The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation

Barbara Herrnstein Smith writes:

The practices of science, it appears, are increasingly industrial in location, corporate in organisation, and product and profit-minded in motivation. In the eyes of various commentators, these trends represent an obviously undesirable state of affairs: inhospitable to the genuine scientific vocation, dispiriting for the scientists involved and seriously at odds with the sustaining norms of science itself. But how well do such commentators, or any of us outside that world, know what industrial-corporate-commercial science is really like? Can we be sure that research conducted under such sponsorship is so different from academic research – and necessarily worse? Is an orientation towards marketable products and monetary profit inherently incompatible with the characteristic motives, satisfactions and personalities of scientists? And what basis is there, anyway, for our notions of either the character of scientists or the nature of ‘science itself’? In posing these questions and seeking to answer them, Steven Shapin has produced a work of exceptional originality, power and significance. He has also given readers much to chew over in regard to contemporary developments and perennial issues.

(LRB 12 February 2009)

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