Having come of age in the same period, more comfortable with picket lines than Laffer curves, I looked forward to a change from the Whiggish rhetoric of the Reagan/Thatcher era toward a freewheeling critique of science and society. Yet this book suffers from a stodginess all its own. Most of the essays, whether dealing with the social dynamics of biology labs or the intellectual origins of physics, seem intent on grappling only with the most hoary, and to my mind the least interesting, questions of Marxist analysis: how can this or that field of study be shown to be an expression of the prevailing modes of exchange and production? How can this or that research situation be cast as a struggle between exploiters and exploited?
Fitting every situation into the Procrustean bed of a standard debating scheme seems at best tedious, at worst, self-deceiving. The editors themselves seem to admit something of the sort in an introduction to a piece on Galileo by the German social theorist Alfred Sohn-Rethel, who insists on seeing the law of inertia as a reflection of 15th century commodity exchange structures. Though they are indined to regard this as academic overkill, like giving a psychoanalytic reading of a "No Parking" sign, the editors go along with the effort: "An account which appears not to call for further explanatory factors may demand them for Marxist reasons, as a condition of replacing a bourgeois academic level of understanding by a political level." This is a formula for polemic, not reasoned argumentation, and it has the musty flavor of a 19th century political pamphlet.
The most provocative pieces in this short volume deal not with matters of abstract theory, but of concrete analysis of specific sciences, for example Jack Stauder's brief history of the role of anthropology in the legitimizing of Western colonialism and Charlie Clutterbuck's essay on occupational hazards in the plastics industry. Judging from a listing of other Radical Science issues in the back of this volume, there would have been a number of similarly interesting essays that were not selected for inclusion—on "Star Wars," science fiction, sociobiology and the like. As it stands, this collection seems more conservative than radical in its doctrinaire vision of the scientific enterprise.