Survival Science

I included in the title my book about Barry Commoner: “The Science of Survival.” At the time, I interpreted the science of survival as a way of describing Commoner’s social and scientific activism—and most significantly, his advocacy of the science information movement. After the book was completed, however, I turned my attention towards Commoner’s role in producing a vernacular science during the 1960s. This was an implicit feature of the book, but I felt it deserved greater attention. I dabbled. I still think there’s a book project that treats the history of this vernacular or public science, especially in light of recent events (I’m thinking, especially, about the Flint lead water crisis) to talk about how citizens engage with, participate in, and understand scientific findings, and what place these findings control in public policy debates.

So, there’s that. It’s been awhile since I thought about much of this material, until I was invited to a couple of workshops in Europe this past fall. The first, in Århus, interrogated the place of science in the 1970s (arguably, an under-examined and underestimated decade in the history of science). The second, in Lugano, considered the relationship between “collapse,” environmental justice, and the role of evidence. Both workshops were fascinating—complete with gracious hosts, fantastic presentations, and stimulating conversations. Working from different vantage points, these two workshops provided me with the opportunity to reimagine some of the earlier vernacular science work, but also to frame in a new light as “survival science.” I post a link to a special issue of Intervalla, which published a version of the Lugano paper. So, here’s a first stab at making sense of “survival science” in its historical context.