The critique of science during the 1970s

During the 1960s Bookchin (1962), Carson (1962), and Commoner (1963; 1971) linked ecology-as-social-action to criticisms of the dominant directions of scientific research.  Social responsibility in science was promoted by the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science, the Union of Concerned Scientists (in the U.S.), and Pugwash (which focused on reducing the danger of armed conflict in a nuclear age).

During the 1970s more radical, anti-capitalist critiques of science and social relations were developed in the U.S. by Science for the People (see especially the critiques of biological determinism in Science for the People 1977 and the related work of Chase 1977) and in England by the Radical Science Journal (see Levidow 1986, especially Young’s introduction on the origins of the “Radical Science” movement; Levidow and Young 1981; and Radical Science Editorial Collective 1977).  In this context Werskey completed his illuminating history of an earlier generation of left-wing scientists in England who saw “science, progress, socialism as equivalent concepts” (Young, p. xiv in the forward to the 1988 reprint of Werskey 1978; see also Werskey’s preface to the reprint, which reflects on the way the 1970s critique of science shaped his account.)  In contrast, left-wing scientists of the 1970s who saw their science as a political project recognized that science could bolster domination and inequality (Roberts 1979; Rose 1982; Levins and Lewontin 1985; see also Illich 1973 and 1976 for advocacy of de-professionalization and of “convivial” technology and medicine).

The critique of science also stimulated interpretation of science in relation to the historical and social context in which it was formed.  Kuhn (1970) was widely cited as opening up science to such contextualization, but younger historians and sociologists began to take the social interpretation of science much further than Kuhn had (see, for example, Young 1985).

Extracted from Taylor, P.J. (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press).


Bookchin, M. [pseudonym: L. Herber] (1962). Our Synthetic Environment. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Carson, R. (1963). Silent Spring. Greenwich, Conn., Fawcett.

Chase, A. (1977). The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Commoner, B. (1963). Science and Survival. New York: Viking Press.

—— (1971). The Closing Circle. New York: Knopf.

Illich, I. (1973). Tools for Conviviality. New York: Harper & Row.

—— (1976). Medical Nemesis: The Expropriation of Health. New York: Pantheon Books.

Kuhn, T. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Levidow, L. (Ed.) (1986). Radical Science. London: Free Association Books. [especially Young’s introduction on the origins of the “Radical Science” movement]

—— and R. Young (Eds.) (1981). Science, Technology and the Labour Process: Marxist Studies. London: CSE Books.

Levins, R. and R. Lewontin (1985). The Dialectical Biologist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Radical Science Editorial Collective (1977). “Editorial.” Radical Science Journal 5: 3-7.

Roberts, A. (1979). The Self-Managing Environment. London: Allison & Busby.

Rose, S. (Ed.) (1982). Against Biological Determinism: The Dialectics of Biology Group. London: Allison & Busby.

Science for the People (Ed.) (1977). Biology as a Social Weapon. Minneapolis: Burgess.

Werskey, G. (1988 [1978]). The Visible College: A Collective Biography of British Scientists and Socialists of the 1930s. London: Free Association Books.

Young, R. M. (1985). Darwin’s Metaphor: Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012,

3 Responses to The critique of science during the 1970s

  1. MCristina Itokazu says:

    I’m a Brazilian psychologist working in the public health system. I’m translating your post into Portuguese in an effort to broaden our views on medicine & society. In doing so, I’ve noticed that the references for Levidow 1986 and Levidow and Young 1981 are not listed.
    Searching the net, I found these books and I would like to ask you if they are the correct ones:
    * Levidow, L. (Ed.) (1986). Radical Science Essays. London/Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Free Association Books/Humanities Press International.
    * Levidow, L. and Young, B. (Eds.) (1981). Science, technology, and the labour process: Marxist studies. London/Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Free Association Books/Humanities Press International.
    I would very much appreciate an answer from you!
    Thanks in advance.

  2. MCristina says:

    Thanks a lot!


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