Science and Society

I think science plays many roles in society. It serves as a driving force of progress, but can also obstruct it. I would say it is one of the better manifestations of humankind’s curiosity, but curiosity can kill the cat. Science shapes society; new inventions and processes can lead to rapid modernization. Without the science to build robust infrastructure, a country may lag behind in the development race. Without science, first world countries would lack many of the medical advances that they take for granted.

Science can have tremendous positive impacts on a society. But science can be used to “prove” bogus claims–examples include rationalizing racism, promoting homophobic ideas, and stigmatizing certain mental illnesses. In this way science can perpetuate lies or immoral ideas. Facts are usually indisputable, but in the wrong hands they can be twisted. Science then influences policies and in a sort of trickle-down-effect, influences the society. In Marlene Zuk’s video, she touches on this idea. Science uses model systems, and Zuk asserts that the male is used as the model system for most things in society. “Males are the norm, and females are variants.” This idea may keep people from seeing the reality that is presented–Zuk’s example of the Greeks who were unable to come to terms with the idea that drone bees are female. This idea may have just arisen out of patriarchal societies and not science itself, but if science adopts it, and further reinforces it, then it is a kind of positive feedback loop.

One of the most important roles that science plays in society is informing the public. It is important that science pushes progress, but nothing will come of it if all of the discoveries are kept among the scientists themselves. If the discovery has a chance at improving the lives of many, then I believe that the lab or scientist that found it have an obligation to tell the public, or at least get their results to someone who can. I do not think the general public deserves to live in ignorance, and it is the public (often) that funds science (government grants are paid for by taxes), so it should benefit in some way.

The line can get more blurred when the discovery in question is not just something that has a positive impact for all involved ie the atomic bomb (or really any type of war-science discovery). In that case, I think then other factors must be considered. It would not exactly be the best idea to broadcast to the world that a country has developed nuclear weapons, or figured out how to make a new weapon for bio terrorism. This same type of questioning comes into play when gains are made in the field of genetics. It was brought up in Juan Enriquez’s TED Talk. Just because science has the means to manipulate genes and modify humans, does not mean it needs to, or that regular citizens should all line up to engineer themselves. Simplifying the science behind things like CRISPR can lead to the public forming mis-informed ideas and opinions.

The public should be informed about scientific discoveries, but this can go awry if the facts are not straight or over-simplified.

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