The Pure-Science Ideal and Democratic Culture

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Science  30 Jun 1967:
Vol. 156, Issue 3783, pp. 1699-1705
DOI: 10.1126/science.156.3783.1699


These early experiences of pure scientists will have an unmistakable ring of familiarity to anyone familiar with the current situation. Charles Sanders Peirce, with characteristic insight, had stated the fundamental dilemma of the pure scientist operating within a democratic framework. How can one ask the public to provide support, much less facilities, for the intellectual gratification of one select group? A part of the answer, of course, is simply that one cannot. As long as a group is dependent upon public support it must seek some means of contact with the values of the enveloping society, and the moment it does this it departs in some measure from the ideal purity. The schizophrenic attitude described by Dubos therefore became a professional necessity as soon as the new ideal was adopted. Since the time of Gould, scientists have been able to tell each other that the man who based science's claim to support on grounds of immediate practical utility was "no loyal follower and true friend of science" and, at the same time, to trust that the popularizers and technicians would convey a different message to the public. On the whole, they have not been disappointed in their expectation, and there has been little need for them to go beyond the standard formula : Utility is not to be a test of scientific work, but all knowledge will ultimately prove useful. Since the continued existence of scientists in this society depends upon the believability of that vague claim, there is little likelihood hood that the schizophrenia will disappear.

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