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THE GENDERED ATOM by Theodore Roszak


Reflections on the Sexual Psychology of Science

by Theodore Roszak

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 1999
ISBN: 1-57324-171-7

This antiscientific tract by a history professor focuses on the sexual politics of science. Roszak (America the Wise, 1998) centers his critique of science on the Frankenstein story—hardly an original idea, since Shelley’s tale was itself a critique of science. Discovering a pervasive set of gender stereotypes at the very root of the scientific endeavor, he takes as his primary target modern physics. He is much taken with his chance discovery that CERN, the gigantic European particle accelerator, is built beneath ground that Shelley could have seen from the window of the Swiss villa in which she lived during the composition of Frankenstein; could she have had a premonition of the horror of atom-smashing? CERN, Roszak explains, illustrates a male predilection for smashing things and taking them apart. A lower-energy American project, whose spokesman speaks of “tickling” and “nudging” atoms into revealing their secrets, evidently meets more with his approval. The feminist historians of science he cites observe, further, that the classical atom was an avatar of a certain kind of male personality, determined to stand aloof from the outside world, and conclude more generally that the vaunted male-driven objectivity of science is fraudulent. The practice of removing infants from their mothers and placing them in a sterile environment—of which the Skinner box was the extreme example—is noted as an attempt to impose “scientific” self-sufficiency on even the newborn. Given the entire field of modern science, with its long history of male dominance, to dig through, there is no shortage of horrid examples to support Roszak’s argument. One can understand why Jane Goodall was willing to write his Foreword. But in the end, Roszak has nothing to set in place of the science he holds up to criticism. As flawed as the science it attacks, with just enough substance to seduce the ignorant.