Social impact of science

The social impact of science and knowledge evolution – New research that analyses 500 years of scientific history comes to the perhaps obvious conclusion that those nations that support science and the evolution of knowledge through education, infrastructure and funding, produce stronger societies the members of which have a better standard of living and are healthier.

Luiz Miranda of the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais of the São José dos Campos and Carlos Lima of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, in São Paulo, Brazil, have looked at five centuries of scientific discoveries and 125 years of patent publications to reveal the evolutionary nature of science and technology and their social impact.

The ability to understand Nature (science) and partially dominate it (technology) and of transmitting and improving acquired knowledge in a continuous feedback process is certainly among the most important achievement that made our species unique among all others in the planet.

As PubMed publishes its 20-millionth literature abstract at a time of major economic strife on a global scale it is quite timely that the Brazilian team’s statistical analysis should show that scientific discovery seems to be modulated by economic cycles that last from 15 to 25 years. The implication is that, changes and investment in infrastructure are essential driving factors for scientific development. Among the various factors involved, it is knowledge evolution, the team says, that emerges as the major force overall to catalyse social development.

Studies of the impact of science, technology and innovation on the development of human society are hardly rare and a vast scientific literature exists for just this one niche subject. Similarly, investigations of the social construction of technological systems, including the changes in social habits that they catalysed is also well covered in the literature. More recent studies have looked at the emerging disciplines of technology intelligence and knowledge management as powerful tools for evaluating, elaborating and implementing the decision-making process.

Miranda and Lima have pulled together these three distinct research threads in their current paper and present a quantitative analysis of the evolution of the scientific discoveries and technological inventions from the 16th century onwards. In the process, they have made important observations about the impact of scientific discoveries and technological inventions in shaping modern society.

Of course, in taking the cusp of the so-called Western “Enlightenment”, one might argue that they ignore the incredible achievements of Islamic and Eastern science that were already taking place over the preceding centuries and even the major discoveries of yet older civilisations. Nevertheless, the overwhelming conclusion they draw from their statistical survey of science is that, “Knowledge evolution, technological intelligence and innovation join together into a feedback system that influences decision-making towards socio-economic policies that enhanced human welfare evolution throughout the centuries,” the team says.

They conclude with a global mission statement: Public policies decision-makers would profit, they say, from availing themselves with the best tools for knowledge management and the latest advances in technology intelligence planning to help them in mapping crucial bottlenecks in social infrastructures and public investment that, once implemented, should bring those countries that lag behind into the same group as those that perform best in contributing to, and benefiting from, the global evolution of science and technology.

Research Blogging IconLuiz C.M. Miranda, & Carlos A.S. Lima (2010). On trends and rhythms in scientific and technological knowledge evolution: a quantitative analysis Int. J. Technology Intelligence and Planning, 6 (1), 76-109

Scientific timelines – “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” (2009) – Timeline Science – Timeline Index – Inventors – World Intellectual Property Organisation

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Award-winning freelance science writer, author of Deceived Wisdom. Sharp-shooting photographer and wannabe rockstar.