Society’s impact on Science

Science today is a matter of “not just to be right but also believed by people” (Nowotny et al., 2001). The media as well as ethical issues, are regulating and controlling science; both in research and education. Scientific knowledge production is a social process where we need to know the characteristics of the groups that create and use it. Changes in society such as the information revolution, the economic goals that have substituted military goals, dissolving borders between state, market and cultural science, research (especially applied research) being more valued than pure science and a preference for research that has led to greater uncertainty, have led to changes in knowledge institutions as a consequence.

Looking at Research Councils, industrial and governmental research, we can observe an increased interplay with different actors in society. Universities today have also more alliances with other actors and there are blurred borders between research and education. We find today longer programs and more people on PhD programs.

There is also an increase of both research and mass education and with new actors such as corporate universities and virtual universities offering educational programs and easily obtained degrees. These types of universities differ from traditional universities in the sense that they deliver on a quasi-industrial basis and on a, to a greater extent, for-profit basis. As a producer of new knowledge these types of universities may be considered as rather unimportant institutions (Nowotny et al., 2001).

The Scientist Today

The role of a researcher today may often resemble that of an entrepreneur in regards to the dependency of external funding for research projects. To be able to “win” the resources over other competitors, the researcher has to skillfully “sell in” the research projects and how the company or organization (and society) can benefit from the research results. This is often a complicated matter when thinking that many factors are needed to be taken into consideration including ethical and environmental issues. This dependency on resources can also be seen as a major control mechanism of conducting scientific research. After the researcher has obtained resources to fund the research project, the role of the researcher takes the form of a project manager. In reality, this project manager, i.e. researcher is usually managing several research projects at the same time. Hence, the role of the researcher today is quite a dynamic and complex one; she is also an entrepreneur, project manager, author, teacher, and advisor to mention a view. It would be interesting to study to what extent society is in fact aware of the role of the scientist today.

Claudia Rademaker

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