I need some heroes.
March 28, 2012 8:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for reading material written by or about political, progressive scientists who had/have productive technical careers as well as being politically active, and who saw/see their research in the context of political activism.

Who are the political radicals in the natural sciences? I really would like to read some work written by/about scientists who have challenged the idea that science should be apolitical and should avoid trying to directly influence policy or public opinion. I'm interested in scientists who were working/writing anytime in modern history up to the present -- the more recent the better. I want to hear about their research, their philosophy, their careers, everything. Books, essays, journal articles, whatever you've got -- especially names of the scientists themselves.

Or, on the side, any work that promotes the idea that science is political and may/should be conducted along political lines would be welcome.
posted by Scientist to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Dr David Suzuki is a geneticist and a strong advocate for environmentalism and climate change activism.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:39 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Henry Kendall, physicist and founding member and president of the Union of Concerned Scientists until his tragic death..
posted by hydrophonic at 8:39 AM on March 28, 2012

Linus Pauling was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his peace activism.
posted by chrchr at 8:43 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Noam Chomsky (I don't particularly like him but he seems like an example of what you're looking for)
posted by simongsmith at 8:46 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Brian Cox, in addition to being a.) a particle physicist, b.) gorgeous and c.) frequently "standing on top of mountains and pointing excitedly at the sky" for the BBC (his description of his job, not mine), is a fairly well-known voice for rationalism and atheism. He also hosts a lovely panel-based podcast that frequently tackles common misconceptions and cultural myths, seeing it as an opportunity to give scientific rationale a popular voice.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:47 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Awesome suggestions and I will check out each and every one. A little fine tuning: I didn't express this very well in the original question but I'd be especially interested to hear about scientists who have argued within their field for more political activism and ethics-guided science. I am not quite as much looking for scientists who work to popularize science and make it relevant, or scientists who happen to also be outspoken about their political ideals (although both of these are great) so much as scientists who have taken up the task of making the natural sciences into a more politicized and activist field in general.
posted by Scientist at 8:55 AM on March 28, 2012

Noam Chomsky is the gold standard. He was among the first big name academics to publicly oppose the Vietnam War.

My personal favorites:

Charles Schwartz (prof. of Physics at UC, taught a seminar for years on the social responsibility of scientists. Link.)

Laura Nader (prof. of Anthropology at UC.) This book of hers is the one I have learned the most from.
posted by bukvich at 8:57 AM on March 28, 2012

I would think Edward Teller would probably fit the bill. There's a reasonable bibliography in the linked Wikipedia article.

Bertrand Russell is a fascinating figure and a fine writer, with serious academic background in philosophy and maths.
posted by Jakey at 11:50 AM on March 28, 2012

If you accept the notion of economists as scientists, then you have lots of figures to choose from.
posted by PickeringPete at 2:37 PM on March 28, 2012

I may be way off here, but I think Chomsky's linguistics work is pretty much separate from his political activism.

So he's not quite the type of person the OP is looking for.
posted by jayder at 6:19 PM on March 28, 2012

Dick Lewontin comes to mind.
posted by yarrow at 12:00 PM on March 29, 2012

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