Michael has a Masters in Physics and a Masters in International Development. He has over 5 years of teaching experience, teaching Physics, Math, and English classes.
Political, Religious, and Social Influence on Physical Science Research
Whether we want to admit it or not, every day we make decisions influenced by political, religious, and social factors. While scientists attempt to be as objective as possible, they and their research are also influenced by these factors, whether due to bias or simply the availability of funding. The physical sciences, which include geology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy, are no exception.
The large overlap between the political, religious and social aspects of any issue can make their effects difficult to tease apart. In many countries, for example, conservative parties are influenced by religious concerns about social issues. The Republican party in the US and the Bharatiya Janata Party in India, to pick two, are both nationalist parties with strong religious ties. Religion can also fuel liberal movements, as has Catholic liberation theology in Latin America, which aligned parts of the church and the public in pushing for social change. In addition to their effect on each other, each area of concern has direct effects on physical science research:
The politics of a country can determine if certain physical science research is funded, how much it is funded, and the priorities of the research. For example, when President John F Kennedy came into office in the United States and challenged the country to land a man on the moon in his seminal 1961 speech, the budget of the North American Space Agency (NASA) ballooned, making a moon landing possible years earlier than predicted.
Religious factors also influence physical science research. In both more- and less- developed countries, religion has a big impact and influence on society and therefore a big influence in politics, and can help influence whether certain physical science research is seen as morally wrong. For example, when Galileo Galilei published his theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun, contradicting the Catholic Church's teaching that the Earth was the center of the universe, he was put on trial for heresy. Even today, religion has a vital role in what type of physical scientific theories are promoted. For example, the influential Catholic Church supports the theory of the Big Bang (that life started all at once and expanded out from a singularity) and rejects other theories of the origin of the universe because the Big Bang theory fits with the Bible verse that God created something out of nothing.
Finally, social factors also play a big part in physical science research, and can depend on what the needs and wants of a society are. For example, a society in a developing country that is in the middle of a famine would more likely push for the funding and development of physical science research that is focused on water sources than on astrophysics.
These three factors all have a great influence on physical science research and have led to controversy regarding how and what physical science research and technology should be funded and developed. The following sections will discuss a few controversial areas of physical science research that have been influenced by religion, politics and society.
The funding and development of science research in regards to energy sources has been heavily influenced by political, religious, and social factors. Political factors influence government decisions to fund or subsidize fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and gas, and alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind. The funding of physical science research regarding anthropogenic climate change (the idea that the recent increase in the world's temperature and changes in climate are a result of human activity) is also controversial and heavily influenced by political, religious, and social factors. For example, Republican representatives, who generally disagree with the scientific conclusion that climate change is human-made and partially due to the burning of fossil fuels, proposed to increase funding for the research and development of coal, natural gas, oil and other fossil fuels to $645 million for the 2017 budget and decrease funding for alternative energy research and development by $248 million.
The funding and development of nuclear power is also influenced by political, religious, and social factors. Nuclear energy has been touted as a more sustainable energy source than fossil fuels because nuclear power plants do not produce the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that the burning of fossil fuels does. However, numerous social movements in Europe and the United States have formed against nuclear energy, due to the fact that nuclear power plants produce radiation that is harmful to the planet and the people and animals living on it. So far, scientists haven't discovered safe ways of storing or disposing of radioactive materials over the long term, leading environmental movements and political parties to oppose the use of nuclear energy and governments to ban it. So far the countries that have opposed nuclear power plants or who have decided to completely phase out their nuclear power plants include Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland.
In many ways, modern physical science is the science of resource use. Most geologists and many chemists and engineers are employed or funded by companies seeking to extract or utilize natural resources, including fossil fuels, metals, gems or water. The use of natural resources can have significant social, political and even religious consequences. For example, during the past five decades, dam-building projects have displaced more than 16.4 million people in India; displacement disrupts the social and sometimes religious life of the displaced communities and the communities that absorb the refugees. Even astronomers face earthly controversies over the construction of large observatories on sacred peaks. The building of an observatory on Mount Graham in Arizona was opposed by the San Carlos Apache, who used the mountain for religious rituals; a large observatory planned for Mauna Kea in Hawai'i has faced similar opposition by native Hawai'ians who oppose more development on the sacred mountain.
- Physical science research and development are influenced by a number of factors, including politics, religious, and social factors.
- The politics of a country can determine the amount of funding allocated for the research and development of energy sources.
- Resource use and nuclear energy are other examples of issues in physical science that are heavily influenced by political, religious, and social factors.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack