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NATS 1760 Intro Lecture

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Natural Science
NATS 1760
Vera Pavri

NATS 1760 Science, Technology and Society – Introductory Lecture Defining Science and Technology Term scientist only coined in 1840 Prior to this, term natural philosophy used According to the historian John Henry, natural philosophy can be defined as: “the attempt to understand and explain the workings of the natural world” Henry also points out that there are differences between what we considered science today and what was the study of natural philosophy because, “a number of aspects of our notion of science were not part of natural philosophy until the Scientific Revolution. In particular empirical and mathematical studies had to be shown to be relevant to and combined with traditional natural philosophy in the early modern period” While term technology can be found as early as 17 century, used to describe treatise or study of industrial (practical) arts Term technology only popularized after WWII prior to this, terms used were “practical arts,” “applied science” and “engineering” technology often equated with invention and creativity; science as process of discovery – what are some problems with this idea, especially in our modern age? breaking down term: teks is Indo-European root word meaning to fabricate or weave; in Greek, tekton refers to carpenter or builder and tekhne to art, craft or skill Re-examining the History of Science and Technology course surveys origins of modern science and technology from ancient civilizations to our present day in past, history of science and technology was usually about studying individuals whose knowledge, theories and ideas most closely resemble our understanding of science today- linear perspective leads to what is known as “great (often Western European) man’s history” this is a history of science and technology equated with geniuses whose findings have “revolutionized” the field problems with this concept include the fact that theories or ideas that do not mesh with this linear perspective are often ignored or dismissed also, the contributions of individuals and groups from other cultures have been largely neglected throughout history This course therefore aims to show that we can get a better understanding of how science and technology have developed if we: a. understand that social and cultural factors play a KEY role in the acceptance or rejection of new scientific discoveries b. realize that scientists themselves are not merely disinterested practitioners who seek “truth.” Rather, their social and cultural beliefs will often permeate what kinds of information they seek and the methods they use and how they interpret their findings c. acknowledge that while individual contributions are important, science has often been a collaborative enterprise and the very definition of what constitutes “good science” had undergone significant shifts over time d. understand that there have been limitations regarding who does science (and does not) and whose knowledge is considered valid or credible. This also has a direct impact on the historic relationship between practitioners of science and technology. f. take into account the particular social and institutional settings in which scientific and technological practice takes place Popular theories of Technological Development Re-examined and Critiqued in terms of history of technology, many popular theories have been offered to explain technological development these include theories such as: technological determinism and economic needs approach lets look at these theories and see what are some of the MAJOR PROBLEMS with them: A. Technological Determinism Technological determinism is a viewpoint that regards technology as the prime agent of social and organizational change Technology is seen as an independent entity that changes and shapes society. It is an “autonomous force” that once invented, appears to have a “life of its own.” Once an object is invented, this artifact then transforms society and the way humans interact with one another; central to this idea is that human agents have almost no control over a technology once it has been built Historian Heilbroner explains that determinism implies that technological change follows a roughly ordered sequence of development and imposes certain social and political characteristics upon the society in which it is found The idea that technology is the “cause” of social, political, economic and cultural change is the central element in determinist theories of technological change Technology is thus the “driving force of history” that can have a revolutionary impact on relatively passive societies Ideas of technological determinism are most pervasive in popular discourse According to historians Marx and Smith, “It is typified by sentences in which “technology,” or a surrogate like “the machine,” is made the subject of an active predicate: “The automobile created suburbia.” “The atomic bomb divested Congress of its power to declare war.” “The robots put the riveters out of work.” “The Pill produced a sexual revolution.” In each case a complex event is made to seem the inescapable yet strikingly plausible result of a technological innovation Ironically, what makes determinist accounts of technological change frightening is also what makes them appealing: while technologies may appear to be out of control, humans are in turn absolved of their own responsibilities regarding the impact of technological development technological determinists have been criticized for simplifying what is a far more complex relationship between society and technological change Theories such as the social construction of technology and the social shaping of technology have been developed to refute the notion of technological determinism (see below) Generally, these theorists argue that determinists place technology outside society, and neglect to account for the human factor in technological innovation Determinists fail to see technologies as part of a pattern of social and cultural use and by doing so absolve humans of their own responsibilities regarding the use of technologies. Technological determinism is also universalistic; it does not account for the fact that technological development, innovation and use varies within different groups and cultures. B. Necessity is the Mother of Invention economic approach to technological development whereby technologies are created according to the particular needs or wants of society; “necessity is the mother of invention” Assumption is that technological development follows a fixed one-way path and can be explained by referring to economic laws, etc... while this may be true for a certain category of invention, the major criticism of this idea is the assumption that the inventors of a technology actually know what their technology will be used for as we will see time and time again in this class, inventors of a technology may not actually know how users will respond to their technology; in many instances comparisons will often be made to older technologies leads to idea of UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES related to technological development In addition, human beings have a variety of needs, not all of them economic; people produce technologies for power, fame, honor, pride, fear, greed, curiosity, etc… economic necessity also does not explain technologies that are invented at one time, but are used at a later date example: windmills introduced into England around 1185 but spread only in 13 century after landowners thought they could be profitable venture instead of necessity as mother of invention, might be more prudent to argue that new inventions often create needs that must then be satisfied by new technologies C. Technology as Applied Science In the past history of technology was usually subsumed under histories of science or economics Technology as “applied science” refers to idea that technology is driven by scientific discoveries While this might be true to some extent in the modern era, prior to the 20 century science and technology done by different sets of people with different norms and values within their established communities examples: Industrial Revolution – inventions such as textile machines, steam engines, railways had little scientific knowledge behind them today, the debate still continues as to whether modern technology heavily relies on scientific knowledge project Hindsight – 1960’s – Department of Defense – looked at development of military defense system researchers found 0.3% events relied on scientific; 90% had technical origin; 8% applied science project Traces – National Science Foundation – contraceptives, electron microscope, VCR’s all rooted in basic scientific research while this debate may appear to be purely philosophical, it can major implications in areas like government funding and public policy What are some popular theories that attempt to understand the relationship between technology and society today? A. The Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) Theory the social construction of technology program is best known through the works of Trevor Pinch and Wiebe Bijker, whose approach is based in part on the sociology of scientific knowledge Pinch and Bijker propose that technological artifacts are constructed by social forces, and offer a multidirectional model as to how technologies are developed they question is why some variants of a technology die while others flourish The social construction of technology theory involves three components: interpretive flexibility, stabilization and closure, and the social, cultural and political milieu in which technological development occurs Pinch and Bijker argue that since technological artifacts are socially constructed, they can be interpreted in different ways by different groups, and therefore there is flexibility in how these technologies are designed: “Different interpretations by social groups of the content of artifacts lead by means of different chains of p
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