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Science and technology: Twins, cousins or business partners? Part I

May 8, 2009

The noun “science” is defined by The Oxford Dictionary of English (2005) as being “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment: the world of science and technology”. The noun “technology” is defined by The Oxford Dictionary of English (2005) as being “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry: advances in computer technology”. A recreational, user-compiled website called Diffen (n.d.) provides a point by point comparison of science and technology pointing out that science thrives on reductionism or the isolation and definition of discrete concepts while technology is perpetuated through holism which involves the synthesis of many “competing demands, theories, data and ideas”. Though the differences in the definitions and perceptions of the words “science” and “technology” present themselves somewhat as a “chicken vs. egg” argument, they are inextricably linked.

Khalil (2000) bridges the continuum between science and technology stating that “it is when scientific knowledge is applied to the things we do in life that knowledge enters the realm of technology” (p. 33). So while the historical nature of science and technology were somewhat separate one from another until the nineteenth century (Brooks, 1965) they have now blurred to the extent technology has arguably facilitated scientific discoveries (Bayraktar, 1990). Khalil (2000) makes a convincing argument that “only when science and technology started to interact and enforce one another did the real explosion in knowledge and technological development occur” (p. 33). The concepts of scientific discoveries and technological innovations are linked because of their mutual influences one upon the other and when science and technology are matched with market needs, the impact on human lives is undeniable (Khalil, 2000).

The inquiry processes involved in scientific discoveries and technological development differ as well in their ultimate intent and outcome. Science has been considered inquiry for the sake of inquiry while technological development is generally designed to answer a specific problem in industry. The impacts of funding of scientific research has, however, prompted more than a few questions as to the intrinsic purity of inquiry intent because of the push for results and validation. Most funded researchers are fully aware of the pressures of accountability with regard to their research which has, unfortunately, bred some instances of academic misconduct resulting in sanctions and loss of funding (or the academic “walk of shame”).

Funding of R&D in technology development on the other hand is undeniably pointed toward a tangible (and mostly market-driven) outcome rather than philosophical or experimental goals. Science is approached with “if/then” with regard to the hypothetical outcomes while technology development is coupled with “when” outcomes will be manifested.

While science and technology are utilized very often in the same sentence there are differences to which every scientist and technologist will attest. One could construct a Venn diagram with some scientists being technologists and some technologists being scientists, however, there is no guarantee that the intersections of the two categories will ever be of a discrete or certain percentage due to the nature of the two types of inquiry. It’s true that some of the methodologies may overlap but it’s also true that the functions are discernibly different.

References

Bayraktar, B. (1990). On the concept of technology and management of technology. In Khalil, T. and Bayraktar, B. (Eds.) Management of Technology II: The key to global competitiveness. Norcross, GA: Industrial Engineering and Management Press.

Brooks, H. (1965). The interaction of science and technology: Another view. In Wanner, W., Morse, D. and Eicher, A. (Eds.) The impact of science and technology. New York: Columbia University Press.

Diffen.com (n.d.) Retrieved January 15, 2009 from http://www.diffen.com/difference/Science_vs_Technology

Khalil, T. (2000). Management of technology: The key to competitiveness and wealth creation. New York: McGraw Hill.

The Oxford Dictionary of English (revised edition). Ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2005. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved January 15, 2009 from http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t140.e68932 and http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t140.e78767

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