Science under socialism: part II

July 5, 2012

Jonas Salk, pioneer of the polio vaccine, who released it free of charge.

In this follow-up to “Science under Capitalism” published in the June issue of The Spark, laboratory technician and Workers Party member Josh Glue considers the possibilities for scientific progress in a future run along socialist lines.

Socialism is the period of movement toward a classless stateless society run through democratic workers control of the means of production, distribution and exchange, coupled with a high level of democratic involvement from all people in decision making at a community level. Science has been driven, efficiently but single-mindedly, by the capitalist system since that system’s beginnings in the wake of the French revolution and the industrial revolution throughout Europe.

We live in a world where poor Indian people die because they can’t afford treatment for the under-studied black fever disease. We live in a world where the millions of sub-saharan Africans with HIV-AIDS can’t afford the life-saving HAART medicine available in the West. We live in a world where a pesticide company’s plant vented toxic gas over a Bhopal slum, killing thousands and leaving thousands more with lung cancer and those victims can’t even get chemotherapy.

But what if profit didn’t motivate scientific research? What if new avenues of research were funded by a free society, without a ruling class to exploit their wealth and with the knowledge that the profits of that research would benefit all equally in that society? Read the rest of this entry »

Science and socialism: How science can be used to benefit the majority

June 5, 2012

In this first of two articles lab technician and Workers Party member in Hamilton Josh Glue discusses the nature of science and the limitations and advantages put upon it by the capitalist system. In next month’s issue of The Spark, a follow-up article will examine the possible advantages for scientific discovery and application in a socialist future.

“Science, generally speaking, costs the capitalist nothing, a fact that by no means prevents him from exploiting it.” So Karl Marx said in Volume 1 of his masterwork Capital. Science is not often cited as a central focus of socialist thought, but the interplay between the advance of scientific thought and application and the continuing operation of the capitalist economic system is an issue of great importance for the future of humanity and another reason for the growing need to replace capitalism with a better economic and social regime. Marx hit the nail on the head. The expense in funding a ground breaking piece of scientific discovery is sometimes massively overshadowed by the profit for private capital gained from the use of the technology that discovery creates.  Read the rest of this entry »

Book review: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World by Francis Wheen

December 11, 2008

(Harper Collins, London, 2004)

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Evolution and our human origins

December 6, 2008

-Daphna Whitmore

Eighty years ago Tennessee school teacher John Scopes was put on trial for teaching evolution. He was duly found guilty, but the verdict was later overturned on a technicality. Anti-evolutionists in the United States are still at war with science. In November 2005 a court ruled in Kansas that science teachers must cast doubt on evolution and present “Intelligent Design” as an alternative theory. More significantly on 20 December 2005 a Pennsylvania court ruled that intelligent design could not be taught in public schools in that state. The ruling was a significant setback for ID and a victory for science and rational thought.

Even though Darwin’s Origin of the Species was published 150 years ago many people lack even a rudimentary understand of evolution. A Gallup poll a few yars ago in the United States found that over 40 per cent of people agreed with the statement “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” Only 12 per cent “agreed humans have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, and God had no part in this process”. [1]

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Nature vs Nurture – genes vs environment

November 19, 2008

Talk given by Daphna Whitmore at the Marxism Conference in Auckland, June 2008

Every week a new gene is supposedly found for something. This week New Scientist has a headline: They’ve discovered the gene for religion. Dig a little and it’s clear that the claims are grossly inflated. Well, it turns out they haven’t quite found a gene for religion after all, but postulated it exists. The theory is based on a computer programme that predicts that if a small number of people have a genetic predisposition to pass along unverifiable information, that religion will flourish. And this passes for science somehow!

The popular notions of what genes do are interesting.

I caught part of a programme on TV a few weeks ago. It was about people’s behaviours and their sex lives. The participants were asked to record how many times a day they had a sexual thought. The results were a little mixed, but one male had a huge number of sexual thoughts, another male had a moderate number which was about the same as one of the women and one woman had very few. It was a small sample of only about 4 people, so not the most rigorous scientific study. The conclusion drawn by the programme narrator was that “men think about sex more than women, and this is because in evolutionary terms this is an advantage. A woman once pregnant gains nothing from further copulation, whereas a man can keep spreading his genes around to great evolutionary advantage.”

This sort of theorizing is rather typical these days. Yet in the sample there was as much difference between the two men as there was between one man and one woman. But hey, we all know that humans are driven by the need to spread their genes, don’t we? So how do we explain that bizarre anti-evolutionary practice of contraception?

The trouble with many of the crude genetic explanations is that they come about through a series of assumptions and are deeply coloured by social and historical context.

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