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Category: 10. 11/7 Science and Democracy (Page 1 of 2)

How Governmental Ideologies Shape Scientific Culture

The relationship between science and its place in governmental institutions is a topic that is often overlooked, but an important one to consider when assessing scientific progress within countries. The government plays a fundamental and crucial role in scientific developments, as the majority of funding for scientific research, multi-million dollar science facilities and all other laboratory equipment comes directly from the government. Governmental values, whether they follow a democratic ideology, communist ideology etc, are ultimately what control how science operates within an institution. But is there one governmental system or ideology that is more favorable with regards to the progress of science?

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Science for the People

There is no question that work in the scientific field demands a high level of intellectual capacity. Discoveries and developments can only be made with years of precise and innovative study. Yet the fact remains that science applies to everybody, and the discoveries made everyday have an impact on the lives of everyone. Science for the People is an organization committed to the idea that science is applicable for everybody. We witnessed in class through their promotional video that they are dedicated spreading their message and continuing their success: they had organizations everywhere! We saw a Science for the People in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Atlanta, Georgia, and Toronto, Canada to name just a few. Their diverse concentration of followers allows them to spread their message to a wide variety of people and a ranging population of North America. They are convinced that scientific knowledge is an essential part of everyone’s life; Science for the People wishes to make science useful and accessible for everyone. This is a noteworthy cause and is supported fundamentally throughout the country. They understand that scientific developments will come from experts in the field who dedicate their lives to the cause. However, their discoveries are essential to the lives of everyone; scientists’ work must not go unnoticed and Science for the People want to ensure this. Society deserves to have a say in field of science and I firmly believe that. Leaders in Science for the People did an excellent job of conveying this message in their video. The entire video encompasses their desire to increase their following and spread their ideals further. As I mentioned in previous posts at the beginning of the course, science and society have a cohesive relationship and depend greatly on one another. Society molds with the latest scientific advancements and society pushes science to new limits. Science demands a high level of intellectual capacity but that does not mean it cannot be influence and democratized by the masses of society.

Open Science

In many societies science has been governed by the experts. Science, in some cases, is dominated by only those who have been educated for years in their select field. There arises some issues if the only people in science are those who are experts. Firstly, you gain a very similar perspective if all of the people in science are experts. In most cases these people have similar backgrounds and similar views on what they are trying to achieve. If you allow people who are not experts and who have not been molded by society in the same way these experts have, then you gain a unique perspective. This unique perspective allows science to expand even more. With Science available to the masses, this allows science to reached its peak. If science is kept in the hands of a select few then it will never truly reach the potential. With this openness the bounds in which science can expand grow exponentially.

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Government and Science: A Hybrid?

Throughout history, the scientific achievements affiliated with countries are often tied to the government in which they are created in. The democratic principles found in the United States promote scientific progress. However, modern science consists of complex practices and methods, leading to some adversity with democracy. Examples of both scenarios will be highlighted in this blogpost.


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Science and Democracy

Science should be governed by experts, however it is not entirely due to the high demand of intellectual capacity. Experts in the field of science are trained in their specific area of study. It would not make sense for someone with no knowledge of biology to be in charge of a biology lab, for instance. These experts may be highly intelligent, however they will be governing their own fields simply because of their knowledge of the material, as well as ability to perform in research in efficient ways.

Science for the People is an idea that suggests that scientists should perform studies with the intention of bettering society. An example of this is testing the air quality in a city or town, then coming up with different methods for helping to fix the problem of air pollution. This is truly Science for the People, because the main goal of the study is to better the people in the community, both scientists and non-scientists alike. I agree with the general direction of making science useful and accessible for everyday people’s concerns. When practicing science, one must produce a hypothesis and then perform experiments in an attempt to accept or refute their hypothesis. If the hypothesis is refuted, then the scientist must go back and review the experiment, performing it again with the intention of getting different or better data.

The experiments performed can affect many more people than just the lab group. There are countless scientists all over the world who are currently partaking in ground-breaking research to solve problems of today’s world. Cancer research, space travel and Martian planning, and cleaner and more efficient sources of energy are all examples of research being performed that will largely beneficial to the general population. If the scientists studying these topics were to never share their findings or research with the public, then everything they just worked for would go to waste. It is by sharing their findings that scientists are able to become successful in their fields, as well as helpful in saving money, our future, or even human lives.

Mertonian Norms Of Science

As Robert Merton discusses in “The Sociology of Science”, the Mertonian norms of science are communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism. Merton believes these four norms of science are influenced by society and play out in the consciousness of scientists. The concept of universalism and communism apply in most fields of science: genomics, Newtonian physics, or Darwinian Evolution is shared knowledge across nations, race, and class divides and seen as common “heritage”(1) or introductory concepts before more advanced study.  Disinterestedness and organized skepticism also traits shared by most scientists. For example, Galileo and Einstein both challenged and redefined commonly held scientific notions of the universe during their time and created lasting impacts in their fields. As a science major, the four Mertonian norms deeply resonated with my experiences.

In theory, all four Mertonian norms have a role in the study of computer science and physics. Most computer science curriculums contain the work of research done across several decades, which is similar to how knowledge is shared in Mertonian communism. Computer science is still a relatively new field compared to physics so its growth is accelerated with the growing open-source software, which is a term used to describe software whose code is openly shared. Anyone from any background should be able to access open-source software; this is a form of universalism. Physics also shares traits of universalism: the laws of physics taught in one country should not differ much from another country. Physics also exhibits Mertonian communism: most introductory courses contain knowledge shared and passed down from centuries ago like Newton’s Law of Motion. Both fields also exhibit organized skepticism because in order to conduct research, it is necessary for “the temporary suspension of judgement and the detached scrutiny of beliefs in terms of empirical and logical criteria”.(1) For the purpose of research, scientists in both fields must consider “potentialities”(1) to the extreme and suppress most of their socially accepted beliefs. In the case of Nicolaus Copernicus, for example, he disproved a commonly held notion of geocentrism or the earth being the center of the universe. In general, scientists exhibit a sense of disinterestedness or being able to juggle the fine line between their research interests and rigorous policing by society.  

Merton’s description of the four norms of science resonated with my experiences as a science major. When learning the fundamentals of a field in science, a student must retain a high degree of objectivity. There may be thousands of years of accumulated knowledge in subjects like math and only several decades worth of knowledge in subjects like computer science.  Scientist also have to carefully consider how their research might challenge established notions of the universe. It seems necessary that most science disciplines reflect the four norms of science in order to further the advancement of that field.

(1) Robert K Merton (1973) [1942], “The Normative Structure of Science”

Governing Science

The governing of science is a delicate topic as many of its subjects require a high intellectual understanding of the intricacies of each individual subject that fall under the large umbrella of science.  However, there needs to be a bridge built between those who can fully understand certain sectors of science and those whose lives science is affecting, general society.

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Science and Democracy

In this weeks lecture, we learned how two very different entities, science and democracy, are, in fact, related. The manner in which a government rules its people can affect how, in that country, scientific processes are carried out. For example, in communist China, the party enforces the sharing of ideas, and inclusion of the masses when conducting experiments. While, in a democracy those strict guidelines do not exist, and intellectuals tend to be profit driven, fame driven or, knowledge driven.

These differences in regimes present different challenges in making scientific advancements. In a communist state, the obligation to involve many people means that not everybody participating in the scientific process will be qualified. For example, in lecture, my group discussed how a geoscientist would conduct research regarding animals and earthquakes. We concluded that in a communist state the geoscientist might have to reach out to village peasants who owned livestock, and rely on these townspeople to provide important observations. The problem with this, is that the peasants likely don’t have a background in science and the geoscientist might receive inaccurate information from them.

On the other hand, in a democracy, there are also political factors that limit scientific advancement. There is a lot of prestige surrounding the field of science, and as a result there is money to be made and fame to be acquired. This leads to the opposite challenge faced in the communist society. Instead of involving too many people, in some cases not enough individuals are involved in important scientific processes. Including additional intellects in one’s studies, could mean that they take from the potential profit and potential glory.

Although science and politics seem like very separate ideas, after looking deeper it becomes clear that they are deeply related. The structure of a government can greatly impact the productivity of scientific achievement.

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