SATIS Science and technology in Society

The purpose of today’s meeting was to re-visit the central ‘themes’ of the group, ie. What is Science? What is Technology? What is the relationship between these two human activities, and how does this relationship impact on us?

We summarised the three sessions we did on this in previous meetings with the following three passages;---

Science is a relatively recent human activity which uses inductive reasoning to make predictions.

The scientific process which produces these predictions collects evidence in the form of empirical data and typically used experiments to test hypothesis.

Science has only been able to develop significantly since the development of the printing press allowed wide-spread sharing of ideas and experimental outcomes.

Technology is a very much older human activity, arguably as old as Homo sapiens.

It can be defined as the use of tools to make tools.

Technology has developed over millions of years by trial and error and by passing on knowledge and skills from one generation to the next.

This has only been possible due to the development of language

In the very recent past (arguably starting seriously in the First World War and gaining considerable momentum in the Second) Science has been used to greatly speed up the development of Technology by removing the need for trial and error.

More recently Science has not only speeded up Technology but has allowed it to develop new Technologies which could not possibly have been produced by trial and error.

Arguably, this has happened within our lifetime.

There was some discussion about this, including mention of the importance of peer review as part of the Scientific Process, and a more detailed summary of the Scientific Process, which we had previously explored as the following flowchart diagram with an embedded example.

 The accompanying argument for this diagram can be found under the notes for our first ‘proper’ meeting on 20th April 2015 on the website.

We then split into groups to consider three technologies which have developed during our lifetime. The technologies were;

  • The Automatic Washing Machine

  • The Family Motor Car

  • Synthetic Fibres such as acrylic and polyester in clothing

For each of these technologies the groups were asked to consider;

  • The effects of these technologies on our lives

  • What ‘secondary technologies’ have been developed or affected by the development of the primary technology

  • What scientific research so you imagine (or hope) was done in the process of developing these technologies?

There was some interesting discussion and feedback; summarised as follows;

The Family Motor Car

Increases mobility, increasing ‘active radius’ for activities including work and leisure. This improves cultural awareness and allows professional expertise and experience to be utilised more widely. On the other hand it fragments communities, driving the move from extended to nuclear family, though also providing means for those fragmented families to maintain some degree of contact.

Problems include accidents, noise, light and chemical pollution, disruption and destruction of habitats, opportunities for crime, and urbans sprawl as towns and suburbs are planned around the use of the motor car.

Secondary technologies include road building, bridges, safety devices such as seat belts and air bags, pollution reducing devices such as catalytic converters, tyre technology, production line technology, battery technology, robotics and oil-refining, many of which have spin-offs outside the motor industry.

Synthetic Fibres

Resulted in the destruction of whole home-based industries based on production of natural fibres such as wool, linen and cotton, and production of clothing from them. Much of the production of clothes has now been outsourced to other countries.

Synthetic fibres are more resilient/long-lasting that natural fibres and also cheaper. Paradoxically however, we seem to change clothes / buy new clothes much more frequently than before.

Synthetic fibres are more convenient (eg non-crease) and more flexible (clothes that drape, or can stretch in an elastic fashion) providing new tools to the fashion industry.

Wool can irritate the skin.

Safety issues; allergies; fire-proofing etc.

Release of non-biodegradable micro-fibres into ecosystems

New factory processes have been developed to produce both the fabrics and the clothes; largely outsource to other countries. New dyes and dying techniques needed. New materials with very specific uses, eg. Kevlar used in Army clothing.

Automatic Washing Machine

The end of the disruption and heavy work of ‘washing day’, releasing time and energy for other pursuits.

Possibly uses less energy, especially given move towards more energy-efficient modern machines. In contrast to this however, clothes are washed very much more frequently.

Increase or decrease in water use?? Again, increase in frequency of washing probably pushes up water use.

Cleaner clothes may reduce infection rates

Detergents in waste water may affect ecosystems. Release of non-biodegradable micro-fibres and micro-beads into ecosystems increased by harsher washing process and increased frequency of washing.

Their use may go hand in hand with development of artificial fibres, research needed on how these fibres will stand up to this sort of washing process. Detergents – zeolites – developed alongside increased use of washing machines. Increase in free time/leisure time may have impacted on lifestyles and related technologies.

Research needed on safety within the home ( recent problems with tumble driers ).