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Robert J. Birgeneau

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The next revolution in scientific discovery will depend on scientific interdependence.
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A modern public university, Nature Materials 6, 465 - 467 (01 Jul 2007), doi: 10.1038/nmat1935, Commentary.

 
Robert J. Birgeneau

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Scientific discovery is a private event, and the delight that accompanies it, or the despair of finding it illusory, does not travel. One scientist may get great satisfaction from anotherís work and admire it deeply; it may give him great intellectual pleasure; but it gives him no sense of participation in the discovery, it does not carry him away, and his appreciation of it does not depend on his being carried away. If it were otherwise the inspirational origin of scientific discovery would never have been in doubt.

 
Peter Medawar
 

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present ó and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

 
Dwight D. Eisenhower
 

Up until the publication of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, the history, philosophy, and sociology of science maintained an internalist approach to scientific knowledge claims. Science was seen as somehow above any social, political, or cultural influences, and therefore, the examinations of scientific knowledge focused on areas such as 'discoveries,' 'famous men,' and 'the scientific revolution in the West.' When Kuhn opened the door to the possibility that external factors were involved in the development of scientific paradigms, science studies assumed a more critical tone.

 
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Induction was shown to be untenable as a scientific method by Popper in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959). Instead, advances in scientific understanding come ideally from hypothetico-deductivism: firstly, development of a hypothesis in relation to a problem situation, and secondly, its testing in relation to all relevant knowledge and furthermore by its great explanatory power.

 
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We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for humanity.

 
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