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Entry 376, on 2006-08-05 at 16:46:24 (Rating 3, Science)

This morning I listened to an interview with a distinguished scientist regarding attitudes to science (amongst other related topics). He argued that science is always good, and that it is just the application of it which can be bad. Science is all about increasing knowledge, which is always positive. If politicians, business people, and technologists misuse that knowledge its not a problem with science.

Of course, this is circular argument to some extent: progress (which s good) is the result of science, science is something which creates progress. If its not good, its not progress, so its not science. Its possible to argue this point but I think we know beneath this superficial argument that science, and progress, really is good.

I can't think of any situation where science itself has resulted in a bad outcome. Science discovered the principles behind the atom bomb, but politicians dropped it on Japan. Of course you could argue that scientists should have known their work would result in a horrible deaths for hundreds of thousands, but at least this isolates them from the immediate consequences.

A major concern was how basic research is being neglected in preference for research which can be exploited commercially. Its easy to see why many organisations would prefer to research new commercial products and get immediate profit from their work, but the most important work is usually more fundamental and doesn't result in short term profit, or even in any financial benefit at all.

For example, did the discovery of quantum theory result in commercial gain? No, but it is the basis of most of modern electronics. The commercial system just isn't fair. If we are going to stick with it we must have an alternative funding system for the really important stuff. And that system shouldn't be interfered with my commercial organisations of politicians. For example, Bush shouldn't be dictating whether science can do stem cell research or not.

Maybe things will improve. We are probably at a low point right now, with Bush as president of the US. When he's finally gone we might get more sensible policies, but if the religious right and other crazy factions have their way things might get even worse!


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