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Correspondence

Must Science Be Useful? 

In his essay on the state of science [“Saving Science,” Spring/Summer 2016], Daniel Sarewitz pulls no punches. He takes exception to Vannevar Bush’s 1945 claim that “Scientific progress on a broad front results from the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown.” To Sarewitz, this “beautiful lie” has corrupted the scientific enterprise by separating it from the technological problems that have been responsible since the Industrial Revolution for guiding science “in its most productive directions and providing continual tests of its validity, progress, and value.” “Technology keeps science honest,” Sarewitz claims, and without it science has run the risk of being “infected with bias,” and now finds itself in a state of “chaos” where “the boundary between objective truth and subjective belief appears, gradually and terrifyingly, to be dissolving.”

Those are bruising, emotive words. Sarewitz certainly has some important points to make about the interaction of science with the outside world, but he seems blinded by his anger, and that has dulled his analytical edge.

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"Correspondence," The New Atlantis, Number 53, Summer/Fall 2017, pp. 3-15.