The radical science movement in the United States

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Author: Jon Beckwith
Date: July-August 1986
From: Monthly Review(Vol. 38)
Publisher: Monthly Review Foundation, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,530 words

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Frank Mirer was working for his Ph.D. in chemistry, headed toward an academic research career. Fran Conrad was teaching high school biology. Rich Rosen worked as a research physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratories. Michael Jacobson pursued his Ph.D. degree in molecular biology. Kathy Yih did research in animal behavior with an interest in sociobiology.

Today, Frank is director of the United Auto Workers Department of Health and Safety. Fran is an industrial hygienist with the New Jersey Department of Public Health. Rich, with two other ex-academic physicists, heads a private energy consulting company which advises, among others, community groups in their struggle over such issues as nuclear power and utility rate hikes. Michael heads Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group which has waged numerous successful struggles against dangerous substances in foods, and has provided public education on these issues. Kathy lives in Nicaragua and is an ecological consultant to the government of that country on agricultural and other matters.

One of the important factors in these changes in people's lives was the growth of the radical political movement in the United States in the late 1960s. The radical science movement, which arose in this period, not only changed the lives of many people working in science, it also altered the course of debate over public issues involving science. These issues included occupational health hazards, academic agricultural research, weapons development, recombinant DNA, sociobiology, genetics, intelligence and race, and other controversies in behavioral genetics. Finally, the radical science movement questioned the cherished notion of scientific objectivity which had long held sway in the scientific community.

Origins of the Radical Science Movement

While there has long been some tradition of activism among U.S. scientists, there appears to have been little continuity between earlier movements and the one which arose in the late 1960s. Some of this earlier activity appeared in the aftermath of Hiroshima, as a number of physicists organized campaigns for nuclear disarmament and for an end to nuclear testing. The Federation of American Scientists and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which is still published today, were formed in this period. In the 1960s, as the debate over the arms race heated up, scientists, through the Federation of American Scientists, lobbied Congress and published their opposition to specific weapons and aircraft such as the antiballistic missile and the supersonic transport. Scientific expertise was used to argue against the feasibility of a particular weapon. Biologists campaigned against chemical and biological weapons. Confrontations took place at the annual meetings of the American Society of Microbiology over that organization's connection with Fort Detrick, the chief research laboratory for biological warfare. Scientists also played a prominent part in the active opposition to the Vietnam War in the universities. New York Times advertisements protesting the war carried signatures of academics, an unusually high proportion of whom were scientists.

These earlier efforts involved mostly academic scientists who used their prestige to oppose specific cases of...

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Source Citation
Beckwith, Jon. "The radical science movement in the United States." Monthly Review, vol. 38, July-Aug. 1986, p. 118+. Accessed 23 Sept. 2020.

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