EP68: Science Against the People (ft. Charles Schwartz & Sigrid Schmalzer)

Today, right-wingers attack science and liberals defend it. Science good, anti-science Republicans bad–that’s the prevailing narrative, especially so during the March for Science in 2017. However, it’s not so simple. Perhaps science should be defended from reactionary attacks, but not uncritically defended as inherently good. That’s the message of Science for the People, a radical movement of scientists and educators who argue that science has always served capitalism, patriarchy, and empire. So, science doesn’t need to be simply defended–it needs to change.

We examine the group’s Vietnam-era origins, with the story of one of its founders, physicist Charles Schwartz.  Schwartz’ work initially supported the US war effort, but he became a thorn in the side of the military and scientific establishment for over two decades. However,  in the 1980s Science for the People went dormant.

Since the mid-2010s, it’s back. We then speak to a current member, and also the historian who brought them back together. Sigrid Schmalzer is co-editor of a collection of the group’s writing, entitled Science for the People: Documents from America’s Movement of Radical Scientists, 1969-1989. We cover how the group came back together, how this incarnation is different, and how they traverse the complicated politics between pro-science liberals and anti-science reactionaries.

This is a production of Cited Media. This episode received support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It is part of a series of episodes on the relationship between activism and academia. Our scholarly advisors on this series are Professors Lesley Wood at York University, Sigrid Schmalzer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, as well as Sharmeen Khan, Sami McBryer, and Susannah Mulvale.


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