Science as a cultural resource

Ball, Physics, Swing, Spherical Ball Joint, Pendulum

Scientific research is undertaken nowadays primarily for us eventual material benefits. For this reason our discussion of the external social relations of silence has focused almost exclusively on its instrumental connections through technology.

But the influence of scientific knowledge and ways of thought is far wider than the contributions of R & D to industry. medicine, agriculture, war and other typical human pursuit.

This is a large and diffuse meta scientific theme. which can only be treated very schematically. Science is only one amongst the many dements that go into the making of contemporary culture.

Scientism  is not just a philosophical Joanne: it has its sociological, political and ethical manifestations, which are equally misleading and dangerous. Consider, for example, the topic of the previous chapter — the scientist’s role in society. Some enthusiasts for science advocate a greater expansion of this role; they assert, in effect, that everything would be OK if scientists ruled.

Now it is true that success in scientific work calls for impressive qualities, such as intellectual grasp,  persistence and honesty, which might be of great value in a responsible political leader.

Sonic scientists have, indeed, played a major part in political affairs, whether through the machinery of government, as in the cast of Robert Oppenheimer. or simply through the force of their moral example, as in the case of Albert Einstein. But the personal qualities desirable in those who govern the State si one of the great questions of political theory. going back to Plato.

The scientism view ignores other essential qualities for political leadership, such as sociability. persuasiveness in debate. willingness to compromise, appreciation of the needs of ordinary people. or even ruthless ambition, which are not at all characteristic of the ‘scientific attitude’.

It is generally agreed by political theorists that if the technocratic tendency of science were allowed to prevail, it would rapidly degenerate into tyranny.

In other words, the experience and attitudes gained in and through science are an inadequate guide to the way in which society works as a whole.

Public understanding of science

Even amongst well-educated people, the most elementary scientific facts, such as the chemical symbol for sodium, or the physiological function of the liver, are regarded as highly technical and ‘difficult Modem culture depends utterly on science-based technologies; techniques derived from scientific practice and concepts drawn from scientific theory pervade everyday life; yet few people have a general notion of what is now known to science.

This ignorance is deplored by scientists, who press for action to improve public understanding of science. Yet the machinery for this action is fully established. For more than a century, science education has been a major function of the school and university systems of all industrialized countries.

Geometry, Mathematics, Volume, Surface, School, Learn

By the end of their compulsory period of schooling, most young people have had at least a few courses in the basic sciences. Courses at every level, in every scientific discipline, ‘pure’ or ‘applied’, are open to suitably qualified students. There arc plenty of opportunities to learn science, for those who want to.

Science is also widely populanzed, through books. magazines, newspapers, radio and television. Some of this material is sensational or opinionated, but one can easily find in the ‘media’ a solid stratum of scientific information presented skilfully by effective communicators.

Nevertheless. for the great majonty of people, science is a subject that one might have to learn as part of one’s job. but is otherwise regarded as difficult. dull, and best soon forgotten.

All specialist groups deplore the lack of public understanding of their specialty and urge that it should be given greater emphasis in mass education and the mass media.

But the case of science is instructive because it illustrates the difference between the viewpoints of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. The outsider’s view is overwhelmingly instrumental.

The whole purpose of science education is taken to be vocational. Science subjects were introduced into the elementary school curriculum. and technical  were founded in order to train workers, managers and technical experts for industry.

The ‘attentive public’ for popular science is very limited, except where it touches upon material issues of personal health and safety. From the inside, on the other hand, science is seen primarily as a conceptual scheme by which observable facts arc ordered and mapped.

The emphasis is not so much on utility, as on the possibilities of discovery and of validation. In the opinion of most scientists, what [‘topic ought to be nude to understand is the ‘scientific world picture’, in greater or less detail.

They tend therefore to structure the science curriculum around the central cognitive themes, with very little regard for their applications in everyday life.There is thus a %mom mismatch between the interests of those who arc already inside science, and the motives of those whom they would like to draw in.

Most people find great difficulty in getting to understand the conceptual schemes of the sciences. which seem so very unlike the familiar structures of the life-world.

A few young people arc attracted to the idea of discovering new representations of reality, the great majority see this as a relatively fruitless task. irrelevant to their personal lives, and calling for more time and effort than they can spare. whether in formal education or in Informal learning.

Novel educational curricula on the theme of ‘science, technology and society  can encourage students and teachers to bridge this gap. but science remains a distinct sub-culture whose actual contents are practically unknown to all but any fraction of the population.

The value of science

The fact that science cannot be the source for all human values does not mean that it cannot be considered a foundation for some values. or indeed, of value in itself.

Many rationalists having rejected the traditional religions, justify their ethical codes by reference to various fundamental scientific concepts, such as the apparent unity and coherence of the physical universe, or the inevitability of progress through biological evolution.

Others are inspired by the notion of scientific technology as a means by which nature can be controlled and transformed. Others again, revolt against this notion, and regard science as a major source of negative forces and values.

The beliefs, hopes and lean generated by science are not, of course, part of science as such, and are not to be justified or dispelled by scientific analysis alone.

Lab, Chemical, Science, Research, Laboratory

These are themes that are often explored with imaginative insight through the genre of science fiction, where the social and cultural influence of science is often presented far more vividly and cogently than in the academic meta scientific literature.

In all of this. one must not lose sight of the value attached to the pursuit of scientific knowledge as an end itself. The unravelling of some great scientific mystery — for example, the decoding of the molecular mechanism of genetics — obviously gives enormous satisfaction to very large numbers of people far beyond those who are directly involved.

Quite apart from all utilitarian considerations, science is held in high esteem by the general public. The idea of science as a transcendental enterpnse to explore the Universe, unveil the secrets of nature, and satisfy our boundless human cunosity (etc., etc: the rhetoric is also unbounded) is not a mere invention of the academic ideology.

For reasons that are none the less compelling because their ultimate sources are aesthetic and spiritual, people are willing to support basic science ‘ for its own sake, and take scientific achievements whose significance they cannot properly understand.

It may be our duty, in the field of science studies, to demystify scientific work, unmask the self-serving interests of scientists, devalue the products of social technology, and denounce the pretensions of science as a guide to social action.

Nevertheless, when all the rhetoric has been debunked. there is a residuum of truth in the notion that science is a fascinating endeavor, capable of engaging men and women at their best, and enlarging and enriching the human spirit with its discoveries.


Science and the State

Analysis, Biochemistry, Biologist, Biology
Government support for science, there is nothing new about State support for science ,from the seventeenth century onwards, scientists have been directly employed as government officials to chart the land, the seas and the skin to check weights. measures and coms, to supervise the manufacture of dangerous chemicals and explosives and mans other technical jobs.

The industrialization of society as a whole has merely enlarged the responsibilities of every government for the welfare and security of its citizens, and correspondingly increased the scale and sophistication of the scientific work that has to be done by the government apparatus.

Government peonage of ‘pure’ science also goes back a long way into history. In Britain, the Royal Society and other learned societies were institutionally independent of the State but were sufficiently close to the centers of authority to extract occasional subsidies for major scientific protects.

The absolute monarchies of France, Prussia and Russia went much further, by setting up national academics whose members were paid a personal stipend to do full-time research .

Whatever the level of financial patronage it received, pure science was valued by the State as a cultural ornament, a sign of national security and as a potential source of economic and military benefit.

Nevertheless, although the academic scientific community was never averse to receiving government support for in larger projects, and many scientists were glad to have government employment, there was always a feeling that it should not become too dependent on the State for fear of losing its intellectual autonomy.

In recent years this situation has decisively changed. The scientific activities of most countries are now very largely financed by their central governments, and most scientism are, in effect, employees of the State.

In socialist countries, of course, all It & I/organizations. Born the most academic to the most technological. are organs of the State apparatus. But even in captain( countries such as the United Slates. where private corporations spend a great deal on industrial research, about half the total expenditure on II & now flows through the federal budget.

Government support lira science is particularly important in the Ins-developed countries whose local private industries seldom have the resources to undertake It & I) on their own account and usually have to rely on foreign multinational corporations for scientific and technological know-how.

This development was inevitable. for elementary economic reason. Only the State can find the resources for ‘Big Science’ projects, running to tens or hundreds of millions of pounds with no real – prospect of any financial return .

Only the State can feel sufficiently confident of its permanent existence to take on very-long-term research projects relevant to, say, the maintenance of energy supplies or the preservation of natural species.

Above all, the State has communal responsibilities such as national defense, public health and welfare, which can only be met, in the long run, by a proper mix of bask, strategy and targeted research.

Although the relative balance between private and public financing of It & U may be shifted one was or another according to the political and economic theories of the party in power, there seems no way back to a world where science is not vitally dependent upon public finds.

These relationships of authority and accountability transcend the conventional boundaries between the academic disciplines of sociology and political science: it has become impossible to give a satisfactory account of the external sociology of WHO: without reference to some of the theories and practices of national politics which make themselves felt deep within the world of research.


The politics of science

Nuclear center’ or ‘Congress gives go-ahead for R & D on new missile system’ arrangements; which department or agency manages which It & D activities: e.g. ‘ Engineering to have separate Research Council’ or’ National Academy of Sciences advises reform of Federal Government Laboratories. Technological projects; i.e. what costs and benefits will arise from which plans and proposals: e.g. ‘ Britain to build five nuclear power stations of advanced design’ or ‘Japan developing new generation of computers’.
lint the last of these themes, although of the greatest importance of the real world, is only incidentally concerned with science as such.

Geometric, Design, Computer, Technology, Blue, Lines

More and more issues concerning the use and abuse of advanced scientific technologies arc corning to pro in the political arena of every country in the world, but these involve so many other economic, social and ethical considerations that they cannot be dealt with satisfactorily in their meta scientific aspects alone. Since this book does not pretend to be a general text on ‘science, technology and society’.

We restrict ourselves here to a study of the direct financial and administrative relationships between science and government.

Even within this restructured definition. science policy is a complicated subject. To understand it in practice. one must have a good knowledge of the political and governmental system of the country where it is made and carried out.

Science policy is policy, not science, and obstinately refuses to conform to universal samples.

Nevertheless, certain types of problem are met with in all countries, and must somehow be dealt with by whatever sociopolitical devices arc available.

Generally speaking, science policy involves the problems of choice, patronage and control. Although these problems are all closely connected it is convenient to consider them separately, in somewhat schematic form.


Decisions on the allocation of resources between competing It & I) projects are the basic building blocks of science policy. This problem of choice arises at every level in industrial, governmental and academic science; indeed. it is implicit in the notion of decision-making in all human affairs.

Shall we construct a proton accelerator or an electron accelerator to look for zeta particles? In the ‘ war against cancer’ should we give priority to research on viruses or on environmental carcinogens? Should we buy more tanks for the army, or more ships fix the nay’, ? Whatever considerations may govern policy in principle, this it the form in which policies have to be put into practice.

Such decisions are particularly difficult in relation to It & 1). because most It & I) projects, however cut and dried they look on paper. arc essentially uncertain.

A research project. by definition, is only worth undertaking if it has a real chance of failing: it should always look more like a gamble than a safe investment.

This risk factor, moreover, is open-ended. The significance of success will not he clear in advance, so that any of a number of other possible investigations can scent equally attractive.

The task is not made easier by one of the characteristic, of a good saving (i.e. one whose proposals are worth supporting) – the imagination and enthusiasm to think up many more excellent research projects than can possibly be undertaken. One of the major questions in the theory and practice of science policy is whether there are any general criteria by which such decisions could, or should be taken.

As we have seen, economic criteria are appropriate in the final stages of technological development, although the canons of financial accountancy are seldom strictly applicable.





Industrial science

Board, Circuit, Control Center, Binary, Null, One

In the early twentieth century, academic science was not the only institutional model for research. From the middle of the nineteenth century onwards, there has developed an alternative model in which scientific workers were employed directly, on a full-time basis, to do research.

Firms in advanced industries such as chemical manufacture had, of course, always benefited from scientific discoveries, and often employed people with a scientific training as works managers or process controllers.

But in the German dyestuffs manufacturers took a decisive step forward by setting up their own company laboratories, where fully qualified academic scientists were employed to undertake independent investigations in the hope of discovering new products and processes.

Industrial science was thus established as a major instrument of innovation in all science-based industries, such as chemical engineering electronics and aeronautical engineering.

A parallel development also took place in the various government agencies such as astronomical observatories, geological surveys, bureau of weights and measures. and public health inspectorates which provided routine technical services for the public benefit.

The work of these organizations was usually based upon scientific samples and was carried out by people with scientific qualifications: when they were faced with novel technical problems, or areas of basic ignorance they naturally moved towards a research attitude and acquired specific research functions.

Although this sort of governmental science differed in many details from more commercially oriented industrial research, there were such structural similarities between, say, the National Physical Laboratory on the one hand. and the General Electric Company’s laboratory on the other, that the term ‘industrial may be applied to both.

The most striking characteristics of industrial science as an institutional form were those in which it differed from academic science. Its establishments were not normally sited in universities, and its staff members had no direct educational responsibilities.

A typical industrial research laboratory was not a quasi-autonomous organization. but was usually a bureaucratic sub-division of sonic much larger non-scientific organization, such as an industrial firm or government department.

Individual staff scientists, however senior, were not free to follow their own bent in the choice of research projects. but were expected — and at times firmly directed – to work towards the goals of the superior organization.

Their duty was to invent a new commercial product, map a specific area of the country, or perfect a new technique of measurement, not simply to acquire knowledge.

In any case, the results of their research had to be put at the disposal of the employing organization, and might even be kept secret for commercial or military reasons.

Since the training of research workers was not a specific function of industrial science, employees were recruited from academia on comp Kuon of a bachelor’s or doctor’s degree.

Their subsequent career would depend more on local organizational considerations, such as the quality of their technical performance, or managerial competence, than on public reputation within the scientific community and was subject to the same administrative regulations and management decisions as any other employees of the firm or government.

In fact the ‘laboratory’ or ‘establishment’ as a whole would be structured internally, and directed, according to the standard procedures of the parent body – that is through a bureaucratic hierarchy of ‘sections’ and ‘divisions’ up to the very top.

From this brief sketch. it is obvious that industrial science was very different from academic science as an institutional form. It had a different internal sociology different incentives and rewards for the individual, and a different role in society.

It was scarcely to be considered a distinct social institution, associated with an autonomous ‘community’ but mainly derived from, and referred to its various parent institutions in society at large. In other words. although it embodied the scientific notion of research and drew heavily on the contents of academic science.

it was designed around the instrumental conception of science as a means of achieving particular practical ends with little reference to the conception of science as a process of discovery.

By the beginning of the Second World War, industrial science had developed into a distinct way of life embodied in such stable and successful instituttions as the Bell Telephone Laboratories or the Royal Aircraft Establishment, which employed a considerable proportion of the scientists.

It played an indispensable part in the economic affairs, of all industrialized countries. This way of life is becoming the dominant form in the collectivized science of our times.

Pure science — and its applications

The distinction between the academic and industrial tunics of research is alien strongly emphasized in any account of the societal function of science. Until the last few years this distinction was not merely institutional; it was even reinforced by status symbols, such as membership of learned societies.

In Britain. for example. academic physicists would belong to the Physical Society, which published a learned journal and rewarded its most esteemed members with prizes: industrial physicists joined the Institute of Physics, which was concerned with professional qualifications and conditions of employment.

In other countries, where engineering was not so stigmatized, this snobbish crentiation may not have been so pronounced, but the distinction in principle between the two institutional models was seldom forgotten. In reality, this distinction was not as sharp as many people believed.

Thus, for example. they were not differentiated epistemologically or methodologically; industrial science used just the same theories, methods, concepts and terminology as academic science.

Industrial scientists went through the same educational institutions as academic scientists, and often had experience of arcade research at quite a high level of senionty.

Industrial scientists often sought recognition front the academic community, and published papers were the primary criterion for promotion in many branches of the scientific civil service.

Indeed, in disciplines such as agriculture the research was mainly done in organizations where scientists were relatively free to follow the norms of academic science within a formally bureaucratic framework.

Circuits, Electrictiy, Tech, Hi Tech, Design

Nevertheless, in spite of the radical transformation of the social relations of science and technology in the past few decades, a distinction between ‘ pure’ and ‘ applied’ science still lingers on.

This distinction is riot at all the same as between the ‘research’ and ‘development’ components of & D’, since the work of an ‘applied scientist in an industrial laboratory might be directed as much towards the explanation of general phenomena, or the determination of basic data, as towards testing and improving a specific product or design.

Nor can applied science be simply equated with ‘technology’, which almost always contains a large ingredient of tacit knowledge and traditional craft lore.

Although engineers make use of a great deal of scientific knowledge, they are not Just ‘applied scientists’ in their professional work. As the epithet ‘pure’ suggests. this distinction is essentially ideological.

It asserts the independence of academic science from all material or social considerations, and proclaims the virtue of doing research for its own sake’. It repudiates the instrumental conception of science, and thus preserves the academic ethos.

The implicit argument is that although the ultimate social value of science comes through its applications, these are unforeseeable. and must not in any way influence the process of scientific discovery, which follows its own peculiar laws.

In other words. according to this ideology, the internal sociology of the scientific community and the external sociology of ‘science and technology’ are to be considered quite separate topics for meta scientific study.

The institutional forms, the internal sociology and the societal relations of the elements of this system can no longer be classified by their position along the traditional axis from pure science to its applications.

In any case, it was never philosophically or psychologically convincing to insist that the fundamental character of research depends on the supposed purpose for which it is undertaken.

In practice, science is mostly ‘problem-soling’, and it usually makes very little difference whether the problem to be solved is a question arising out oldie paradigmatic research programme of an academic discipline or whether it is chosen because it happens to be relevant to some practical human need.

If the question were, for example, how the roots of plants absorb minerals front the soil, would it make any significant difference to the method of investigation or to the validity of a discovery claim, whether or not this particular problem was being studied because it might have some significance for the use of artificial fertilizers or the growth of crops on saline soils

At the level of ‘ laboratory life”, straightforward methodological and conceptual considerations determine the nature of the research process and the attitudes of those involved in it, whether it is as ‘pure’ as cosmology or as ‘applied’ as the search for a cure for the common cold.


The historical structure of scientific revolutions

Laboratory, Medical, Medicine, Hand, Research, Lab

Is Kuhn’s theory of scientific change well founded? Is it m accord with the historical facts? The above account of a typical scientific revolution is very schematic, but does it represent roughly what happened in a number of instances in venous fields of science at various times in the past?

As with many highly simplified models of social phenomena. the supporting evidence is plausible enough, but is gravely compromised by contrary considerations.

There is nothing new, of course, m the notion of a ‘revolution in thought’: the quasi-political metaphor goes back to at lost the seventeenth century. and has been applied to innumerable episodes in the history of science.

As in many political revolutions, the real question is whether there has, in fact, been a discontinuous change of retune, where an old theory has been swept away and entirely replaced by a new one.

This has, indeed, sometimes happened, as in the case of the phlogiston theory in chemistry, and the caloric theory of heat. Nevertheless, it is easy to exaggerate the authonty of a new intellectual scheme, and to ignore the good scientific work that still goes on under the traditional paradigm.

Relativity theory. for example. undoubtedly ‘revolutionized’ mechanic’s and electromagnetism, but it really had almost no of on some of the major fields of research in classical physics, such as hydrodynamics. where the Newtonian paradigm still rules.

Intellectual purists can argue that this apparent continuity is misleading. because all the concepts of classical physics are now explained differently in relativistic language and have thus become ‘incommensurable’ with their previous meanings.

This is a valid philosophical point. But it could be merely a semantic change reminiscent of the political practice of changing the names of the streets of a city after a successful coup.

It must be admitted, moreover, that science does not always develop by a succession of revolutions. There have been other patterns of change, represented by other quasi-political metaphors.

After the ‘breakthrough’ of the determination of the structure of DNA, the virgin territory of molecular biology was rapidly colonized. In this process, microbiology and virology were annexed by physicists and chemists.

In the late nineteenth century, physical chemistry seceded from chemistry to form an independent discipline, but nowadays a merger is taking place between the traditional preclinical subjects of anatomy and physiology.


In some fields of science, an economic metaphor is more appropriate as in the remarkably steady economic growth of accelerator design in high-energy physics. The history of science should not be sliced up into revolutionary episodes just to fit Kuhn’s model.

The theory quite properly takes account of the dogmatism of science education, which often seems designed merely to reproduce the consensual status of the ‘established’ knowledge of its day.

There is also abundant historical evidence for an almost pathological psychological resistance by many scientists against the ‘paradigm shift’ needed to see their subject in a new light – witness the failure of Wegener to persuade the geologists to rake seriously his Theory of Continental Unit.

These features of the model are so familiar from ordinary academic experience that they scarcely call for historical validation.

Nevertheless, the predominance of this indoctrination and intransigence may be exaggerated. Until the last century. there was very little direct education in science, anyway.

The modern researcher graduates through elementary, secondary and ternary science education into the more advanced milieu of the graduate school or research institute, where there is much more controversy and uncertainty in the
intellectual atmosphere.

Experience in research teaches skepticism towards what was supposedly well established, as well as cowards novel discovery claims or theoretical speculations. It is not only the up and coining younger people who are the most open to a new point of view.

The reception of Darwin’s theory of evolution. for example. was very mixed; although it roused tierce opposition, it also quickly won the support of a considerable number of highly reputable members of the scientist ‘establishment’ of the day.

Thus, the psychodynamics of Kuhns model tiny not be quite as straightforward as he suggested.

For many philosophers and scientists the most controversial feature of the theory is the implication that science ‘normally’ consists of solving punks by routine methods.

Here the historical evidence supports Kuhn strongly. in that research usually proceeds by the formulation of a succession of problems which must be sufficiently well posed to be solved by the techniques available.

Almost every achievement of every scientist has been built upon. and embedded in, the achievements of other scientists; there is no escaping the humbling truth that we have only been able to ‘see a little further’ because we ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’. as Newton put it, echoing an ancient maxim.

Anatomy, Biology, Brain, Thought, Mind, Thinking, Skull

Nevertheless. Kuhn’s characterization of nontonal  science is easily  understood. He is not suggesting, of course, chat this is equivalent to the pedagogic practice of doing lots of contrived exercises or artificial punks in order to gain technical skill.

The very essence of a research problem is that the answer is not known to anyone. A research result that is not ‘original’ is simply not publishable .

The mainstream of western science has never strayed very far from its basic norm of originality in that limited sense.

The real question is whether scientists arc’ normally’ too timid in the investigations that they undertake and only set themselves research problems with very limited objectives.

Does the radial spirit go out of science, except during occasional revolutionary periods? Here is where Kuhn’s notion of a paradigm as a complete system of detailed thought calls for analysis.

Even a single over-arching theoretical system, such as Newtonian mechanics, does not provide all the specific research methodologies and problem-solving techniques that are actually needed to answer all the particular scientific questions chat lie within its scope.

Numerous sub-theories, sub-methodologies, and sub-techniques have to be developed (by the usual methods of science!) to cover all the specialties and sub-specialties into which the discipline as a whole has become differentiated.

That is to say, each specialty develops its own ‘sub-paradigms’, within which ‘normal’ research can supposedly proceed. In practice, however, these sub-paradigms arc often inconsistent with one another, or only weakly validated.

Thus. what may look from the outside to be a very timid, routine piece of research may be intended to test severely an ‘ accepted’ fact or theory, may turn up an ‘ anomaly’, and may give rise to a minor ‘revolution’ in that specialty.

In fact, the philosophical machinery of the model is too tidy. The notion of an ‘anomaly’ is familiar enough in research experience, but it is not the only spur to speculative thought or radical experiment.

The search for sonic link between disjoint theoretical domains has been a powerful agent of scientific change — witness Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which was not originally motivated by a desire to explain the ‘anomaly’ in the motion of the penchant of Mercury.

In other cases, the revolutionary hypothesis has already been put forward, before rho ‘anomalies’ arc discovered that seem to make it necessary: this could be said of Wegener’s Theory of Continental Drill. which was eventually forced upon geology by the discovery of ‘anomalies’ in the magnetism of the rocks.

Like the Popean model of successive conjectures and refutations. the Kuhnian model of paradigms and anomalies is not unfaithful to some features of the research process, but does not cover all the considerations that lead scientists to undertake particular investigations or to accept as valid particular scientific results.

To sum up: a detailed study of the history of science will always reveal a tense dialectic between conservatism and radicalism.

This dialectic is present in the breast of the individual scientist, who may honestly say, ‘On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I do “normal- science: on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, I do “revolutionary science indicating that no scnous piece of research is totally routine or totally novel.

In any field of science, one may, from time to time, observe a punctuated evolutionary sequence of ‘normal’ and ‘revolutionary’ phases, as one or other of these tendencies takes the upper hand.

This phenomenon can occur on any scale, up to the very largest. where a whole scientific discipline may undergo a revolutionary transformation.

Nevertheless, this is only one of the many ways in which scientific knowledge grows and changes.


Science from technology

Artificial Intelligence, Brain, Think, Control

An immediate proposition suggests itself: perhaps all science is simply an intensified form of technology. generated by the matenal needs of society. This has been a major contention of Marxist theory, ever since it was proposed unequivocally by Bons Hessen at a famous meeting in London in toga.

This thesis is closely connected, of course. with the general body of Marxist thought, and cannot be discussed in full without reference to the whole conceptual apparatus of dialectic materialism and the role of science and technology in the class struggle. But it can he treated as a hypothesis worthy of empirical test.

The standard ease in favor of the Hessen thesis is the history of the steam engine. This immensely influential technology was developed from the late seventeenth century until about the middle of the nineteenth-century by essentially practical men, using the traditional craft skills of the mechanical engineer.

Although this development was undoubtedly indebted to academic science for a few key ideas, such as’ the power of the vacuum’, and the latent heat of steam, it was mostly earned out by trial and error, in the light of day-to-day experience, without recourse to abstract analysis.

These were men very close to the material, technical base of the society of their day. and were simply responding to the commercial need for a means of pumping water out of deepening mints.

The capitalist entrepreneurs who fostered this development were not in the least interested in science: they asked only for profitability and pragmatically by its technological achievements.

From this time onwards, thermodynamics was available as a  theoretical discipline for the design of new industrial products to fulfil new national and commercial needs – the internal combustion engine for road vehicles, the steam turbine for electric power generation and for ship propulsion, and eventually the turbojet engine for military and mil aircraft.

But It was more than a resource for technological the laws of thermodynamics were reformulated in abstract form, and became the basis for new branches of academic science such as low-temperature physics, physical chemistry and meteorology.

Thus we may say that a considerable proportion of our present understanding of the natural world can be traced back to the desperate need for some means of pumping water out of mines, and thus maintaining the profitability of a highly capitalized industry.

This case history of a technology-based science, which can be paralleled in other fields of engineering. agriculture and medicine, is good evidence in support of the Hessen thesis.

But this thesis completely fails to explain the development of science-based technologies, such as the electrical and nuclear power industries, which did not grow out of pre-existing techniques, and were not generated by research and invention directed towards meeting a perceived need.

No amount of commercial demand for a means of transmitting information and energy instantaneously to a great distance, or military demand for an explosive that would destroy a whole city. could have produced these technologies before the discovery of the scientific principles on which they were later based – and it is quite clear from the historical record that the scientists who made these discoveries did not have these applications in mind.

Indeed, the characteristics of most science-based technologies indicate quite a different model for the social role of science.

Such technologies are fundamentally innovative in that they evolve into the means of attaining technical goals that were previously regarded as quite impossible to approach except by magic.Hand, Commercial, Science And Technology, Data, Cloud


Imagine, for example. what people would think of the idea of transmitting speech instantaneously to the other side of the world, before the invention of the electric telegraph and telephone.

These capabilities arc not only unprecedented; they are also unpredictable in principle, since they do not arise by the imaginative extrapolation of existing techniques but by the exploitation of apparently irrelevant discoveries.

These characteristics make such technologies profoundly revolutionary, and yet beyond conscious control.

There is no need to emphasize the extent to which they have transformed the everyday life and means of production in all advanced industrial societies — a transformation that eventually extends to the political and social structure of those societies.

But the control over nature, and over other people, that can be exercised by means of advanced technologies does not apply to the evolution of those technologies themselves.

A ruling class may try to appropriate the applications of basic science embodied in such instruments of authority as a television set or a guided missile, but it has no means of directing or foreseeing future discoverers which may radically change its own position .

Various sciences may acquire unchallengeable paradigms on which to base mature and efficacious technologies. but the notion of finalization — the deliberate choice of the ends to be achieved by the further pursuit of these sciences — is an illusion.

Thus, paradoxically, the greater the certainty and power with which known scientific technologies can be applied to existing situations, the greater the uncertainty and sense of powerlessness that scientific progress introduces into social and political affairs over a longer term.

In contrast, therefore, to the thesis that science should be considered subordinate to social and political forces, there is a well-founded view that it is an autonomous factor in society, capable of producing immense changes which could not be predicted solely in terms oldie interests of economic classes, entrenched institutors, or other conventional political agencies.

This factor is so indeterminate over a period of a few decades that it makes nonsense of all attempts to foresee – and to try to forestall – the course of history. On this view, a creative social role for science can only be accommodated in a pluralistic model of society which repudiates all historian claims.
The Marxist and pluralistic accounts of the origins of science and its relationship with technology carry conflicting political and social implications, which will keep appearing as we proceed further into the external sociology of science.

This was, for example, the underlying theme of the public controversy on freedom in sciences that took place in Bantian in the tows. But this polarization and direct confrontation along political lines is too simplistic, since it bears no relation to the way in which things go in practice.

Historically speaking, we observe distinct cases of both ‘science-based technologies’ and ‘technology-bawd sciences’ — and a variety of intermediate cases where technological demand has had a more or less important influence on the evolution of an academic scientific discipline

In reality, these categories merge into one another, and confound most of the distinctions between a ‘science’ and a ‘technology’. Should one really distinguish between the gel industry and the primer industry because the former has an ancient craft tradition

Is nuclear physics less practical and less socially relevant than hydrodynarrucs because the latter has roots in hydraulic engineering and shipbuilding? Is aeronautical engineering essentially more scientific than atchiteaure because it makes more deliberate use of recent scientific discoveries and research methods

It is difficult nowadays to find any material activity of society that does not turn to the production of knowledge by research as a means of achieving its particular goals. Thus. all technologies are in the process of generating their respective sciences.

Conversely, it is difficult to find any body of knowledge. however derived, that is not being scrutinized for its potential benefits in material form. Thus all sciences are the process of generating their respective technologies.

These processes are intermingled on every scale, from the laboratory and workshop to the research council and industrial firm, and in every dimension of interpenetration.


Science-based technology

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The most striking influence of science on society is the generation of an essentially novel technology out of basic, discovery-oriented research.

The prime example is the electrical industry, which grew up in the late nineteenth century as a direct outcome of the pioneering researches of Michael Faraday — and many others — in the early part of the century.

The development of this industry by inventors and entrepreneurs such as Thomas Edison and Werner Siemens cannot be imagined without the theoretical understanding and empirical knowledge obtained previously by ‘pure’ scientists who had no direct utilitarian motives.

A twentieth-century example is the development of nuclear engineering, both for weapons and for electrical power generation. This gigantic technology, is based directly upon the primary researches of academic scientists, such as Ernest Rutherford and Enrico Fermi, which were undertaken in the firm belief that their discoveries were most unlikely to be put to any important practical use.

A development that is now under way. with unforeseeable consequences for the twenty-first century, is the application of fundamental understanding of the molecular basis of heredity to industrial and medical ends, in the form of biotechnology, Quite novel science-based technologies may be generated from basic science on a variety of wales.

Thus radar developed out of academic research on the propagation of radio waves in the upper atmosphere of the Earth, whilst the principle of the laser was derived from the fundamental thrones required to explain quantum phenomena in atoms. It is a commonplace of modem engineering, medicine and agriculture that completely novel techniques and devices may be conceived and put to use by the exercise of scientific knowledge which was originally acquired for its own sake’, or in the pursuit of quite different ends.

Thus, the knowledge that accumulates in 114 Science and technology the scientific archives can be considered a vast resource to be exploited for its unsuspected technological uses.

 Technology-based sciences

It is important to realize that not all advanced technologies derive from basic science. Thus, for example, the practical techniques of-mining and metallurgy have their origins in the mists of antiquity, and continue to be extended and improved by inventive craftsmanship and imaginative design. Most of the patentable in Vall1011S incorporated into the design and manufacture of a modern motor car were produced in this way, by workshop engineers rather than by laboratory scientists. 

Traditional techniques have proved amenable to scientific study. and have been found to have an underlying scientific rationale.

This applies particularly to medicine, whose therapeutic arts have been studied systematically from the time of the Ancient Greeks. The effort to understand and master the natural phenomena of human disease has thus developed into a highly sophisticated science, with a characteristic body of deep theory to explain these phenomena and bring them under control.

In a similar way. a variety of ancient crafts were transformed in the nineteenth century into the technology-based science of industrial chemistry, whilst in the twentieth century the practical technical knowledge of the metallurgist has been incorporated in a new science of materials.

The same process is to be observed in almost all fields of practical human activity : ‘technologies’ such as agriculture, civil engineering, food processing, architecture. etc.. have developed their respective ‘sciences’ to guide further technical progress.
 Scientific technique

Quite apart from their specific applications in advanced technologies, the ideas. concepts, theories, instruments, data and techniques of science permeate practical life. Inventors, farmers, parents, motor mechanics, builders and other persons in innumerable skilled and semi-skilled professions acquire a rough outline of the scientific views of the day. and apply them artlessly to the solution of day-to-day problems.

Thus, for example. the concept of energy, around which the science of thermodynamics was developed in the mid-nineteenth century. is the key variable in every practical decision concerning fuel resources, power generation, space heating. propulsive efficiency of vehicles. etc. Again, biochemistry and physiology have provided the basic facts and theories of the practical science of nutrition, so that ‘everybody’ nowadays knows about calories and vitamins, and tries to act in accordance with this knowledge.

The fact is, however, that people not only make use of the products of science-based technologies. such as pocket calculators and pep-pills; they also use elementary science-based techniques in dealing with practical problems, and orient themselves in the life-world by science-based modes of thought (Sol).

Where these techniques and modes of thought are lacking, as they still are amongst the general population of most developing countries, the instrumental function of science in society is greatly reduced. Thus, for example. complete ignorance of the bacterial causes of disease is one of the main obstacles to the widespread use of scientific methods of elementary hygiene in many countries.

At this point, of course, we are not saying whether the influence of modern science and technology in the Third World is good or bad: we are merely noting that this influence is not to be measured solely in terms of rice yields and expenditure on machine guns.
 Science or technology

One of the most tangled issues in the study of science and technology is the relationship between these two terms. It is easy to give clear-cut examples of each category, such as cosmology on the one hand and automobile manufacture on the other, but where to do we draw the line between them?

Until recently it was customary to make a distinction between science as the generation of knowledge primarily for its own sake, and technology as a body of knowledge concerning a practical technique. Unfortunately this convenient distinction has not been maintained in common use where a decision to build a computer factory is described as same policy, and the computer itself is called a piece of modern technology. For this reason, the term academic science was used in previous chapters, to indicate that the discussion was primarily about science in that traditional sense. But the difficulty is not purely semantic. In its strict meaning as a body of knowledge concerning a technique. rather than the routine practice of the technique or its material products. every technology is committed to the regulative principles of  science.

Whether this knowledge can be regarded as scientific then depends upon one’s notion of what further criteria must be satisfied. Must it be theoretically explanatory and predictive, for example, as a philosopher might insist, or available in a public archive as a sociologist might argue?

Or should the distinction still rest on the purpose for which the knowledge is sought? Historically speaking, every technology tends to become more and more subject to the characteristic ‘method’ of science.

A practical craft, such as pottery or ploughing, may have been passed on from generation to generation, by imitative apprenticeship with very little formal instruction. Although this process may permit a subtle and sophisticated evolution of the tacit knowledge embodied in the craft (%n), it still lacks the explicitness and generality of a genuine science.