Three-Day Conference Exploring Progressive Legacy of ‘Science for the People’ Starts April 11

AMHERST, Mass. – The Social Thought and Political Economy (STPEC) program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst will bring together members of Science for the People (SftP) from the 1970s and 1980s as part of a April 11-13 conference on the history of the organization and its approach to enduring questions of power, ideology and democracy in science.

The conference, “Science for the People: The 1970s and Today” is being held all weekend at locations throughout the campus. More than 100 people, scientists, students, scholars and activists, are preregistered for the conference, and more than 60 people are scheduled to present—including many original SftP members.

Science for the People arose in 1969 out of the antiwar movement and lasted until 1989. With a Marxist analysis and non-hierarchical governing structure, SftP tackled the militarization of scientific research and the corporate control of research agendas. Its members opposed racism, sexism, and classism in science and sought to mobilize people working in scientific fields to become active in agitating for science, technology, and medicine that would serve social needs. They organized in universities across the U.S.—including at UMass Amherst—and pursued meaningful scientific exchange internationally in Vietnam, China, Cuba, Nicaragua and other countries.

STPEC director Sigrid Schmalzer noted that like StfP, STPEC grew out of the ethos of the anti-imperialist, antiwar and student power movements.

“For more than 40 years, our program has provided undergraduates at UMass Amherst with opportunities for interdisciplinary investigation of social, political, and economic power structures, and for active engagement on campus and in the community,” she said. “The Science for the People conference helps us make connections to the natural sciences and support undergraduates seeking to study scientific issues in political context.”

Conference events will include a keynote lecture by John Vandermeer, a founding member of SftP and currently distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan; plenary panels on the significance of Science for the People, featuring former SftP members, historians, and sociologists; and issue-oriented panels on the militarization of science, food and agriculture, climate change and energy policy, women and science, myths of race and gender, science and ideology, math and computer technology, teaching social justice in science, toxics and occupational health and health and medicine.

A panel on “The Militarization of Science” will include presentations by local activist Frances Crowe on efforts to end anthrax research at UMass in 1989; MIT professor Jonathan King on resisting biological weapons; Science and Technology Studies scholar Elke Heckner on the militarization of PTSD therapies; and Ph.D. student Derek Denman on the current campaign at Johns Hopkins University against research on drones.

The closing plenary, “Science for the People 2.0,” will include a presentation by UC Berkeley scientist Ignacio Chapela. Chapela is a leader in the fight against the agricultural use of genetically modified organisms and against the influence of the biotechnology industry in university research. He will speak on the opportunities and risks scientists face when they embrace activist causes.

Conference speakers areavailablefor interviews.