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Technology and science

It’s not uncommon to hear an argument like this: “If you use modern technology, you are buying into all of modern science.” But that’s like saying, “If you celebrate Christmas, you are agreeing with all Christian doctrines.” For example, many Japanese celebrate Christmas, but only 1% of the country is Christian. Similarly, all sorts of people use modern technology, from children to terrorists, who aren’t adopting modern science. So this argument is not true.

This is related to the argument that modern science deserves all the credit for modern technology. But that’s like saying all the credit for modern science should go to mathematics, since science uses mathematics. So this argument also not true.

Consider some great inventors: Cai Lun (paper), Johannes Gutenberg (movable type), Jethro Tull (seed drill and horse-drawn hoe), Abraham Darby (pig iron), John Harrison (marine chronometer), Alessandro Volta (electric battery), Samuel Morse (telegraph), Karl Benz (petrol-power automobile), Thomas Edison (electric light bulb, phonograph, motion picture camera), Alexander Bell (telephone), Nikola Tesla (fluorescent lighting, induction motor, AC electricity), Rudolf Diesel (diesel engine), Wright brothers (airplane), Alexander Fleming (penicillin), John Baird (television), and Enrico Fermi (nuclear reactor).

A few of these inventors are known as scientists (Volta, Tesla, Fleming, Fermi) but most are not. They had various backgrounds and much of their interest was in practical advances, not theoretical ones. Also, the practical use of technology requires advances in engineering, which is not the same as science. Engineers do much of the work implementing technology but get little credit.

Moreover, the development of technology arguably derives the most impetus from those in business and investment who provide the capital to market and improve the devices. Without them, inventions would remain like Da Vinci’s diagrams lying dormant for centuries.

The science community does often get (or take) credit for technology. And they have an incentive to, since they are a prestige-driven occupation. The amount of funding that goes to basic research is directly related to the prestige of scientists. And scientists in the universities are part of the prestige-driven model of funding and promoting higher education.

So no, someone using modern technology is not buying into all of modern science. Nor do scientists deserve all the credit for modern technology.