The chief aim of this volume is to examine some of the serious critiques of twentieth-century science, at least in the more industrialized countries, and to stimulate research into the significance of arguments made from both within and outside science. The debates concerning the legitimacy and utility of scientific endeavor impinge upon scientists from both sides, from their traditional "clients" no less than from their traditional critics. The possibility they have to face again, as in certain periods in the past, is that the bulk of criticisms is not simply the ephemeral reaction of isolated individuals or small groups to specific political and moral dilemmas, but that it may be the sign of a more basic discontent--possibly even a harbinger that our world view, which until recently has been generally supportive of science, may be about to turn, if scientists, educators, philosophers, and other scholars do not make a serious effort of understanding and wrestling with the legitimate core of the questions being raised today.
Another related issue is the extent and validity of the understanding of science, both research oriented and applied, by the public. (Perhaps the term "publics" would be more appropriate, since they are of many different kinds.) While many sections of the public would agree that science is an immensely successful and practical pursuit, as remarkable for the quality of its theoretical contributions as for its utility in a wide range of fields, the evidence of public ambivalence about science and technology are too numerous to ignore.
This ambivalence, again, is not characteristic only of our time or of any single country; hence it seemed to me necessary, in planning this volume, to recruit scholars from a wide variety of disciplines, and to encourage at least some of them to go considerably beyond a study of the situation in North America in the 1970's. Both the historical and the international dimensions of the volume are there by design, as is the wide range of sciences and technology being considered.
These motivations were incorporated into the commissioning letter to the authors, a portion of which will help readers to see what tone we hoped to set for our enterprise:
At least until recently, the relationship between man and nature which has evolved from modern science has been more or less tacitly understood (at least in the western world) in about the same way among those who have received any substantial education. Briefly, man has come to be seen as a part of nature (rather than, as before Darwin, outside and above nature), linked to and limited by nature is several ways: by his dependence upon the chemical, physical, and biological processes within and around him: by his historical, biological debt to the chain . . .