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Science Abused? Challenging a Legend

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 September 2008

Peter Weingart
Science Studies Center and Department of SociologyUniversity of Bielefeld


The thesis of the paper is that there is no “abuse” of science as suggested by the legend of Galileo but only a mutual opportunism characterizing the relation between science and politics.

Any scientific research depends on the accessibility of its subject matter, plus material resources. The absence of internal constraints, the hunger for novelty, translate into a powerful drive to secure both. The coupling between science and politics in our time is based on a mutual dependence: resources and accessibility are exchanged for solutions to problems and legitimation.

Scientific disciplines are highly sensitive to their environments with respect to the possibilities of extending their power of definition and of thereby obtaining resources. The ability of the sciences to expand their power of definition depends on the political “context of relevance.” The context, such as a socialist or fascist ideology, selects against certain sciences. But for a government to be able to favor one school at the expense of another there have to be competing factions within science, and their conflict has to be to some extent unresolved.

Modern democratic systems differ from totalitarian ones insofar as their interest in science is ideologically vague and primarily economic in nature. This does not mean that the same mechanisms of mutual utilization do not operate.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1993

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