Relationship Between Technology And Pure Sciece
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Relationship Between Technology And Pure Sciece

Science and Technology

The tremendous advances in pure science and technology during the last century have completely changed the relation between science and society. Science through technology has brought great improvements in the quality of human life.

Today we live with more freedom, power and knowledge than our ancestors could dream of. However, science and technology have also contributed to the pollution of the environment, global warming, and the development of nuclear weapons which threaten the very survival of the human species.

But what exactly is the relationship between science and technology? Can science be said to be ethically neutral? These are some of the questions that we will attempt to answer in this lecture.

Pure sciences

They are concerned with the discovery of natural laws and the description of nature, and nothing else.

Immediate practical results are only of minor importance to the pure scientist Technology, on the other hand, is doing something with one’s physical environment. It is a practical endeavor, one of altering the world rather than of understanding it.

Thus while science produces knowledge; technology helps to produce wealth. The goal of technology is the creation of artifacts and systems to meet people’s needs. It aims at providing material objects for human sustenance and comfort.

The practical usefulness of technology is evident. It is through technology that our living today is so much more comfortable than it was in the past.

Technology can use scientific knowledge and, in this sense, can be applied science. Indeed, much of today’s technology is science based and this has led some commentators to describe ‘technology as a parasite that lives on the findings of pure science’.

However, the intimate relationship which science today enjoys with technology is a much more recent thing. Technological change has generally been derived empirically, simply by trial and error.

The invention of the wheel and the windmill and the production of most weapons including gunpowder, do not owe their origins to laboratory work.

In fact, contrary to popular belief, the industrial revolution was not based on science; and James Watt’s steam engine preceded rather than followed any improved understanding of the laws of thermodynamics.

As Sergio Sismondo aptly puts it: ‘science owes more to the steam engine than the steam engine owes to science’ . Similarly, the invention of the aircraft promoted rather than followed the science aerodynamics.

By contrast, chemical, electrical and nuclear technologies are profoundly dependent upon science, and most inventions in these fields are made by people with considerable interest in science.

Science and technology reinforce each other. Their relationship is symbiotic. Technology is dependent upon science for knowledge of the properties of materials, for predicting the behavior of natural forces and for opening up new areas of technology.

Indeed, science serves as a direct source of ideas for new technological possibilities.


It is dependent upon technology for its tools and instruments, for the storage and dissemination of information and for the stimulation of further research.

Indeed, technology has played a crucial role in making it possible to measure natural phenomena that were not previously accessible to research. Advances in technology have revolutionized the sciences of cosmology, astrophysics and fundamental particle physics.

The difference in the basic motives of science and of technology results in practical differences in the presentation of results in the two fields.

In scientific work, the knowledge acquired is the important product, consequently the scientist endeavors to impart this knowledge to others engaged in similar work, by means of publication in journals and by means of oral presentations in meetings of scientists.

Technological development

This generally results in new or improved products of some sort, so the results of technological work are kept secret until a legal claim to ownership can be established by means of patent applications.

A patent is a government authority to manufacture something invented and to protect it from imitation. Thus widespread and rapid publication of results is sought in science, whereas secrecy is sought in technology. This is not to say that there is no technological literature, but that the literature that exists serves a different purpose, namely, boasting and heroics.

The technologist is not communicating knowledge openly but is often concealing knowledge in order to gain commercial advantage over his/her competitor.

Can there be any justification for the expenditure of large sums of money for work in pure science, that is, for work that is directed toward gaining increased or refined knowledge without any immediate practical application? Should poor countries such as Kenya fund research in pure science?

If we look at the many reports and surveys of science policy to see why we should support basic research (i.e. pure science), the first lesson is that it is an investment in the future. As the saying goes ‘today’s science is tomorrow’s technology.’

The point has often been made that pure scientific knowledge is one of the raw materials needed for technological advance, and therefore the storehouse of such knowledge should continuously be replenished and increased.

This is a plausible explanation and numerous examples can be cited to illustrate the technological usefulness of scientific knowledge that is first gained or developed without any specific expectation of the applications that eventually arise.

Relationship between Science and Technology

  • Michael Faraday, for example, reported on the laws of magnetic induction in 1832 but it was not until 1885 that the first electromagnetic generator was built.
  • Lord Rutherford, on the other hand, was fond of saying that his work on the structure of the atom in the 1920s was completely useless, and yet the first atomic reactor was operated in 1942. It is important to note that the magnitude of the time lag between the establishing of scientific knowledge and its technological application is decreasing.

Many economists have argued that governments must support pure science because the free market will always fail to support it adequately. Hence, in a welfare economy, it is argued, government has a responsibility to fill the gap between the level of basic research that the market will support and the level that is socially desirable.

Indeed, if all scientists were to forsake pure science and interest themselves only in technology, progress would quickly come to a halt. Progress demands a continued study of pure science.

Many countries have realized that without their own indigenous basic research their technology eventually will become out of date. Furthermore, countries with advanced technology are not always willing to export their ideas to their competitors.

Let us now to the question of values as they relate to both science and technology. Over the years, critics of science have drawn attention to the benefits as well as the dangers of pure scientific knowledge.

In some quarters, there is a feeling that science has gone out control and that scientists are playing God by meddling with nature.

There are apocalyptic predictions about the harmful effects of cloning, genetically modified foods and the threat of a nuclear war. The question we want to address is this: Is science good or bad or is it ethically neutral?

Before attempting to answer this question, we must clearly distinguish between science proper and the applications to which science is put.

Science is knowledge; it aims at arriving at the truth. To the extent that truth and knowledge of truth are good, science is good.

In general, however, it seems to be more reasonable to consider that pure scientific knowledge and, indeed all knowledge, is ethically neutral rather than either good or bad.

  • The law of gravitation
  • The Newtonian laws of motion
  • The periodic relationships of the chemical and physical properties of elements
  • The chemical structure of the DNA and Einstein’s well-known equation E=MC2 are certainly neither good nor bad. They are ethically neutral.

However, when we consider the applications to which scientific knowledge is put we clearly do encounter ethical considerations.

Indeed, it has long been recognized that scientific knowledge, however ‘pure’ at the time of discovery can, in the hands of others, be a power for evil.

Knowledge of the chemical and physical aspects of the reaction, by which trinitrotoluene (TNT) decomposes, for example, is intrinsically neither good nor bad.

Nevertheless, the application of this knowledge in the manufacture and use of TNT explosives may be either good or bad, depending upon whether the explosive is used in a legitimate manufacturing operation or in a criminal act.

Street Talk

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