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category international | sci-tech | opinion/analysis author Tuesday November 03, 2020 21:43author by Sean Crudden - IMPERO Report this post to the editors

Is Progress Possible?

I do not know much about it. But I think science policy nationally and internationally is a delicate balance. It's difficult to form a picture of who is doing research, what are their objectives, what are the rewards. My impression is that science is mostly controlled by commercial interests. What is invented mostly is what can sell. You have copyright and secrecy backed up by law to preserve the pitch for profit. It is easy to see the sense in this because it provides an incentive for scientists and their employers to spend time and money on research.

But there is also a negative aspect to this way of doing things. Manufacturers are not wholly induced to innovate. They might see more profit from concentrating on already discovered products. Pharmaceuticals are, perhaps, an example of this. Instead of looking for new and improved drugs, they may see more profit from continuing to produce older drugs even if they are less than perfect with lots of unwanted effects.

Maybe we are at the end of scientific discovery. Has everything already been invented? Is there nothing new down the tracks?

The classic image of the scientist is a sort of picture of the lonely artist working in his garret. Striving might and main with little backup. Anxious for a breakthrough. Ready to publish findings and share with fellow scientists. The main incentive fame and approval from his or her peers. A sort of race to the South Pole to see who will be the first to get there.

The positive side of this has nothing to do with science as such. The spirit of enquiry. Openness. Fellowship. Sharing.

The picture of scientists we have now is of faceless gnomes with riding instructions beavering away to make a profit for their bosses.

Sir Alexander Fleming is a scientist we all seem to be indebted to. But who is responsible for most of the rest of the discoveries which impact our daily lives?

What science does is less important, in my view, than how it does it.

Anyway, I think a platform like Wiki or iTunes would be useful. Oblige scientists to report on their work in an accessible way, pace commercial interests.

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