Science, that is, natural and physical science, is supposed to be pure. Those who do science keep their work free from any taint of political belief or social prejudice. The scientific method is itself value-free, beyond good and evil. That, at least, was the theory. In practice, however, scientists are not always so pure. They often lead two lives. In their research, the ideal is still the dispassionate search for knowledge, but once outside the lab, they join political organizations, speak out on moral issues, and endorse expensive whiskeys. In principle, it might be possible to keep the two lives separate; in fact, they often do not.). B. S. Haldane was not only a Marxist, but as a Marxist he found himself supporting the fanciful genetics of Stalin’s protege, T. D. Lysenko; Robert Oppenheimer seems to have changed his mind about the feasibility of atomic bombs only after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union; and there are physicists whose principle objection to the Big Bang theory is the support it seems to give the Biblical account of creation.
All of this scientific politicking typically Marxist – gives credence to Thomas Kuhn’s suggestion that social pressures help to define the paradigms governing scientific research. It is social pressures, not experimentation, that impel scientists to bear witness against nuclear weapons or sociobiology. Usually, the bias is not so obvious. It is discreetly hidden from view in unreadable journals and inaccessible conferences. But in scientific magazines addressed to “laymen,” it.is easy to spot the trends. The editorial agenda of Natural History, Scientific American, and Science 85, are exactly what we have come to expect from the cloistered sociologists, political scientists, and English professors who would like to act as America’s conscience.
They are – it goes without saying against war, nuclear weapons, and handguns; they support arms negotiation, nuclear freeze, gun control, and feminism. A recent Scientific Ameri can article argued that “military activities in the U.S.S.R. can be unilaterally monitored,” clearing the way for “a wide-range of treaties.” Similarly, Science featured an article showing that while it looks as though the Soviets are fudging on past treaties, the Russians have their own list of alleged Ameri can offenses-and surely nothing is more important than ongoing negotiations. The “nuclear winter” often invoked by scientists advocating nuclear freeze has inspired practices which even journalists would find dubious. In a letter to Scientific American the formulators of the “nuclear winter” hypothesis quoted the Wall Street Journal for support – without mentioning that the WSJ piece cited was a letter to the editor by Carl Sagan, one of their own number.
Less cataclysmic weaponry was the focus of a Science 84 article arguing that “the Reagan administration’s anti gun-control stance” was hamstringing public health officials in their efforts to halt the “murder epidemic.” (Why, a reader asked the editors, did the author not discuss Switzerland’s low murder rate “despite laws that require all-able bodied men to own guns”?) If the new science of public health ever succeeds in disarming American males, scientific feminists have their own plans. An article in Science 85 on conversation patterns decried the pervasive “male dominance in speech” and called for more attention to the “most notable exception” to this global pat tern: the nearly androgynous conversations of Bali. Natural History has also enlisted science in the feminist cause, recently allowing a longtime elementary school teacher to attack the super hero patterns of little boys who have not learned to remain “calm” like little girls. (A more urgent problem is the feminine dominance in elementary schools.)
Sexual biases are not the only ones under scientific scrutiny in Natural History. In his column “This View of Life,” Stephen Jay Gould asserts that from a genetic standpoint there is no good reason for even naming races. Gould believes that it would be “poor logic…to hinge a moral or political argument upon any factual statement about human biology.” He assures us that he regards “equality of opportunity as inalienable, universal, and unrelated to the biological status of individuals.” Where the universal principles come from only Gould – and Karl Marx – knows. Gould is very sure and pleased-that the “best modem biological knowledge” nicely harmonizes with egalitarian ethics.
Because Gould wrote his piece in November 1984 in South Africa, it seems quite possible that he was re sponsible for soliciting a piece that appeared in NH the following month by a Zulu chief. This article explained that Zulu military conquests had once given southern Africa a golden era and that – given majority rule in his land – the “African humanism” of tribal culture would provide surer support for humane communalism and “democratic justice” than Western values do. Put aside the absurdity of the claim (compared to Zulu kings like Chaka, Hitler was an Alan Alda). We have to wonder why Natural History gives a tribal leader an opportunity to expound his views on politics and history. In general, scientific journalists have a strange admiration for primitive peoples ignorant of all Western norms, including logic and science.
The Balinese and the Zulus are not the only beneficiaries of this new attitude. We find in Natural History last spring a portrayal of Lacadan Mayas as an enchanting people, until Christian missionaries and capitalists with bulldozers arrived. (NH is quite eager, however, to see the Western technology of contraception disseminated in the Third World.) NH is so eager to tum back the clock that it is pushing for a “return to wood fuel.”
There is an obvious conflict between scientific objectivity and the myths by which the editors live. At Natural History, at least, the myths seem to be winning. Last November bioscientist John Maynard Smith recanted his opposition to myths. It took him a while, but Smith finally discovered that taken simply as science, evolutionary biology offers no support to such causes as homosexual rights and feminism. For Smith, the need is clear for some new union of science and myth, though the distinctions between the two must always be kept in view. In consummating this marriage, scientists must listen to those social, ethical, and political movements that are “making some ideas seem worth pursuing and others implausible or un promising.” To the dubious latter category Smith relegates the sociobiological studies of E. 0. Wilson and Richard Alexander (whom he not too subtly links lo Nazism). For ideas “worth pursuing,” Smith is apparently looking left. Stalinist sponsorship of Lysenko cannot be condoned, but he finds value in the “very different” Marxist analysis of science offered by physicist J. D. Bernal, who believed that capitalism distorts science and so retards “progress toward an under standing of nature.”
It is too early to predict the offspring of this marriage of Faustus and Helen. Scientists could learn important les sons on restraint if they were to tum to the scriptural accounts of the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel. The legends of Greece have likewise much to say about the presumption of scientific revolutionaries like Prometheus and Daedalus-who sacrificed his son to intellectual freedom-or the greatest mythic intellectual of all, Oedipus: he exulted in his freedom and his ability to solve the riddles of human life. He spurned convention and mocked religion in the pursuit of knowledge, and in the end-blind and homeless-he wandered the world like a tormented spirit. Scientists would do well to hold fast to such cautionary tales.
If that is the sort of marriage they have in mind, “tis a consummation devoutly lo be wished.” A more likely result will be the subordination of science to utopian ideologies and to the aspirations of elementary teachers and tribal chieftains. Science in the service of ideology is an old story in this century. After the pseudoscientific eugenics of the Nazis and the drug ‘therapy’ used against Soviet dissidents, it is not too hard to imagine the dissertations Marxist feminists will write on sex hormone treatments: Androgynous Rights and Amazons: From Myth to Reality. cc
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