Comparing and Contrasting Science and Technology

Mahmoud Jalloh, David Wood
  • Author
    Mahmoud Jalloh

    Mahmoud is a PhD Candidate at University of Southern California, specializing in philosophy of science. Before this he earned a B.S. in Physics and Philosophy from Northeastern University. He has been involved with education and tutoring for 8 years, teaching classes across the humanities and science: e.g. logic, philosophy of science, the meaning of life.

  • Instructor
    David Wood

    David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn how science and technology are related. Examine the difference between science vs. technology and identify the relationship between science and technology. Updated: 12/01/2021

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What Is the Difference Between Science and Technology?

Science and technology are two human projects that are deeply interconnected and drive each other's progression and development. While there is some controversy over definitions of both science and technology and controversy over the best way of describing their relations, a basic understanding will be sufficient for this lesson:

  • Science is the investigation of and study of the natural world, involving both theory building and empirical testing via the collection of data and the performance of experiments.
  • Technology is the application of scientific understanding to produce useful devices and solve both technical and societal problems.

From these definitions it is clear that science and technology bear a deep relationship, and that it is a relationship in which technology is dependent on science. The fact that technology is developed by way of scientific knowledge distinguishes it from crafts and other practical developments. The notion that science has both a theoretical element and an experimental element shows how technology can change the range of possibilities in experimental science, which helps provide novel ways of testing and producing scientific theories.

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Comparing Science vs. Technology

Science and technology can be generally distinguished by their purposes or aims. Science generally has knowledge and understanding as its goal. Scientific theories are judged by their empirical adequacy, explanatory power, and simplicity. Science's aims are internal to the scientific method.

Technology has many different purposes depending on the context; its aims are external to its method of development. Generally, technology has the solution of practical problems as its aim. These include technical problems, like the development of cable shields to remove noise to electrical signals sent by wires; and societal problems, like the development of vaccines to stop the spread of polio and its debilitating effects. Technologies are judged by their efficiency, expense, ease of use, and the degree of control they allow.

Science and technology share many of the same methods and require similar sets of skills. Indeed, technological developments are often required for scientific progress, like the construction of the Large Hadron Collider to discover the Higgs boson. Scientific developments are prerequisite to technological inventions, like the dependence of electronic devices like televisions and smartphones on developments in electromagnetism and even quantum mechanics. Scientists and engineers proceed by a combination of theory construction, model building, and empirical testing. Both need to be skilled with mathematics, creative in their ideas, and sensitive to fine detail.

Technology like LHC superconducting electromagnet lead to the discovery of the Higgs.

LHC superconducting electromagnet

How Are Science and Technology Related?

As already stated, science and technology are intimately related: they depend on and spur developments in each other. Applied science and technology have a particular closeness in that they often have the same concerns and methods: For example, the designing of a laser may be done both for scientific purposes and for technological purposes (like producing a weapon). It is important, however, to remember that technology is not only linked to the experimental side of science: the theory of general relativity was necessary to correct errors in GPS and the development of nuclear bombs and nuclear reactors confirmed the fundamental results of atomic physics. Technology is both progressed by scientific theories and also provides a source of (dis)confirmation for them.

Technology from Science

The scientific revolution and the enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries lead to two of the greatest technological advances in the history of humanity. One was political revolutions, particularly those in France and America which were the development of the political technology of representative democracy. The other was the industrial revolution. Advances in mechanics, material science, and chemistry led to novel production methods, massive factories, and international trade on a scale never before seen.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is main difference between science and technology?

The main difference between science and technology is in their aims. Science has aims internal to the scientific method: the production of knowledge and understanding. Technology has aims external to its own development: technology is made to solve the practical problems of the day.

What is the relationship between science and technology in our society?

Technology applies scientific knowledge to practical problems and also allows for new ways of doing scientific experiments. Science and technology mutually drive each other's progress.

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