Linking Science and Social Issues

Science and the Scientific Method

A general introduction to what is "science" and "the scientific method." Many people do not understand the power and the limitations of science, a dangerous situation in a world increasingly dependent on its technological applications.Scientific subjects such as environmental problems, the energy crisis, AIDS, medicine, engineering, space exploration, etc. have become front-page news. What we do about the problems existing on our planet and the way we react to the new developments affects, like it or not, not only our personal lives but also everybody else on the planet. In that sense it is our duty to make sure we understand the problems and take a part in the efforts to solve them.

The following is a partial list of articles on the subject of this section, which also includes examples of the processes involved in specific scientific discoveries.


1) "A Method of Inquiry": George F. Kneller, 1978, in Science as a Human Endeavor (Columbia Univ. Press).
2) "The So-called Scientific Method": Henry H. Bauer, 1992, in Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method (Univ. of Illinois Press).
3) "On Scientific Method": Robert Pirsig, 1974, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (William Morrow & Co.).
4) "Can We Know the Universe?": Carl Sagan, 1979, in Broca's Brain (Random House).
5) "Science: Conjectures and Refutations": Karl Popper, 1962, in Conjectures and Refutations (Basic Books).
6) "Evolution as Fact and Theory": Stephen Jay Gould, 1983, in Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (W. W. Norton & Co.).
7) "Einstein: The Thinking That Led to the Theory of Relativity": Max Wertheimer, in Productive Thinking (HarperCollins Publisher).
8) "The Making of a Discovery": Anne Sayre, 1975, in Rosalind Franklin & DNA (W. W. Norton & Co.). [On the search of the structure of DNA.]
9) "Fission": Luis Alvarez, 1987, in Alvarez: Adventures of a Physicist (Basic Books). [On the discovery of nuclear fission and other breakthroughs in atomic physics.]
10) "A Feeling for the Organism": Evelyn Fox Keeler, 1984, in A Feeling for the Organism (W. H. Freeman & Co.). [On the life and work of Barbara McClintock.]
11) "The Germs of Dissent: Louis Pasteur and the Origins of Life": Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch, 1993, in The Golem: What Everyone Should Know About Science (Cambridge Univ. Press).

Science and Society

Many people believe that scientific research is a routine, cut-and-dried process, as objective and unambiguous as scientific results. They miss the fact that science is an intensely human process, full of human virtues and limitations, value-laden judgments, and personal desires, which nevertheless converts the work of individuals into the enduring edifice of scientific knowledge. The public must understand the choices that scientists make in their work as individuals, the ethics involved in reporting scientific results, and the social context in which personal and professional decisions are made.

The following is a partial list of articles and books addressing the issues mentioned above.


1) John Ziman, 1984: An Introduction to Science Studies: The Philosophical and Social Aspects of Science and Technology (Cambridge Univ. Press). [A broad overview of the philosophy, sociology, politics, and psychology of science.]
2) Rosemary Chalk (ed.), 1988: Science, Technology, and Society: Emerging Relationships (AAAS). [A collection of papers from Science magazine on ethics, scientific freedom, and social responsibility.]
3) Joel Primack and Frank von Hippel, 1974: Advice and Dissent: Scientists in the Political Arena (Basic Books). [Case studies of scientists interacting with the political process.]
4) John P. Dickinson, 1984: Science and Scientific Researchers in Modern Society (UNESCO). [A study commissioned by UNESCO on the relations between science and other intellectual and political activities.]