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What Is the Sociology of Science?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden

Sociology of science is a branch of the social sciences that seeks to examine and analyze the social aspects of science both within the scientific community and within society as a whole. It is a vast and multifaceted field that draws from many related fields in the social sciences, mathematics, philosophy, and other areas of study. Sociology of science is focused on a wide range of issues such as the effect of scientific discoveries on society, objectivity in scientific research, and the role of funding in research. Many sociologists of science are also interested in the history of social change within the scientific community.

This branch of the social sciences is an important field, as it allows scholars who are not entrenched in the scientific community to give objective commentary on the social aspects of science. By doing so, sociologists of science have been able to provide many classifications of the social behaviors that make for the best practices of science. Communalism, for instance, should be a defining trait of the scientific community, meaning that scientific discoveries should belong to the whole community, not just to those who made them. Another trait called universalism describes the idea that anyone of any race or gender should be able to contribute to science and be judged based on ideas and not on any personal qualities.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

In many cases, small groups within the overall scientific community do not follow the normal social behaviors that allow scientists around the world to universally pursue the goal of advancing human knowledge. Sociology of science is particularly focused on these cases, as they tend to create highly interesting dynamics between subgroups in science. Some scientific findings, for instance, are kept secret because they are used in developing military technology. Others are kept secret because they are important for the development of drugs or other profitable products.

The interaction of scientists and the scientific community with the rest of society is another important area of interest in the sociology of science. One interesting dynamic comes from that fact that, in many cases, scientific funding is often determined by those with only limited knowledge of science. As such, the prestige of the scientist and his ability to show that his laboratory work is also important and valid in the real world is very important.

Another interesting area of study in the sociology of science is the relationship between scientists and their work. In some cases, scientists become so attached to their work that their research becomes biased. They may inadvertently interpret their results falsely but in a way that supports their personal theories. Bias may also arise when the scientist relies on positive findings to secure further funding. This relationship between scientists and those who fund their work is another common area of study in the sociology of science.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books