Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Evolution of modern science

In recent times, and especially over the past quarter century:the following trends emerged:
1. Scientific integrity has become a live issue in public culture.
2. Academia and industry as scientific work environments have converged in all sorts of ways.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, doing science was typically more of an avocation than a job. In the 17th century, the great chemist R. Boyle not only financed his science out of his own pockets but also shared a common view that doing science as a "trade" was demeaning. Anyone who accepted money to pursue knowledge would compromise their integrity. Newton, as professor of mathematics at Cambridge, was not paid to do physical or mathematical research but to teach. The 19th century's most famous scientist, Charles Darwin, was never paid to do science. Einstein's three great papers of 1905 were not part of his job specifications. True, over the course of history,
many scientific researchers were in academic employment, but with few exceptions, before the 20th century, the job of a science professor was not to produce new knowledge but to transmit and safeguard the existing one.

The transformation of science from a calling to a job happened during the course of the past century. Indeed, science is arguably the world's youngest profession: The routinization of the paid role is less than a hundred years old; the word "scientist," coined in 1840, was not in standard usage until the early 20th century. Actually almost no one agrees with boyle in that "taking
money to do science will compromise it's integrity"..

The "engineers" and the enterprising scientists whose discoveries can be turned to cures,
power, and, of course, profit are become the most prestigious sort of practitioner, the contemporary culture heroes.

The dissolution of boundaries between academia and industry has given enormous strength to modern science: resources to do what scientists want to do, time to do it, and the reputation that comes from aligning science with the concrete goods — better communications, better health and more energy-efficient products. And if the scientists inhabiting such institutions can now make a good living that too augments the value that our sort of society grants to science.

As we enter the 21st century, new institutional configurations for doing science emerge, together with new scientific agendas and new conceptions of what it is to be a scientist. Some participants and observers of the scene celebrate these changes; others are seriously worried about them. We can be sure of only one thing: The identity of the modern scientist is, in every possible sense, a work in progres.

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