POLITICS AND SCIENCE
Paul R. Gross
Innocents imagine that modern universities, the names of many of whose departments include “science” (as in social science), do not perform exorcisms. That is a mistake. Today, universities are among the busiest sites for the practice of intellectual exorcism. Ask any current student to define “investigate”: you will get the definition for “indict. ” The latest outbreak of academic exorcism comes to us from anthropology. At issue are the Yanomamö, a Stone Age, indigenous people of the Amazon rain forest. The current repellent effort rests on poststructuralist-postmodern scripture: the doctrine that what we call science is just window dressing for Western hubris and colonialism.
About thirty years ago the distinction between technical disagreements and moral-political warfare began to dissolve. A whole generation of students and teachers became convinced that everything, including scientific inquiry, is inextricably political because knowledge itself was inextricably a social— therefore a political—phenomenon. Politics, meanwhile, becomes a matter far too important for niceties. The Berkeley anthropologist Nancy ScheperHughes exemplified these enthusiasms when she demanded from her colleagues, in 1995, a new, “militant anthropology, ” the education of a
new cadre of “barefoot anthropologists” that I envision must become alarmists and shock troopers—the producers of politically