Science, Politics, Activism in the U.S.: A Three-Body Problem
Pages 13-28| Published online: 05 Nov 2023
Hasan, Nafis. 2023. “Science, Politics, Activism in the U.S.: A Three-Body Problem.” Marxism & Sciences 2(2): 13–28. https://doi.org/10.56063/MS.2310.02202.
The steady depoliticization of science with its concurrent neo-liberalization has brought us to empty epithets such as “believe in science” and the rise of anti-scientific populism, exemplified by the right-wing backlash to COVID vaccines across the globe and on most prominent display in the United States. The fears that propelled scientists to take to the streets in the early days of the Trump administration in the U.S. have largely been assuaged as bipartisan support continues to pour in for profitable chronic diseases, ballooning the budget of National Institutes of Health and continuing the biotech boom. Scientists, who were galvanized into participating in the political sphere and elected to office, have turned out to serve the interests of capitalists instead of the working class. Currently, science activism remains constrained within lobbying and running for office, a politics divorced from material reality. This complex scenario then presents us with a three-body problem—how can scientists practice politics with a material basis? Are politics and activism the same thing? If not, what differentiates them? And lastly, how do we solve it? In this essay, focusing on the political and social landscape of the U.S., I trace the historical class position of scientists in the U.S., and argue that the solution lies in the practice of Marxist politics, one that is grounded in class relations and takes place at the point of scientific knowledge production. Just as there is no general solution for the three-body problem in a closed form, tactics of challenging capitalist power and creating a science for the people will require learning from history and evolving with the shifting political landscape.
KEYWORDS: Science, politics, organizing, activism, labor.
Aman, Talat and Zaporah Price. 2021. “Activists Demand Yale Professor Valerie Horsley Resign from Hamden Legislative Council.” Yale Daily News. April 16, 2021.
Armstrong, Eric. 2017. “Are Democrats the Party of Science? Not Really.” The New Republic, January 10, 2017.
Bargaining for the Common Good. 2018. “Concrete Examples of Bargaining for the Common Good.”
Bartusek, Sam, Paul Brown, Tess Jacobson, Claire Warner and Avi Zeff. 2022. “More Is Stronger: Only Radical Bottom-up Unionism Can Change STEM.” Science for the People Magazine (blog). December 11, 2022.
Brewer, Mark D. 2005. “The Rise of Partisanship and the Expansion of Partisan Conflict within the American Electorate.” Political Research Quarterly 58(2):219–29.
Cartwright, Jon. 2013. “Physicists Discover a Whopping 13 New Solutions to Three-Body Problem.” Science. March 8, 2013.
Eidlin, Barry. 2023. “The Future of Academic Unionism Will Play Out in the University of California System.” Jacobin. February 15, 2023.
Eshghi, Iraj. 2022. “Power Struggles: Material and Cultural.” Science for the People Magazine (blog). December 11, 2022.
Fertik, Ted. 2018. “(Occupational) Class and Party Identification.” Medium (blog). October 30, 2018.
Fiske, Warren. 2021. “Elaine Luria Flips on Pledge to Refuse Corporate PAC Money.” Politifact. February 5, 2021.
Garner, Larry. 1974a. “Computer Workers as Professionals.” Science for the People 6 (6): 28–32.
———. 1974b. “Engineers and Unions.” Science for the People 6 (6): 23–27.
Geiger, Abigail. 2014. “Political Polarization in the American Public.” Pew Research Center -U.S. Politics & Policy (blog). June 12, 2014.
GEO 3550. n.d. “Proposed Contract Changes: 2022-2023 Contract Campaign.” Accessed. April 9, 2023.
Gordin, Michael D. 2019. “Is Science Political?” Boston Review. August 21, 2019.
Gorz, André. 1972. “Technical Intelligence and the Capitalist Division of Labor.” Telos 1972 (12): 27–41.
GovTrack, 2021. “Rep. Joe Cunningham [D-SC1]’s 2020 Legislative Statistics.” GovTrack.Us. January 30, 2021.
Grim, Ryan. 2021. “Sen. Mark Kelly Is Emerging as an Obstacle to the PRO Act.” The Intercept. April 12, 2021.
Gurwitt, Sam. 2020. “Hamden Council Flat-Funds Ed Board.” New Haven Independent. May 17, 2020.
Hasan, Nafis and Timothy LaRock. 2021. “The PRO Act Could Be a Game Changer for Academic Labor Organizing.” Jacobin. April 21, 2021.
Hersh, Eitan. 2019. “Politics Is for Power, Not Consumption.” Boston Review. November 4, 2019.
Hourihan, Matt. 2019. “Update: In the Age of Trump, Congress Keeps Boosting Science Funding.” American Association for the Advancement of Science. December 18, 2019.
“ILR Labor Action Tracker.” n.d. Accessed April 9, 2023.
Kaurov, Alexander A., Viktoria Cologna, Charlie Tyson and Naomi Oreskes. 2022. “Trends in American Scientists’ Political Donations and Implications for Trust in Science.” Humanities & Social Sciences Communications 9 (1): 368.
Langin, Katie. 2022. “Ph.D. Students Demand Wage Increases amid Rising Cost of Living.” Science. May 23, 2022.
Levins, Richard, and Richard Lewontin. 2007. “The Commoditization of Science.”
Libcom.Org (blog). June 12, 2007.
Lupia, Arthur. 2023. “Political Endorsements Can Affect Scientific Credibility.” Nature 615 (7953): 590–91.
Maienschein, Jane. 2014. “Constructing Embryos for Society.” In Embyros under the Microscope: The Diverging Meaning of Life, 216–52. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Maisano, Chris. 2023a. “US Voting Patterns Are Shifting. But It’s Not Simply ‘Class Dealignment.’” Jacobin. February 1, 2023.
———. 2023b. “Class Politics Beyond the Blue-Collar?” Substack newsletter.” Labor Politics(blog). February 14, 2023.
Malm, Andreas. 2021. How to Blow up a Pipeline. Brooklyn, NY: Verso Books.
McDonald, Trent and Jewel Tomasula. 2022. “STEM Organizing in Waves: A Macro and Micro View.” Science for the People Magazine (blog). December 11, 2022.
Mills, C. Wright. 2002. White Collar: The American Middle Classes. Fiftieth Anniversary Edition, Fiftieth Anniversary Edition. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
Motta, Matt. 2020. “New Activism by Scientists Can Lead to Partisan Backlash.” Scientific American. October 28, 2020.
Nature Editorial. 2020. “Postdocs in Crisis: Science Cannot Risk Losing the next Generation.” Nature 585 (7824): 160–160.
NIH Fellows United. n.d. “About Us | NIH Fellows United.” Accessed April 9, 2023.
Oreskes, Naomi and Erik M. Conway. 2011. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Climate Change. Reprint edition. New York London Oxford New Delhi Sydney: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Pagano, Michele. 2017. “Don’t Run Biomedical Science as a Business.” Nature News 547 (7664): 381.
Prescod-Weinstein, Chandra. 2020. “The Rules of the Diversity and Inclusion Racket.” The Riveter (blog). June 16, 2020.
Press, Alex. 2023. “Can the UAW Rise Again?” Jacobin. March 31, 2023.
Prof. Kim Nicholas *WeCanFixIt.substack.com* [@KA_Nicholas]. 2023. “Scientists, Don’t Separate Activism and Research, Urges @JKSteinberger. We Need Ongoing Critical Reflection; Only Way to Understand a System Is Try to Change It. Activism Critical to System Change.
Quinn, Ryan. 2023. “Temple Strike Ends after Grad Students Accept Deal.” Inside Higher Ed. March 13, 2023.
Sanchez, Shua. 2022. “Building Power in STEM Requires Championing Broad and Local Goals.” Science for the People Magazine (blog). December 11, 2022.
Schevitz, Jeff, Mike Hales, Joe Neal, Stonybrook SESPA, Britta Fischer, Mary Lesser, Al Weinrub, and Andre Gorz. 1973. “Which Side Are We on – A Forum on the Class Position of Technologists.” Science for the People 5 (3): 4–29.
Sheehan, Helena. 2018. Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History. Verso Books.
Sifferlin, Alexandra. 2018. “Why More Scientists Are Running for Office in 2018.” Time. February 7, 2018.
Torracinta, Simon. 2020. “Extinction Event.” N+1 (blog). May 28, 2020. https://www.nplu- sonemag.com/online-only/online-only/extinction-event/.
Wessel, Lindzi. 2020. “Trump Catalyzed the March for Science. Where Is It Now?” Science. October 30, 2020.
Winant, Gabriel. 2019.“Professional-Managerial Chasm.” N+1 (blog). October 10, 2019.
Wu, Calvin. 2021.“Socialize the Lab.” Science for the People Magazine (blog). September 15, 2021.
Yalcin, Esra, Rosa Martinez-Corral, and Mayank Chugh. 2023. “Retaining Postdocs by Recognizing Their Worth.” Nature Biotechnology 41 (2): 296–98.