A non-Nobel prize for economics:
Science for (or against) the People

by G.S.      <george.salzman@umb.edu>
October 19, 2005

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Salz/2005-10-19.htm

      Two days ago I got an e-mail from Shraga Elam <elams@dplanet.ch> asking me to sign a petition to The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences objecting to its award in economics “to Professors Robert J. Aumann and Thomas C. Schelling.” The petition states, “The Academy's reasoning that these persons have ‘enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis’ is monstrous. In fact, the Academy has awarded the prize to two warmongers.”

      I was at first hesitant, thinking that it was a prize for social analysis, not peace, and that maybe the work was in fact, judged technically, outstandingly good social “science”, i.e. worthy of the prize. But after a bit of probing on the internet, I signed. I use quotes in the term social “science” because social studies are not real sciences like chemistry, physics, biology, etc.

      Alfred Nobel, a major Swedish capitalist, inventor of dynamite, wrote in his will “The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” (emphasis added)

      Initially he indicated five annual prizes: one in each of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. In 1968, the Bank of Sweden instituted a prize in economics, supposedly in Nobel’s memory. Strictly speaking this later addition to the five true Nobel Prizes is “The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel”, but it is widely, and deceptively mis-termed the “Nobel Prize in Economics”, a deliberate deception engineered by The Bank of Sweden, as explained by Yves Gingras in his article “Beautiful Mind, Ugly Deception: The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economics Science”, post-autistic economics review, issue no.17, December 4, 2002, article 4, at http://www.btinternet.com/~pae_news/review/issue17.htm.

      “In February 1995,” according to the Wikipedia, “it was decided that the economics prize be essentially defined as a prize in social sciences, opening the Nobel Prize to great contributions in fields like political science, psychology, and sociology. Also, the Economics Prize Committee was changed to require two non-economists to decide the prize each year, whereas previously the prize committee had consisted of five economists.”

      First, there’s no doubt that Nobel’s intent was that the (true) prizes go to those whose work gave “the greatest benefit” to humankind. I don’t know if the Bank of Sweden even pays lip service to that noble criterion (every bank is a nest of thieves, in my view). Since the actual award is made by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, it is quite appropriate to protest to the Academy. Fred Kaplan’s article, “Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling's little-known role in the Vietnam War”, at http://slate.msn.com/id/2127862/, dispells any doubt about Schelling’s great service to humanity. The other laureate, Robert Naumann, is equally worthy of recognition. So I suggest you take a look at the petition and consider adding your name. It’s at http://www.ajjp.org/campaigns/signStatement.php?cid=2.

      Second, a recent letter from a young student again raised for me the question, What is the justification of science? His initial letter follows:

Subject: radical science
From: Alexander John Ippolito <aippolito@wisc.edu>
Date: Thu 10/6/2005 6:34 PM
To: George Salzman <george.salzman@umb.edu>

Hello, how are you?

      I found your article online regarding “radical science”. I am currently double majoring in astronomy-physics and guitar performance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and am very interested in ideas of community involvement, peaceful anarchy, and anti-oppression. Even in this “radical” town of the 60’s, it’s difficult to find an encouraging synthesis of science, anthropology, ethics, etc. The local socialists of course embrace science, but I hesitate to raise it to the level of “truth”. The idea that socialists are atheists seems to leave out open-mindedness about religion, particularly those of other cultures. So looking for a scientist among the socialists is easy, but seems like a rather heartless and “calculated” endeavor. Finding someone that embraces postmodernism to some degree in physics classes is, well, close to impossible.

      Anyway, lately I’ve really been down about astronomy-physics, because I find it fascinating, but I can never think of a way to really bring it into the realm of my principles, love of art and expression, history, etc. ALOT of radicals dismiss science as oppressive because it “insists” on reductionism, leads to elitism, etc. This is why I was elated to find your site, because I’ve been hoping for a solution that leaves room for science as a way to gain insight into the universe from one perspective, and also to help develop useful technology, resolve world problems, etc. while not putting it on a pedestal above other disciplines as a measure of truth.

      How can I learn more about “radical science”? What kind of “career”options are there? Are there people to talk to about this? Is there some sort of convention that allows radical scientists to meet and interact with people of other disciplines?


      Before I was able to answer him (I was rereading material on Sokal’s Hoax so I could say something halfway intelligent, and critical, about postmodernism) came a second note, explosive with enthusiasm. He wrote:

Subject: hi
From: Alexander John Ippolito <aippolito@wisc.edu>
Sent: Fri 10/7/2005 9:05 PM
To: George Salzman <george.salzman@umb.edu>

I recently sent you an email, and since then have been reading your website, and have come to the conclusion that you are one of the coolest people ever (that is, of course, not to put you in any lopsided power position:) I didn’t realize at first that you’re an anarchist, I’ve done a lot of work with Cleveland, Ohio, and Madison, Wisconsin Food Not Bombs. I’d really like to see the number of radical thinking scientists swell, that would be a dream come true to me. If the human race figures out a way to happily unite anarchy, cosmology, music from across the globe, art, and un-invasive religions (Buddhism:) I would totally explode with glee. I feel inspired to start an anarchist astronomy collective!


      This is idealistic, youthful exuberance and vitality that the resuscitated (but not really revived) Science for the People group needs if it is to be relevant in the social struggles out of which, some 40 years ago, it was born. In Philadelphia in 1971 at the annual meeting of The American Association for the Advancement of Science we bombarded Hubert Humphrey (formerly Johnson’s Vice President, at that time a senator) with paper airplanes while the U.S. was bombarding “gooks” in the “first”Vietnam War. No staid debates then about what the “great men” were thinking. We fought to delegitimize the use of science in, and the scientists who worked in, support of the war. We were not indulgent in accepting so-called “intellectual diversity”. We recognized that intellectuals had always, in large numbers, served the power structure that dominated their society. That remains true today, of course. And we should cut no slack for those who, by supporting the status quo, put science (and their own privileged positions) ahead of human well-being. Of course this applies to people in social studies as well as to those in sciences. You can check out Science for the People at http://list.uvm.edu/archives/science-for-the-people.html and join if you wish.

― G.S., October 19, 2005

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Last update of this page: November 7, 2005