Science, Technology, Society

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DNA technology and forensics. In 2011, forensic analysis of DNA samples from a crime scene led to the release of Michael Morton from prison after he had served nearly 25 years for a crime he didn’t commit, the brutal murder of his wife. The DNA analysis linked another man, also charged in a second murder, to the crime. The photo shows Mr. Morton hugging his parents after his conviction was overturned.
Source: Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology (p. 24). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

Science, Technology, Society (Campbell Biology)

The research community is part of society at large, and the relationship of science to society becomes clearer when we add technology. Though science and technology sometimes employ similar inquiry patterns, their basic goals differ. The goal of science is to understand natural phenomena, while that of technology is to apply scientific knowledge for some specific purpose. Biologists and other scientists usually speak of “discoveries,” while engineers and other technologists more often speak of “inventions.” Because scientists put new technology to work in their research, science and technology are interdependent.

The potent combination of science and technology can have dramatic effects on society. Sometimes, the applications of basic research that turn out to be the most beneficial come out of the blue, from completely unanticipated observations in the course of scientific exploration. For example, discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick 60 years ago and subsequent achievements in DNA science led to the technologies of DNA manipulation that are transforming applied fields such as medicine, agriculture, and forensics. Perhaps Watson and Crick envisioned that their discovery would someday lead to important applications, but it is unlikely that they could have predicted exactly what all those applications would be.

The directions that technology takes depend less on the curiosity that drives basic science than on the current needs and wants of people and on the social environment of the times. Debates about technology center more on “should we do it” than “can we do it.” With advances in technology come difficult choices. For example, under what circumstances is it acceptable to use DNA technology to find out if particular people have genes for hereditary diseases? Should such tests always be voluntary, or are there circumstances when genetic testing should be mandatory? Should insurance companies or employers have access to the information, as they do for many other types of personal health data? These questions are becoming much more urgent as the sequencing of individual genomes becomes quicker and cheaper.

Ethical issues raised by such questions have as much to do with politics, economics, and cultural values as with science and technology. All citizens—not only professional scientists—have a responsibility to be informed about how science works and about the potential benefits and risks of technology. The relationship between science, technology, and society increases the significance and value of any biology course.


Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology. Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

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