The Conflict Between Science and Society

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Cyril Dean Darlington
Professor Cyril Dean Darlington (1903 – 1981)
Professor Sir Richard Gregory
Professor Sir Richard Gregory (1864 – 1952)
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at Conway Hall 20 April 1948. Chaired by Professor Sir Richard Gregory and presented by Professor C. D. Darlington.

Fundamental discoveries in science undermine previous scientific positions. This undermining is feared by those who have adhered to those positions. It is sometimes feared even by the discoverer himself, because he is anxious about the impact of the new knowledge he has uncovered, or is actually doubtful that it is knowledge.

Formal training in any discipline impedes discovery because it leaves little space for original thinking. Also, scientific institutions which began as radical forces acquire an authority which then militates against further originality. The same applies to individual scientists, in their response to new research in the areas in which their own work was once new. Generally, the need for security outweighs the desire for discovery.

But opposition to discovery is also found outside the scientific field. For example, it exists in Government departments which ought to be interested in new knowledge but which, for a variety of reasons, are not. Further, what is notorious in the political sphere is the hostility to knowledge displayed by totalitarian regimes that are tied to a specific ideology. The main example of this is the Soviet Union, where, for doctrinal reasons, the science of genetics has been rejected.

Overall, the conflict between science and society needs to be reduced. One way of doing this is by enlarging the co-operation between science and the humanities. Another is by reducing the conservative mentality of academic and social institutions.

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