Science's role in society

Patricia S. Bowne pbowne at
Wed Aug 2 16:40:43 EST 1995

I'd like to try and start a new thread. This fall I'll be teaching a senior
seminar on Philosophy of Science, and the last unit in it will be Science and
Society. We'll go over things like the structure of funding, etc., but what I
really want to get into - here and in the seminar - is, what _should_
scientists' roles be in the community? 

Is science just a 'hired-gun' profession - do we just work for whoever can
afford us? Or do we have the responsibility to judge the social merit of the
research we embark on? Do we have the _right_ to judge the social merit of
research society (or industry) has already deemed worthy of funding? Do any of
us, or do any of our employers, perform _pro bono_ science, the way lawyers
put in volunteer hours for the poor? Should we? Should big scientific
organizations like AAAS be funding that sort of research?

This isn't all theoretical - in the Chronicle of higher Education last spring,
there was a report on "Science Shops" run by universities, I believe in the
Netherlands, where groups which needed research but couldn't afford it could
have said research done by faculty and students. I wonder how much of the
current social critique of science which I run into (for example the feminist
critique) has its real roots in the fact that science is the property of the
people who can pay for it, at least here in the US. Would a system like the
"Science Shops" one help reduce some of these tensions, and (re?)connect
scientists with their communities?

I'd like to hear ideas, comments, information - hope at least someone finds
this thread interesting enough to pursue. - Pat Bowne

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