A Review by Nayvin Gordon, M.D., November 24, 2020
I highly recommend this short book, The Tragedy of American Science: From Truman to Trump, by Clifford D. Conner, 2020. This is an easy to read, concise and well documented analysis of how U.S. science has been affected by the capitalist economy since World War Two. The author does not hold back from placing the origin of the tragedy at the feet of U.S. imperialism. This is a must read for everyone starting with students. The book is broken into three major sections.
Section one: the privatization of science
This section clearly demonstrates that the corporatization and privatization of science is designed to serve private profit not public interests. The profit driven system involves scientific denial, deception, manipulation, fraud and collusion. Clear documentation is presented on how the financial elite, the one percent, fund and create front groups, and think tanks. For example, the Koch brothers, in their need to deny the science of global warming, spent over $100 million on such groups as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. The book is rich with clear well documented examples from the food industry to the pharmaceutical industry, from tobacco to lead, from nuclear power to contaminated water.
The author presents excellent documentation of crimes against the working class and the environment. An important part of the book clearly reveals how the billionaires’ money has also corrupted academic research to create “the Academic Industrial Complex.” The billionaires have given millions of dollars to think tanks whose propaganda floods the mass media and academia with science deniers to deceive and manipulate the people.
Corporate money creates mass propaganda, “founded on dishonesty and ignoble lies.” In the words of the famous scientist Naomi Oreskes, “we have broad evidence that the interests of funders often influence the work done” by scientists. Furthermore, this influence of money combined with conflicts of interest has a corrupting effect on governmental agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the words of a recent New York Times editorial, “The Food and Drug Administration is no stranger to political interference. Special interests have played as much of a role as actual data in the approval of questionable cancer drugs and faulty medical devices for almost as long as the agency has existed.”
Section two: the militarization of science
Here the author details the “militarization of American science.” After World War Two the U.S. secretly hired Nazi scientists to help build a permanent military economy, assisted both overtly and covertly by the RAND think tank. The U.S. government subsidizes the military industrial complex by providing more than half of all discretionary federal spending on a war machine, which amounts to over $1 Trillion a year, or $40,000 a second. This massive spending is designed to maintain U.S. imperialism’s domination over the planet. This deadly spending is described in the book as “science harnessed to the Chariot of Destruction.” An exhaustive presentation of the ways in which science has been militarized to increase its ability to cause death and destruction is detailed: from Hydrogen Bombs to missiles, from non-nuclear technologies of death to the latest developments in autonomous weapons, and cyber warfare.
This section concludes with the history of the post-World War Two CIAs continued involvement in Nazi torture experimentation on humans. Evidence of complicity in torture by the American Psychology Association (APA) is revealed in a 2015 report. International geopolitical tensions and conflicts are increasing the possibility for war. The U.S. Empire is encountering more competition from countries around the world. In response the U.S. military is expanding its ability to militarize space, and use newer nuclear weapons.
Section three: science for human needs
The final section concerns the important question: “Is a science for human needs possible?” Here is a discussion regarding replacing capitalism with a system motivated by human needs rather than private profits. The author discusses the Russian, Chinese and Cuban Socialist revolutions and their effects on science and social needs. The strengths and weaknesses of these revolutions are analyzed. I would have preferred more examples of the health and scientific successes resulting from these revolutions, particularly during the first few decades after the takeover of power, when the working and peasant classes had a dominant influence over political and economic decisions. For example, China was the first country in the world to conquer syphilis and synthesize human insulin. China also eliminated the widespread parasitic disease schistosomiasis, and freed millions from drug addiction. As a result of socialist health science, Cuba has the lowest infant mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere. More examples of the success of these revolutions would have made this section richer.
The chapter ends with a list of essential elements the author believes are needed for the public to control and regain scientific integrity. Replacing the market economy with a socialist planned economy must be accompanied by democratic control of production and political life. The historical experience of post capitalist societies gives relevant historical evidence which “indicates that science motivated by human needs rather than private profit is not a utopian fantasy but a demonstrable reality.”
The concluding chapter concerning the Covid-19 pandemic explains how “the assault on science has put us all at risk.” Failure to heed the years of warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) and scientific experts about the increasing risk for a new pandemic threatens us all.
The author explains how the economic system created the breeding ground for new viral epidemics, and how the for-profit healthcare system has resulted in massive cuts and collapse of the public health infrastructure over the last four decades.
The greed of the capitalist system set the stage for the Covid-19 pandemic. The lies and persistent attacks on the science of infectious disease is part of the deliberate plan to allow the virus to spread through the country, sickening and killing millions. The relentless defunding of oversight and regulations of the CDC, EPA and FDA is also detailed.
The capitalist system is at the root of all our social problems. We face “Socialism or Dystopia”—science for life and public health or for war and destruction.
The need to replace the global economic system of competition and exploitation that serves private interest with one that is cooperative and serves the public interest, the common good, and social needs is more urgent than ever. Our lives depend on taking action now to fight for an egalitarian world. This book is an excellent reference and a must read for all.
—September 23, 2020
 “Tainted Money Taints Research,” Scientific American, September 2020,
One thought on “Book Review: The Tragedy of American Science by Clifford Conner”
Important point to explore how the profit system is “a breeding ground” for the virus pandemic. Also agree with the earlier comment about expanding on the successes of the previous revolutions. After all, going from 10% literacy to 90% is quite an achievement, not to mention all the public health advances.