Society, science and technology

2. Basic concepts

This section explains:

Basic features of science:

Science is

  1. public: scientific knowledge is subject to public scrutiny. Most of scientific knowledge is published in more than 70.000 journals. Important discoveries are explained by media.
  2. historic: scientific knowledge is rooted in the past. This historical aspect is ensures the continuity.
  3. reproducible: Scientific discoveries are not isolated events. Their validity is verified and proved by repeating the same or similar experiments.
  4. provisional: scientific knowledge develops and is only temporary. All scientific laws are subject to changes, there is no ultimate truth in science.
  5. probabilistic: Interpretation of experiments is based on mathematical models. Experimental data are interpreted using probabilistic models.

Ideals of science: scepticism, communication, reproducibility

Scientific logic

Table 2.1 Methodological approaches used in science


general => special special => general
deduction induction
analysis synthesis
top-down bottom-up
specialization generalization
concrete manifestation abstraction

 Often used iteratively:

... =>  general => special=> general => special=> ...

Standard model of science

Scientific method: systematic approach to problem solving

T.A.Easton, Handout on the Scientific Method,

Necessity of control

Observation and experiment in social and life sciences

Role of observation and experiment in social and life sciences differs from that in natural and technical sciences. From ethical, moral and economic reasons it is often impossible to repeat some observations, many experiments cannot be performed at all. In many cases the only available observations are historical data, which are not reproducible. From these reasons, in these sciences we often use so called quasi-experiments, which are not under complete control of the researcher and which cannot be (due to their small number) processed statistically. The personality and individual judgment of the researcher play much more important role and many social laws have only qualitative character.

Science and common sense

Paradoxes -

Zenon paradoxes (approx. 460 B.C.) -,

Optical Illusions:


R. Penrose - impossible triangle










Impossible trident




Science as a knowledge and technique as an art naturally are not the same. Until industrial revolution they belonged to distinct worlds, classes and cultures. Only in the 19-th century the industry  intentionally started to exploit science as a resource.

Terms technique and technology appear in the 18-th century. Before that, „techniquewas understood as a skill, an art. Industrial revolution necessitated distinction between art and technique. The art originates in individual abilities that resist systemization and reproducibility (tacit knowledge). On the other hand, techniques are rooted in formalized and transferable knowledge (explicit knowledge). The development of the language in the 18-th century therefore reflects basic economical changes. Similarly, the distinction between technique and technology, related to scientific understanding of technical development, reflects the second industrial revolution of the 20-th century.

Technology can be defined as a process that, based on explicit or implicitt phase of research and development (through application of scientific knowledge) makes possible commercial production of goods and/or services.

Table 2.1 Science, technology and industry: some examples


Problem to be solved  Branches of science  Techniques available  Technology
Energy production with lower dependency on oil imports  Nuclear physics
Transformation of heat to electric power Nuclear power
Regulation of braking system according to adhesion of tyres to the road surface  Hydrodynamics
 Stress and strength
 Conventional braking systems
 Data analysis using microprocessors
 Data transfer from sensors
Immediate positive picture without processing in the laboratory   Optics
 Separation of substances 

R&D needn't be performed by the company using its results. The relevant skills can be bought, licensed, or sold. When looking for competitive advantage, the company can combine its own technologies with those acquired from external partners.

Technical creativity

Process of technical creativity: original combination of technical processes and ideas, requiring creation of new ideas, their combination and high motivation.

Creative process results in creation of something new - a discovery. The discovery can be protected.

Basic steps of creative process:

  1. identification of a problem or of a task
  2. collecting data and information, accumulation of knowledge and their classification
  3. generating solutions
  4. selecting optimum solution
  5. implementing solution
  6. monitoring, control

Problem that cannot be solved in one historical period can be often solved later on, as new knowledge accumulates, new instruments, materials, etc. are developed. (example: J. Watt and steam engine)

Main information resources: individual, collective and society knowledge

Evaluation of collected information and knowledge:

  1. After preliminary scan to separate important facts from less important, but keep even the latter in mind, as later on we can find they are extremely important.
  2. Not to accept all facts and statements as proved and usable. All of them have to be reviewed for validity, obsolescence, etc.
  3. Not to rely on existing explanations, the same fact can be explained differently by different experts.

Use analogies, contrasts. Logic is not sufficient, use phantasy (however, carefully check the results)

convergent and divergent thinking (TRIZ / brainstorming]

Technological progress

Figure 2.1: S-curve for technology adoption

See examples in: Ausubel J.H., Technical Progress and Climatic Change

Four waves of civilization

Fig 2.2: Civilization waves and population

Fig.. 2.3: Civilization waves and externalization of human functions

Adapted from: Maynard H.B., Mehrtens S.E.: The Fourth Wave

  • „Conceptor“
  • Engineering of ideas
  • Computer
  • Communication networks
  • Machine
  • Energy
  • Land
  • Tools

Table 6: Features of Corporate Structure

Table 8: Characteristics of the corporate community

Table 11: Business and the environment

Table 13: Business's attitudes towards technology

Table 18: Characteristics of the Second, Third and Fourth Wave corporations - part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 

Topics for discussion

  1. How do you think science and technology influence the industry you plan to work for?
  2. What are methodological differences between natural and social sciences? What is the role of experiment in these sciences? Give examples.
  3. Analyse the role of individual and team work, creativity and motivation in R&D. Give examples.
  4. Follow the approach of media to specific problems of S&T (global warming, cloning, stem cell research, genetically modified food, nuclear energy). Evaluate role of media in popularisation of S&T
  5. Which of the predictions of sci-fi authors have been realized? Which has not been yet realized, why do you think so, and what chances of realization according to your opinion are there?
  6. Present example of inadequate approach in S&T (unethical, coverage of media, ...), describe reaction of scientific community and general public (cold fusion, cloning, ...)
  7. How does S&T influence society (and vice versa)? Give examples.



Created by: Jiri Vacek

Last change: Sep 1, 2010