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Friday, March 27, 2009

Scientists

Who are the scientists of today? Where do they work? What motivates them?


Recently academia and industry as scientific work environments have converged in all sorts of ways. At the same time, these ties and convergences have elicited diverse reactions from within the scientific community: Just as there are scientists wholly comfortable doing their work in industry, there are others who take the responsibility of defending scientific integrity and who seek to foreground commercial bias or government interference as public issues.


It was not always this way. In the 19th and 20th centuries, science was typically more of an avocation than a job. In the 17th century, the great chemist Robert Boyle not only financed his science but also believed that doing science as a "trade" was demeaning. Newton, as professor of mathematics at Cambridge, was not paid to do research but to teach. Darwin, was never paid to do science. Although many scientific researchers were in academic employment, before the 20th century, the job of a science professor was not to produce new knowledge but to transmit it.


The transformation of science from a calling to a job happened mainly in the past century and with the advent of the Bomb, almost all scientists began to appear as sources of power. Also

the dissolution of boundaries between academia and industry has given enormous strength to modern American 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.


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 progress.

2 comments:

•Laura Avellaneda• said...

I'd like to know why you write all in english...

Mariana Soffer said...

Because:
1. One of the two people who read it does only speak English.
2. I am trying to relate to the foreign people I am interested in.
3. I do not like the way my words sound in Spanish.