Conceptions of Science

  • J. M. Ziman
Conference paper
Part of the Institut für Höhere Studien — Institute for Advanced Studies IHS-Studies book series (INHSIAS)


In the past half century, science has moved from the periphery of social affairs into the centre. Public policies for research and development in basic science, and in a wide range of science-based technologies, are of perceptible weight in national and international politics. Technical experts with scientific qualifications have become major actors in public affairs. [1] Attitudes towards scientific innovations and their possible effects on the quality of life determine the fate of political parties and influence the direction of economic development in many countries. [2]


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  1. [1]
    Like many other statements in this paper, this scarcely needs to be backed up with a formal citation. A useful reference from the voluminous literature on this subject is Advice and Dissent: Scientists in the Political Arena by J. Primack and F. von Hippel (New York, 1974).Google Scholar
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    L. Winner, in Daedalus, 109, 121–136 (Winter 1980) makes the point by asking ‘Do Artifacts have Politics?’Google Scholar
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    J.M. Ziman, Minerva. 16, 4–19 (1978) ‘Solidarity within the Republic of Science’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    This was the underlying issue in the debates on planning and freedom in science — see, e.g. W. McGucken. Minerva, 16, 42–72 (1978) ‘On Freedom and Planning in Science: The Society for Freedom in Science, 1940–46’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    For comprehensive reviews of all these developments, see Science, Technology and Society: A Cross Disciplinary Perspective, edited by I. Spiegel-Rösing and D. de Solla Price (London: 1978).Google Scholar
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    This applies even to such high-brow publications as the issues of Daedalus devoted to ‘Limits of Scientific Inquiry’ (Spring 1978) and ‘Modern Technology: Problem or Opportunity’ (Winter 1980).Google Scholar
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    As, for example, between ‘Popperian’ and ‘Kuhnian’ views on scientific epistemology, or on the status of the ‘Mertonian norms’ in the internal sociology of science.Google Scholar
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    The importance of taking this comprehensive view in science education is emphasized in my forthcoming book Teaching and Learning about Science and Society (Cambridge University Press: to be published where many of the arguments of the present paper are set out at length.Google Scholar
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    This is the point of view adopted without question in most official publications, such as, for example, the various surveys of national research systems published by OECD.Google Scholar
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    As typified, for example, in the ‘Rothschild Report’ advocating reforms in the ‘Framework for Government Research and Development’ (London: HMSO Cmnd 4814, 1971), and in almost all the public debate that it occasioned.Google Scholar
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    This applies to almost all that is said about environmental protection, technology assessment, etc.Google Scholar
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    Including almost all those writing from a Marxist or neo-Marxist standpoint.Google Scholar
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    The standard historical cases are electromagnetism and nuclear physics.Google Scholar
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    Two of the most influential books in the recent swing away from epistemological positivism — The Logic of Scientific Discovery by K.R. Popper (English translation, London 1959) and Patterns of Discovery by N.R. Hanson (Cambridge, 1958) - indicate in their titles that they lie entirely within the framework of the ‘discovery’ model.Google Scholar
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    The more closely one investigates the psychological dimension in research, the larger loom the non-logical criteria discussed by G. Holton in Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought (Cambridge, Mass. 1973).Google Scholar
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    This case is discussed briefly in The Force of Knowledge by J.M. Ziman (Cambridge, 1976) pp 188–192.Google Scholar
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    A functional interpretation of these norms and institutions as a means of arriving freely at a rational consensus was put forward in Public Knowledge, by J.M. Ziman (Cambridge, 1968), following ideas from Personal Knowledge by M. Polanyi (London 1958).Google Scholar
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    Never more eloquently expressed than by Ludwik Fleck in his neglected masterpiece The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. (1955: English translation, Chicago 1979).Google Scholar
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    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by T.S. Kuhn (Chicago 1962).Google Scholar
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    Reliable Knowledge: an exploration of the grounds for belief in science by J.M. Ziman (Cambridge, 1978).Google Scholar
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    Communication in Science by A.J. Meadows (London, 1974).Google Scholar
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    Citation Indexing by E. Garfield (New York, 4979).Google Scholar
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    R.K. Merton, ibid, pp 439–459 ‘The Matthew Effect in Science’.Google Scholar
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    Despite all such endeavours, unpredictable accidents will always occur: see The Acceptability of Risks by the Council for Science and Society (London 1977)Google Scholar
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    Nowhere better stated than by M. Polanyi in Personal knowledge, and, more briefly in Minerva, 1, 53–73 (1962) ‘The Republic of Science: Its Political and Economic Theory’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    The political character of organized science is discussed in Science and Politics by J.-J. Salomon (London, 1973).Google Scholar
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    This is taken for granted in Scientific Productivity: The effectiveness of research groups in six countries, edited by F.M. Andrews (Cambridge, 1979) which reports the results of an immense sociological investigation, sponsored by UNESCO, covering a wide range of academic and industrial research.Google Scholar
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    The distinction between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ criteria of scientific choice is made by A. Weinberg in Reflections on Big Science (Cambridge, Mass. 1967).Google Scholar
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    And was largely respected even in countries, such as the Soviet Union, ruled by quite a different social philosophy — see, e.g. Soviet Science by Zh. A. Medvedev (New York, 1978).Google Scholar
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    See, for example, The Force of Knowledge, pp 210–239.Google Scholar
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    The implications of increasing instrumental sophistication are analysed by N. Rescher in Scientific Progress (Pittsburgh, 1978).Google Scholar
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    Science Development: The Building of Science in Less Developed Countries by M.J. Moravcsik (Bloomington Ind. 1975).Google Scholar
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    The important distinction between research and technical work is made by J.R. Ravetz in Scientific Knowledge and its Social Problems (Oxford, 1971).Google Scholar
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    Reliable Knowledge pp 60–64.Google Scholar
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    This convergence is not yet complete. The UNESCO project (note 30) began with the assumption that the social structure of research units was the same in all types of R and D: they were apparently slightly disconcerted to discover that there seem to be such typological distinctions between, say, academic and industrial research that ‘the possibility of identifying a single structural model capable of assisting science policy makers is . . . open to question’ (p.393). What is revealing is not the fact but the hypothesis that it disconfirmed.Google Scholar
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    J.M. Ziman, Minerva, 10, 384–388 (1972) ‘Can Scientific Knowledge be an Economic Category’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Most eloquently expressed by E. Shils, Minerva, 17, 129–177 (1979) ‘ “Render unto Caesar ...”. Government, Society and the Universities in their Reciprocal Rights and Duties’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Even in the Soviet Union, where the official philosophy is that all science is the instrument of the state, the Academy of Sciences is still allowed considerable autonomy in the lines of research to be pursued by basic scientists.Google Scholar
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    By thus referring to R and D systems in the plural, I avoid the implication that Science is a single social institution, and suggest rather that research is a characteristic social process that may manifest itself in a variety of distinct corporate forms.Google Scholar
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    The Force of Knowledge pp 146–179.Google Scholar
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    Characteristically, when Britain set out to produce nuclear weapons for itself, after the Second World War, one of the major components of the project, the Harwell laboratory, was established as near as possible on ‘academic’ lines — see Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy by M. Gowing (London, 1974).Google Scholar
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    The Force of Knowledge pp 180–209.Google Scholar
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    Deciding about Energy Policy by the Council for Science and Society (London, 1979).Google Scholar
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    Although the Royal Society stretches between these extremes, it is heavily weighted towards the more academic scientific disciplines. If it were to follow the U.S. example and set up a separate ‘National Academy of Engineering’, this would not be because science and technology had drifted further apart but because this traditional institution could not accommodate itself to the shift of science towards greater involvement in technology in recent decades.Google Scholar
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    This may be verified by a glance at almost any programme of ‘Science Policy Research’.Google Scholar
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    see e.g. The Sources of Invention by J. Jewkes et al. (London, 1969) Wealth from Knowledge by J. Langrish et al (London, 1972).Google Scholar
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    A recent collection of typical papers on such matters is to be found in Theory of Knowledge and Science Policy edited by W. Callebaut, M. de Mey, R. Pinxten and F. Vandamme (Ghent, 1979).Google Scholar
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    The Patchwork Mouse by J. Hixson (New York, 1976).Google Scholar
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    I have not yet found a satisfactory analytical account of this subject, on which there is, of course, a vast bulk of primary material in the form of government reports and journalistic commentaries. Perhaps the main reason why such an account has not yet been written is that it would need these new conceptions of Science to make sense!Google Scholar
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    J.M. Ziman, Atevv Scientist, 21 Sept. 1978, 650–651 ‘Research as if relevance matters.’Google Scholar
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    Scholarly Freedom and Human Rights by the Council for Science and Society and the British Institute of Human Rights (London, 1977).Google Scholar
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    The historical realities of transnational science are detailed in Les Scientifiques et la Paix, by B. Schroeder-Gudhus.Google Scholar
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    See, e.g. the presidential address to the American Physical Society by L.M. Branscomb, Physics Today, April 1980, 42–50.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. M. Ziman
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of Social and Economic StudiesImperial College of Science and TechnologyGB-LondonUK

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