Science as a tool vs. world-view, part II

Academic definitions of “cutting edge” research topics exclude many of the issues that affect the largest number of people and have the greatest impact on the environment; everyday life is rarely the subject of research. For example, while new and emerging “high profile” diseases pose important challenges to medical science and public health, very different illnesses take the greatest overall toll on poor communities in developing nations. Support for work on these mundane topics is weak relative to their importance to humans and the environment…

Lack of attention to mundane science shows up in the form of five key fallacies: Mundane science is antiscientific in spirit; the greatest overall returns come from basic rather than applied research–Daniel Kammen in The Virtues of Mundane Science

I wonder how our image of science would change if we heard from more scientists outside the academy. Or at least, from scientists not doing basic research. When’s the last time you saw a TV show about scientists working in global poverty alleviation? Where are the viral YouTube videos of the joy Daniel Kammen experiences for improving cookstoves in the developing world? If my friends are any indication, the ones who’ve left the academy care much more about science as a tool. Those still studying particle physics or cosmology tend to get caught up in the beauty of truth. There’s nothing wrong with that of course. But this difference in temperament is worth noting.

1 Comment

  1. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with it but I find “wrong” an interesting choice of words. It implies value. And I would infer that to Kammen is making a value statement when he wants to attract more attention to mundane science.

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