that matter, even to know about and be enlightened by science’s accomplishments.
There are at least two individual and two social motives that propel science. First there is pure curiosity, the human predilection to ask questions and seek their answers.
- Why is the sky blue?
- What happens if you run at the speed of light next to a burst of light?
- What is time and why does it seem to go only one way?
- What is the smallest piece of matter and tiniest conveyor of force?
- How do pieces of matter and conveyors of force operate?
- What is the universe, its shape, its development?
- What is life, a species, an organism?
- How do species form, persist, get replaced?
socialize, what is an economy, how does it work, and what is a
polity, culture, family, and how do they work?
Inquiring minds want to know these things even if there is nothing material to be gained from that knowledge.
A second personal motive for science is individual or collective self interest. Knowledge of the components of reality and their interconnections sufficient to predict outcomes and even to impact what happens can not only assuage our curiosity, it can increase the longevity, scope, range, and quality of life. What is the cause and cure for polio or cancer? How do birds fly? How does gravity work?
Curiosity causes us to open the door to the unknown with gigantic desire and energy; but we drive whole huge caravans through the doors of science in part because of the benefits we gain. The benefits can come from the implications of the knowledge itself, but also from remuneration for scientific labors or achievements. There can be material rewards for gathering information and for proposing or testing hypotheses about reality. Pursuit of these rewards is also a motive for doing science. Likewise, the benefits to be had beyond the satisfaction of fulfilling one’s curiosity are not confined to material payment. One can attain status or fame, and doing science is often at least in part driven by pursuit of the social prizes, notoriety, stature, and admiration that accompany discovery.
Science and Economics
A n economy can increase, diminish, or push people’s curiosity in one direction or another. It can affect as well the ways that scientific knowledge can directly benefit people, and, of course, the remuneration and other material rewards bestowed on people for doing science, as well as the social rewards they garner.
In the U.S., science has become ubiquitous revealing the inner secrets of materials, space, time, bodies, and even, to a very limited extent as yet, minds. But science has also become, in various degrees and respects, an agent of capital. Distortion arises when the different methods and problems scientists utilize are biased by motives other than scientific inquiry undertaken for its own sake.
British journalist George Monbiot reports that “34 percent of the lead authors of articles in scientific journals are compromised by their sources of funding, only 16 percent of scientific journals have a policy on conflicts of interest, and only 0.5 percent of the papers published have authors who disclose such conflicts.”
In the pharmaceutical industry we find that “87 percent of the scientists writing clinical guidelines have financial ties to drug companies.”
More subtly, commercial funding and ownership affect what questions are raised and what projects are pursued. If patent prospects are good, money flows. If they are bad, even when reasons of general curiosity or improving human welfare warrant a line of inquiry, funding is hard to come by.
At the most extreme, citizens may wind up “guinea pigs as in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment between 1932 and 1972, or in experiments between 1950 and 1969 in which the government tested drugs, chemical, biological, and radioactive materials on unsuspecting U.S. citizens; or [as in] the deliberate contamination of 8,000 square miles around Hanford, Washington, to assess the effects of dispersed plutonium.” On a larger scale, in the U.S. the Pentagon now controls about half the annual $75 billion federal research and development budget with obvious repercussions for the militarization of priorities.
I recently sat on an airplane next to an MIT biologist interested in human biological functions and dysfunctions. He was not at all political or ideological, but he had no confusions about the way things work. “What we do, what we can do, even what we can think of doing,” he told me, “is overwhelmingly biased by the need for funding, which, nowadays, means the need for corporate funding or, if government, then a government that is beholden overwhelmingly to corporations or to militarism. More, the corporations plan on a very short time horizon. If you can’t make a very strong case for short run profits, forget about it. Find something else to pursue, unless you can convince the government your efforts will increase killing capacities.”
Good Society Science
W hat would be different about science in a good society, one with a participatory economy, say, rather than with capitalism? Four primary structural things would change, which in turn have many implications.
- Each future scientist would work at a balanced job complex, having a mix of responsibilities balanced for empowerment and quality of life effects, like everyone else, rather than occupying a higher or lower position in a pecking order of power.
- Each future scientist would be remunerated for duration, intensity, and, to the extent relevant, difficulty of their work, not for power or output, much less for property.
- Each future scientist, with other workers in his or her scientific institution—whether it’s a lab, university, research center, or other venue—would influence decisions in proportion as he or she is affected by them.
The level of
resources that future scientists will be allotted to engage in
their pursuits will be determined by the overall economic system
via participatory planning, with self management.
As a result future science will no longer be dependent on power and wealth—indeed these won’t even exist in centralized forms—nor will those involved in scientific pursuits earn more or less remuneration or enjoy more or less power than those involved in other areas.
Will there be huge expenditures on tools for advancing our knowledge of the 15th decimal point of nuclear interactions or the 14 billionth light year distant galaxy even before we have figured out how to reduce the hardships of mining coal or containing or reversing its impact on the ecology or before we develop alternative energy sources? Will research be undertaken on grounds of military applications instead of on grounds of implications for knowing our place in a complex universe?
These are questions that will arise and be answered only when we have a new society. What commitment to a future vision tells us is the broad procedure people will follow, not the specific outcomes that people will choose, though we can certainly make intelligent guesses about the latter, as well.
When the latest and greatest particle accelerator project was being debated in the U.S., a congressperson asked a noted scientist who was arguing for allocating funds to the super collider, what its military benefits would be. The scientist replied it would have no implications for weaponry, but it would help make our society worth defending. The scientist’s motivations and perceptions failed to impress Congress, which voted against the project.
Do we know that a future society would have allotted the billions required? No. We don’t know one way or the other. But we do know that the final decision would be based not on the project’s military benefits, but rather on how the project would contribute to making society a more desirable and wiser place.
So a desirable post-capitalist economy would in no way inhibit scientific impulses. Instead it would greatly enhance them both due to having an educational system that seeks full participation and creativity from everyone and due to allotting to science what a free and informed populace agrees to. Science, in the sense of creatively expanding the range and depth of our comprehension of the world, depends on real freedom—which is to say real control over our lives to pursue what we desire.
Michael Albert is co-founder of South End Press and Z Communications. He is currently on the staff of ZNET. He has written numerous books on politics and vision including his most recent Parecon: Life After Capitalism and Thought Dreams .
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.