Forget about art and science – this century has a whole new two world problem: science and technology
It’s been nagging me for a while – at science online conferences (both the London and North Carolina varieties), in talks with lab mates, at work at a scientific publisher, and hanging out with technology-oriented geeks in my spare time. There’s a gap between science and technology, and it’s growing.Were we to take some opinions on the street, vox-pop-style, about perceived “two worlds” between science and other fields, I’m sure many would still point to a supposed divide between the arts and sciences. That may be what it seems like – from books and TV, from high school memories – but if you’re
Were we to take some opinions on the street, vox-pop-style, about perceived “two worlds” between science and other fields, I’m sure many would still point to a supposed divide between the arts and sciences. That may be what it seems like – from books and TV, from high school memories – but if you’re in art or science, this supposed divide is so well-bridged that you don’t even notice the chasm when you cross it.
Yet what none of our hypothetical vox-poppers would say is that there is such a thing as a divide between science and technology. To the contrary, they always see them together. “Science and Technology” share newspaper sections, website pages, and ticky-boxes on “occupation” fields in surveys. Science brought us technology, so surely they go hand in hand?
It’s true, they used to go well together, and in certain fields of research they still do, but apart from areas like computer science or bioinformatics, there is no correlation between people who like to use computers, and people who like to do research.
The thing is: scientists are just like normal people. You’ll find that a small group of them is hugely interested in blogging, just like a small group of the overall population is. Another (perhaps overlapping) group is over the moon about new web tools they can try out in the lab, just like there’s a small group of early adopters in the general population. But by and large, many scientists hate new things.
It is this audience of print-reading, references-in-Word-typing, Facebook-avoiding researchers that we are trying to get to download new reference managers, upload their data for their competitors, and while they’re at it, write a blog post or two.
It’s scary for me to sit in a seminar that teaches publishers and scientists about social media – things I’ve picked up on the go, without anyone teaching me – and it’s frustrating to see enthusiastic digital natives pitch the next new tool to reluctant researchers. I’ve seen both. I’m kind of in between the two worlds, and they really are two worlds.
Where art and science have many bridges (a love for high resolution microscopy, excitement about data from outer space, and a common struggle to get funded – to name a few) science and technology have little to go on. They share a past, but they’ve moved in their own direction.
Here’s a metaphor: Science and Technology used to sit next to each other in elementary school, but throughout high school and college Technology got really popular and famous, and Science never changed much.
Now when they meet once in a while, to catch up over coffee, Technology still acts like they’re as close friends as they were when they were ten, but Science doesn’t even know what Technology is talking about when he says things like “widget”, really does not think he needs any of the things Technology seems to be trying to give him, and regularly glances under the table at the minute hand on his watch, to make sure he gets back to the lab in time. “Man, Technology really changed”, thinks Science, “and he hasn’t even asked me how I am…”
I’m friends with both of them, and it’s getting more and more difficult to find common ground for these guys. And the hypothetical vox-pop interviewees from before? They just remember Science and Technology from when they were all in elementary school together: they were the two nerds, always sitting next to each other at the front. Surely they’re still in touch? They were always so close…