Science for the Million

“Plato’s great achievement was to invent a religion which satisfies the emotional needs of people who are out of harmony with their social environment, and just too intelligent or too individualistic to seek sanctuary in the cruder forms of animism. ” L.H.

“The immense difficulty which the mathematicians of the ancient world experienced when they dealt with a process of division carried on indefinitely, or with what modern mathematicians call infinite series, limits, transcendental numbers, irrational quantities, and so forth, provides an example of a great social truth borne out by the whole history of human knowledge.

Fruitful intellectual activity of the cleverest people draws its strength from the common knowledge which all of us share. Beyond a certain point clever people can never transcend the limitations of the social culture they inherit.

When clever people pride themselves on their own isolation, we may well wonder whether they are very clever after all. Our studies in mathematics are going to show us that whenever the culture of a people loses contact with the common life of mankind and becomes exclusively the plaything of a leisure class, it is becoming a priestcraft. It is destined to end, as does all priestcraft, in superstition.

To be proud of intellectual isolation from the common life of mankind and to be disdainful of the great social task, of education is as stupid as it is wicked. It is the end of progress in knowledge. No society, least of all so intricate and mechanized a society as ours, is safe in the hands of a few clever people. The mathematician and the plain man each need the other.”
( Lancelot Hogben, Mathematics for the Million p14)

Science is a big subject but seems to be split into two fields. The use of science to study and understand how nature works and the use of science to conquer nature.
I use the word science loosely and could include technology, as a by product of science. I do not want at this point to get bogged down in semantics or theories but to concentrate on what the layperson thinks when they hear the word “science”.

(Science is both a process of gaining knowledge, and the organized body of knowledge gained by this process. Wikipedia.)

But to most people the meaning of science is in things, the by product, rather than knowledge.

Couldn’t a beneficial interest in science be created, if the interface between science with the public was better developed. Wouldn’t the public’s perception of what science is and means be better understood, if it were related to the everyday reality of their lives. Not so much by the wonder of television, but by the wonder of natural phenomena and how we fit into the structure of nature.

The dissemination of free knowledge that would nurture intelligence and the enjoyment of thought.

Scientists are not made up of anything different from other people. The same genes, under the same physical, human, restrictions and human needs as anyone else. Einstein answered, when asked about how he went about his research:”I grope”

We are all like Einstein, groping to understand, whether it is the theory of relativity, the atom bomb, or how to feed your family – or stop them being murdered by the appliance of science. It is all just as important, it is all relative to our circumstances. It may have been that Einstein, spent the last twenty years of his life in pursuit of peace. What did he do the rest of his life. As we look at the achievements of science there are many illustrations of when the scientist was “out of harmony with their social environment”

The millionaire Andrew Carnegie, spent the end of his life giving away his fortune, creating foundations for the arts, peace studies, libraries and places of learning. He made his fortune through the profits of war, smashing unions, slave labour, starving poor children and thuggery.

The history of social achievements brought on through sciences (are not unlike in many ways the achievements of people like Carnegie) The achievements of scientific advances can be tailored to suit whichever authority, supplies the evidence. We may have progressed through science, in understanding better our world and in certain instances, improved aspects of it, but we have also through the same study created the tools capable of destroying it.

I do not know if the argument that science is neutral, though true, will do us much good as the last defender of this truism, is blown of the face of the planet

Science may be a tool and have no conscience, but people do, or should do. What good is scientific knowledge,if it only brings about our end.

The decided uses of scientific knowledge, suffers the the same subterfuge as the science of politics. For what do we know of science. Very little, but the little we do know is bent, shaped and overstated to serve very unscientific and very unprogressive, causes, mainly profit and political ideology.

It is consistently being emphasised to the public the important work scientists do, or we are being lied to of what it, [science] is capable of, mainly in order that we fund dubious projects without question.

Scientific knowledge can be used, as mentioned, in the process of destroying our planet. It also has the capability of enhancing our time here. Unlike science, which is neutral, human beings through the knowledge of science are capable of terrible things, but they are also capable through the same knowledge of better things. It is not science that decides, to what purpose we use our knowledge, it is people, like you and I that decides. It is therefore important that people do not see science as a closed and specialised subject, as people do with politics, mathematics, economics and such subjects without even the slightest enquiry.
While the scientist vie through the relevance of their work, to convince other scientists and funding bodies, the interface with the public is one of; “you don’t understand” “this is very important work.” On the other hand, when the science is explained, or the scientist explains the science, in layperson’s terms, there is the problem of trying to describe a scientific problem in a non scientific language. What we tend to hear is non-stick frying pans, faster aeroplanes, smaller mobil phones.

Science is always interpreted to the layperson as advancement in technology. This interpretation is usually more to do with getting a consensus to fund the arms industry, than admittedly the difficult problem of interpreting scientific developments in a language, unsuited to the task.

But it is in this very task that that our efforts should be concentrated on. (the interface between science and the public) Perhaps not in the amusement arcade of the science centre. but in the development and support of the efforts of educational independent scientific research, unimpeded by corporation influence.

We may be able to live a bit longer (perhaps in the west) through scientific progress, but to what cost when the same scientific progress is being adapted to technology that is eradicating our eco system and possibly our planet.

The silencing of scientists who stand in the way of official scientific progress and who challenge the status quo, starts in our education establishments, which are being more and more influenced by corporate manipulation, who are deciding what is and what is not researched, and for what purpose.

Science, can operate just as well within a moral framework and can enrich the enjoyment of the thought process, just as well as it serves unbridled capitalism.

The history of scientific development seems always framed in the progressive purposes of civilisation and democracy
We are informed in school that the Renaissance, was one of the most important times of achievement of mankind in the arts and the sciences. This era of human progress, we are informed, lifted us from the dark ages to higher levels of knowledge and development. Where architecture and city planning was designed, by the help of new acquired techniques, not to enhance the human aspects of the city, but to celebrate triumph and conquest, in environments less suitable for people, but more able to suit the needs of marching armies.

As soon as the world was discovered to be round and the compass invented, did scientific western man take off in his ships to share this knowledge with his fellow beings. No – He took of in ships to conquer, rob and murder all that he came upon. (Columbus)

Russell Means the American indian activist has this to say about the Euro centric approach to science:
“The process began much earlier. Newton, for example ‘revolutionized’ physics and the so-called natural sciences by reducing the physical universe to a linear mathematical equation. Descartes did the same thing with culture. John locke did it with politics, and Adam Smith did it with economics. Each one of these ‘thinkers’ took a piece of the spirituality of human existence and converted it into a code, an abstraction.

They picked up where Christianity ended; they ‘secularized’ Christian religion as the ‘scholars’ like to say – and in doing so they made Europe more able and ready to act as an expansionist culture. Each of these intellectual served to abstract the European mentality even further, to remove the wonderful complexity and spirituality from the universe and replace it with a logical sequence; one, two, three, Answer.

Mark Curtis, asks another relevant question on this subject. When is this scientific logic going to be applied alleviating the suffering of the unscientific peoples of the world who are the victim of the byproducts of the western scientific experiment.

We need to understand the sciences and to understand the goals of the scientist, as the scientist and the plain man “each need the other” We need the scientists to step out of the scientific bubble, and to somehow explain the why, as well as the how, of their work. Maybe if we dealt with the dark matter, of public policy toward science, as well as the dark mater of science we would understand that the understanding science isn’t as dark as it is painted.

The study of science and education of science needs to be connected with ordinary peoples experience, not just in trivia and tricks or the wonders of technology. But what the developments in science that effect the public mean, how they are selected and prioritised and by whom and for what purpose.

The sciences like most other things in a capitalist system is developed by the money of the tax payer, then gifted to private enterprise for the service of the rich and their needs, which is mostly profit.

Scientific knowledge is not a closed system, it belongs to all of us and should be developed for the benefit of all of us (especially if it is our money that is being used for the research) If we are to make headway in science understanding for people, the scientist needs to recognise his or her place and responsibility to the community, not just the scientific community and that part of the scientists job is to take on some of the moral and human responsibility of his or her actions.

Both Bertrand Russell, and Albert Einstein, signed a manifesto calling for global disarmament . The difference is afterward Einstein, went back to to the university to absorb himself in his science, where as Russell, went on to form the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.1

Science is not the be all and end all of our existence, and at the same time could be any one of the two, depending perhaps on how we continue to use our scientific knowledge, either in understanding nature, or pursuing our insatiable appetite for conquering it.

The reason science is another subject that the public need protected from, is because we can only learn from science what we know about science. We can’t tell it what to do, or make demands on it to solve all of our problems. People need to believe this though in order that they fund the areas of science what the experts, or rather market economists, decide are important.

Regarding what we know about science which is minute, makes us all amateurs, beginners and learners. Perhaps an approach to science with this attitude would help us see its infinite beauty through a joy of knowledge and what we can learn. Instead of science presented through the crude charlatanism of trinkets and spectacle that we all have come to expect of it.

Free Vanunu



1. Russell was awarded the Order of Merit in 1949 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. He became unsympathetic to the linguistic trend that was then dominant in British philosophy. From the 1950s, his interest shifted from philosophy to politics. Though he was initially in favor of nuclear deterrent against the Soviet Union, he soon became a champion of nuclear disarmament. In 1954, he made the famous “Man’s Peril” broadcast on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) condemning US Bikini Hydrogen Bomb test. With Albert Einstein and other leading scientists, he signed a manifesto calling for global disarmament. Russell was the founding President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND); however, after two years he resigned from the CND to launch the more radical Committee of 100 which pursued its policy through civil disobedience.

In 1961, Russell was arrested for leading mass sit-downs and spent a week in a prison. Increasingly concerned about the prevention of global nuclear war, he communicated with the heads of states and governments during the Cuban missile crisis and the Sino-Indian border conflict. He become sharply critical of US intervention in Vietnam. Along with Jean-Paul Sartre, Vladmir Deidijer, Isaac Deutscher and others, he set the International War Crimes Tribunal to investigate the crimes against humanity committed by Western forces in Vietnam. In his last years, he published three fascinating volumes of Autobiography (1967-69) summarizing his life. He passed away in February 1970.

” Web of Deceit, Mark Curtis, P22