Difference between Science and Technology for us dummies.

These concepts are vastly different. The use of them as equal notions has to do with social conditioning.

I´ve been surprised to read, see and hear a lot about this topic, specially in universities, conferences, seminars and so on. Not about the difference between them but using these words in interchangeable ways. If the academic world, specially in South America, does not apply strict differences between these two concepts, does this mean they´re correct? No.

It seems, however, that the confusion not only comes from sheer ignorance. When writing or talking about any of these subjects we just assume they are the same. I don´t know what is worse than choosing to be ignorant.

For this piece, I read some of the work of Mario Bunge, a great source on this topic. Bunge was born in Argentina and spent most of his life in Canada. He died recently and was perhaps the most well known scientific intellectual that South America had. His heated discussion with John Carew Eccles (And by extension, Karl Popper) regarding their “half elaborated” (Bunge´s words) philosophy of the mind was very much followed. He also clashed with Richard Dawkins, accusing him of preaching pseudo-science (This because of the evolutionary theory that Dawkins proposed and the selfish gene).

So what´s the difference? In plain and simple words, Science is all about research, about finding knowledge for the sake of it and using that knowledge to understand the universe. A scientist´s main motivation is not money, power, market value, share value or patents. At the most, the desire of a scientist is status or recognition, not “coming up with the latest something”. Keep in mind the first thing scientists do when a breakthrough happens: they publish all the results so that the whole world can see their work. Eminent scientists do compete but do not fall short when asked to share their knowledge with their peers and scientific researchs are not made in labs like most movies show. Because the nature of Science is not profit or politically driven, few governments and /or companies actually have research and delopment programs devoted to Science as these kind of achievements are rarely applicable in our daily lives, except of course, to expand our horizons. In this matter, science is actually a neutral concept in the sense that there is no bad (evil)or good science. We can´t use science to oppress societies or to kill people. NASA, for example, does not fit the profile for a Science program though some argue that they are. Hence the confusion and, unfortunately, it is not so simple.

Technology has been described as the arm of Science that makes knowledge practical for our daily lives. Sometimes it works that way but as I said earlier, it´s not that simple. Technology has almost always two steps: a development and an artifact. Scientific knowledge is not required to develop new technologies. Applied scientists and/or engineers sometimes don´t really know the full story or the whole “science” behind their inventions but through trial and error, they get their desired results and then the practical part starts. One example of this is the atomic bomb. J. Robert Oppenheimer´s main interest in the manhattan project was making a nuclear bomb. Science did not play any role in developing it, but the joint articulation of several existing technologies and the creation of new ones. And his motivation may be up for debate but he worked for the U.S. government which, quite frankly, had no qualms about using the bomb for their convenience. To be clear, Japan, Germany and the Soviet Union would have done exactly the same.

I´m not discussing what if scenarios here or being a revisionist. To me, it´s quite clear that the Nuclear Bomb was made to end WWII by killing as much enemies as possible.The weapons that Oppenheimer helped develop effectively did just that. I don´t justify mass killings but even I understand that it´s not that simple and it was an extreme, do or die situation.

Today´s tech-corporate world somehow resembles that kind of competition. There are corporate spies, the goal is to crush rivals, the end justifies the means. It´s also a do or die situation for them but with greed as their main motivation. That´s fucked up. J. Robert Oppenheimer was appalled by what he accomplished in the manhattan project and by some accounts, regretted it. We still regard him as a great scientist (His work is more than just the manhattan project) and in fairness, perhaps we should understand the context of WWII, but comparing him to Albert Einstein or Carl Sagan, the difference between Science and Technology is better understood.

Now then, this approach in creating new technologies also works for vaccines, social networks that help us be in touch with our loved ones far and away, tranports, medicines, massive crops, etc. The conclusion here is that technologies have the potential to be used for good or bad, unlike Science. Facebook, for example, is a Technology that can be used either way. China has its own social networks in which the communist party and the government can control content as they please, alas, with the help of the developer.

Therefore, innovations in technologies generally respond to “solve” society´s problems, albeit for a price. Any new inventions are patented (And can´t be used unless there´s financial compensations) secrets are closely guarded, nothing is shared for fear of losing to the competition. Money and power play a role of crucial and utmost importance in the development of new technologies. Their inventors are seen as mega-star, billionaire celebrity-geniuses, unreacheable demigods whose words we have to abide by. Why is this a social conditioning issue? We tend to believe that, for us (mere mortals) it´s easier to become part of the financial elite than to become part of the intellectual elite.

It´s important to start making concrete and coherent statements regardind these completely different definitions, they are not the same things. It got my attention when I was talking to my wife and she mentioned a webinar she watched about conscience objectors. The speaker was explaining that we should use our reason and conscience for things as banal as taxes. What she meant is this: “Ok, i´m going to pay my taxes. But I, not my government, will decide where that money is going to go. You can´t use my money to pay for wars or for political favors. It will be used for education, culture and health.” And she mentioned some other interesting things until she got to science. She said: “We should also be conscience objectors to science doing bad things”. I said to myself: “What the fuck?”. I actually doubted, asking my wife, who is an university professor, if such thing existed. Hard sciences doing bad things? Social sciences doing bad things? No political science please…And man, the CV of this speaker was huge, big in quality. So why? Math, for instance, is the very basis of every scientific knowledge that exists…and I do hate math but hearing that about sciences really freaked me out.

And I decided to post this. If there´s a better writing (no doubt there is)it´s a welcome gift. But only on the condition that it has to be so easy to read that I will not bleed for overthinking it or understand it.

P.D.: Not a sicentist nor an engineer. Just a dummy that has too much time on his hands. Good day and good luck.

Pardon my english…