Society and Science

Society and science often work together to mandate many of the nuances of human life but also occasionally act as opposing forces. This dichotomy inadvertently shapes the world we live in.  

Many societal developments can be attributed to the successful union between science and society. For example, in 1854 there was a large cholera outbreak in Soho a section of the City of Westminster in London. At that point the germ theory of disease was non-existent and people assumed that most infectious diseases spread via ‘bad air’ or miasma. A man named John Snow eventually proved that the disease was not spread by air, instead traced the roots back to an infected water pump. He used basic statistics to prove that the areas of the city with high concentrations of cholera outbreaks correlated to water from the Thames. Unfortunately, John found that despite the government changing the pump, they refused to acknowledge the true problem in the river. It wasn’t till the Great Stink of 1858 when the government finally created a new sewage system but only after a bombardment of political propaganda and local complaint. By working together science and average people were able to make a large-scale change that is still present today. This example is a strong representation of how society could improve when aligned to developments in science, together they can create macro level changes to improve the lives of many.

There are also times where science and society disagree, and this is where there becomes a gray zone. There are some social constructs that are put into question because of science and there isn’t a clear course of action. Both Alice Dreger and Marlene Zuk discussed the disagreement between science and society in regards to sex in their Ted Talks. By compartmentalizing the world, society inhibits fluctuation that biologists recognize. Dreger describes our situation, where “the farther our science goes, the more we have to admit to ourselves that these categories that we thought of as stable…are a lot more fuzzy than we thought” Dreger agrees that having this grey zone is uncomfortable but she also recognizes it’s necessity in progressing into a more accepting culture. Society also disagrees with science when there is a greater gain than loss. Since the 1970s, scientists have been at war with the US government about climate change. Though the government (sometimes) recognize the negative implications of global warming, no actions are taken to lower greenhouse gas emissions because of monetary gain.

Whether science and society agree or disagree, the impact is present within our culture and attitudes. Really science is only effective when society accepts it, and society is only effective when science accepts it. 

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