4964 technology, science, and culture

between, say, culture and music). Still, the
notion that science and culture are fundamen
tally independent realms has a long history, and
remains influential to this day. For this reason,
at least, there is heuristic value in distinguishing
between the place of culture in science, and that
of science in culture, so long as the limitations of
this distinction are acknowledged.


The view that science is free from cultural influ
ences was most rigorously (and influentially)
formulated by a group of scientists and philoso
phers meeting regularly in 1920s Vienna. This
Vienna Circle, as it became known, included
some of the greatest philosophers of the twen
tieth century Rudolf Carnap, Karl Hempel,
Moritz Schlick, and A. J. Ayer, to name a few
who developed a philosophy that became known
as logical positivism, or logical empiricism.
These philosophers saw in science the best
exemplar of knowledge properly won. Science,
as they saw it, ideally had two ways of ascertain
ing and verifying knowledge: direct observation
and logic. No other source of knowledge (like
tradition, intuition, or revelation) could be con
sidered credible.
This view implied that good science is by its
nature insusceptible to cultural influences,
because it is a product solely of the logical
manipulation of sense data. If the laws of nature
are the same in New York and Nairobi, generat
ing similar sense data, then the logical positi
vist view of science left no room for local
culture to affect science. Indeed, in the view of
many philosophers, scientists, and others who
embraced this view, the greatest virtue of the
scientific method was that it allowed flawed and
subjective human beings to produce highly reli
able, objective knowledge. As they saw it,
science unlike art, literature, philosophy, pol
itics, couture, cuisine, and practically every
other human endeavor transcends human cul
ture, a view that is sometimes called scientific
Though this image of scientific knowledge
as uniquely divorced from the culture has
retained currency in some circles to the present
day, its heyday was brief. In July 1931, a Soviet
physicist named Boris Hessen delivered before
the Second International Congress of the His
tory of Science and Technology in Kensington,
London, an address entitled The Social and
Economic Roots of Newtons Principia. In it,
Hessen insisted that Newtons physics was
influenced by class ideology and by the practical
needs of moneyed Englishmen. These claims
were embraced by some Marxist philosophers
and scientists eager to see a link between early
modern science and the culture of emerging
capitalism, and they were rejected by many
others for whom Hessens paper was a crass
attack on the intellectual purity of science. In
1935, Polish economist Henryk Grossman pub
lished in Zeitschrift fur Sozialforschung a paper
further developing Hessens approach, called
The Social Foundations of Mechanistic Phi
losophy and Manufacture. In the same year,
Ludwig Fleck argued in a book called Gene
sis and Development of a Scientific Fact that
thought styles in medicine and science greatly
influence even seemingly objective observations.
One year later, American sociologist of science
Robert K. Merton completed a Harvard disser
tation entitled Science, Technology, and
Society in 17th Century England, tracing links
between the rise of science and both Puritan
ideology and contemporary economic circum
stance. These works and other externalist
accounts (so called because they attributed
scientific development to factors outside science
itself ) challenged the positivist account of the
advance of science, suggesting that cultural,
social, political, and economic factors greatly
affected science, even influencing the very con
tent of scientific theories.
Partly in response to these challenges, in
1938 philosopher Hans Reichenbach distin
guished between what he called the context of
discovery in science, in which accident, human
foibles, and social and cultural forces played a
part, and the context of justification, in which
objective observation, logic, and reason alone
determine which hypotheses are accepted and
which are rejected. If cultural factors had any
impact upon science at all, Reichenbach and
the logical positivists insisted, it was limited to
the messy and uninteresting context of discov
ery. But over ensuing decades, historians,
sociologists, and anthropologists continued to