Last March Science Careers highlighted my friend Kenny Gibbs’ research:
Academic science could attract and keep more under-represented minority scientists, Gibbs argues, by making room for their need to have broader impacts on society than basic research positions currently allow. “Those are values that I brought into science and that you hear many bringing into science,” he says. The tension between science values and social justice values grows as people advance in their training; they find that “[social] values are no longer able to be expressed. Not only are they not rewarded, but expressing those values makes you look less serious about the scientific work.”
I thought about this passage when I re-read Alvin Weinberg’s ‘The Axiology of Science’ last month. According to Weinberg (and others), debates about the relative worth of pure versus applied research go back centuries. Francis Bacon–like Kenny–valued science for its usefulness. Science is done because “we learn how to make two blades of grass where one grew before.” Bacon’s assertion that ‘knowledge is power’ meant power over nature–another reference to his utilitarian view of science.
Others disagreed. They felt science should be devoted to the abstract pursuit of knowledge. Needless to say Bacon lost. It’s why Kenny’s research is even necessary, why cosmology gets a TV show and why scientists in international development do not.
I wonder if Kenny appreciates how old this debate is. How long people have been discussing it. While today we might apply a gendered or social-justice lens, it’s not much different than what white Christian men have been discussing since the 1500s.
As I’ve been reflecting on the importance of strategy, I’ll gently nudge Kenny: how do we change a system that has been ingrained over centuries? And along similar lines, I’ll continue asking myself how I plan to actually change how society views creationists.