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David Franklin Noble (born July 22, 1945) is a critical historian of technology, science and education. He is best known for his seminal work on the social history of automation. He currently teaches in the Division of Social Science, and the department of Social and Political Thought at York Universitymarker in Toronto, Canadamarker.

Written Work

Forces of Production

In Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation (1984) Noble recounts the history of machine tool automation in the United States. He argues that CNC (computerized numerical control) machines were introduced both to increase efficiency and to discipline unions which were stronger in the USA in the period immediately following World War II.

Forces of Production argues that management wanted to take the programming of machine tools, which as "machines for making machines" are a critical industrial product, out of the hands of union members and transfer their control, by means of primitive programming, to non-union, college educated white collar employees working physically separate from the shop floor.

Noble's research argues that in practical terms, the separation was a failure, and that the angered and alienated union machinists, who felt that their practical and night-school knowledge of applied science was being disregarded, sat back while watching the programmed machines produce what Noble described as "scrap at high speed."

Noble then went on to argue that management compromised with the unions, in a minor violation of the USA's 1948 Taft-Hartley Act (which reserved all issues except pay and benefits to management discretion), to allow the union men to "patch" and even write the CNC programs.

Although Noble focuses strictly, in Forces of Production, on the narrow and specialist area of machine tools, his work may be generalizable to issues in MIS software where the end users are restive when told to accept the product of analysts ignorant of the real needs of the business, or the employee.

Recent Writing

Pursuing his critique of the role of the university throughout 2005, Noble has been active in bringing attention to what he identifies as social justice issues. These include the notion that the Canadian public university is being increasingly corporatized, and the defending the idea of academic freedom and role of the tenured academic as public servant, which Noble believes to be crucial. Noble's most recent book, Beyond the Promised Land, is a sweeping historiography of what Noble describes as the myth of the promised land, connecting the disappointments of the Christian religious story of redemption and salvation with the rise of global capitalism and the response to these disappointments by recent social justice movements.

Political Activism

In 1983 David Noble founded the National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest with Ralph Nader and Al Meyerhoff to try "to bring extra-academic pressure to bear upon university administrations who were selling out their colleagues and the public in the pursuit of corporate partnerships."

Noble's leftist politics and supposedly aggressive tactics have given him a rocky career. He was denied tenure at MITmarker, forced to leave his appointment at the Smithsonian Institutionmarker, and was blocked from giving the commencement address at Harvey Mudd Collegemarker because the administration argued he was "anti-technology." At York Universitymarker his actions are said to have been referred to as "anti-science" and "anti-intellectual" by the university president, Lorna Marsden, and his appointment to the J.S. Woodsworth Chair in the Humanities at Simon Fraser Universitymarker was suspended following what Noble and others saw as irregularities in the hiring process.

Corporatization & Commercialization

In recent years at York University, Noble has criticized the way in which "second-tier" universities accessible to the majority have been forced, owing to budget pressures absent at well-endowed "first-tier" universities, to adopt overly corporate-friendly policies. According to Noble, these policies subordinate the educational mission to a more careerist vision in which students are taught "practical" subjects, but in such narrow ways that they are, in effect, less broadly employable.

In his 1998 paper Digital Diploma Mills, Noble writes: "universities are not only undergoing a technological transformation. Beneath that change, and camouflaged by it, lies another: the commercialization of higher education".

Noble has argued that high technology, at these universities, is often used not to improve teaching and research, but to over-control and overwork junior faculty and graduate students, expropriate the intellectual property of leading faculty, and, through various mechanisms such as the recorded lecture, replace the visions and voices of less-prestigious faculty with the second-hand and reified product of academic "superstars".

Tail that Wags the Dog

In his broad-based critique of what he views as an academic-industrial system, Noble has questioned Israelmarker's strategic role in Western institutions on a broad basis.

In late November 2004, at York Universitymarker, Noble garnered controversy for handing out flyers entitled "The York University Foundation: The Tail That Wags the Dog (Suggestions for Further Research)" at a campus event. The information sheets alleged that the Foundation, York University's principal fund-raising body, was biased by the presence and influence of pro-Israel lobbyists, activists and persons involved in pro-Zionist Jewish fund-raising agencies, whom he identified as the "tail", and that this bias affected the political conduct of York's administration in important ways, through their power to "wag the dog". In particular, Noble (who is of Jewish descent himself) claimed that there was a connection between alleged "Pro-Israeli influence" on the York Foundation and the university administration's treatment of vocal pro-Palestinian campaigners on campus and to a later-scuttled project to build a Toronto Argonauts football stadium on the campus.

Noble and York University again appeared in the news in October, 2005 with regard to his vocal opposition to and York senate appeal of the university's policy, adopted in 1974, of cancelling classes during the three days marking the Jewish High Holidays. Noble stated he would defy the policy and hold classes nonetheless, instead pledged to cancel his classes on religious holidays observed by any student in the class, and ultimately elected to cancel classes on all Muslim holidays. In April 2006 Noble lodged a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, alleging that cancellation of classes during certain Jewish holidays constituted discrimination against non-Jewish students; the complaint was still pending at this writing. He later launched a $25 million libel suit at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against a series of individuals and of York University, Jewish, and Israeli organizations for defamation and conspiracy, accusing them of having improperly criticized his "Tail That Wags the Dog" campaign as antisemitic.

York Public Access

Most recently, Noble has been involved in creating an organisation called York Public Access as an alternative to what he identifies as an increased corporate slant in the approach taken by York University's official media relations department.

Attention in the Media

Recently, Jonathan Kay, editorial board member of the National Post commented about a case taken to the Ontario Human's Rights Commission to force York to hold classes on Jewish holidays, suggesting that it is discriminating against other students with different religious beliefs who have to attend classes on their religious holidays;


  1. Faculty (Department of Social and Political Thought)


Year Title Subtitle Location:

ISBN and

1977 America By Design Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism New York:

ISBN 978-0-394-49983-3

1984 Forces of Production A Social History of Industrial Automation New York:

ISBN 978-0-394-51262-4

1985 Smash Machines, Not People! Fighting Management's Myth of Progress San Pedro, CA, USA:

Singlejack Books of Miles & Weir, Ltd
ISBN 978-0-917300-17-2

1992 A World Without Women The Christian Clerical Culture of Western Science New York:

ISBN 978-0-394-55650-5

1993 Progress Without People In Defence of Luddism Chicago:

Charles H. Kerr
ISBN 978-0-88286-218-7

1995 Progress Without People New Technology, Unemployment, and the Message of Resistance Toronto:

Between the Lines Press
ISBN 978-1-896357-01-0

1997 The Religion of Technology The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention New York:

ISBN 978-0-679-42564-9

2001 Digital Diploma Mills The Automation of Higher Education New York:

Monthly Review Press
ISBN 978-1-58367-061-3

2005 Beyond the Promised Land The Movement and the Myth Toronto:

Between the Lines Press
ISBN 978-1-897071-01-4

See also

External links

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