Yesterday, I talked about how awesome I think science is. And I want to say it for like a fifth time- it’s awesome. Learning about why things work the way they do can fill you with with a sense of wonder.
Except science should not be an unstoppable force.
Now, let me get one thing straight. I am not for a moment saying that we as a society should collectively stop science from being done. I am only saying that science is not a pure art, nor is anything really, for that matter. This argument is partially based on my notes from the aforementioned class I’m about to finish called Power, Change and Technology.
The idea of science as something inherently good is tied to the quite frankly unobtainable idea of “progress.” Even defining it is difficult. It’s this notion that a society has to move forward and keep developing new technologies and making new discoveries that will make everyone’s lives easier somehow.
What is the purpose of progress? The answer to that seems to have changed. During the Enlightenment, the idea was that progress serves as a means of liberation from political oppression. In other words, science and technology would perhaps give more powers to the governed and would prevent tyrannical rule by government. As time went on, however, and technology began to develop at an even more rapid pace, the idea of progress changed to something more along the lines of “Progress is good and must be accomplished.” So progress, now, seems to be done for the sake of progress.
And therein lies the problem. “That which can be done should be done” is not a good foundation for science or technological development. The mantra implies that if something can be done, it should be done regardless of the cost, whether that is a material cost (money) or something more (human lives, perhaps?).
An assumption that might not be challenged as often as it should be is that science is an art that is classless, raceless and free of bias. This simply is not true, however. The unfortunate motivator behind science is money, and therein lies the problem. The inescapable fact of the day and age is that everything costs money. Everything. So every time a scientist or several scientists want to do something, they need funding. Funding, for the most part, comes from either government or from big companies (the often-attacked Big Pharma).
The thing is, especially when it comes to government, money is scarce. This is exceedingly true these days, when every government in the world seems to be in varying degrees of debt. And politics arises out of the scarcity of money- someone has to get the money, but who?
Most technological research money is being used to develop new military technology.
So science is not free of bias or personality. But it’s also not classless or raceless. Anyone who has learned about the horrors of eugenics will know what I’m talking about. At one point, scientists actually studied an area called phrenology, which was a study of the human head. In the name of science, people measured the size of human heads of people of all races and concluded “objectively” that because people of African origin had heads shaped the way they were, they were less intelligent.
And thus was launched the idea of eugenics, that if “clean” individuals bred with other “clean” individuals, they could create the smartest and most physically healthy children ever. This pseudo-science was unfortunately enthusiastically received, and governments began to create programs based around eugenics. It was an awful thing that had awful effects on the average person.
So science is not a neutral force, and don’t for a minute pretend it is. Again, this isn’t to say that science doesn’t produce good. Not too long ago, the world learned of a child that was cured of AIDS. It’s a very big dose of good news for a disease that is thought to be incurable.
So science is still awesome, but don’t think of it as something that is beyond criticism.
Coming up tomorrow- living in a technological world.