Science under capitalism

The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held its last session in January. After being considerably shaken early in the proceedings by Professor Einstein’s announcement of his new theory in the realm of physics, it proceeded to review the reports of new advances and discoveries made in other fields.

It heard details, for example, of the new evidence brought to light that cancer may be allied with certain type of fungi; that another substance. Compound F, has been isolated from the adrenal gland and appears to be as effective as Compound E in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis; and of the discovery of a new drug, neomycin, capable of killing the bacilli causing tuberculosis. The meeting also heard the confirmation of a simple blood test for the early diagnosis of cancer, and the invention of a device whereby people who are stone-deaf are enabled to hear through their finger-tips. Numerous reports of discoveries and inventions in other fields of science were also discussed, ranging from the discovery of a planet between Mercury and the sun one mile in diameter to the discovery of a glue-like substance in the teeth that prevents bacterial decay.

But just in case anybody has relaxed back in his chair marvelling at what science is capable of doing for the human race, even under the handicap of Capitalism, we should also state that there was much speculation during the meeting as to whether the American Government will decide, in the words of Alistair Cooke in the Manchester Guardian (3rd January, 1950),

“To go ahead and make the monster atomic bomb that its Atomic Energy Committion now knows to be
practicable—namely, one achieved by the nuclear explosion of hydrogen. The Alsop brothers report this morning the debate on this grisly weapon—a thousand times as destructive as the Hiroshima squib—which is now disturbing the high policy men in Washington.”

“But inside the conference rooms,” he adds, “ most of the papers presented testified to the life-giving knowledge that is abundantly at hand,” following it with the cynical comment, “if we can manage to stay alive to use it.”

It is a fitting comment on the relationship of Science and Capitalism that whilst one set of scientists is busy at work trying to prolong the life of mankind, another group is working like hell to shorten it.


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