Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Science to What Purpose?

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Science to What Purpose?

Article excerpt

Are the welfare and interests of the public being served by the priorities of researchers, the thrust of their work, the ways in which they are organized, the funding they receive, and the circulation of their findings?

Science reigns triumphant. Never has it been so powerful and influential. It has conquered diseases which have decimated whole populations. It has abolished exhausting physical labour and wearisome repetitive tasks. It has vanquished distance and pushed back the frontiers of our knowledge of the infinitely large and the infinitely small, in both the inanimate and the living world.

In short, it has acquired the ability to shape our lives, to change life itself. But it has also increased its capacity to destroy life. The strength of an army can rest on the number and determination of its combatants but it is also, and chiefly, based on the technological sophistication of their weaponry. The bombing of Iraq, and now of Serbia, are the latest examples.

Yet science is wavering. For the first time since the Enlightenment, the way science can be used is being challenged. The link between scientific progress and social progress is weakening and signs of obscurantism are appearing. Hiroshima sounded the alarm. Then the crisis of the environment, triggered by the dominant mode of development, turned questioning of science into a worldwide issue. This form of development is inseparable from a frantic and indiscriminate quest for technological innovation. Finally, advances in biotechnology, which harbour many grave dangers for human dignity, are often too closely bound up with the selfish interests of their promoters.

No one blames science for not knowing everything. No one criticizes it because it has not yet found a vaccine against AIDS or reached a conclusion about the theory of the Big Bang. It has never been claimed of science, as it has of history, that it has come to an end. …

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