Radical Science Isn't Stodgy

In his review of Radical Science Essays (The Scientist, February 23, 1987, p. 22), Laurence A. Marschall acknowledges that scientists often sidestep the issue of how closely they attain their ideal of absolute objectivity. He then expresses disappointment at the "conservative" approach of our book—at its supposed attempt to fit reality into preconceived schemes—at the same time that he praises certain essays as "provocative." Yet those essays he finds provocative ask precisely the so

By | May 4, 1987

In his review of Radical Science Essays (The Scientist, February 23, 1987, p. 22), Laurence A. Marschall acknowledges that scientists often sidestep the issue of how closely they attain their ideal of absolute objectivity. He then expresses disappointment at the "conservative" approach of our book—at its supposed attempt to fit reality into preconceived schemes—at the same time that he praises certain essays as "provocative."

Yet those essays he finds provocative ask precisely the sorts of questions he criticizes as "hoary... questions of Marxist analysis," such as how a research situation can be cast "as a struggle between exploiters and exploited." For example, Jack Stauder shows that the original paradigm of anthropology arose from the British empire's need to stabilize the exploitation of its colonies. He argues that even the research done by the best-intentioned anthropologists still lends itself to use for imperialist control. Taking up the case of hazards in the chemical industry, Charlie Clutterbuck shows how the conflicts between capitalists and workers shape not only the type of technological hazards imposed, but also the types of research done, or not done, into those hazards.

In one essay Marschall disparages for stodginess, Simon Pickvane describes life in the world's most famous biology lab in a double sense: as the literal division of an organism according to the academic division of labor, and as one scientist's personal life's being agonizingly dominated by the imperatives of the research program. Surely that essay will evoke the ambivalence that many other scientists feel about their work situations.

Marschall greatly objects to Alfred Sohn-Rethel's essay for fitting reality into a polemical formula. Yet Sohn-Rethel's analysis roots out the most abstract physical laws in commodity exchange relations without reducing this complex matter to the "reflection" formula for which Marschall criticizes him. Far from considering the essay "academic overkill," the Radical Science Collective's introduction attempted to clarify the author's model, especially the question of what counts as an adequate explanation—a question as applicable to the history of science as to current research. The relations between science, politics and culture are crucial to the future of civilization. It ill-behooves scientists to dismiss them.

Finally, other "interesting essays" were not included in the collection for the simple reason that they are still in print and available from us at Free Association Books.

—Lea Levidow
Free Associaton Books,
26 Freegrove Rd. London N7 9RQ, UK

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