Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Role of Science and Technology

It is a sad fact that most history text books don't mention scientists or their contribution to society. Weapons, transportation, and electricity are only ever mentioned in respect to historical events and not their individual impacts to society. It is rare in history classrooms for students to learn about the polio vaccine or about influential scientists like Madame Curie or Maxwell.

Science has a big impact on war through the creation of weapons, manufacturing techniques and transportation, all of which can basically decide the outcome of combat. In history textbooks, you will often hear that one side may have had a technological advantage that lead to their victory, but these technologies are rarely ever specifically mentioned. And aside from war, technology and science are almost never mentioned at all. In the U.S. Civil War, there were between 600,000 to 700,000 casualties, pretty significant, right? On a human scale, this is hardly even a blip. Sciences, medical sciences specifically, have saved countless billions of lives throughout all of human existence. The polio vaccine alone probably saved several million lives. These creations and the scientists involved overshadow any war without a doubt, but they are almost never mentioned in history classrooms.
Line for the polio vaccine

International politics is another major focus of history textbooks, and an undoubtedly important one too. The communication between nations, treaties and wars are all very pivotal to our existence and our continued "peace" with each other. What is almost never considered in these situations is the role of science in these interactions. The earliest and most important advancement to effect international politics was the telegraph. With this new technology, nations could communicate with each other almost instantaneously, making life much easier.
One version of the telegraph machine

One of the biggest events that history books tend to overlook was the creation of the atomic bomb. Historians do focus vehemently on the impact of the bomb and how it has shaped our world since its creation, but they rarely seem to think how it was made or that they should teach people about those who made it. This is a product purely brought about by science, and it has shaped our world more than any other one thing, but historians don't care. Science is the driving force behind our societies, but nobody cares enough to learn about it.
Mushroom cloud from the detonation of an atomic bomb

Ultimately, the humanities are rarely concerned with science because it is not exciting to the average person. People are enchanted by bloody fields of war and clashes between titanic personalities. We have to come to terms with the fact that a complete understanding of the world and ourselves will not be all that exciting at first glance. We cannot continue to romanticize society, we must understand how it is created and how it can be advanced. As I have already said, science is the driving force behind society, and even humanity itself.

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