Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Archdruid Report: Salvaging Science

It took a long time for science as a profession to catch on, because—pace a myth very widespread these days—science contributed next to nothing to the technological revolutions that swept the western world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Until late in the nineteenth century, in fact, things generally worked the other way around: engineers and basement tinkerers discovered some exotic new effect, and then scientists scrambled to figure out what made it happen. James Clerk Maxwell, whose 1873 book Electricity and Magnetism finally got out ahead of the engineers to postulate the effects that would become the basis for radio, began the process by which science took the lead in technological innovation, but it wasn’t until the Second World War that science had matured enough to become the engine of discovery it then became. It was then that government and business investment in basic research took off, creating the institutionalized science of the present day.

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