Friday, March 29, 2013

The interplay of science and society, as told by Brecht's "A Life of Galileo"

Alice Bell over at the New Left Project has some great reflections about a new Royal Shakespeare Company production of Bertolt Brecht's play, A Life of Galileo, running through the end of this month in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Ian McDiarmid (a.k.a. Emperor Palpatine) plays the title role

I haven't read any Brecht, but it's on my reading list now for sure. This is one play--written in the 1940s but still relevant today--which raises some serious discussion points about the role and responsibility of scientists in society:
On the surface, it's a play about the clash between science and religion...The point of the play isn’t to privilege scientific thinking over others, it’s a critique of the way science can be captured by particular interests, a tale not of a hero but a complex, flawed man who wants to give science and its power over it to people and (crucially) improve science by listening to the people too. 
Our scientist is an anti-hero not just for dramatic reasons or historical accuracy, but because Brecht wants to argue for collective rather than individual agency when it comes to understanding our world and working out how to make it better. The rallying cry of this play is to build a science and technology for the people, by the people, not simply defer to experts. 
...the RSC have announced a new partnership deal with BP. Indeed, the BP deal invites us to think about one of the plays key themes: the corrupting role of patronship. More relevent, perhaps, is the role of BP in university-based scientific research and or science education, which invite us to consider the ways in which the play's are still relevant. As Galileo bitterly declares in his closing speech: "Surely the purpose of science is to ease human hardship. If scientists follow the orders of those in power, if they store up knowledge for the sake of storing it up, then science will be crippled and your new machines will bring new forms of oppression.” 
We should expect scientists to share their work and be public[ly] accountable, but non-scientists should be proactive in the processes of opening it up too: stand up for the public funding of science and actively go forth and ask questions of professional researchers and their managers so you might be part of their research. Work with scientists and put them to work because other people already are. Check they’re building machines for liberation, not oppression.
H/T to @forestdim for the link to this awesome blog post.

No comments:

Post a Comment