The Influences on Science as a Human Endeavor

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Science is loved by many and criticized by some. What is there to love and dislike about it? This lesson answers this question from a personal, cultural, and global standpoint.

What is Science?

When trying to interpret and understand this world we can turn to one of many fields. We can turn to religion to provide us with answers that are pretty much set in stone but subject to interpretation nonetheless. We can turn to personal opinions that can change over time but do not have any objective basis. Or we can turn to science for an objective and unbiased interpretation and understanding of our world. Science is a kind of knowledge that produces explanations of natural phenomena thanks to observation and experimentation.

Coming from a scientific field, I would love to say that science is faultless. And while the principles of science are indeed themselves faultless, the individuals who apply scientific principles are, like you and I, fallible. Because they are fallible, science can therefore be inappropriately influenced by many factors in such a way that it skews the outcomes or understandings of many studies.

Society, Culture, & Personal Opinion

When reading any scientific study, you must do so with a very critical eye. I'll give you one good example of this. Studies on acupuncture conducted in the Western world often find that acupuncture has little to no scientific basis for curing or treating any disease. However, more frequently, studies on acupuncture conducted in the East find many benefits to the practice that are not corroborated by similar Western studies. Why?

One reason could be that the society and culture where the studies are conducted inject a personal bias into how a scientific study is conducted, how results are collected, and how they are interpreted. In the Eastern world, acupuncture goes back hundreds of years and is part of their society and culture. Growing up in such a culture, a study designer may have a personal, even if subconscious wish, to see their cultural practices supported by the pillars of science. This may lead them to design studies in such a way as to find a positive or beneficial results for acupuncture.

Conversely, in the Western world, acupuncture is not as ingrained of a concept in that society and culture and study practitioners are less inclined to be biased towards acupuncture and more likely to take an objective and unbiased approach to any experimentation involving acupuncture. Of course, one can argue that a Western researcher may also be biased against acupuncture and thus design studies in such a way as to find fault with acupuncture.

But that isn't the point of this lesson. The point you can clearly see here is that the society and culture a researcher grows up in might influence their personal opinion on a subject matter and thus how they conduct a scientific investigation of that topic.

The Use and Direction of Science

The use and direction of science can also be influenced. Factors that can influence this include ethics, economics, and personal and societal needs.

When it comes to ethics, we cannot ethically perform many experiments on humans like we can on some animals. This limits our ability to fully understand a research study's implication on the human biological system if the study can only be conducted on a nonhuman animal. Yes, animals have a lot of biological overlap and we can and do extrapolate information gained from such studies onto humans but we cannot be entirely sure how it will affect people unless we experiment on people in similar ways.

Economics can also dictate the use and direction of science. The pharmaceutical industry is probably the prime example of this. Many medicines and potential cures of diseases are either ignored completely by this lucrative industry or are given relatively little attention. That's because the cost of producing a drug or cure for a relatively rare disease may not be recuperated through sales of that medication by the few people that need it. Drug companies are companies first and foremost. They need to turn a profit. Creating a drug that will lose them money is not good business and thus often avoided.

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