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Science Is Not Technology

May 17, 13 Science Is Not Technology

The hit TV show The Big Bang Theory has main characters who are scientists and who love technology. Movies, TV shows and even video games depict scientists as having a great appreciation and understanding of technology.

Many magazines, newspapers and even news sites lump the two together. NBCNews (formerly MSNBC) has a section titled “Tech & Science” on the front page. These actually link to individual pages for each, but apparently even some editors do believe science and technology are related, if not actually one and the same.

The truth is that technology is not science and science is not technology.

Moreover, not everyone who loves science likely loves technology. There are probably plenty of researchers out there who still have trouble with voice mail, don’t like to text, hate smartphones and probably don’t even like a computer.

At the same time, many lovers of gizmos and gadgets probably have little appreciation for science as whole. Science is after all a vastly encompassing category; but so, too, is technology.

The University of George, Department of Geology actually explained this quite well:

“One of the mistakes many people make in thinking about science is to confuse it with technology. As a result, science often either receives undue credit (for the ‘miracles of modern science’ in one’s kitchen) or undue blame (for everything from overly firm tomatoes to nuclear war). In fact, science doesn’t make things. Scientists developed the understanding of radiation sufficient for the invention of the microwave oven, but neither making a microwave oven nor using it are actually science. Scientists are in the business of generating knowledge, whereas engineers are in the business of generating technology.”

It is also noted that researchers may use sophisticated technology, but science doesn’t really require this. For example, a geologist can examine an outcrop of rocks without any such technology, where a simple notebook can be used to record any observations. Not exactly high-tech stuff, at least for the 21st century.

“In short, science often leads to technology, and it often uses technology, but it isn’t technology, and in fact it can operate quite independently of technology,” the researchers added.

Another researcher and noted scientist also summed it up well:

“Here’s the problem. ‘Science’ is NOT the same as ‘technology’ and not the same as ‘engineering.’ There’s a big difference between learning science and learning how to build things. The purpose of a degree in technology and engineering is obvious—it’s job training. The purpose of a science education is quite different—it’s supposed to teach you how to think critically,” wrote Larry Moran, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto, on his blog.

So, what’s the point?

The point, at least to this reporter, is that science and technology (and for that matter engineering) shouldn’t be confused.

Part of the problem is the media’s fault, considering that there are two competing magazines: Popular Science, which was founded in 1872 and Popular Mechanics, which debuted in 1902. Both cover the same basic topics, and these magazines do suggest that the line between “popular” technology and science can blur.

However, no amount of gadgets, gizmos or video games will automatically spark interest in science or even engineering. Nor will science automatically pave the way to the next technological breakthrough.

Perhaps 100 years ago technology did seem like a part of the normal day, and perhaps some individuals who are scientists (at least the TV versions) do have an automatic understanding for all things technical. But for the rest of us, these are best left as distant cousins, even if lumped together in the same section in the newspaper.

Image Credit: agsandrew / Shutterstock

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