Science for the People: The 1970s and Today

April 11-13, 2014, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, United States


This conference on the history of the 1970s-1980s organization Science for the People (SftP) and its implications for science activism today will bring together veteran members of the organization along with other scientists, Science and Technology Studies (STS) scholars, science activists, graduate students, and undergraduates. It will include speakers representing SftP and STS perspectives, panels on the historical and sociological significance of SftP, and panels on approaches to issues (e.g., energy policy, agricultural science and food justice, and the scientific construction of race and gender) that SftP addressed and that our society continues to face now. In addition to providing a public forum, it will produce lasting resources for the continued study of science activism.

Science for the People arose out of the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War era. With a Marxist analysis and non-hierarchical governing structure, SftP tackled the militarization of scientific research, the corporate control of research agendas, the political implications of sociobiology theories, environmental consequences of energy policy, inequalities in health care, and many other issues. Its members opposed racism, sexism, and classism in science and above all sought to mobilize people working in scientific fields to become active in agitating for science, technology, and medicine that would serve social needs rather than military and corporate interests. They organized in universities and communities, published a magazine offering sharp political analysis, and sought meaningful scientific exchange internationally in Vietnam, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, and other countries.

Some of the issues we face today have changed in important ways, but fundamental questions of power, ideology, and democracy in science remain. The time is ripe to gather SftP veterans with other scientists, activists, students, and STS scholars in an exploration of what the history of SftP can teach us.

Posted: February 10, 2014