Human Exploitation and Scientific Development
Transparency in practices by slave-owners in the Pre-Antebellum South revealed how unpleasant experimental practices were used to encourage slaves to stay.
Publications about new scientific discoveries can lead to implementation of new strategies by governments. Words are as important in science as they are in any other field, and verbal conclusions on scientific topics can lead to disruptions in their future development. Framing certain eras in the history of technology in a manner where certain aspects are represented by gender does not necessarily mean that those situations occurred in that exact manner, but is only a manner of studying the history of science.
Some populations are specifically targeted by either powerful individuals or powerful institutions. Slave owners in the south exploited African-American cultural traditions in horrific way, brainwashing them to be afraid to escape from the plantation. Skloot writes:
"Some of the stories were conjured by white plantation owners taking advantage of the long-held African belief that ghosts caused disease and death. To discourage slaves from meeting or escaping, slave owners told tales of gruesome research done on black bodies, then covered themselves in white sheets and crept around at night, posing as spirits coming to infect black people with disease or steal them for research" (Skloot 166).
Unfortunately, the practices that slave-owners were creating stories of actually existed. Skloot says, “ Many doctors tested drugs on slaves and operated on them to develop new surgical techniques, often without using anesthesia”( Skloot 166). These disgusting medical techniques were actually implemented on Black people, with no punishment inflicted on the doctors because, at the time, racism was so out of control that many White people thought that it was okay to use Black people as subjects of experimentation.
In the early nineteenth-century, “Making work more productive was a matter of applying strict scientific principles” (Bowler 411). The drive of the market to produce large volumes of highly technical tools and machines pressured the technicians, the highly-skilled craftsmen of the time, to share their technical knowledge. Bowler shares, “Hershel had insisted that craftsmen’s traditions of secrecy needed to be replaced by scientific transparency” ( Bowler 411). This led, however, to the founding of the first Mechanics’ Institute which provided a path for the “mechanics to develop into men of science in their own right rather than having others exploit their knowledge” (Bowler 409). This alternate path that was provided to the skilled craftsmen of the time, and continues to this day is a solution to their concern that their secrets would be shared with industry officials of the time hoping to benefit from the information.
The 1965 publication of George Perkins Marsh’s book Man and Nature, warned that human destruction of nature would lead to “ depravation, barbarism, and perhaps even extinction of the species” ( Bowler 219). Due to the insistence in his writing, Bowler writes, “ [T]he U.S. government set up the Forestry Commission to manage the nation’s resources, and eventually areas of woodland were set aside to be protected from logging” (Bowler 219). Scientific conclusions improved the conditions of natural spaces demonstrating to parties on power the risk associated with failing to protect these resources.
Some groups that have been targeted do retaliate in the form of lawsuits, as in the case of the Native American Havasupai Tribe (Skloot 318). These lawsuits do not undo the damage done to populations nor the pursuit of science. Galileo was scientist that was forced to lie, tarnishing possible future experiments performed by other scientists. Mayer writes, “I swear that for the future I will never say again, nor assert orally or in writing such things by which one could have a similar suspicion of me, but if I should know any heretic or person suspected or heresy, I will denounce him to this Holy Office, or the inquisition or bishop of the place where I am” ( Mayer 95). The inquisition that tried Galileo may not have considered the future implications of trying him for his astronomical research and forcing him to denounce his work. The fact that Galileo needed to abjure in order to survive the trial may indicate that there could be repercussions for similar behavior of institutions. Potentially brilliant scientists would not be able to mention his work and were discouraged from similar research for over a hundred years after this trial.
Attorney General Stewart defended a scientific point in his attempt to refute evolution. Moran says, “ I say scientific investigation is nothing but a theory and will never be anything but a theory. Show me some reasonable cause to believe it or not” (Moran 133). Taking Stewart’s words into the modern day: how will the contemporary scientific community react to a theory as unbelievable as evolution was to the religious South? What will modern day equivalent of the evolution discussion be?
Science does not directly cause social inequality. Social inequality is the product of a sick society that fails to recognize the equality of the humans of which it consists, and social inequality in science is a byproduct of those inequalities being carried over into scientific institutions. In order to show that science is not a cause of social inequality, the assumption can be made that the contradiction is true: science does, in fact, cause social inequality. The ninth phase of Galileo’s trial completely up to the pope, a religious figure, supposedly appointed by God. “ In a Thursday meeting, after having heard the cardinal’s proposal, he issued a sentence, including punishment. At this point acquittal was no longer a live option” (Mayer 9). As a result of the pope’s judgement, the convicted person would be forced to “ abjure-literally swear off- his or her heresy in order to be received back into the Church” (Mayer 9).
According to Bowler, certain female historians argued that scientific developments directly violated nature in an aggressive manner: “Insofar as the Scientific Revolution’s investigators still regarded nature as female, they described the their relationship with it in terms of domination and penetration” (Bowler 492). The cluster of inventions that were designed and built during the Scientific Revolution may have been destructive to traditionally feminine aspects of life. Today, we live in a society where the Pope does not decide the direction of scientific research and studying science does not require destroying the natural environment. Considering these two explanations juxtaposed with each other, it is clear that our original statement is untrue, and that in contemporary society, science was not the cause of the past social inequalities, although it was related to social inequalities in many past instances. The science historians of the future might look back and find it ironic that the minority groups displaced from science in the twentieth century are now the majority.
Revolutionary scientific changes often occur as the result of pressures from various aspects of human society. Choices made by politicians to either further or hinder certain realms of discovery have a massive impact on the information that the population is exposed to. Although there are situations where certain groups of people are not included in scientific discoveries, those exclusionary tactics fall away with time.
1. BOWLER, PETER J. MAKING MODERN SCIENCE: a Historical Survey. CHICAGO PRESS, 2020.
2. Kitchen, D. J. The Trial of Galileo. Wigmore, 1989.
3. MORAN, JEFFREY P. SCOPES TRIAL: a Brief History with Documents. BEDFORD BKS ST MARTIN'S, 2021.
4. Skloot, Rebecca, and Sarah Moss. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Picador, 2019.
About the author
Hi! I am a twenty-eight year old college student at San Francisco State University majoring in Mathematics for Advanced Studies. I plan to continue onto graduate school in Mathematics once I am finished the plethora of courses which remain.