Military sponsoring Science: let’s just keep that out of our textbooks shall we?

I like to use the following cartoon as an introduction to discussing what science is about.

As for the answer to how science really works – I simply tell students I don’t know, and I’m not sure anybody does.

I’m not even sure we could agree on on a definition of what Science is.

However I think we can agree that military aims has (right from the very beginning) been a strong factor in the advancement of science (but no I can’t quantify the word ‘strong’). Consider the following:

America’s budget crisis is prompting tough discussions about its defence spending, which, at nearly $700 billion, is bigger than that of the next 17 countries combined.

A more important concept that needs to be recognised is why textbooks coveniently ignore this dark side and persist in painting a picture of science that is at odds with reality (disinterested quest for knowledge, great scientists of  the past were pargons of virtue and all that lark).

Actually why the history of science was first portrayed in this idealised light is a fascinating study, but possibly for another day.

This school picture obviously contradicts what we know now. We as teachers should be demanding a more accurate portrayal of our subject (a human endeavour, warts and all) and not to acknowledge this is to do our students a disservice.

We are beginning to row back at least  from presenting science as a font of absolute knowledge and I think that’s where the ‘How Science Works’ theme kicks in, but there is still the murky patronage, both past and present, which needs to be acknowledged.


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