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Labor Action, 27 February 1950


Carl Darton

You and Science

Scientists Organizing for Social Action


From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 9, 27 February 1950, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


It is part of the folklore of capitalism that scientists in white coats are above the conflicts of politics, their only concern being the pursuit of truth. The application of such truth and knowledge, according to this viewpoint, is better left to those versed in the ways of men and practical affairs.

Scientists themselves have done little to erase this misconception. The majority of them have neglected politics as being too “dirty” or at least unsatisfying. Those few who have spoken out have usually been on the side of the dominant classes and their utterances and actions have indicated that their scientific approach stopped at the threshold of their own specialty. Their politics, as well as their philosophy, appears to have been learned from grandfather, teacher or nursemaid.

Within the past ten years or so, particularly since the end of the war, there has been increasing evidence of social consciousness among scientists, and their organization into societies and groups better to apply the fruits of their labor for the good of all.

It is only natural that a healthy science should have pride in the ultimate social use of its work. Such a right can not be denied any skilled worker, least of all the scientist. It is true that the results of scientists struggles for social consciousness have been few, but their efforts should be encouraging to all workers.

The first effort was in 1938 with the formation of a new kind of scientific society, the American Association of Scientific Workers. Its aim was the relating of scientific developments to their social implications and giving scientists some control over the applications of science.

The AASW has been concerned with science as related to education, socialized medicine, protection of the consumer, government aid to science and, more recently, with loyalty clearances, secrecy in research, freedom of speech, and the uses of atomic energy. It has branches in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Purdue, with members at large being affiliated directly with the national office at 298 West 11th Street, New York City. A membership of about 800 members is currently claimed in the United States. It is affiliated with the World Federation of Scientific Workers, which publishes an international journal, Science and Mankind.

Despite the fact that it is the oldest American organization of socially-conscious scientists, it has remained relatively isolated from the main current of the American scientific world,

“Triple A-s” Speaks Up

The central scientific organization in the United States is the American Association for the Advancement of Science to which are affiliated most of the scientific societies, totaling over 40,000 members. With the increasing encroachment of military research on all scientific activity the AAAS in 1947 appointed a committee to consider the increasing restrictions on research and the oppression of “loyalty clearances. The conclusions of this committee were published in 1949 as the Visscher report.

Its main points were that security regulations should not apply to basic principles of fundamental knowledge; that loyalty investigations are forcing men of ability and pride to avoid military research where they are treated as objects of suspicion; that guilty by association is unfair. The whole tone of the report is mild and feeble in protest but it is significant in that it is the first step toward social consciousness on the part of the predominant scientific body in the United States.

Just within the past few months there has been organized a Society for Social Responsibility in Science. Its aims are to further “a tradition of personal moral responsibility for the consequences of professional activity ... that the individual must abstain from destructive work”; and more on the practical side, “to operate an employment service for those refusing destructive work.” Its members are mostly in universities but include some scientists in industrial work.

The activities of the largest organization of social-minded scientists, the Federation of American Scientists, will be described in our next column.

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Last updated on 9 March 2023