STPEC reflects on influential group

By Josh Darling

Courtesy of UMass Department of Social Thought and Political Economy
Courtesy of UMass Department of Social Thought and Political Economy

The University of Massachusetts Social Thought and Political Economy department will be hosting a conference from April 11 to April 13 discussing the history and impact of the defunct Science for the People organization.

Science for the People was a radical coalition of scientists, activists, mathematicians and members of other facets of academia that was in action from 1969 to 1989. Started as a result of the anti-war response to the Vietnam War, the organization used Marxist analysis of power structures to combat the adverse use of science for the sole benefit of those in power.

Some issues that Science for the People tackled include the “militarization of scientific research, the corporate control of research agendas, the political implications of sociobiology and other scientific theories, the environmental consequences of energy policy, inequalities in health care, and many other issues,” according to the conference website.

The organization advocated for the reallocation of scientific resources for causes that would benefit the world as a whole. One instance of the organization’s radical activism is their disruption of a 1971 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the world’s largest general scientific society.” Members of Science for the People occupied the meeting and threw paper airplanes at former Vice President Hubert Humphrey in protest of the Vietnam War. By the end of the meeting, Humphrey signed a pledge to pull out of Vietnam.

“There are a number of key issues that need to be addressed with the kind of radical approach that Science for the People demonstrated,” STPEC Director Sigrid Schmalzer said. “We hope for this conference to be a learning experience, but also a kick-off point for people to organize in a way that best addresses these issues, using Science for the People as inspiration.”

There are currently over 150 people preregistered for attendance, and over 60 presenters scheduled to speak at the conference.

The first night of the conference will include a reception and dinner, followed by a two-hour segment during which UMass students will interview six former members of Science for the People about their experiences with the organization and beyond.

Saturday will start with several speakers presenting on the history and impact of Science for the People, followed by panels throughout the day discussing the teaching of social justice in science, agricultural science and food justice, injustice involving laborers working with toxic chemicals and other topics.

The day’s lectures will be concluded with a keynote lecture by John Vandermeer, an ASA Gray Distinguished University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of University of Michigan and founding member of Science for the People. He is one of the foremost authorities on matters of agricultural sustainability.

Following the keynote lecture will be dinner and subsequent entertainment. The entertainment will include music by Sara Colb and the Sagamore James Band, spoken word by Walnut da Lyrical Geni, Papel Machete and “puppetry with a message,” a project of AgitArte.

The final day of the conference will include presentations on climate change, energy technology and policy, women in science and “pro- and anti-people” healthcare models.

The last presentation of the conference will be a “forum where all concerned scientists – and especially students and younger members of the profession – may explore the questions, Why are we scientists? For whose benefit do we work? What is the full measure of our moral and social responsibility?”

Josh Darling can be reached at [email protected].