A Letter to Scientific American Magazine, "Hard Times," October, 1993

16 September 1993

Jonathan Piel, Editor
Scientific American
415 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10017-1111

Dear Mr. Piel:

I am always sorry to see Scientific American stray from science into political, social, and moral issues. You are not very good at it, which perhaps is not surprising, since scientists are not in general any better at such issues than anyone else. But your very act of publishing political pieces is deceptive and unhelpful, to science and to politics, etc., since you inevitably give the impression that somehow you are considering the issues in a scientific way.

The offending piece in the your current issue (October) is the Science and the Citizen article, "Hard Times," about child labor, nationally and internationally. The problem with it is that the treatment clearly presupposes that child labor is an unqualified evil, whenever and wherever it occurs, and that the only problem is a moral one of what we can do to stamp it out. Words like "exploitable" are quoted, intensifying the rigor of the moral condemnation. Now, this assumption may very well be true; but in making it in the uncritical, unreflective, and naive way that you do, you betray a complete ignorance and disinterest in regard to all the historical and economic factors that would comprise "the other side of the story." Instead of a truly scientific concern for all the relevant information, you shut out much of what is relevant because of a moral assumption which is neither examined nor even stated and which then blinds you to other avenues of inquiry. That makes the piece an example of self-righteous political propaganda. It is neither science nor even a morally critical examination of a social and economic phenomenon.

I could refer you to economists and to works that would put this issue in historical and economic perspective, but my experience with you in the past is that you are not really concerned to correct the political biases that turn up in Scientific American. In June 1992, I wrote you about a feminist attack on science that you had published, Anne Eisenberg's essay "Women and the Discourse of Science." I received a note from you (June 30, 1992) that you might use my letter. You didn't; but more importantly you didn't publish anything that was critical of that piece, leaving its claims unchallenged in the eyes of all your readers. I find such an editorial policy regrettable and reprehensible.

Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.


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Copyright (c) 1993 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved