Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ideology of/in the Natural Sciences (1)

Steven; Rose, Hilary; eds. 1980. Ideology of/in the Natural Sciences, with an introductory essay by Ruth Hubbard. Cambridge, MA: Shenkman Publishing Co., 1980. xxix, 363 pp.

This book appeared under other imprints with different titles. I have digitized the table of contents. Note the links on this web page. Joseph Needham's oft-reprinted article can be found here:

"History and Human Values: A Chinese Perspective for World Science and Technology"

Commentary on Needham and related issues can be found elsewhere on this blog. I have more to say about Needham's philosophical blundering. My post on "The Politics of Neurobiology: Biologism in the Service of the State" by Rose & Rose reproduces the first paragraph of the article, along with my snide remarks about historical amnesia and the secular humanist / "new atheist" movement.

It seems that the radical science movement has been all but forgotten. It was a mixed bag, and I have my doubts even about its more rational elements, but this history seems to have been swept under the rug altogether with the radicalism of the 1970s. The first article fairly summarizes the views of Marx and Engels, with some pertinent criticism of Engels' dialectics of nature (p. 14). "The Incorporation of Science" is about the incorporation of science--and science studies--within the capitalist system. Andre Gorz attempts to locate scientists within the class structure. Mike Cooley, who analyzes the labor process in production, is a name familiar to me from elsewhere: I think it is a book called Worker or Bee?. These first four essays survey the general problem of science within the capitalist system.

"The Politics of Neurobiology" antedates the current rage of cognitive science, and the attempts of neurobiologists to read off politics and society from the structure of the brain, a thoroughly ideologically blind and reactionary endeavor.

Many may remember the scientific racism and IQ controversy of the 1970s. I was studying the history of scientific racism while the skeptics movement was preoccupied with astrology and spoon-bending.

Hans Magnus Enzenberger questions the ideology and politics of the then-burgeoning ecology movement (which we now call environmentalism), for example, the then-current "limits of growth" concern.

There are several articles on women's issues and women's place in the sciences.

Sam Anderson's article on "Science, Technology and Black Liberation" reflects the revolutionary ambitions and bombast of the time. Anderson chafes against the "special nigger" status he claims is imposed on black scientists, and bursts with the ideological energy of anti-imperialism and self-reliance (even quoting Kim Il Sung). Such rebellion against bourgeois professionalism was a hallmark of the time, but such impulses ultimately could go nowhere, esp. the impulse not to remain alienated from the black masses at large.

This type of politicization was characteristic of the time and reflected in several of the essays, predating our age of lowered expectations. Of course one must also comb this literature for elements of naivete. Perhaps the most grating element in general is the sympathy for Maoism. I have my reservations about scorching broad-based indictments of "reductionism", but clearly there are real problems addressed by this label.

Three articles are of particular philosophical interest.

Lewontin and Levins articulate and claim a more sophisticated analysis of the phenomenon of Lysenkoism than what is found in other literature. They see it as more than simple bureaucratic despotism, and they also reject Maoist attempts to rehabilitate Lysenkoism. I am not sufficiently acquainted with Lewontin's philosophical proclamations to know how they hold up. I am cautious in making big political and philosophical claims for what later became known as dialectical biology, but I'm sure E.O. Wilson is falsifying history:

"Science and ideology" by Edward O. Wilson, Vol. 8, Academic Questions, 06-01-1995.

I mentioned Needham's article, which I want to return to elsewhere, as the combination of historical materialist analysis and utter philosophical/ideological confusion is noteworthy.

Finally, there is "Ideology of/in Contemporary Physics" by Jean‑Marc Levy‑Leblond which is interesting in a number of respects. I will return to this later. For now I will note that the author addresses the institutionalization and division of labor within physics, and the epistemological problems within it, including education and popularization, and the chronic inadequacy of philosophy of science to adequately address what goes on within physics, most notably quantum mechanics.

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