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Science for the People records

Identifier: MC-0498

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Science for the People (SftP) collection (1969-1992) documents the activities of a group of scientists and students involved in educational and political work critical of the scientific establishment. The collection consists of correspondence, newsletters, fliers, articles, clippings, pamphlets, magazines, slides, microfilm, recordings and photographs. The photographs are in box 3: snapshots in folder 17 and publicity photos in folder 29. The collection includes materials created by SftP and materials created by others.

The organization’s national office was in Boston; regional chapters and groups focused on special topics formed across the US. Membership in the group was international. Early in its history, SftP took a collective approach towards their organization and created a non-hierarchical structure for the group: work was done by committees, such as the Steering Committee and Magazine Committee, with no one person in charge. By the time the group disbanded, however, its structure had changed and included a president of the board of SftP. The notes and official minutes of SftP's regular meetings are recorded in the Steering Committee Meeting Logs. Correspondence logs thoroughly document who was writing to SftP's national office, what they were writing about, and how SftP responded.

The collection’s strength is the documentation of the formation of the group: the AAAS folders contain news clippings and fliers documenting the day-by-day events that led to the group's creation. The national magazine, Science for the People, was the group's major instrument for getting its message out. Articles and letters to the magazine from readers document the exchange of ideas. One of the weaknesses of the collection is in the records of the local and activity groups. Much of the SftP's activity took place in Boston and that documentation is more extensive. The records of the national body, the magazine, and the Boston chapter constitute the bulk of the collection. The scarcity of records for the subgroups may reflect the internal struggles the national organization had in attempting to unify the various topical and regional groups throughout SftP's existence. The struggles of the group as it grew into a national organization are documented in correspondence and the Internal Discussion Bulletins.

The collection documents controversial scientific topics challenged by radical scientists and students in the 1970s and 1980s. Those interested in science policy and political activism would find the publications and AAAS folders useful. Specific topics, such as sociobiology, Vietnam, nuclear power, and genetic engineering, are discussed at the national level in the Science for the People magazine and within the records of activity groups. The Internal Discussion Bulletins are useful to support research on the nature and structure of collective political groups.


  • 1969 - 1992


Access note

This collection is open.

Intellectual Property Rights

Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Separate written application for permission to publish must be made to Distinctive Collections. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection.

Historical note

The group eventually known as Science for the People originated at the January 1969 meeting of the American Physical Society (APS). Originally named Scientists for Social and Political Action (SSPA), the name was soon changed to include “Engineers” (SESPA) as industrial and other scientific workers joined. SESPA was formed by APS members who felt that the Society was unresponsive to their demands that it formally declare itself against the Vietnam War. In 1969, members of SESPA were involved in the "March 4" panel discussions and talks at MIT.

In 1969, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) decided in February that it wanted students to be involved in the annual meeting, to be held that December in Boston. Professor Anthony Oettinger of Harvard and Professor Harvey Sapolsky of MIT invited Harvard graduate students to arrange a student symposium at the meeting. The two-session symposium, "The Sorry State of Science-A Student Critique," included presentations by MIT and Harvard graduate students. It was intended to expose the misuse of science and technology. The first session was a discussion of the social and economic framework of technological innovation, the second session a discussion of the role of scientists and engineers in relation to the misuse of their work and abilities.

Believing AAAS should interact more with the public, days before the annual meeting was to begin SESPA called for AAAS to open the program to the public. This demand was highly publicized by the press and met by AAAS. The students continued to organize political actions at AAAS through the formation of the Scientist Action Group, which included the student scientist symposium participants, SESPA, and MIT's Student Action Coordinating Committee (SACC). Activities included non-disrupting demonstrations and the creation of lists of questions to be asked of AAAS scientists during panel discussions. SESPA addressed the political nature of science and put out a call for people to "challenge the misuse of science and technology." (See box 1) SESPA's slogan, "Science for the People," soon became their name. SESPA drafted three political resolutions for AAAS to pass: immediate withdrawal from Vietnam; an end to the oppression of Black people; and equality for women in science. The resolutions were not passed.

As a result of the momentum gained through the activities at the AAAS meeting, the Boston group Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action/Science for the People (SESPA/SftP) formed. Local chapters formed across the US, but the national office and the steering committee remained in Boston. SESPA developed from a group with a primarily anti-war focus to one concerned with a broader critique of science. StfP believed radical change was needed to create more socially responsible science and technology. Membership in the group was not limited to scientists; part of the goal of the organization was to take the discussion outside of the academic/scientific community to the people. They took a collective approach through a broad-based, non-hierarchical organization.

Vital to the organization was the bi-monthly magazine Science for the People, an outgrowth of the SESPA newsletter. It served as the main form of communication among SftP members and as a way to reach non-members through its sales at newsstands and bookstores. The first issue of Science for the People was published in 1970. Articles and letters included in the magazine were chosen by a collective editorial committee from those submitted. Reflecting the group's “non-elitist approach,” the publication was meant to be accessible and comprehensible to a non-scientific community.

In addition to protesting at professional organizations such as AAAS, the American Chemical Society, and the National Science Teachers' Association, SftP organized local activities such as "Scientists at Shopping Malls." (See box 4) The focus of the group centered on the control of research and development, a national health system, issues of racism and sexism relating to science, and making science and technology more socially responsible.

SftP was composed of various chapters, regional groups, and activity groups across the US. The national office was in Boston, and much of SftP's activities, including the magazine, came out of Boston. A recurring challenge throughout the group's existence was unity. While the charters and activity groups individually may have been strong, the unification of purpose seemed difficult to maintain at a national level. In 1974, the Internal Discussion Bulletin was begun to provide a forum for members to discuss problems and vent frustrations about the group. The group faced serious financial problems in the late 1980s and disbanded in 1992.


8 Cubic Feet (8 record cartons)

Language of Materials



The Science for the People (SftP) collection (1969-1992) documents the activities of a group of scientists and students involved in educational and political work critical of the scientific establishment. The collection consists of correspondence, newsletters, fliers, articles, clippings, pamphlets, magazines, slides, microfilm, recordings and photographs.


Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Source of Acquisition

Materials were given to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) in August 1996 by Dr. Jonathan Beckwith of Harvard University.

Related Materials in the Department of Distinctive Collections

Social Action Coordinating Committee Records (AC 349)

Union of Concerned Scientists Records (MC 434)

Related Materials

The University of Massachusetts, Amherst has a complementary collection, Science for the People records, MC-859.

Processing Information note

Some collection descriptions are based on legacy data and may be incomplete or contain inaccuracies. Description may change pending verification. Please contact the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections if you notice any errors or discrepancies.
Guide to the Records of Science for the People
Ready For Review
Anne M. Reid
(Copyright 2000)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US