Many (far too many) scientists think that science started somewhere around 1600. The reason for this seems to be that science post-1600 is slightly easier to read than science pre-1600. The consequence is that whatever came before was not science rather than spending the energy to find out what were the scientific problems of earlier ages. I don't want to spend more on this particular point but the thing that strikes me as stranger is that the narrative of the so-called scientific revolution is swallowed lock, stock and barrel.
If the axis of Copernicus-Kepler-Galileo-Newton gives us the scientific story - and our superhero - the figure of Francis Bacon gives us an altogether different story. His place in the history of science as an advocate of an inductive scientific method is not in question. However, he was also a politician and entrepreneur and the role of science was to increase the common wealth and the power of the sovereign. His vigour in promoting science as the solution to expand England's influence led to him setting up what would now be called a European hitech venture capital fund.
This is the mercantile paradigm of science. Pure science is a consequence of technology and not the other way round. The contemplation of universal laws as the expression of some divine order can still be found in Bacon, but of itself such anchoritic purity does not lead to solutions to how to defeat the French, Spanish or Dutch! Practical problems often lead to new realms in theoretical science - finding the theory first (for purely theoretical reasons) to then solve practical problems is rare, apart from in mathematics.
Herein lies the problem: our textbooks continue to tell a false story. A procession of dead guys all looking as if they were in holy orders is a completely false picture of science post-1600. The narrative we are sold is bizarrely not so different to the clerical-scientists such as Oresme or Grosseteste who preceded our European science-heroes.
Why has our society done this? What is the point in stripping out all the social, financial, political and military history of science to present a simple, sterile and false picture? I mean, just take a look at the biggest companies in the world: banks, computing, petrochemicals, biotech, all are "made with science" ("made with maths" included!) The geeks won, so why hide the fact that winning was important?!
Let's revisit our cultural monoliths. In Plato's Republic we find mathematics elevated to the status of king-maker whilst also being a ladder: it is both a servant of the lower sciences as well as the object of contemplation leading to a higher transcendence. But all our human activities have both their lofty ideals as well as their base practitioners; science is not unique in this.
But we somehow assume that science is not polluted by all the things that actually made modern science possible. There are, of course, a few outsiders who were proved right, but this is no different to outsiders in other fields who were eventually accepted by society. Weird ideas that never go mainstream are edited out of history for reasons of hygiene and brevity. But the main river of science has followed Bacon's call to arms and continues to flow in that direction. The thing that continues to be the great disconnect is that "Made With Science" is not trumpeted.
Here I am at a loss insofar as scientists have, for much of history, been hired hands and beggars at the banker's table. But so many of our modern billionaires are themselves techies and yet there is no effort to change the way the history of science is perceived. So many of my students think that being a scientist means being a genius that they go stumbling into something else such as accountancy or economics or the arts holding on to the false view that somehow science is purer and more rarefied than mere terrestrial employment. Most industrial governments claim they need more science literate people and yet education presents a false picture of scientists as intellectual ascetics.
Modern science is a 400 year old business. Why has nobody noticed?
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