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Science and Society

By nisreen Nov 02, 2008 1176 Words
It has been argued in this course that science is a social process. Do you agree?

Introduction:

The most widely used definition of social process states that “social process is a process involved in the formation of groups of persons”. Furthermore, referring to civilisation, social process is defined as “the social process whereby societies achieve an advanced stage of development and organisation”. (WordNet – Online dictionary definition) (1). This paper looks at how science has become part of this process and examines how it has achieved so, in terms of certain distinct perspectives.

How society is changing:

Within science, scientists formulate laws and applications that continually adapt to sociocultural changes and account for observations. Inventors on the other hand, create new technology in order to accomplish practical goals. Historical precedent proclaims that significant social changes have come about during periods where relations between human formations and technology have been remodelled. Adopting new technology eventually leads to social balance of power through economic relationships and therefore social change. Cynthia Cockburn in particular, is an author distinctly aware of the dependency between technology and society and in her 1983 article 'Caught in the wheels' ( Donald MacKenzie (Editor), Judy Wajcman (Editor), 1999, p.126 ) she stresses the growing engagement of feminism and technology. It soon becomes apparent that science, society and technology, are all closely linked. This is strikingly evident in today's society, which has without a doubt changed dramatically and continues to be an ever alternating phenomenon. Fewer girls than boys take on science subjects at schools. This is due to an education structure that encourages girls to study arts and humanities and in turn, this gender stereotyping creates fallacious perceptions that science is an area suited better for boys. As Rossiter says, “Most [women] chose to enrol for courses on cookery, sewing, and the household arts.” (Rossiter, 1980, p.393 ). The effect this has on the number of women deciding to take on science subjects upon entering university has caused unassertiveness in young women seeking to offer their unique values in this male dominated world. Of course, other factors, include women finding it extremely challenging to balance the responsibilities of a family parallel to a career. In today’s society however, this appears to be a small deterrent as official figures reveal that birth rate in the UK is down to an all time low. BBC News reports that “the average number of children per woman is just 1.64 .. women are waiting on average until the age of 27 before starting a family” (2). This occurrence is owed to the increasing number of women opting for careers and is evidence of how remarkably society is changing.

Until recently, to a large extent, the field of science has been a male dominant environment. The feminist movement reaches far back before the 18th century but is generally said to have begun in the 19th century. The first Women’s Rights Convention took place at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848 and it is interesting to note the critical rise in the number of women in science since (Graph 1). In her article "Women's Work in Science”, (1880- 1910), Rossiter discusses the changing structure of scientific work 1880s onwards, providing new opportunities for entering women and concludes that a woman's “experience in science...promises to add a new dimension to our knowledge of the development of scientific employment, especially its professionalization... “ and that “A pattern had been set for the twentieth century” (Rossiter, 1980, p.398 ). Indeed, this is certainly the case, as of 2007, Female Nobel Prize laureates are responsible for 35 prizes awarded, all of which have taken place in the 20th century (3).

(Source: “Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopaedia” )
Schaffer's article “glass works: newton's prisms and the uses of experiment” (1989) offers a great insight to the role that scientific instruments played in

the experimental process, how they were adjusted to meet scientists needs, and the way in which they were deployed in order to gain authority in the concept of application. In the article, Newton uses optical prisms and receives a large amount of criticism on the methodology followed to carry out his experiments. The conceptual controversies that arose between critics were down to his instructions proving to be inadequately detailed.

In his later work, Newton begun to specify more detailed instructions and with time started paying greater attention to technical work, design and improvement of prisms. Newton became aware that in order to gain authority from opposing critics he would need to depend on turning his optical prisms into accurate and sophisticated instruments, therefore reconstructing his experiments. In the words of Schaffer “This implies that the provenance of Newton’s own instruments is an important factor.” (Schaffer, 1989, p.78). This makes sense of course because up until then his trials seemed to appear insignificant and unreliable in terms of the experiment being able to be reproduced under different sets of circumstances. It is through the use of more advanced tools that his experiments were helped separated from assumptious theories and presented as clear and concrete evidence. In the end, any scientists/critics who reported different sets of data while carrying out Newtons trials, were assumed to use defective instruments and were automatically dismissed; Newton had succeeded in gaining authority within his field. Our transitional society has seen plentiful advances in the field of science through change in scientific knowledge. Experiments have always been a vital ingredient in scientific research and progression. Moreover, the tools used in experimentation have seen significant improvement and its this constant seeking of adjustment and adaptation to better suit scientific needs that technological progression is all about. Science is responsible for for reforming society, however, it owes its very progression to social change which has been accomplished through technological advancement and use of new technology.

Conclusion:

The findings of this paper reveal the effects science has witnessed as a result to changes in society. It would make sense to think of knowledge as a cultural process. As we begin the 21st century entering an era of technology and information, scientific research remains an evolving process and as a result we have reached a new society of knowledge by accentuating the process of discovery, communication, advancement in scientific instruments, and the transformation of research systems/groups. This process is cultural and social in nature and it's through social evolution that all this has become possible.

Notes:
(1)http://www.thefreedictionary.com/social+process
(2)http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2570503.stm
(3)http://www.wikipedia.org/
References:
Donald MacKenzie (Editor), Judy Wajcman (Editor), ‘The Social Shaping Of Technology’, (Paperback), First Published 1985, Second Edition (Jun., 1999) Margaret W. Rossiter, "Women's Work" in Science, 1880-1910, Isis, Vol. 71, No. 3. (Sep., 1980), pp. 381-398.

S. Schaffer, 'Glass works: Newton’s prisms and the uses of experiment'. In D. Gooding; T. Pinch & S. Schaffer, eds. <i>The Uses of Experiment: studies in the natural sciences </i>. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989 5

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