Disservice to Science & Technology @ProfLisaJardine @alicebell

Lisa Jardine tweeted a link to this piece by Alice Bell, on BP funding of the International Centre for Advanced materials with the comment “More please.”

In so far as the emphasised conclusion is not to simply object to, or place demands on, industrial funding of “science”, but that the public debate should aim to  ask questions, I’d wholeheartedly agree.

But it raises two issues for me, about the questions that need to be asked.

One is that science itself should also remember that it’s main job is to ask questions.

Technology or applied science, unlike science itself, concerned with applications of sufficient potential value to attract industrial funding. Still research, still risk money, but quite different to science research. One may have ethical doubts as to “strings attached” to research funding for science itself, though clearly it does happen successfully, and clearly the funding and activity of the technology also supports the activities of science too, but it’s important to notice the distinction.

Science’s job is to ask the questions of knowledge quite independent of their potential for technology applications.

Secondly, the piece, like the research centre and its funding, concerns science & technology, but conveniently uses the topic “science”. Blurred for easy reading and digestion, and of course, blurring to ease the spin-off funding into science itself. But this is part of a trend of privileging the position of science in society, treating science as the catch-all, the superset of all things, to which science relates – which is most things one way or another. Science is science, and applied science or technology is both science and its application. Application of science is neither science nor a subset of science. Application involves many more human values than are found in your science.

Constantly blurring this important distinction – science over-reaching its remit – is one source of the interminable science vs dogma wars, where many supporters of science do science a disservice, by ignoring values between the dogmatic extremes.

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