The Relationship between Science and Technology

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The Relationship between Science and Technologyand,The,the

    The Relationship between Science and Technology

    Discussion Document prepared for the New Zealand Ministry of Education

    Curriculum Project

    Dr Vicki Compton

    18 October 2004


    Due to the nature of contemporary society, the relationship between the domains of science and technology has never been stronger. Science and technology have different purposes, ways of viewing and knowing the world, and thus their relationship is often tense and complex. However, they serve to inform and extend each other in both intended and unexpected ways. Student learning in science and technology can be enhanced through their mutual study. By understanding the differences and relationship between these two domains, students in educational settings will gain an appreciation of the nature of each at a more philosophical level. This is important to the development of a both scientific and technological literacy that will allow for informed citizenship.


    Due to the nature of contemporary society, the relationship between the domains of science and technology has never been stronger. Both domains are recognised as key forms of human activity, and stand alongside the arts and social sciences as fundamental to human achievement and expression. Essential to recognising the strength of the relationship between science and technology, is the acknowledgement that neither holds a subservient position. Rather, science and technology work together for the mutual benefit and/or growth of each domain in both intended and unexpected ways.

    In order to understand the complexity of the relationship between science and technology, it is first important to establish how the two domains differ, particularly given it is these differences that provide the strength of their current alliance. The differentiation between science and technology can be characterised by three key factors:

    ; the domain’s core business (its purpose);

    ; its view of what ‘exists’ in the world (its ontological stance); and

    ; how it defines and validates knowledge (its epistemology).

    The following provides an overview of how these factors are articulated within current understandings of science and technology.

From TKI | NZ Curriculum Marautanga Project | What’s happening | Science | The relationship between

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Science a brief overview

The overriding purpose of science is to explain the natural world through iterative

    intellectual and investigative practices that involve observations and controlled manipulations of that world. In support of this, science can be most comfortably argued today in terms of a ‘critical realist’ stance. This reflects a view that ‘things’ exist in the world and ‘are as they are’ (Lopez and Potter, 2001). As such, the role of scientists is to interrogate the ‘real things’ of the natural world in order to construct explanations of them. In keeping with the view of science as a human activity, resulting explanatory texts are embedded in the sociocultural world and as such will be human-mediated representations of the ‘real things’. Scientific knowledge therefore, is that which has ‘real things’ as its referent. For new knowledge to be validated within the domain of science,

    this knowledge must adhere to logical reasoning and be internally coherent within the dominant paradigm. Alternatively, it must provide a substantiated challenge to the paradigm, while still operating within the tolerance levels of the wider domain. It must withstand peer review in order to be represented as a ‘truth’. Truth therefore, is not viewed as an absolute within science. Rather scientific ‘truths’ are, in keeping with pragmatic theory, that knowledge that gains the consensus of experts within the domain. In contrast to traditional views of the existence of a scientific method, contemporary views of scientific methodologies include an understanding of their diversity and flexibility to meet the task at hand. Therefore, investigate methods employed both between, and often within, different subsets of science can differ markedly.

Technology - a brief overview

The purpose of technology is to intervene in the world to produce something ‘other’ to

    that which currently exists. It achieves this through iterative intellectual and design-based practices that involve multiple sources of input. These input sources include a mixture of that defined as natural, material, simulated, conceptual, emotional, and imagined. Technologists also draw from the past, current and a range of possible and probable futures. The stance that has been argued as best supporting an understanding of the domain of technology, is that of a‘process ontology’. This stance challenges the critical realist notion that ‘things’ exist as such, and instead argues that ‘processes’ are what exist, and it is our interaction in process which allows the opportunity to categorise, and thus objectify, ‘things as such’ (Neuman, 2003). Therefore, from such a technological

    viewpoint, we are both creators of the material world of technology in clear and tangible ways, and also symbolic creators of the ‘natural’ world. Technological knowledge does not attempt to make claims to ‘truth’ in the same way as scientific knowledge does.

    Instead it has as its referent, the process of function. What validates technological knowledge therefore is ‘success’ not ‘truth’. However, like science, the ‘success’ of technological knowledge is determined within technological practice by experts within the domain of technology. Technological practices are situation specific, and therefore are as diverse and varied as the contexts and people involved in the endeavour.

From TKI | NZ Curriculum Marautanga Project | What’s happening | Science | The relationship between

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How do they relate?

    Scientific knowledge and methodologies themselves provide a major source of input into the development of technological practices and outcomes. They are also key tools in the establishment of explanations of why technological interventions were, or were not, successful. In short, science can provide powerful explanations for the why and why not behind technological intervention. However, as these interventions rely on more than an understanding of the ‘natural’ world, they can only provide partial justification for technological practices and outcomes.

    Technological practices, knowledge and outcomes can provide mechanisms for science to gain a better view of its defined world, and in fact can provide serious challenges to the defining of that world. For example, the development of the technological artefacts that extend the observation capabilities of humans (such as the telescope and microscope), made ‘visible’ and available ‘new worlds’ for science to interrogate and explain.

Implications for Education in New Zealand

    From the above, it can be seen that science and technology have a fundamentally different purpose, and different ways of viewing and knowing the world. Just as science and technology work in mutually beneficial ways in the wider contexts of scientific and technological endeavours, within the context of education, their relationship can be profitably explored to enhance learning in both areas.

    Scientific knowledge and methodologies are useful, and in many cases critical, to students successful undertaking of technological practice and in the development of technological knowledge. Technological knowledge, practices and outcomes in turn can provide useful, and again in many cases critical, tools (both conceptual and material) for scientific practice and the development of scientific knowledge. Technological practices and outcomes can also provide authentic contexts which enable students to develop deeper more meaningful understandings of scientific knowledge and methodologies.

However, perhaps even more significantly, exploration of the nature of both science and

    technology can provide fertile grounds for developing deeper understandings of both through reflecting on the differences between these key areas of being ‘human’. The converging boundaries between that perceived as the made and the natural world, the real and simulated, the currently impossible and future probable, all demand students develop such relational cross domain knowledge, in combination with in-depth understandings within both science and technology. This in turn allows for the development of a critical frame essential to the development of scientific and technological literacy that supports students towards informed citizenship.

From TKI | NZ Curriculum Marautanga Project | What’s happening | Science | The relationship between

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Lopez, J. and Potter, G. (Eds.) (2001). After Postmodernism: An introduction to critical

    realism. London: The Athlone Press.

Neuman, Y. (2003). Processes and Boundaries of the Mind: Extending the limit line.

    New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers


    Thank you to the following for their informative and critical comments on earlier drafts

    of this discussion document.

    Ange Compton

    Dr Bev France

    Garry Falloon

    Professor John Gilbert

    Cliff Harwood

    Professor Kam Srikameswaran

From TKI | NZ Curriculum Marautanga Project | What’s happening | Science | The relationship between

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