Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Contradictions in Public Attitudes Towards Science

Is anyone else concerned with the apparent contradictions in the list of public attitudes from the Third Report of the House of Lord's Select Committee on Science and Society?

I often wonder if we don't do science a disservice by "selling" and "promoting" science with its many applications.   On the one hand, society wants to have a clear understanding of the value of basic research.  Science needs to have a clear purpose in the public's view to justify the expense and attention it demands.  Yet, at the same time, the closer basic science moves towards applications, we sacrifice scientific independence, objectivity.  To be sure, the benefits of technology accrue to science;  but, on the other hand, so do the costs.  That public funds are being used to foster innovation and stimulate the private technology economy is both good and bad.

One solution is to return to a view of science as inquiry, exploration, discovery for it's own sake, a kind of spiritual quest.  I am not suggesting that we stop connecting basic science, applied science and engineering...  on the contrary.  I am, however, thinking about how we can balance the message and appeal to the segement of society which has a genuine interest, a curiosity about the world we live in.

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