The Social Purpose of Science
The basic aim of science in human history has centered on understanding all aspects of the world in which we live in order to create a meaningful and sustainable way of life together. As peoples, we have diverse moral and cultural traditions, which provide us with normative guidance on what is good, right, and proper. In the U.S., our constitution is one that is specifically designed to accommodate such diversity. But we also have a tradition of drawing upon rational, scientific knowledge and the scientific community to inform policy deliberations and decisions, and to guide our strategic approach to social and economic development.
The March for Science arises at a time when prevailing trends of political polarization seem to have compromised our abilities to draw upon science and the voice of reason as well as we have in the past. What we lose as a result of this polarization is as much the tone of reasonableness so essential to the scientific attitude as the valuable knowledge content that the sciences contribute to policy making. With this in mind, I attempt to characterize the "gifts" of science below, i.e., the distinctive rigor of scientific “discipline” and the rich vitality of the “spirit” of science. Others may do a better job than I of making this distinction, but I hope my efforts are helpful.
What Distinguishes the Contribution of Science?
- The discipline of science: the systematic study of an identified domain of phenomena – real, ideal, physical, social, moral, or other – by means of observation, analysis, and measurement in order to characterize its underlying principles and generate practical theories and coherent bodies of knowledge to inform our policy decisions and courses of action for the public good.
- The spirit of science: the mindset, motivations, and collaborative approach to study that sparks creative-productive interaction; more than siloed thinking and isolated streams of investigation, this spirit reminds us that our diverse efforts, talents, and points of view are most consequential when shared, discussed, and debated in a mood of mutual respect and reasonableness.