Understanding the History of Science and Technology
Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences,
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
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The Values of Scientists and Technologists
- Philosophy and theology = knowing why (purpose). The study of purpose in philosophy is called teleology.
- Science = knowing why (causes of events) = knowing how (mechanisms)
- Technology = knowing how (to do things)
Science and Technology can exist separate from one another
Scientists and Technologists have all the value drives of normal
Some Values of Scientists
- Being allowed to work in science
- "Ethical Neutrality" - findings should not be tailored to
fit a particular value system
Intellectual Integrity and Methodology
- Confirmation, repeatability
- Reduction, isolation, superposition, idealization
- Conceptual precision
- Symbolic thinking, mathematics, analogy
- Empiricism, positivism
- Caution about claims of absolute truth
- Ingenuity, conciseness, elegance
- Value of past achievements of science
- Value of facts per se (the fact that light travels 298,000
km/sec is a harder-achieved victory than the fact that
George Washington was born in 1732.)
Social Interactions as Scientists
- Chance to contribute, prestige, relevance
- Scientists invest time the way financiers invest money--for return. They tend to attack problems that they believe they can solve and that will advance their careers.
- Professional ethics
- Acknowledge work of others
- Courtesy even in controversy or dispute
- Faking results, if exposed, will usually wreck a career
- There is some "fudging": omitting suspected wrong results or glossing over anomalies. The line between responsible judgement of when data is bad and faking results can be fuzzy.
Some Values of Technologists
- For the most part, technologists and scientists share a lot of core values.
- Sometimes fascination with complexity or bigness
- Sometimes an inferiority complex with regard to science
- Technical competence
- Professional advancement
Values of Science and Technology; Change with Time and Culture
- Growth of "Big Science"
- Growing dependence on government support
- Publish or perish
Science, Technology and the Public
- Feeling of impotence--technology out of control
- Cognitive dissonance--math and science anxiety
- The appeal of pseudoscience
- Unreasonable expectations
- Technology will bring the "good life"
- We can make value decisions "scientifically"
Problems and Pitfalls in the History of Technology
- Tendency to ignore the mundane
- Elitism, disdain for manual work
- Secrecy and isolation
- Destruction of documents
- Destruction of artifacts
- Uncertain dates, identification of persons, unclear descriptions
Uncertain Interpretation of Artifacts
- Purpose--may or may not have been practical
- How made? One way to answer is to reproduce it using ancient methods
Fallacies of Reasoning
- Determinism, linear view of history. Even people who think they're very sophisticated intellectually can fall into subtle variations of this. Two common contemporary examples:
- The "Voltairean Fallacy" - the end point of history is destined to be a liberal agnostic society. People who hold this view are often very perplexed by things like the growth of the Religious Right or the worldwide Islamic revival.
- "You can't turn back the clock"; that is, whatever the speaker endorses is the inevitable course of history and cannot be reversed. Reality: lots of societies have reversed course, not always with bad results.
- Post Hoc ergo Propter Hoc (after this, therefore because of this)
- Ethnocentrism: Western culture is the best, others are inferior
- Reverse ethnocentrism: Western culture is the cause of most of the world's problems
- "Chronocentrism": 20th Century values are superior to those of the past. What we prize as "tolerance" would have been seen by many throughout history as moral cowardice or laziness. What we call "valuing human life" would have been seen by many in the past as physical cowardice.
Lack of Consensus on Cause and Effect in many cases
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Created 27 Dec 1996, Last Update 27 August 1998
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