Category Archives: Politics of Science

Techno-Scientific Numbers as fields of mobilization

By Andrea Ballestero

In 2012, Costa Rican social movements halted a Canadian corporation from going forward, with the approval of the government, to construct the first open pit gold mine in the country. Also in 2012, despite their intense mobilization, social movements failed to persuade Congress to pass a constitutional reform to declare water access a human right. Stopping a giant transnational mining corporation backed by the government’s neoliberal policies proved easier than creating consensus amongst congress representatives to promote citizen involvement and reiterate the public nature of water. In both instances, techno-scientific knowledge was at the core of their mobilization. Geological maps, hydrological flows, biodiversity extinction rates and indices, economic calculations of financial benefits—all of them ultimately circulating in the form of numerical figures—shaped the political struggles of the activists and their radically different outcomes. In this short essay I want to draw our attention in two directions. First, towards the question of “who” are the participants in the social movements that we study. And, second, to the issue of the peculiar and changing social values of numbers, the ultimate tokens of techno-scientific knowledge.   Continue reading

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Mobilizing Epistemic Conflict: Creationists and a Museum

By Kathleen Oberlin

Despite much activity within and around the institution of science, for scholars and activists alike a central question continues to linger: what else or who else do science-oriented movements target…and, increasingly, how should they go about doing it? I’ll draw from one familiar case, creationism, to speak to contemporary efforts to provoke social change in a way that surprised many.

With a well-known history dating back to the infamous Scopes Trial of 1925, the Creationist social movement draws upon both religion and science as sources of authority. While religion and science may not permanently or inherently be at odds with one another, at least since the late 19th century in the United States, the boundaries between the two have been fiercely contested. Continue reading


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The Politics of Science

The April essay dialogue focuses on the intersection of social movements, the political sphere, and science. Social movements addressing issues as diverse as climate change, public school curricula, nutrition, and agriculture are increasingly connected to the field of science, so we invited contributors to reflect on the influence of science (and scientists) within the field of social movements as well as the ways  in which politics and movements shape the institutional field of science and technology.  Our contributors include both social scientists and scientists working in advocacy roles. We thank our group of distinguished contributors (below) as well as Kathleen Oberlin and Matthew Baggetta for helpful insights during the planning stages of this essay dialogue.

Andrea Ballestero, Rice University (essay)
Annie Blazer
, William and Mary University (essay)
Scott Frickel, Washington State University (essay)
Jeff Guhin, Yale University (essay)
David J. Hess, Vanderbilt University (essay)
Kelly Moore, Loyola University Chicago (essay)
Kathleen Oberlin, Indiana University (essay)
Josh Rosenau, National Center for Science Education (essay)

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, and Dan Myers

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Combining Religion and Science: Hallelujah Acres and the Quest for Healing

By Annie Blazer

Hallelujah Acres is a health ministry and social movement aimed at evangelical Christians in the United States. The organization encourages an alternative to conventional medicine and to the standard American diet (which they call “SAD”). Hallelujah Acres advocates a vegan, raw foods diet (food is not heated above 115°F) as God’s plan for perfect eating and as a curative treatment for most illnesses and diseases. My research shows that, for the most part, believers turn to Hallelujah Acres when conventional medicine fails to cure their ailments and that belonging to the Hallelujah Acres community affirms a sense of distinction and moral superiority that resembles evangelical ideology generally.[i]  This essay explores how the group demonizes and criminalizes conventional medicine in order to present the Hallelujah Diet as medically and scientifically superior. Continue reading

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The Problem with the “Conflict Thesis”

By Jeffrey Guhin

The relationship between science and religion is often divided into ideal types.  John Hedley Brook proposed conflict, separation, and interaction (1991: 2-4) while Ian Barbour suggested conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration (1997: 77). Stephen Jay Gould developed the concept of “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA), in which “each domain of inquiry frames its own rules and admissible questions, and sets its own criteria for judgment and resolution” (1999: 52-53). In contrast to the new atheists’ belligerent insistence on conflict (e.g. Dawkins 2008; Harris 2008), the vast majority of writings about science and religion tend to fall within these lines of conciliation, whether via separation or some form of amalgamation. Discussions of the conflict thesis often draw a parallel between religious fundamentalists who draw scientific data from religious texts and those practitioners of “scientism,” who develop (not falsifiable) metaphysical and ontological commitments out of falsifiable scientific evidence (Midgley 2002 [1985]; Barbour 1997: 78-84). Yet these groups are not entirely parallel, as the latter certainly acknowledges and seeks to exacerbate the conflict while the former insists that, if understood correctly, there is actually no conflict at all. Continue reading

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Will Climate Change Denial Inherit the Wind?

By Josh Rosenau

In 2012, 87 years after its first famous Monkey Law, Tennessee passed a law attacking evolution, labeling that foundation of modern biology “controversial” and purporting to grant public school teachers and students “academic freedom” to challenge it in class. Unlike 1925’s Butler Act, 2012’s Monkey Law broadened its scope beyond evolution, also sweeping in the similarly scientifically uncontroversial but socially contentious topic of climate change. Continue reading


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Epistemic Modernization and Social Movements

By David J. Hess

I am interested in the epistemic modernization of the relations among the scientific, industrial, political, and civil society fields.

For centuries scientists have had to defend the precarious autonomy of their concepts, methods, and research agendas from attempts by governments, religions, and industries to influence them. Of course, extra-field influence can be generative. For example, the needs of the military and industry have helped to spur the development of whole research fields, from thermodynamics to chemistry. However, the funding priorities of the patrons of science also shape the contours of dominant and subordinate research programs in many research fields, and the resulting dominant research programs are not always aligned with a broad public interest. Continue reading

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Five Myths about Science, Politics, and Social Movements

By Kelly Moore

1. If only political activists would stay out of science, scientific ideas could be used to make the right political decisions.  

Whether conceived of as a field of action, as an institution, or as a component of elite power, science is not, and has never been since its formation in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, separate from questions of power.  Who pays for science, how nature should be manipulated, who can participate in it, what counts as fact, and what questions are worth asking are shaped by political relationships.  Africans and women, for example, were excluded from its ranks for centuries, and biological ideas about these groups’ inferiority were built into science as a result.  These very same ideas are still used today to explain women’s underrepresentation in science.

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Knowledge Politics

By Scott Frickel

Since at least the 1970s, the intersections of science, technology and social movements have proliferated across the political sphere. Highly diverse in form and substance, these lines of connection are transforming the way societies make knowledge and press for social change. David Hess has described this general process in broad social-historical terms, arguing that society has entered an era of “epistemic modernization,” which is characterized by two dominant, counter-veiling trends.[i]  Continue reading

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